The church, in general, has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to one of the most fundamental calls of the Christian faith - reconciliation. As a church consultant I have seen the road kill and carnage of congregations that fight with one another, people who don't forgive one another, spirits of animosity that poison relationships, recrimination, power plays and church splits.
Pastors are guilty, board members are guilty and paritioners are guilty. Sometimes, whole congregations are guilty. All of us at one time or another have been guilty. Think of the conflicts we experienced with friends early in life let alone as the years went on.
Paul, himself, who I will quote below had severe conflict with his partner Barnabas, John Mark as well as with the Apostle Peter. None of us are exempt in a fallen world. Fortunately it seems there was reconciliation in later years. Time has a way of bringing perspective and healing.
While I understand the sinful nature we still deal with as Christ followers, I cannot help but believe that the heart of God is deeply grieved over the divisions within His family - especially the unwillingness of people to seek reconcile their differences (however that is able to be done) and at the least live at peace with one another and at the best understand each other. Our inability to do so is really a rejection of that which Christ did for us in His death on the cross.
The story of God with a rebellious creation is that of reconciliation. The overarching story, of course is that through Jesus we can be reconciled to God - because of His substitutionary death on the cross for us. This reconciliation brings forgiveness of our sin and therefore peace, fellowship and friendship with God which is what our Creator meant for His created in the first place.
This reconciliation, however has further implications. In Jesus, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). The many things that have divided us, race, ethnicity, social status, education, political party or gender have all been broken down by the cross where we meet God and one another as equals. In God's family, the distinctions that divided us are erased by the Holy Spirit who has made us part of a new family.
Jesus anticipated this breaking down of barriers when He prayed His high priestly prayer in John 17:23: "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
Likewise, Paul, wrote frequently of the unity of the body because of our adoption into God's family and the work of the Holy Spirit. Consider these words in Ephesians 4:1ff. "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."
Here is my question: If God was willing to send His very son to make reconciliation with us possible why, after receiving that gift, are we not willing to go the smaller distance to seek to reconcile ourselves with others in the family of God?
Is it any wonder that society as a whole is cynical of the work of God when His own people cannot live at peace with one another and fight the same personal and political battles as are fought in Washington between differing political parties? We can be just as nasty, just as vociferous and just as unforgiving and stubborn as the most unregenerate unbeliever. Yet we claim the name of Jesus!
We cannot control what others do or don't do but we can control what we do or don't do. Are we willing to be peacemakers rather than divisive? Are willing to forgive rather than to live in bitterness? Are we willing to overlook the failures of others since love covers a multitude of sins?
I also believe that we need to do a better job of helping our congregations understand the central place that reconciliation is to play in the life of a congregation. The church should look different than the rest of society! We are, after all His people with His Spirit which is a Spirit of unity. This is an issue that needs to be addressed regularly in a world that is so deeply divisive.
Living on this side of eternity conflict is inevitable - even among God's people. It is how we handle that conflict that is the important issue. Reconciliation is all about how we choose to handle conflict and broken relationships when they occur.
What reconciliation does and does not mean:
It does not mean that the conflict was wrong or bad. Without disagreements important issues do not get clarified and addressed. Conflict itself is not bad. In fact it can be exceedingly healthy because it reveals the need to clarify some issue. What it does mean is that we choose to resolve the conflict in a way that is God honoring. As much as it is possible!
It does not mean that we must agree with the other party but it does mean that we can choose to disagree and not hurt one another any longer. Some issues will not be sorted out until eternity when we see fully and where our emotions are no longer in the way.
It does mean that there must be a cease of hostilities, slander, gossip and bad attitudes toward one another. The reputation of Jesus trumps my personal need to be right or vindicated. Carnal behavior in conflict is sin and must be resisted.
It does mean that we try to understand the other party's point of view even if we believe it to be wrong and misguided. The ability to listen, empathize and understand (even if we don't agree) goes a long ways to damper hostilities.
It does not mean that we need to change our minds on an issue if after discussion we remain convinced that we are being true to our beliefs and the facts as we understand them.
It does not mean that we need to be close friends, or even friends. It does mean that we will not be enemies any longer. We can choose to bless one another without trying to be friends or to force relationships that have been broken. Sometimes keeping a distance is smarter than closeness when conflict has been severe and where it is clear that there cannot be a common solution.
It does not mean that we will always be able to sort through the issues. It takes reasonable, humble and teachable people to sort through issues and that is not always possible. Sometimes we must simply choose to put the issue behind us for the higher value of Christian unity. It does mean that if we have sinned in our attitudes during the conflict we ask forgiveness for our part.
It does not mean that we forget the offense. That may or may not be possible. It does mean that we choose to forgive the offense because we are commanded to by Jesus who forgave our offences.
It does not mean that we pretend that the issues did not matter. Often they do and pretending that they did not or that all is now well when this is not true is a disservice to the concept of reconciliation. The hardest kind of reconciliation is when we cannot fix the issue but we choose to live at peace in spite of the issue.
Who do you need to reconcile with?
See these other blogs:
Incarnation and reconciliation
Reconciling irreconcilable differences