Published on Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog for Pastors and Leaders.
Read the Article here
by Marcus J. Carlson
Conflict in Jesus Name
One of my favorite passages in the gospels is found in Matthew 18:15-20. It’s a passage that I talk about constantly and recently had the opportunity to preach on for the first time. It’s a passage about dealing with sin and conflict in the church. It’s also the passage where we find the phrase ‘in Jesus’ name’ and the often quoted verse ‘for wherever two or three gather in my name, I am there with them.’
In this passage we find a step-by-step process for dealing with sin and conflict in our lives and in the church. The practical nature of this passage is very helpful as conflict is a difficult reality of life together in Christian community and something that all leaders in the church face. I have found that when I stick to the process offered here by Jesus, resolution comes in a more healthy way. It’s not easy to face conflict, and the process for dealing with it that Jesus provides is difficult. How we handle conflict is a significant factor in the health of our families, communities, organizations and churches. The first step in dealing with conflict from this passage is to go directly to the one that the conflict is with. It is often much easier to talk about someone than it is to talk to someone, and it’s a great sacrifice and a sign of love to go to a person and address a conflict. I suspect that more than 90% of all conflicts can be resolved in this first step. If the first step is unsuccessful, the next step is to bring in another party to help resolve the conflict. This does not mean bringing in your forces to defend your position, but to bring others in to shed light on the conflict and help find resolution. I suspect that most of the conflict that cannot be resolved in the first step can be resolved in this one. The third step if the first two do not work is to bring the issue to the church. My best understanding of this is that we bring the conflict to a group within the church who has the role of brining resolution to conflict. Churches and other ministries help people with relationships, grief, baptism and many other needs. Churches should also provide assistance in conflict. If this step is not successful, the passage suggests that the unresolved conflict should result in someone leaving the community of faith. This is a harsh suggestion that I have yet to see come to fruition if the rest of the process was followed.
While I have often looked to this passage in regards sin and conflict particularly in the church, something new struck me as I studied this passage in preparation for my sermon. Certainly it’s a passage about the importance of unity, and it is a reminder that God is with us at all times. It reminds us that we should seek God’s help and presence in all things, especially in the midst of conflict. As I thought about how this passage concludes, it struck me that we could see conflict as something we can do in the name of Jesus. While conflict is not enjoyable, its ability to teach, humble and redeem are undeniable. It is in the midst of conflict I have learned the most and additionally, it is in the midst of conflict that some of my most significant relationships have been deepened. While easy for us to believe in the redeeming power of Christ and the cross when we think about our sin and salvation, it is not as easy to see the redeeming power of Christ in the midst of conflict, especially in the church. Conflict is more than a necessary evil; it is an opportunity to give something over to Christ completely and to trust God to do something powerful. Conflict does not have to destroy us. If handled in the way Jesus showed us and done in the name of Jesus, conflict can be an indicator of the presence of Christ among us.