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Healthy conflict
July 25, 2011
by Rev. Steve Olsen, Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Dassel

Conflict is nothing new in church or society.

Yes, even in the early infant church, there were divisions. Some were saying “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” So, we should not be surprised by divisions in church and society today. It is a simple fact of life because people of good will and integrity can, and do disagree on important issues.

That is the reality, we all face. The question is “What do we do about that reality?” Do we draw the line between us and them and go to war at the ballot box, or is there another way?

Human nature is to say, “It’s my way or the highway!” or “Throw the bums out!” And unfortunately, sometimes, that human nature wins out in church and society.

When that happens in society, we see government shutdowns. When it happens in church, we see schisms; and that is exactly what was happening in Corinth. In scornful wonder, unbelievers saw the church being torn apart by schisms, and they laughed.

They laughed, but St. Paul wept, as he wrote, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” That was his appeal, and then he asked them a simple question, “Is Christ divided?”

In their day, the church was divided, but Christ was not, and the same holds true now. Today, the church may be divided, but Christ is not. So we do not let the schisms define us – rather, we are defined by Christ, who is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

We define ourselves by the mission He gave us, “To make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all Christ commanded us.”

That is our mission, but to achieve that mission, we still have to deal with the honest conflicts and disagreements that arise. How do we do that?

We cannot follow the human nature, which is to “throw the bums out.” For, as Jesus taught us in the parable of the weeds in the wheat, by tearing out the weeds we can do more harm than good to the wheat. So, too, in church and society, by trying to drown out, intimidate, or remove those who disagree with us; we can, and most often actually do more harm than good.

So, what are we to do? I think St. Peter had the best answer, “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

A humble mind is not an arrogant mind. It is willing to admit that it may not have the whole truth. It is willing to grow into deeper truths. The humble mind opens the door to respectful discussion. It helps build unity. It fosters sympathetic understanding and it restores love.

So in these troubled times for church and society, may God grant us a humble mind and a humble spirit, may God grant that we have the courage to speak the truth in love, as we work toward our common unity in Christ Jesus, our Lord.