agapa's quiet admission to "imperfect men" in the congregation inspired me to finish a small bible study on confrontation, and how the early church handled disputes.
(Romans 12:18 RV) If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men.
(2 Cor 13:11 CEV) Good-by, my friends. Do better and pay attention to what I have said. Try to get along and live peacefully with each other. Now I pray that God, who gives love and peace, will be with you.
(Eph 4:3 RV) giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
(Hebrews 12:14 CEV) Try to live at peace with everyone! Live a clean life. If you don't, you will never see the Lord.
We are familiar with the Jehovah's Witness method of peace. Put up and shut up. Don't make any waves. Endure your imperfect brothers for the sake of unity. But is this the Christian way? How did the early Christians resolve disputes? Did they tolerate imperfection in their brothers?
JESUS INSTRUCTS, DON'T LET OFFENCES FESTER
Note that he tells the offended party to go directly to the source.(Matthew 5:21-24) (Matthew 18:15-17)
The pattern is as follows.
- Go directly to your brother to work it out.
- If that doesn't work, talk about it with some witnesses present.
- If that doesn't work, bring it before the congregation.
- If that doesn't work, say good-bye to your friendship.
Where in these two examples are the elders as intermediaries? Closed door meetings? Private reproof? "Wait on Jehovah"? It is clear that disputes are to be handled quickly, directly between the two parties in dispute, in public, so that no-one can question the wisdom of the decision.
I think the first big dispute came over the treatment of widows. (Acts 6). Did the widows keep silent and "wait on Jehovah"? No! Here's the pattern of dispute resolution I see here:
- Widows complain.
- The twelve called everyone together and suggested that someone be assigned to take care of it.
- The multitude agreed, and the problem was resolved to everyone's satisfaction.
Fairly open and democratic, wouldn't you say? The widows were not obliged to wait until Jehovah noticed their plight. They were not rebuked for their grumbling.
SAUL and the DISCIPLES
The disciples weren't sure how to take the dramatic conversion of Saul. (Acts 9).
Did Barnabas keep silent in the face of the apostle's skepticism, in order to keep the unity? Did he "wait on Jehovah" for them to see the light? No!
Barnabas brought Paul before the apostles and described to them all that he had seen Paul do, and how he had put his life in danger for the gospel. The apostles then accepted Paul.
Barnabas spoke up for an honorable man.
PAUL EXHORTS THE CORINTHIANS
He goes on a delightful rant to the Corinthian church to work out minor disputes amongst themselves (1 Corinthians 6).
Now remember, this is the early church, where the Holy Spirit was in daily evidence, and they worked togehter "with one accord" (Acts 2:46). The Christians would never be in as much unity as those early days. Nevertheless, they had disputes. They aired their concerns, and they found their way.
From these examples, the bible pattern is pretty clear. Air your feelings. Don't bury it, don't hide it, and don't pretend it's not a problem. Get it out in the open, and deal with it.
And for God's sake, don't wait for Jehovah to take care of it.