By David A. Beck
There are only three ways that I know of to have peace within a congregation of God’s people. As we look around, usually not having to look very far, we find that churches are not at total peace. Some wind up in division; some wind up divided (but determine to stay together), and some wind up running headlong into denominationalism as they try to cover over their problems.
It seems that there is a strong parallel between churches and marriages. Some marriages end in divorce; others decide to stay together to save face (or for the children); and others just totally corrupt the marriage with things like “open marriages,” “wife-swapping,” etc.
This article is not about marriage; it is about church problems. Ideally, churches (and marriages) should be perfect. There should never be any disagreement, and if there is, the party in error should quickly repent. But I don’t know of any perfect marriages, nor do I know of any perfect churches.
So what are these three ways to have peace?
First, we should “all agree, and there should be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and the same judgment” as Paul admonished the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:10). Each member should be “blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). There may be some congregations who have achieved this perfect state, and have been able to maintain it. I have never seen it personally, though. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t always be pressing toward that mark. But what should we do while we are still imperfect?
Many times brethren bring these passages as a simple solution to complicated problems. What shall we do if we disagree on ___________________ (you fill in the controversial topic of your choice)? “It is easy, we must ‘be of the same mind and the same judgment,”‘ they will say. But what if the ones who are “right” can’t convince the ones who are “wrong”? (I am always on the side of the ones who are “right.” Aren’t you?) Again, we must always press toward perfection. But in the meantime we must find a way to remain at peace.
If you are not among those who remain in total agreement on all things then you must be among us who have had to face controversial problems in our congregations. That brings me to the second way that we can have peace.
Just deny that there is a problem. Simply keep “sweeping it under the carpet.” Find any way possible to keep from having to have a confrontation over it. Find all kinds of ways of compromise. (This usually involves the sacrifice of truth.) This is, by far, the easiest way to have peace. It is pleasing to almost everyone. Everyone but the Lord. We can refuse to face our problems, even deny that we have problems, only to find that they not only don’t go away but they fester. Growth, the kind that counts, is thwarted. The congregation is weak, untaught, and many times is swept away into apostasy. Satan wins the victory.
There is a third way to have peace in the congregation. We should all agree, and have no divisions, but be of the same mind and the same judgment. But if we find that we are in disagreement on some topic, don’t “sweep it under the rug” or deny that there is a problem. Instead, kick it out into the open. Each member study and pray about it. Come together and share your study, being unafraid of the consequences. If it remains unresolved, look for ways of compromise where no one is put in a position of violating his conscience. If some brethren demand their way and are contentious, deal with that brother or sister as the Scriptures direct.
One of the weaknesses of this method of peace is that some brethren don’t want to study. We must remember that Paul, through the Holy Spirit, directs us to “be diligent (study KJV) to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness” (2 Tim. 2:15-16). Some will put up “road blocks” for this reason alone. We must, those who will, continue to study anyway. We must also remember that we are to help these brethren to grow. We can do that by being an example for them, and not letting their feeble excuses stand in our way. Remember, they have learned to be scripturally lazy from others.
Another weakness of this method of peace is that some brethren are just contentious and looking for a fight. But we must remember that these brethren need to repent. God is going to deal with such a one. If we love him we must love him enough to deal with his problem. Read Romans 2:5-8. Paul told Titus that a factious man should be “rej ected after the first and second warning” (Tit. 3:10). This is a sin that must be dealt with like any other. If not, it will go to seed and could destroy the church.
At least one other way, we can see as a weakness in this method of peace. Some brethren don’t know how to disagree and not take it personally. I believe we need more teaching on the commands of God to “love one another” (i.e. Jn. 15:12; 1 Jn. 2:9-11; 3:10-18,23; 4:7-11; 5:1-2, etc.). It is not “just a good idea.” God commands us to love one another; and puts it in the same relationship to our salvation as following his commands.
These three weaknesses are not weakness of God’s plan. These weaknesses are weaknesses among some brethren. If we study and pray when we have problems; deal with the contentious or factious brother; and love one another in spite of our differences, then Satan is defeated and the Lord is pleased. We can have peace without sacrifice of truth. But we must do it the way the first century church did it. It may not be the easiest way, but it’s the way that leads to eternal life.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 4, pp. 109, 119
February 15, 1990