Since the 1980’s there has been even more fighting in the church than ever! As postmodern thinking takes over the philosophical playing field and becomes more and more codified into law, conflict about the old, modern way of doing things happens all the time. The other day I was in a dialogue about what Circle of Hope is all about and someone kind of accosted me because they assumed I would be a proponent of some old-school church idea. A woman who was listening in to this impending conflict said, “Rod’s pretty much postmodern, if anyone is. I don’t think you’ll have to worry.” I did not think it showed.
The truth is (and you’ll have to decide, I’m afraid, what that means) is that I am not postmodern or modern. I am a Jesus follower.
- I could easily be postmodern, since my life is “made” every day in relationship with the resurrected Jesus; grace is new every morning to experience and I experience it in a community based on that common experience.
- But I could easily be modern too, since the source of my life is transhistorical and my call to live it is built right into my essence as a human being; before I was, Jesus is.
Saying things like that about the truth can get one into a conflict almost every day. That is, you can have a fight if you hang out with people who have not just shut down in the face of the barrage of input beaming at them and attempting to reform them according to the latest new-improved paradigm. For instance, I included the term “postmodern” in my speech at Broad and Dauphin a few weeks ago and was schooled in both meetings about what I meant. I did not shut down; but I did think “Boy! If you are a leader you are asking for trouble.” Since Christians generally hate conflict — it feels so unloving and probably unholy, they certainly would not want to get into trouble! Our cell leaders face the pain of real or prospective conflict all the time and wonder how they ever got into the mess they are in!
But Jesus is not afraid to cause conflict. To read the scripture it would appear that his main mission was a conflict. Likewise, the Apostle Paul exemplifies how a Jesus-follower inevitably fights. He teaches about it so much that I could hardly summarize it in a blog post. But I do want to reflect on four of his teachings for the sake of people who have not shut down, but are still speaking the truth in love. There are new things being born in this era; there is no sense trying to keep the baby from being born, even if it hurts. Here are four paraphrases of significant examples of Paul having conflict and the basic things he hangs on to when he is in a fight.
Trust God to be at work
Philippians 3:14-16 – Let’s walk by the same rule and mind the same thing: our call to follow Jesus with our all into His all. If you have another mindset, God will be revealing that to you.
We get all ramped up when we don’t agree. We are tempted to cut people off as a result, or to flee to like-minded people and create a faction. Paul is confident that God is at work. People pursuing maturity in Christ will figure things out with God’s help. Our anxiety (and judgment) about how immature they are or how right they aren’t won’t help. Hang on to trust.
Accept one another
Romans 15:1-7 – We should be like-minded toward one another with the mindset of Christ. He has received us in love through great suffering in all our weakness. With one mind and mouth, let’s praise God.
Even if I think my loved one or acquaintance is flat-out wrong, or even being wicked, my discernment about how to respond is based on my ultimate goal that we should be one in Christ. I don’t write them off, even if they seem unholy or dangerous. I don’t write them off by relativizing them, either. “Freedom” for postmoderns is being left alone to get what I deserve according to what I can achieve. “Acceptance” has become keeping an appropriate distance, not spiritual intimacy or even agreement. I don’t let me or mine get reduced to that. Hang on to longsuffering.
Galatians 5:7-15 – There are always law-keepers and law-givers who tempt us to re-enslave ourselves. They don’t walk in the Spirit and their goal is not love like Christ’s, demonstrated on the cross. It is our liberty in Christ that allows us to serve. We don’t demonstrate our love by following rules that don’t come from Jesus.
Paul is so frustrated by interlopers who are trying to make the Galatians follow Jewish laws, especially circumcision, that he wishes they would emasculate themselves in the same way they are trying to cut people off from the Spirit. The aggressive new laws associated with social construction philosophy, such as campus “hate speech” codes, find their way into the church and cause conflict similar to Paul’s these days. Any number of people will think they are not accepted and loved (like Christians are supposed to do!) if their “laws” are not followed. I think the “laws” have some good intentions behind them (as did the Judaizers in Galatia!), but they need to come from God to be in everyone’s best interests – somewhere from which postmodern laws consciously have not come. Hang on to the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 4:1-7 – We have what we have received. If we don’t think this, our comparisons make us judges when only God is the judge. Any light we bring was generated by God. Any hidden thing revealed will find its final meaning in Christ.
The conviction that “we only have what God gives us” makes Jesus-followers prone to conflicted situations, which makes a lot of them want to stay hidden. The new regime marching under the colors of postmodern thought says things like: “Irrespective of what one might assume, in the sciences, problems do not arise by themselves. It is, precisely, because all problems are posed that they embody the scientific spirit. If there were no question, there would be no scientific knowledge. Nothing proceeds from itself. Nothing is given. All is constructed.” — Gaston Blanchard. There is truth in what he says if God is not with us, but he’s basically opposed to what Christians know.
Our faith leads us to know that goodness can be experienced; grace is imminent. Our questions do not call reality into being; and our lack of questions do not protect us from our built-in yearning to connect with our Creator. The fact that humans still make meaning of life still implies that there is meaning. Jesus is the truth of God. The Holy Spirit keeps affirming that. We’re going to have conflict. Hang on to your receptivity.
Conflict is not intrinsically bad. But it is likely to be painful – just like Jesus experienced. The world keeps trying to make laws against the violence being engendered by requiring people to endlessly compete for their rights in the social landscape. The most marginalized are supposedly protected enough to fight as hard as the dominators who protect them. Jesus-followers have another way.
But we will be in a fight too, just like Paul demonstrates. Some of us will opt out and just try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Some of us will not control our tongues too well and be conspicuous in a bad way. But let’s try to stay with Jesus and one another and meet the new era with joy, not just with dread about the next conflict. God is at work. We have been accepted by Jesus. No one can enslave us anymore. We have received wonderful things. There is a mystery that is unfolding to each person about their relationship with God.
A doula told me the other day that no matter how many mothers she accompanies, each birth she attends is like a brand-new miracle. Each rebirth is similarly amazing. If, as in the birth of a baby, there is suffering, why should we not attend the birth of faith in Jesus with the same understanding? People are fighting for their lives. Hang on to your amazement.
Other thoughts on conflict:
The intrinsic affront built into believing
Conflict with the world: Disentangling from addiction
Why is being part of Circle of Hope so demanding?