Barthel and Edling Troubleshoot and Teach Peacemaking

Redeeming_conflict_01182016Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling [1]. 2012. Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

At the heart of the Gospel message is conflict between who we are in ourselves and who we become in Christ. In my forthcoming book, Life in Tension, I explore this theme in great depth, in part, because both conversion and sanctification involve what can be painful transitions. The transformation of souls often requires giving up cherished sins, dysfunctional relationships, and fears. This is why redemption in Christ requires active participation of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

In their book, Redeeming Church Conflicts, Tara Barthel and David Edling—both attorney’s by training—focus on the Jerusalem council controversy summarized in Acts 15 and discuss it in the context of  troubleshooting church conflicts with Peacemaking Ministries. By conflict, they mean: “a difference of opinion or purposes that frustrates someone’s goals or desires” (16). They present a number of case studies of churches in conflict, but return to one conflict with particular frequency: Lakeview Community Church (a pseudonym; LCC; 13).

In Acts 15, the authors see four core principles—perspective, discernment, leadership, and biblical response—and structure their book around these four principles (15-19). Let me follow their lead.

Perspective. A starting point in church conflicts is that a healthy perspective is lost and things often get personal (15).  In Acts 15, we read:

“And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.” (Acts 15:2 ESV)

People get into conflict when they begin to pick nits, let worldly views dominate, and demonstrate a lack of trust in God and one another (27-33).  Groups within the church also start picking sides and things may get emotional (37). Still, the authors admonish us that:  “No matter the level of conflict in our church, God is still at work.” (35) Centering on God is an important first step both in prayer and in moving towards a resolution of conflict (50-58).

Discernment. Citing Ken Sande, the authors see 6 types of conflicts: Internal conflicts, material conflicts, value and belief conflicts, relationship conflicts, information conflicts, and system conflicts (61). Classifying conflicts is helpful in diagnosing what to do about them.  For example, personal conflicts are typically resolved not through negotiation but through repentance, confession, and forgiveness (62).

Like Jesus, the authors focus on motivations and the heart. They define: “A heart motivation (or interest) [as] the primary reason a person favors one position over another.” (63) This is an important observation because many conflicts begin over rather trivial disagreements among individuals that spin out of control. Learning to deal with such spiraling conflicts in a church context has the benefit of teaching conflict resolution skills that can be applied at home and in the workplace.

In Acts 15, we read:

“The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said…” (Acts 15:6-7)

The authors underscore this point:

 “We are unaware of any church that has successfully resolved its churchwide conflicts without first going back to the basics of what the gospel message is, its implications for faith, and life, and God’s statement of purpose and mission for his church…” (78-79)

At the heart of this point is the need for serious discussion and dialogue: “much debate”. This point is particularly important today as our society has increasingly tried to sweep important controversies under the rug, arguing that they are not politically correct.  Because discussion is required for resolution, political correctness stagnates the democratic process and, in doing so,  ultimately leads to further conflict.

Citing Ephesians 4:29-31, the authors observe these standards for biblical discussion:

  • It starts with prayer.
  • Perfection is not the objective.
  • Communication requires listening.
  • Emphasize agreement, not disagreement.
  • Be flexible and charitable (79-80).

Humility, hard work, and a willingness to admit contribution to the problem all help to resolve church conflict (86).

Leadership. The authors observe that “many church conflicts center around church leaders” (135). Common issues include:

  • Moral failure.
  • Failure to meet expectations.
  • Failure to implement change appropriately.
  • Personality differences.
  • Conflict with lay people with informal influence and power.
  • Selfish misuse of church leadership positions.
  • Idolatry (135-137).

In particular, they highlight 4 characteristics of failed church leadership:

  • A lack of biblically balanced shepherd-leadership or even the expectation of it.
  • The pastor develops a “hired hand” mentality.
  • The pastor refuses to set by example.
  • The lack of a long-term vision (138).

In view here is the image of a shepherd-leader (the good shepherd) found in John 10 and also in 1 Peter 5:1-3. As lay leaders and pastors, we are truly under-shepherds of the Good Shepherd and accountable ultimately to Him.

Biblical response. The idea that church conflict, much like other forms of individual adversity, can be redemptive or formative is a uniquely Christian idea, one that is frequently rejected out of hand in our society. The authors return at this point to the LCC and ask these questions, based on the core principles articulated earlier:

  • How can we glorify God at LCC?
  • How have I [personally] contributed to the conflicts at LCC?
  • How are we called to speak the truth to one another?
  • What does it look like for us to forgive one another just as in Christ we have been forgiven? (167-168)

These questions are, in fact, a restatement of the 4 Gs of the Peacemaking Ministry:[2]

  • Glorify God.
  • Get the log out of your eye.
  • Gently restore.
  • Go and be reconciled (171).

Each of these admonishments are taken from scripture.

Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling’s book—Redeeming Church Conflicts—is filled with helpful advice about conflict resolution, especially in a church setting. I was frankly surprised at the number of scriptural situations that are directly related to this ministry of peacemaking. This is the kind of book that church leaders should study seriously and apply. Seminarians and young pastors should take special note.

