“Unity by Conflict”
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)
Over the past twenty-five years the Southern Baptist world has been rocked by waves of conflict and division. There was a day when SBC/BGCT meetings resembled “family reunions.” Those “family” gatherings were transformed into the Baptist version of the Civil War as brother waged war against brother in the name of “right.” Fundamentalists fighting for the “Bible” and moderates defending “Baptist” principles drew battle lines in the sand. Our Baptist family split into factions and groups, and from my perspective we limped into the future.
For me this story of my “extended” family is the bad news, but the good news is that we are not alone in our struggles for the “unity of the Spirit.” Conflict has been part of the Christian world since the first disciples of Jesus vied for position and power as the dusk from Jesus’ sandals settled on them. Jesus used these “childish” actions of his disciples as an opportunity to teach them the principles of His Kingdom which values humility and service above position and power.
After the resurrection the early church grew with amazing speed, but it too was rocked by division and conflict as the Greek widows were neglected in the daily distribution of food. This conflict called the church to step back and take a hard look at how it was doing ministry. The ministry team was expanded, and the church began to grow again. The simple lesson from the story from our past is this: Conflicts embraced lead to greater effectiveness.
Later the church faced the huge division between the world views of Jewish believers and the Gentile believers who accepted Jesus out of the pagan pool. The Jews look with great suspicion on these new believers and especially their customs baptized by grace. The Jerusalem council met under the watchful eye of James, and these two historic factions left the table as one movement and the gospel continued its march across the known world. Once again, the church of Acts illustrated that conflict embraced leads to greater unity and effectiveness.
I believe for the BGCT to embrace its future, it must be willing to learn to “embrace conflict.” Embracing conflict seems odd to most people. We have cut our teeth believing “unity” means the absence of conflict, but the crystal truth is that conflict often is a reflection of “unity” at work. Bill Hybels remarked “The mark of community—true biblical unity—is not the absence of conflict. It’s the presence of a reconciling spirit.”
As I look at my life, those I am closest too are often those I have conflict with the most. Family means intimacy and vulnerability. We should not be surprised or disappointment when we have conflict in our ranks. It is the mark of being part of the family of God. Conflict in and off itself is not evil. It is how we deal with conflict that makes all the difference.
We need a fundamental change in how we embrace conflict in our convention if we are going to make strides toward becoming the Kingdom movement we are called to be. Hugh F. Halversadt wrote that in a Christian community conflict may be the road toward “building genuine human community” by the “incorporation of our differences.” Missionary and medical doctor Paul Brand points out that the ultimate design of pain in the body is “directional, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. It hurts not in order to cause discomfort, but to demand change in response to danger.”
Could it be the “pain” and conflict we have experienced in recent years was God’s way of calling us to a much higher dimension of community and cooperation? Have you ever wonder where we would be today as a people if we had been able to embrace our conflicts with a high commitment toward “win/win” solutions rather than the political power plays of a “win/lose” attitude? You see in a family, when someone “wins” everyone “loses.”
I believe it is time for us to take a hard look at how we deal with our conflicts, and work toward transforming our differences into platforms for growth and understanding.