Every Thought Captive to Messiah


On Conflict Resolution in the Church

In order for a local church to thrive, it must from time to time sort out significant personal and theological conflicts. A biblical and theological framework is needed to resolve such conflicts. This short essay provides an introduction to this framework.

The experience of conflict can destroy a church, or it can make it incredibly strong for years to come. The believers involved get to decide that in how they handle the conflict. If your church is going through a conflict, I pray the Holy Spirit will empower the believers involved to produce the fruit of the Spirit and reach full reconciliation.

Avoiding Escape and Attack Responses

First, to deal with conflict effectively, all involved must avoid the “slippery slope of conflict.” These are escape responses on the one hand, and attack responses on the other. This is not easy to do!

Escape responses postpone the proper solution to a problem:

  • Denial: Pretending that a problem does not exist or refusing to do what should be done to resolve a conflict properly.

  • Flight: Running away, pulling away, or dropping out from a relationship (e.g., quitting a job, filing for divorce, changing churches).

Attack responses damage relationships and make conflicts worse:

  • Assault: Overcome your opponent by using force or intimidation, such as verbal attacks (including gossip and slander), physical violence, or efforts to damage a person financially or professionally.

  • Debate: the object is to convince the opponent to see things according to one’s own perspective.

  • Game: the object is to outwit the opponent (but according to the “rules” of the game).

  • Fight: the object is to eliminate the opponent.

  • Blaming: “You’re the problem.”

  • Attacking: Character assassination.

  • Generalising: “Us vs them,” or “Good vs bad.”

  • Bringing up the past.

The Four G's of Conflict Resolution

In any conflict, including this one, Ken Sande's four Gs of conflict resolution are worth gold.

First, glorify God.

  • John 13:35 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

  • 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 31 Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

  • 1 Peter 2:12 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

  • 1 Peter 2:15 15 This is the desire of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

  • “There should be a discernible difference between how a Christian deals with conflict and how a nonbeliever deals with it.” - Ken Sande

  • “The one who acts like Christ first wins.” - James Toth

  • “Start with God and work toward the problem.” - Neville Knight

Second, get the log out of your own eye.

  • Matthew 7:3-5 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

  • Philippians 2:4 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

  • James 4:1-2 1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

Third, gently restore.

  • Proverbs 15:1 1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

  • Matthew 5:9 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

  • Galatians 6:1 1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.

  • Ephesians 4:29 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

  • 1 Timothy 5:1-2 1 Do not rebuke (ἐπιπλήσσω, aor.) an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

  • 2 Timothy 2:24-25 24 The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them a change of mind leading to a knowledge of the truth….

  • James 5:19-20 19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Fourth, go and be reconciled.

  • Romans 14:19 19 Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

  • 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 5 If anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Messiah, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan. For we are not ignorant of his designs.

  • 2 Corinthians 13:11 11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

  • Ephesians 4:1-3 1 I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

  • Philippians 4:2-3 2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have laboured side by side with me in the gospel.

The Seven A's of Confession

There will need to be some confession and forgiveness happening through this process. The “seven As of confession” are helpful and highly recommended to be followed:

  1. Address everyone involved (all those whom you affected).

  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (do not try to excuse your wrongs).

  3. Admit specifically (both attitudes and actions).

  4. Acknowledge the hurt (express sorrow for hurting someone).

  5. Accept the consequences (such as making restitution).

  6. Alter your behavior (change your attitudes and actions).

  7. Apologise and ask for forgiveness.

The Four Promises of Biblical Forgiveness

The four promises of biblical forgiveness are:

  1. “I will not dwell on this incident.”

  2. “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”

  3. “I will not talk to others about this incident.”

  4. “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”

The goals of conflict resolution are:

  1. Making clear decisions.

  2. Increasing tolerance for differences

  3. Reducing aggressive behavior

  4. Reducing passive behavior; and

  5. Reducing covert, manipulative behavior.

Steps of Church Discipline

Step One: Overlook an Offense.

Proverbs 19:11 11 Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

Luke 6:29 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.

1 Corinthians 6:7 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?

Step Two: Private Encounter.

Proverbs 25:8-9 8 Do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbour puts you to shame? 9 Argue your case with your neighbour himself, and do not reveal another’s secret.

Matthew 5:23-26 23 If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 18:15 15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

Step Three: Two or Three Witnesses.

Deuteronomy 19:15 15 A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.

Matthew 18:16 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

Step Four: the Local Church.

Matthew 18:17 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.

1 Corinthians 6:1-6 1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more then matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?

1 Timothy 5:20 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

Titus 1:10-13 10 There are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.

Step Four: Disfellowship.

Matthew 18:17 17 And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Romans 16:17 17 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught. Avoid them.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 6 We command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Messiah, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Titus 3:10-11 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful. He is self-condemned.

When things get heated in the local church, it is important to keep a level head and be objective. Jesus and the apostles have outlined what to do. By the Holy Spirit and God's grace, conflict in the church can be handled in such a way that unity is preserved and God is glorified. If you are going through a difficult conflict with other believers, I pray God will help you to follow these instructions.

- Jeff Coleman


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