How to settle church conflict

Karl Barth’s little book The German Church Conflict is remarkable reading. I read it and hear much of what he writes speaking to the condition of the church today. (More on that in another post on another day.)

In the first essay in the book, he speaks of conflict in the church and how to resolve it. The Confessing Church in Germany was accused by the National Socialists and moderates of stirring up trouble and conflict. The Nazis wanted the church to adopt Nazi theology. The moderates — like the preachers in Birmingham who admonished Martin Luther King Jr. — just wanted the conflict to go away. Barth wrote, in part, to reject the moderate’s arguments that the conflict could not be resolved and should therefore be avoided.

When there is strife in the Church, there is no reason at all for thinking that everybody may be right or perhaps nobody, and that the best course will doubtless be to break off the conflict. No, in the Church there is a judge. The judge alone may end the conflict. And the judge was then and is still today the Word of the apostles and prophets, who for this reason are called the foundation of the Church in Eph. 2:20. They were and are the witnesses whom Jesus Christ has appointed for Himself. They knew what right and truth are, and in their Word, and thus in the Holy Scriptures, the contestants in the Church can and must be able to hear the right and the truth unmistakably at all times.

I often find myself in the moderate camp in our church conflicts. I find Barth’s message a bracing challenge.

7 thoughts on “How to settle church conflict

  1. The United Methodist Church is at a similar crossroads. In spite of a 20 year putch to put homosexuality on par with heterosexuality, it has been voted not compatable. However an episcopal leader has chosen to defy the discipline. He cannot win by scripture, witness, experience nor reason yet he continues to claim his title and his pension. Will the church be united, or untied ?

  2. Church strife is very hard to resolve in a satisfying way. Members of the German Confessing Church remained AMBIVALENT on how to rid themselves of Hitler to the very end of the war (according to Joachim Fest, et al.). This indecision defeated all resolution, divided friends and family members, and today frustrates us in hindsight. We know the lessons, but we can’t bring ourselves to apply them in a way that satisfies.

    1. Leaders lead. Leaders weigh the evidence, facts, cost and try to project, minimize or eliminate future challenges.
      Some leaders face manipulation, intimidation, & always some criticism. Great leaders are aware of the tactics used by some parties and accept that fact.What they see and endure is placed in their memory files and makes them better leaders in the future.
      Leaders know a decision has to be made and they know everyone is not going to be happy.
      Leaders also understand the cost of not making decisions when one is demanded.
      Those that are not happy are then put into a position of decision making about their unhappy situation.

  3. Some people will not let a conflict die. Had the General Conference voted to accept homosexual rites as well as individual persons, I would have applauded. The genius of Methodism is its democratic form of discipline. But those who refuse to abide by the vote are rebels who could destroy the whole denomination. Those who are ordained, and receive denominational support need discipline. Not just a moderate “we disapprove.”

    1. I not so sure the genius of Methodism is genius at all.
      From some recent declarations one can see every weakness is being tested and exploited.
      The genius of trying to compromise on every issue and please everyone does not fall into the genius camp.
      It falls in the lukewarm camp.

  4. Not intending to offend, but in light of recent sinful disobedience from certain clergy, I’m starting to wonder if “moderates” aren’t enablers. After all, the reason that things have come to a head recently with the clergy trials pending and forthcoming is that we have clergy who are betting on the unwillingness of their fellow-clergy to punish their disobedience. Will moderates will prove willing to give church law some teeth–or would they prefer to remain silent for fear of “causing” division?

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