This last week I sat with a Pastor and his leadership team as they discussed a plan of action regarding conflict with a small group of people within the church. I am often in this situation. It isn’t because the church in the UK is in a poor state it is simply because where people gather conflict will emerge sooner or later.
Into the context of a community of disciples, the church, now instructed in how to manage conflict Jesus says these 2 sentences that are often quoted at badly attended prayer meetings!
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18 v 19-20)
What do we know so far?
Jesus has been describing us, the church, where we are going to great lengths to preserve mutuality (v1-5); being careful how we act or speak so as not to cause hurtful stumbling (v6-9); caring for those who are the least (v10-14); restoration of those who fail (v12-17) and total forgiveness (v21-35). This is the binding (declaring guilty) and loosing (declaring them forgiven) of heaven. These are the values of Christ’s community that sets itself apart from all other communities and that shares in the culture of heaven?
Even as I write that last paragraph again I sense Christ’s presence on the church who practice this.
This Sunday I will be in a church service and we will know we are in the presence of Christ, we will experience Him in worship and during the preaching of His word, in prayer and as we listen to the testimony of someone giving thanks to God. But His presence is not just with us then but also when two or three people are gathering to bring correction of a wayward brother or sister with the aim of forgiveness and restoration.
In the Jewish law (Deuteronomy 17 and 19) two or three witnesses were needed to establish a case in their court of law. Jesus says as you establish what has happened in the conflict and begin to establish peace then He is with us.
This is not about prayer but His presence in church conflict management.
The presence of God is here in our difficulties and the emotional draining moments of confrontation.
When trying to bring a balanced judgment He is there.
When you are trying to find the right words so as not to cause further hurt He is there.
When we are focusing on the ‘little ones’ in their vulnerable, marginalised state, He is there.
When we are bringing forgiveness to those who need it He is there.
And even when the person resists and refuses to listen to the group of believers and walks away from the church carrying their unchanging sinful life He is there.
How we are indebted to Matthew’s gospel that reveals all the incredible miracles and extraordinary events where the presence of Christ obviously is but also reveals that in the ordinary and the painful moments of church conflict He never leaves us. Matthew ends his gospel as we know by telling us that Jesus will be with us to the end of the age.