First Lesson: Exodus 12: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 149
Second Lesson: Romans 13: 8-14
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 18: 15-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As long as there has been a Christian church there have been disagreements amongst its members. Let me begin this morning by citing a few examples from the New Testament.
In the book of Philippians, Paul had to address two women named “Euodia” and “Syntache” because their disagreement was negatively affecting the church in Phillipi.
1st Corinthians was written to a church with divided loyalties with recent converts claiming to be followers of the charismatic, new leader Apollos where the old guard members considered themselves to be followers of the Apostle Paul.
Perhaps the most famous church conflict to take place within the New Testament occurs in the Galatians when the early church’s two most prominent leaders go at it. The Apostle Paul is forced to rebuke the head of Jesus’ disciples Peter because Peter refused to associate with non- Jewish Christians because they did not adopt the Jewish ritual of circumcision.
Even outside the New Testament, conflict has been common place within the history of the church. At one of the most famous meetings in the history of the church in the Council of Nicea (from where we get our Nicene Creed), Bishop Nicolas of Myra (or he would later be known as Saint Nicolas or Santa Claus) got so mad at one of his opponents Arius that he slapped him in the face.
Lastly, the Lutheran church was born in conflict as Martin Luther never had any intention to leave the Catholic Church until he was formally excommunicated or kicked out by way of the Papal Bull in 1521.
Now as we consider the meaning of conflict from a Christian perspective, we must always remember that conflict is often a very positive thing. You would never want to tell a church to seek actively to avoid conflict because we would never grow as people. For example, we never would have believed that the Earth revolves around the Sun if Galileo hadn’t created conflict by challenging the status quo.
So our goal as Christian people should never be to avoid “conflict”, but rather “destructive conflict” that eventually destroys human relationships. So with this in mind, I want to speak this morning about why church conflicts get out of control.
The first reason that church conflicts get out of control is faulty spiritual perspective. For example, if two people disagree over what to eat at dinner, it’s pretty likely that they will be able to compromise in a way that both parties leave without too much resentment.
Church conflicts though tend to work themselves out in a different way because people don’t associate what to eat for dinner with anyone’s salvation. So in church conflicts, people tend to dig in their heels because they associate their viewpoint with a higher purpose. Is this a good way to view many of these issues?
Let me bring up an issue that causes more congregational strife than any other in the worship wars of contemporary versus traditional. These arguments often go this way; you get one group saying how young people aren’t in church, and the reason for this is because they prefer the music of the Katy Perry to the music of Vagner.
People claim that if we don’t change to bring these young people into the church then people will end up in Hell. Where the other side says if we abandon such and such traditions that my grandmother loved than people will end up in Hell.
Let me make something very, very clear, write this down, quote me even if this gets me in trouble. “There will not be one more or one less person in the Kingdom of Heaven on the basis of what type of worship style that a church adopts. No one enters the Kingdom of Heaven because they preferred the fresh sounds of guitar chords to boring old organ music.”
People only enter the Kingdom of Heaven because the Holy Spirit creates faith through Word and Sacrament. Since “faith” is not created by marketing, the only non-negotiable goal of a church should be that the Gospel is rightly preached every Sunday.
Every other argument that descends into a debate about someone’s eternal destiny takes place because people not only have a misplaced spiritual perspective, but they also misunderstand the historic teachings of the Lutheran church. While the color that someone paints the kitchen does matter from an aesthetic perspective, it should be a very, very secondary issue to a church’s overall health. Once a church adopts a misplaced spiritual perspective there will be problems.
The second reason that church conflicts get out of control is faulty personal perspectives. One of my favorite one-liners and I’ve used it before is “I am way more worried about the lady writings down the names of everyone going into the bar on Saturday Night then the people inside the bar themselves.”
The reason that church conflicts often get out of control is because people are always very quick to see the speck in their neighbor’s eyes, all the while ignoring the log in their own.
A while back, I was talking to Pastor Warren Baker, who works with congregations in conflict, Warren onetime traveled to a congregation that he felt was in the midst of the one of the worst arguments he had ever seen. As Warren sat down to meet with people one or two families at a time over the course of two days, Warren kept hearing the same things over and again. “The Church Council President was terrible.” ‘The Pastor was terrible.' ‘Their neighbor had done this or that.’ People were raising their voices; people were saying that they were never going to come back to church.
Stories like this highlight why churches often tend to be in conflict. Because when people are expecting the perfect pastor or the perfect leadership or the perfect members, people will inevitability fail other people and conflict will ensue.
The problem with misplaced personal perspective is like the lady writing down the names of everyone going into bar how we love to focus on the speck in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in our own.
The simplest way to avoid Church Conflicts getting out of hand is to remember what Martin Luther said in the Small Catechism about the 8th Commandment regarding bearing false witness against our neighbor. That we are at all times called to put the best possible construction or explanation on our neighbor’s actions, no matter how goofy people’s ideas around us might seem at first.”
There is no surer sign of an unhealthy congregation that will always be in conflict when members are always assuming the worst about those around them. When we feel we can be reckless rather than cautious in choosing our words problems will follow.
So with this mind, how should we deal with disagreement within Christian congregations? Our discussion brings us to our Gospel lesson for today from the 18th chapter of Matthew. I’m just going to concentrate on three verses in verses 15-17.
