Sin, Forgiveness and Transformation in a Conflicted Church

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9

We are all unique, We have different perspectives, desires, and priorities. These can be beneficial to us, our congregation and our ministry teams. They can stimulate productive dialogue and encourage creativity. We can appreciate the diversity of God’s people. We can fellowship and serve with people who see things differently from us (Romans 14:1-13). Or they can produce unhealthy conflict.

Pentecost painting (Jyoti Sahi, India)

Unhealthy conflicts in the church show us our need for God’s grace. The worst of human nature can emerge in our conflicts. Our broken humanity can contribute to, or be the source of conflict. We react, and devote energy into defending our position. As James 4:1-2 teaches, not all conflicts are beneficial. Sinful attitudes, motives, and behaviors lead to and grow out of conflict.

Unhealthy conflicts result in broken relationships and unconfessed sins. Dietrich Bonheoffer said that our life together as Christians involves our confession of sins to one another. Scripture urges us to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). Jesus urged taught his disciples to declare the good news of God’s forgiveness to one another (John 20:22-23). These can be powerful means of grace to those in need of healing consolation, and reconciliation.

God transforms us in our conflicts. Approach someone whose words and actions have offended us. Patiently listen and try to understand one another. Pray for and with one another. Do these with a genuine desire for healing and reconciliation. When we do these things we can be the mouthpiece of Christ, who alone can bind and loose our sins (Matthew 18:15-20). We will discover our own need for repentance and confession. Someone’s rough edges can serve as an unlikely means of our spiritual growth.

About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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