[1] https://redeemingchurchconflicts.wordpress.com.

[2] Ken Sande. 2005. Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. Page 11. Also see review: Sande Resolves Conflicts; Makes Peace (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-eV). Also: http://PeaceMaker.net.

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Peace on God’s Terms

Life_in_Tension_web“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:22-23 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In order to extend shalom, one must find shalom. Shalom starts with God; works in our hearts; and then is extended to others.

The apple does not fall far from the tree: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt 5:9 ESV) In other words, peacemaking is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Out of our identity in Christ, we act.

Moving from theory in to practice is especially hard when it comes to peacemaking. Everyone one loves peace—on their own terms. Pax Romana was peace on Rome’s terms; Pax America is peace on Washington’s terms. In order to find shalom, we must seek peace on God’s terms. Shalom is a fruit of the Spirit, but the whole fruit basket is a package deal!

The Apostle Paul writes:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:19-24 ESV)

To find inner peace, two movements are necessary: throwing off sin (become holy) and taking on godliness (immitate God). Through the atonement of Christ, we are able not to sin. Through the example of the life of Christ, we are able to put on the righteousness of Christ (the fruit of the Spirit) which then spills over into our relationships with other people. This spilling over affects our relationships in the family, community, church, work, and the world (Graham 1955, 92-95).

The seventh beautitude influenced my life at a sensitive age. At age 19 on August 4, 1972, I wrote the following to my draft board:

“I can not fight in a war because as a Christian my highest duty is to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe that life is the sacred gift of God which is to be honored and respected by all men. I believe that every man has a constructive contribution to make to humanity and that each man has the right to fulfill this destiny. I believe there is a beauty in all life and that we should use love, concern, and non-violent methods to solve our conflicts. I believe all men are of one indivisible whole and that each man’s life is important to the life of the whole. I must live in peace to uphold my faith.”

The Vietnam war ended on New Year’s Eve of that year so my draft number (13) was never called. However, my stand against the war spilled over into my family life and strongly influenced later career choices [1]. I predicated my pacifist stand on the belief that Vietnam was an unjust war and therefore Christian participation was not justified.

Choices such as mine divided the generations in the 1960s and 1970s, but did not lead to lasting peace in the world—success is seldom within our control. As Christians, our call is to be faithful and to model faithfulness [2]. We may not institute world peace, but like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) we can help the needy person who crosses our path [3].

 

[1] Neyrey (1998, 184) notes that it is this family context where Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34 ESV)

[2] Mouw (2010, 65) sees moral simplicity accompanied by openness to God’s grace as a path towards sanctification and cites the examples of Corrie ten Boom and Mother Teresa.

[3] Why is the Good Samaritan not called the Great Samaritan? He did what was necessary, not everything possible, to save a man’s life (Cloud and Townsend 1992, 38-39).

REFERENCES

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. 1992. Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Mouw, Richard J. 2010. Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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Prince of Peace

Life_in_Tension_web“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and
over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time
forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isa 9:6-7 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) as “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002) is divine attribute and mostly out of reach in the Old Testament. More typically, conflict was the norm.

In the Books of the Law, conflict between brothers is a theme repeated over and over. After the conflict between Cain and Abel, we see conflict between the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, over the birthright and inheritance (Gen 25:26-34). Later, Jacob’s sons are so jealous of the favoritism shown to their brother, Joseph, that they sell him into slavery (Gen 37:2-28). This brother’s theme clearly points, like the sublimated violence in our own time, towards an absence of shalom and the need for God.

Interestingly, when Stephen recites the Story of Israel in Acts 7, he lingers over the story of a young Moses attempting to reconcile two of his Hebrew “brothers”, but without success:

“One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, Why do you strike your companion? He answered, Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian? Then Moses was afraid, and thought, Surely the thing is known. When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian.” (Exod 2:11-15 ESV)

In effect, Moses tries emulate God’s reconciliation between Cain and Abel by making peace between his brothers, but his own sin gets in the way and his reconciliation fails—a murderer cannot easily make peace!

In the Books of the Prophets, peace remains out of reach. Two dominant types of conflict emerge.

The first type of conflict is between the Nation of Israel and God. The covenant with Moses, summarized in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and reiterated in Deuteronomy 5, is repeatedly forgotten. Nevertheless, God offers a promise:

“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.” (Deut 30:1-3 ESV)

In other words, peace with God will be restored if you obey the commandments. Here is the invitation to pursuing holiness. But the destruction of Israel and the scattering of the people of Israel is also anticipated. God repeatedly sent the prophets to remind people of the covenant and to chasen the Nation of Israel to prevent this from happening.