Verse 15, “If your brother has sinned against you, go and tell his fault between you and him alone”. The worst thing you can do in the midst of a conflict is to seek to humiliate someone in public.
For example, I remember being in the 8th Grade and I wrote an English Paper that was in poor taste to try to amuse me and my friends. I’ll freely admit I had done something that I shouldn’t have done.
But I had this English Teacher named Mr.Chrun that wanted to teach me a Lesson. So every day at Chisago Lakes Middle School would begin with a ten minute homeroom period for daily announcements or whatever. In the name of wanting to get his point across Mr.Chrun sends an office runner to bring me up to his classroom during his homeroom.
Mr.Chrun then proceeds to tell me to sit at the back table, Mr. Chrun then proceeds to yell at me at the top of his lungs for what seemed like the whole period. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’m sure I had tears forming in my eyes. I left that day having been humiliated in front of a bunch of my peers; I probably behaved slightly better after that. Even till this day, even though I know I was in the wrong, even though I know I should be forgiving, it’s tough not to hold resentment on some level.
The reason that Jesus spoke these words today is because when it comes to solving conflict, we are called to go against our very natural instincts. We are called to be patient, when our hearts fill with rage. We are called to be gracious and understanding, when we wish to embrace the harshest of judgments. If we act out whenever the going gets tough, we will inevitability loss every conflict situation that we encounter.
Now let me tell you another story, fast-forward fifteen years later. I remember one day the Chairwoman of the School Board coming up to talk to me about how much her kids liked working with me when I was a substitute teacher. This woman didn’t have the best-behaved kids in the world. Her oldest son had gotten in all sorts of trouble. He was suspended from school for a weapons violation in his car; he had been caught drinking under the bleachers during Homecoming and had to go away to treatment for a month, and he would constantly get in trouble when he was in school. He could tell because of his ways that a lot of teachers were uncomfortable working with him. So the School Board Chair asks me “Why I related to him differently?”
My answer was “Because I’ve been there, because I deserved to have Mr. Chrun yell at me, because I remember making plenty of poor decisions growing up, because I remember how my mind was working when I made these decisions.”
I also am honest enough to admit that I don’t come to one human interaction without my share of personal faults. We all have things we can improve on, and when we come to this realization in dealing with conflict situations one on one. We can comfortably open up about our growing edges, and learning curves while acknowledging how similar we truly are to the one sitting across from us.
Totally different approaches to seeing conflict tend to produce totally different results. For one thing, I’ve always noticed when I hear about church conflicts is the more involved that don’t pertain then the worse they often get. These stories explain why verse 15 “If your brother has sinned against you, go and tell his fault between you and him alone” is so important.
Let’s look at the 2nd part of this passage. “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
These verses bring up an issue that is never addressed in the church of “Would you ever ask someone to leave a church?”
The concept of church discipline is clearly biblical. The Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians says, “Drive the wicked people from among you”. In 2nd Thessalonians, Paul says to have nothing to do with those who deny the church’s teachings.
There are definitely Churches out there that like to emphasize how if certain obligations are not met they can be thrown out then a Christian can be banned from the assembly. For example, the Amish are famous from the practice of shunning or avoiding members as bad influences which have left the assembly. The reason the Amish formed was because they thought the Mennonite church was too soft in their treatment of former members. The Amish throw out Bible Verses supporting their practice.
The problem with churches who remove members for failing to live up to their standard is they often just embrace their own deadly pride and self-righteousness when they ban people. They fail to listen to what Jesus is getting at elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew regarding how we all miss the mark and not to focus so much on the failings of others.
But I do believe there are times that you would ask someone to leave a church, the reasons have nothing to do with not measuring up to some phony’ religious people’s standard. I believe the only reason; you would ask someone to leave the church, whether it is a pastor or another member, is if they were destructive to the Body of Christ by back-biting and being divisive. If someone was looking down at their fellow believers for not being allegedly perfect Christians, at this point, maybe you do encourage people to try to find the perfect church more to their liking.
As we gather together as Sychar Lutheran Church on this day, we have an opportunity to reflect upon the type of church that we wish to be. We could either strive to be the perfect church made up entirely of young-families, overflowing with good and gracious givers, with the type of members who always attentive, patient, and moral that could only be described by Garrison Keillor as being the type of Lutherans that exist only in Lake Wobegon.
We could instead be a different type of church; we could admit to being the imperfect church. The type of church whose membership consists of failed Christians, frail bodies, and genuine human emotion. We can either be the church for the strong or the weak. We can be a church which proclaims earthly successes or we can be a church who proclaims forgiveness.
Let me close this morning on Church Conflict with some very wise insight from a Friend of Mine- Pastor Donovan Riley:
“Sometimes the church has to suffer for the pastor to learn. Sometimes the pastor has to suffer for the church to learn. When the Holy Spirit is at work suffering sinners, abound. But, that's not the final word. When the Spirit of God is at work, it’s love which has the final word: Christ's love for sinners abounds in the forgiveness of sins which binds us together as His suffering, holy body.” Amen
 Phillipians 4:2-6
 Galatians 2
 Matthew 7:3
 Matthew 18:15
 Matthew 18:15
 Matthew 18:16-17
 1 Corinthians 5:13
 2 Thessalonians 3:6
 These words were given by Pastor Riley in a 2011 Facebook Post