Deconstructing Destruction in the Church: Repairing the Breach
A rift has formed in your relationship. Perhaps the chasm has been widening for years. Perhaps the plates shifted, as far as you could tell, like a sudden earth quake. How in that instance do you fulfill the requirement to, “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all”? (Rom. 12:18) There is the comfort of those important qualifications, “if possible,” and, “so far as it depends on you.” It may be a worn-out truism, but relationships are a two-way street. However, with those qualifications comes the absolute, unconditional object: “with all”. The question remains. How can I fulfill my calling as a peace-maker when I’ve already fallen out of favor with someone, or, perhaps more difficult, they has fallen into disfavor with me?
Risking another cliché: think before you act. Analyze how it is that you arrived at an adversarial relationship. Consider that it could be a number of things. Was it an intellectual disagreement? Ok. But might it also be a matter of jealousy, envy, or wounded pride? Have your competing desires disrupted the relational harmony? James states quite categorically, after all, that this is where “wars and fightings” come from. (James 4:1-2)
In addition, consider spiritual compatibility. I don’t mean clashing personalities, though observations about varying temperaments may also prove helpful to consider. Instead, I mean the antithesis of light and darkness, belief and unbelief. We are to seek opportunities to “do good to all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) So also, peace-making has heightened stakes in regard to other professing believers. Conflict with them not only does harm, it rends the body of Christ. That doesn’t mean we can be casual as ambassadors for Christ with non-believers. Certainly not! But we should keep in mind that the basis for peace-making is not compatibility (spiritual or temperamental), but, as in all cases, the mind of Christ who loved us while we were yet his enemies.
Be like a paramedic at the scene of a tragedy and triage. As you analyze the seriousness and nature of the quarrel, do not forget to examine yourself. That would be like showing up as a first responder without the proper equipment, training, or preparation, or without the adequate rest, diet, or exercise to perform. When disunity was present at celebrations of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth, wasn’t self-examination what St. Paul called for from the Christians there? (1 Cor. 11:28) Have you sinned either by commission (you did or said something that violates God’s law) or omission (you deprived the other of some obligation of love)? Even if he or she doesn’t apologize, you have a duty to admit wrong yourself and ask for forgiveness. Even if you haven’t done wrong, you have the duty to pursue reconciliation. (Matt. 5:23; 18:15)
Having analyzed yourself and the causes of the breach, you are ready to do all that depends on you to live at peace. This is both positive and negative. Positively, make your own continued desire for reconciliation known; don’t assume they’ll take that for granted or even accept it after saying it once, or twice, or three times. You may also want to involve others in keeping with Matthew 18. And for a third and final cliché: actions speak louder than words. Quietly serving others may at least embarrass them into reconsidering their actions if not outright change their hearts (Rom. 12:20-21).
Negatively, you should try to minimize unnecessary irritants. Gauging divergent interests and temperaments can be helpful in identifying annoyances to cut out. They may also have told you out right things you do that bug them. Habits that in themselves are not your duty before God to prolong are obvious places for restraint. This fits with the principle of loving the weaker brother – whichever of you that may ultimately prove to be. (1 Cor. 8:8-9)
But what if you have sought reconciliation and it has only gotten worse? Review the earlier steps, and then persist in doing what you can. In all of this, the key is to put the relationship ahead of your own self-interest – for example, to win an argument or feel vindicated. Consider the promise that follows the command to live at peace: God will avenge so that we do not have to. (Rom 12:19) And the God of vengeance is also the Prince of Peace. Think what that Divine vengeance cost Jesus in order to bring us his peace.
Steven McCarthy is the rector of Christ Church Anglican (South Bend, IN). He earned an M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Pittsburgh, PA), and is a Th.M. student at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, MI). He and his wife are native Michiganders. They have three young children.