As long as we are in this world we are going to have problems between human beings. That is one of the sad consequences of living in a world that is torn and twisted by sin. Sometimes we seem to think that because we have been saved – have become children of God – that there should no longer be problems among us. That, of course is the ideal for which we hope and for which God is working, but that degree of ideal perfection of the human character has not yet been reached.
It takes time and very real effort to build community. Dr. M. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist and best-selling author, in his book “The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace” (1987), describes the stages people go through in forming real community. He lists;
Pseudocommunity: In this phase, well-intentioned people try to demonstrate their ability to be friendly and sociable, but they do not really delve beneath the surface of each other’s ideas or emotions. They use obvious generalities and mutually-established stereotypes in speech. Instead of conflict resolution, pseudocommunity involves conflict avoidance, which maintains the appearance or facade of true community. It also serves only to maintain positive emotions, instead of creating safe space for honesty and love through bad emotions as well. While they still remain in this phase, members will never really obtain evolution or change, as individuals or as a bunch.
Chaos: The first step towards real positivity is, paradoxically, a period of negativity. Once the mutually-sustained facade of bonhomie (good naturedness, mr) is shed, negative emotions flood through: Members start to vent their mutual frustrations, annoyances, and differences. It is a chaotic stage but Peck describes it as a “beautiful chaos” because it is a sign of healthy growth.
Emptiness: In order to transcend the stage of “Chaos”, members are forced to shed that which prevents real communication. Biases and prejudice, need for power and control, self-superiority, and other similar motives which are only mechanisms of self-validation and/or ego-protection, must yield to empathy, openness to vulnerability, attention, and trust. Hence this stage does not mean people should be “empty” of thoughts, desires, ideas or opinions. Rather, it refers to emptiness of all mental and emotional distortions which reduce one’s ability to really share, listen to, and build on those thoughts, ideas, etc. It is often the hardest step in the four-level process, as it necessitates the release of patterns which people develop over time in a subconscious attempt to maintain self-worth and positive emotion.
True community: Having worked through emptiness, the people in the community enter a place of complete empathy with one another. There is a great level of tacit understanding. People are able to relate to each other’s feelings. Discussions, even when heated, never get sour, and motives are not questioned. A deeper and more sustainable level of happiness obtains between the members, which does not have to be forced. Even and perhaps especially when conflicts arise, it is understood that they are part of positive change. (Wikipedia/M. Scott Peck).
I have included this quotation to make the point that real community building is not easy. This expert in human relations recognizes it in the world around us. We in the church would do well to take some lessons from him and others who have given thought to the question of community development. It takes real work and lots of time. It is unfortunate that we have thought we could impose a Biblical doctrinal system on a group of people and have them conform to that system and have a real, working, sharing, mutually helpful, mutually loving community of believers. Biblical principles must always be our guiding standard, but the application of these principles often requires the faith of Abraham, the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon and the strength of Samson.
Now let us look at two incidents involving problems of human relationships in the New Testament and the solutions which were offered in those two cases.
The first of these incidents involved none other than the apostle Paul. Yes, Paul had problems with other people! At the end of Acts is where the record of this incident occurs. Paul and Barnabas had made a preaching tour – Paul’s first missionary journey – and propose to return to every city they had previously visited and to see how the brethren were doing. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark (or just Mark), Barnabas’ nephew (Col. 4:10), with them but Paul objected because he had abandoned them in Pamphylia on the first journey (Acts 13:13). The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas became quite sharp. Finally these two good, faithful men decided that the best thing for them to do would be to part ways.
No, it was not a matter of faith. It was purely a judgment call. Perhaps Paul didn’t want John Mark along because he was afraid he would leave them like he had before. Perhaps he didn’t want to have to baby an immature person on a long and arduous trip. Whatever the reason, he chose Silas as his traveling companion and went to the mainland of Asia Minor and then on to Philippi, the first European region to receive the gospel as well as to Athens and Corinth, major cities in Greece.
Barnabas took Mark and returned to Cyprus where he and Paul had gone on their first trip. There is nothing recorded of what they did, but something good did happen, though. Something that caused Paul to change his mind about Mark. When Paul, from a lonely jail in Rome, wrote to Timothy he asked him that when he came to “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11).
In this case something good came about as a result of this disagreement. First, instead of one preaching team, now there were two. They could reach more people that way. And second, Mark was redeemed in Paul’s eyes. He even wanted him to come help him when he was a prisoner in Rome. Some think this was the Mark who wrote the gospel that bears that name, although that is uncertain.
The lesson here is that sometimes in matters of judgment the best answer is for people who cannot agree is to go their separate ways. No, neither “side” in such disputed matters may judge the faithfulness of the other before the Lord. No, they may not treat the other in any way other than as a beloved brother.
The second case I want us to consider is that which Paul deals with in Romans 14-15:7 . In this text there are two problems discussed with people divided at least four different ways. “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.”(Rom 14:2).
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:1-2).
We are not to be brotherhood watchdogs. We are not to be guardians of orthodoxy. We are not the saviors of the church. We are to be humble servants of one another. This is what we were made to be – servants and not judges.
Some will object that the things Paul wrote about in this text were merely matters of human opinion and our issues over which we judge and divide are matters of faith. I have yet to find one thing over which we divide that denies that Christ came in the flesh or that his blood is not effective for the forgiveness of our sins. They are all matters of faith in the exact same way the Roman’s issues were matters of faith. They were/are matters we hold with strong conviction, but they are not eternal life-and-death matters. What makes our “issues” matters of salvation is when we elevate them to the level of requiring someone believe them and teaching them that if they don’t they will end up in hell. There is nothing – nothing – nothing that may occupy a place equal with Jesus and his shed blood. Not a Bible class, not communion cups, not an institution, not a fellowship hall – nor a piano – and not any or all our objections to any or all of these things may be put on a par with him! Jesus saves. Our personal preferences and inferred doctrines don’t save us. They may damn us for the way way we treat one another over them, but they will never save us!
Therefore we dare not refuse a brother over any one nor even all of our “issues” combined! If we can’t in good conscience do any of these things then don’t do them, but don’t condemn one who in good conscience can do them. This is the only divinely approved way we may treat others who hold different views and practices from us …
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”