“Christ, present in the lives of congregational members, leads them corporately to discover and obey his mind and will. Such ‘congregational government’ calls for and expresses the equality and responsibility of believers under the Lordship of Christ.”
“Why Baptist?”, p. 13
It has been said that if there are 80 Baptists in one room, there will be 85 opinions. We are infamous for disagreeing with one another on everything from crucial theological points to whether pews should have cushions. We can do this because we have autonomy, meaning that each church is free to make its own decisions on many subjects. While we are all people of Scripture and of conscience, it doesn’t mean we’re all the same. Though we choose to gather around the same table and share the same distinctives, we are free to express the unique flavours of our respective congregations. Sometimes it is like a glorious feast. At other times, a culinary disaster.
Before we berate ourselves too harshly, let’s remember this: even those closest to Jesus had conflict. Ten of his disciples were fairly annoyed when James and John wanted to secure their right to sit and Jesus’ right hand. (Matt. 20:20-24) Paul had strong words for Peter over his choice in dinner guests, (Gal. 2:11-14) and parted ways with Barnabas for a time over a disagreement regarding Mark’s fitness for service. (Acts 15:36-41) And who can forget poor Euodia and Syntyche, forever remembered in Scripture as the women who couldn’t get along? (Phil. 4:2-3) And that’s just the beginning!
Even when we are in the presence of Christ, we, his broken followers, will disagree. Given that, how do we do it well?
Peter Scazzero, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, looks at how to deal with conflict—not by avoiding it as “false peacemakers,” but by responding as Jesus would respond. “Jesus’ profound, contemplative prayer life with his Father resulted in a contemplative presence with people… This ability to really listen and pay attention to people was at the very heart of his mission. It could not help but move him to compassion. In the same way, out of our contemplative time with God, we, too, are invited to be prayerfully present to people, revealing their beauty to themselves.” (p. 180)
When we are faced with conflict, it is easy to seize passionately on to the idea and forget the person from whom it comes. It is tempting to steamroll over others, hear only the points we want to hear and enjoy the temporary delights of the offended. But righteous indignation isn’t one of the fruits of the Spirit. Gentleness is. We need not compromise on what we believe to be true, but our love for Christ and our brothers and sisters in his kingdom compels us to share our ideas and opinions… gently. Christians are meant to be builders—those upon whom Christ can build his church—not bulldozers.
When I was in grade 5, attending a Christian school, we were required to memorize Proverbs 15:1—“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” I cannot count the number of times in my life that I have returned to that piece of deep wisdom. As you go about your day, I hope you will join with me in this prayer from Scazzero’s book:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. I am aware, Lord, of how often I treat people as Its, as objects, instead of looking at them with the eyes and heart of Christ. Lord, I have unhealthy ways of relating that are deeply imbedded in me. Please change me. Make me a vessel to spread mature, steady, reliable love so that people with whom I come in contact sense your tenderness and kindness. Deliver me from false peacemaking that is driven by fear. Lord Jesus, help me love well like you. Grow me, I pray, into an emotionally mature adult through the Holy Spirit’s power. In Jesus’ name, amen.” (EHS, p. 194)
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
1 Peter 3:15-16