Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
“Live in Community – Gather across Differences”
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
I Corinthians 1:10-17
February 6, 2022
In I Corinthians, Paul addresses divisions that were brewing within the Corinthian congregation. Paul points out that some were declaring allegiance to certain leaders of the faith, like Apollos or Cephas or even Paul himself.
This “choosing of allegiances” was creating feelings of division within the congregation. Paul encourages the Corinthians to remember that they have been called out of the world, for the sake of the world, to live as a united community, a community of faith united in Jesus Christ and united in the common purpose of worship and service.
Hear the Word of God from I Corinthians 1:10-17.
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’
Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Conflict is inevitable.
If we are going to live in community with other human beings, if we are going to live in the same house with other human beings, we are going to experience some measure of conflict.
Conflict is inevitable, especially in places or situations where people care very deeply about what happens, like in a family or a congregation. When people care deeply about what is going on, there will inevitably be some measure of dissension.
As one commentator wrote: “Relational conflict is not something that should surprise us as Christians. We need not be ashamed that it exists, and that we’re involved. We should expect it. The world is complicated and fallen, and we are complicated creatures, and fallen. Conflicts will come. They are unavoidable.
And yes, conflict is inevitable in the church as well. Christians often have conflict with each other — true, genuine, faithful Christians.
The question is not whether conflicts will come, but how we will handle them.(https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/conflict-is-an-opportunity-for-grace)
Someone once said: In a marriage or in a close friendship, if there is never any conflict, never any dissension whatsoever, then someone is not speaking up. Someone is not sharing how they really feel.
Conflict can actually be quite healthy, because working through conflict can help lead to change, and at least some change will be necessary in order to remain faithful to God and to one another in changing times.
Three church consultants – Jim Herrington Mike Bonem, and James Furr, wrote a book called Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey. (2000, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass). When facing cultural changes, or needing to address a complicated issue, leaders actually need to encourage conflict, or rather, encourage what they call creative tension. The beginning place of the journey of transformation for an individual or an institution is the disciplined capacity of the leaders and organizations to generate and sustain creative tension. “Creative tension occurs when a compelling vision of the future and a clear picture of current reality are held in continuous juxtaposition…
An organizational leader or a leader in a family can hold up for examination the gap between the “way things ought to be” versus “the way things are.” This gap can result in creative tension.
Creative tension should be distinguished from crisis or destructive tension. If the tension is too great, a fight-or-flight encounter follows. The tendency for many people when facing conflict is either “fight” or “flight”.
Some people, in the face of conflict, will quickly choose up a team, draw a line in the sand, and then prepare to fight. Others, in the face of conflict, will turn and run away, or they will shut down and remain silent, or they will choose to “hide out” until the storm passes.
Neither fight nor flight addresses conflict appropriately, but those are often responses when the “temperature in the room”, or the level of tension, becomes uncomfortable. On the other hand, the consultants write, if there too little tension in a congregation, there is no motivation to change, no motivation to seek transformation.
At this point, some of you are probably wondering what particular tension or conflict within this congregation I am addressing. To be honest, there is no particular tension or conflict I had in mind. If I did, I would tell you. I am not aware of any significant tension or conflict that we need to address as a congregation.
There are usually some small tensions here or there, some legitimate reasons for disagreement, or some tendency to divide upon a particular question.
But on the whole, we can be grateful for the warm and encouraging spirit we enjoy as a congregation. Our new staff members and new church members have shared about how much they appreciate the congeniality and hopefulness that they have experienced in this place.
Examining life in community during this coming month and listening to Paul’s appeal for unity within the church will perhaps a bit more “preventative medicine” for this congregation than a salve for some wound.
So what would we do if someone, or some group of someones, becomes of a very different mind and purpose? How should the Church as a body respond?
In Matthew 18, Jesus offers some fairly specific guidance for what to do about conflict in the Church:
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.(vs 15-17)
Though “cancel culture” has become prominent in our society, the ideal in a Christian congregation is always unity. Unity is a primary goal toward which we strive as mature Christian persons. Unity cannot always be achieved, but it nevertheless remains the ideal.
There are occasional times, hopefully very rare times, when one must “shake the dust from their feet”, so to speak, and move on. Or, as Jesus put it in Matthew 18, allow that person to become to you as an outsider or one no longer welcomed, at least not until they are willing to listen, willing to change. But the hope is that, even in the midst of differences, even in the midst of disagreements, we still gather as one people at the table of Jesus Christ.
Vernon Gramling had another nice quote in his blog this week:
“There are a number of practical practices that can help us gather around differences. First, we must remember that certainty is the enemy of relationships. Certainty is the way we insist on our own way. When we are sure we are right, there is no room for God. Certainty narrows the space that a community can live in. In contrast, humility widens that space. Whether it is within a close relationship or in a public discussion, curiosity and humility go a long way toward creating space for differences.
Instead of ‘yes, but…’, we need to be saying, (‘yes, and…) or ‘That could be true” or “How did you come to that conclusion?”
Or, as Ted Lasso encouraged: Be curious, not judgmental.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke these words: ‘
You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:21-24)
This is why the Church of Scotland would hand out communion tokens. In order to receive communion, first you had to receive a token from a congregational elder. If that elder knew that you were not reconciled to a brother or sister, they would not give you a token. Perhaps this was not the best use of the theology of worship and communion, and it was probably not consistently applied, but the practice did encourage divisions to be reconciled.
So, before we come to the Table today, I encourage you to consider any division or any brokenness in your life. Is there anyone to whom you need to be reconciled? I am not going to bar anyone from the Table, but I will encourage you to do this: If you have any division with some other person, if you have had some ongoing quarrel with another person, if you have had some vehement disagreement with another that has broken the relationship, first, pray for that person. Pray for understanding, pray for forgiveness.
Pray for their well-being, because Christ has commanded us to pray even for our enemies. And as you come to the Table and receive once again the grace of Jesus Christ, pray that that other person may receive grace and transformation this day as well.
Instead of “cancel culture”, think “communion culture.” Instead of living with unresolved conflict, live with an undying commitment to unity. Verse 18, the very next verse after our text for today claims:
For the message about the cross (about the way of Jesus Christ) is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to (those of) us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The cross, the bread and cup, the Table, the gathering of the faithful together, in spite of difference, is the power of God for those who are being saved.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
February 6, 2022