The second type of conflict was internal to the Nation of Israel. King Solomon may have been a wise man, but he was an opulent ruler who laid a heavy tax burden on the nation. When he died and his son, Rehoboam, became king, the tribes of Israel sent delegates to the king asking him to go easy on the taxes. He asked his father’s advisers and his friends how to respond. His father’s advisers counseled lower taxes; his friends counseled higher taxes. Rehoboam decided to listen to his friends—implicitly rejecting both his father’s advisors and his father’s relationship with God. When he raised taxes, the tribes rebelled and the kingdom was split. Two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, remained loyal to Rehoboam (Judah); the other ten northern tribes rebelled to form a new kingdom (Israel). The leader of the rebellion, Jeroboam, became the king of Israel. Jeroboam was fearful that people visiting Jerusalem for religious worship would eventually return to Rehoboam so he set up alternative worship sites and recast new golden calf idols (1 Kings 12). These actions were later referred as the “sins of Jeroboam” (e.g. 1 Kings 14:16) [1]. The split of the kingdom was eventually followed by the destruction of both kingdoms and exile of many of the people.

The counterweight to conflict in the Old Testament is the emergence of messianic texts, such as Isaiah 9:6-7, that link the Messiah and heaven to the idea of shalom: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. We place a higher value on things, like shalom, that we normally lack. In the Prophet Isaiah’s vision of heaven he sees:

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isa 11:6 ESV)

The outbreak of shalom—an end to predation and the play of a little child—is a sign of God’s mighty work among us.

 

[1] Animosity between the Northern and Southern kingdoms continued until New Testament times when Jews openly discriminated against Samaritans—part of the Northern Kingdom.

REFERENCE

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

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Make Peace—Embody Shalom

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The seventh beatitude focuses on peacemaking. Here we move from tension with ourselves and tension with God to tension with others.  Peacemaking embodies them all.

What does it mean to be a peacemaker?

The absence of peace on earth begins with sin and its consequences. In response to Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve, God curses him with these words:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15 ESV)

The first example of peacemaking in scripture follows shortly thereafter and demonstrates God at work. We read:

“So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:5-7 ESV)

God sees Cain angry at his brother, Abel, and intervenes to reconcile them. God cautions Cain to get a handle on his own desires. In other words, Abel is not the problem. Cain ignores God; projects his anger on his brother; and kills him. Cain becomes an object of pity because he can neither control his emotions nor his behavior. Jesus himself uses this illustration later in the Sermon on the Mount where he links anger and murder (Matt 5:21-26).

Through this example in Genesis, we see God himself modeling peacemaking through self-control, advising how to avoid sin, and being available to help others. Notice how God’s intervention deals with the three sources of tension here: within ourselves, with God, and with other people! Peacemaking is according seen as a divine attribute and messianic title (Isaiah 9:6-7) which utilizes each of the three dimensions of spirituality. Peacemaking clearly embodies the Hebrew concept of shalom which encompasses each of these dimensions [1].

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002). The Greek word for shalom (εἰρήνη) has similar scope, but focuses more often on “concord, peace, harmony” (BDAG 2285). The English word, peace, is almost exclusively focused on the absence of war and needs to be modified to encompass shalom [2].

The Apostle Matthew understands the different aspects of shalom in Jesus’ teaching. Two are found in chapter 10 of his Gospel:

“And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” (Matt. 10:13 ESV)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34 ESV)

Verse 13 builds on the Hebrew custom of saying both hello and goodbye with the word, shalom—if your hello does not stick, then take it with you when you leave! Verse 34 clearly focuses on the more political interpretation of shalom—peace. Peacemaking can be a positive or a negative attribute depending on the object [3]. Both were important in the Roman-occupied Palestine of the first century. Still, it is the Apostle John that most clearly captures the tension in shalom when he writes:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 ESV)

World peace in the first century meant Pax Romana which promised tranquility but delivered a brutal occupation.

Clearly, Jesus sees shalom and its embodiment, peacemaking, as transformative. In spite of the brutality of Roman occupation, Jesus commands them:

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:44-48 ESV)

Here we see the parallel between enemy love and peacemaking through the link to the promise—”so that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:45) which reads almost the same as: “sons [and daughters] of God” (Matt 5:9). The word, love (ἀγαπᾶτε), appears here in the imperative form. In order to treat an enemy as a brother, one needs to settle one’s heart, be faithful to God’s command, and practice shalom. Then and only then, will you be like your father in heaven and be able to transform your enemy into your friend.

Make peace—embody shalom.

 

[1] I am not the first to notice these three dimensions of peacemaking and relationship with shalom: “Peacemaking, therefore, is much more than a passive suffering to maintain peach or even ‘bridge-building’ or reconciling alienated parties. It is a demonstration of God’s love through Christ in all its profundity (John 3:16’ Rom 5:1 and 6-11). The peacemakers of 5:9 refers to those who, experiencing the shalom of God, become his agents establishing his peace in the world (Shcniewind, Matthaus 48).” Guelich (1982, 92).

[2] For example, we might talk about inner peace or peace and well-being, but peace itself is too narrow to compare with shalom.

[3] What is the object of the peace? Justice, wholeness, or maintenance of privilege? (Neyrey 1998, 184)

REFERENCES

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged. (BibleWorks)

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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