How Quarrels Persist in the Church

December 2, 2022

man in orange top beside eyeglasses on brown book

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:14-15

Once there was a quarrel between two pastors that rocked their church. Both pastors had issues with one another. The more senior accused his junior of negligence in the ministry. the junior accused the senior of negligence of his congregation. Who is right or wrong was at the core of the issue, both insisting their own rightness and the other’s wrongness. However, what became of great consequences was the effect of their quarrel. It had affected not only their relationship, but also the relationship of the church members with their pastors and with one another. It had spiraled into such a point where the church congregation split, breaking the hearts of the congregation itself. Why do such quarrels happen? Why are the consequences of such quarrels leading to church splits?

If you have not experienced these kind of quarrels in the church, it doesn’t mean that your church has no quarrels at all. Quarrels can happen between leaders of the church, between members, or even between members and their leaders. Quarrels also can occur between individuals or even between groups of people. Issues being quarreled about can range from differences in personalities, behaviors, and actions to theological terms or doctrinal issues. Despite the variety of quarrels, one thing is for sure, quarrels have been, can and will happen in every church.

Quarrels often happen for a number of reasons, but the root of all such reasons is the reality that two or more sinners being together is a recipe for conflict. Whether in a marriage, family, and even a church, sinners have their own illusionary autonomy and pride imbedded in their psyche. This is particularly evident when we see individuals or groups emphasizing that they are in he right while minimizing their errors or even excusing any wrongdoing as necessary or reactions to oppression. We see this in marital squabbles regarding the decadence of their affections for one another, with the husband blaming the wife’s nagging and the wife blaming the husband’s lack of quality time, while refusing to admit that they themselves have been in the wrong. We also see this when some will emphasize that the other side has no right to impose their rules or suppress their perceived rights. Church members has had quarrels with leaders over their tithes and offerings, with members insisting that their income belongs to them. Sinners, with an innate (yet broken) intuition to rebel, question, and insist on their own rightness, offers an unfortunate yet natural element for quarrels to fester.

Quarrels often happen for a number of reasons, but the root of all such reasons is the reality that two or more sinners being together is a recipe for conflict.

Despite the naturalness and the frequency of quarrels in the church, it still catches many Christians off-guard when they do happen. Church members often react to quarrels in at least three ways: disorientation, defensiveness, and dullness.

Reaction One: Disorientation

Very often the first reaction people experiencing quarrels in the church is disorientation. Disorientation is when one becomes confused as to why a quarrel has occurred and how the quarrel is to be dealt with. Often church members are shocked and amazed that quarrels could happen in the church, for many assume that once a people becomes saints, they will automatically love God and one another. Yet as Scripture shows, sanctification of a believer is a process, and in the process, there will still be those who will struggle with sins, and in the case of quarrels, the sin of pride in particular. Another reason they are disoriented with conflicts is often such quarrels are a result of the disposition of relationships in the church, where everyone is taught to be nice with one another, and offering criticism or correction is seen more in a negative light. So when someone is unable to voice or express their disdain or criticism, they tend to keep it to themselves, until it builds up over time and is brought into quarrels cumulatively.

Another aspect about quarrels that disorients people is the lack of know-how in dealing with quarrels in the church. I have seen a number of church leaders who resorted to open-forums to resolve quarrels between church members. Open-forums are actions that certain leaders take as a mediation technique. In an open-forum, leaders would bring church members to the talking table and encourage everyone in the group to share their grievances openly with the group or with particular individuals in the group. It is a seemingly wide-spread therapeutic technique that intends to allow the grieved members to air their grievances in a safe space. However, such techniques are problematic at two fronts. One it is unbiblical. Two, at best, open-forums produced temporary changed behaviors, and at worse, antagonized the church members with each other. One church that utilized this technique had a church member whose blood-pressure shot up during the open-forum, requiring her to be brought to the clinic. Her husband, who was attending the church but was a non-member, was aghast that the church could do harm to his wife in such a manner. Nonbiblical interventions for quarreling often has been the go-to response of churches, for many are do not know or are hesitant on how to deal with such conflicts biblically.

Reaction Two: Defensiveness

The second reaction one sees with churches, especially by individuals or groups involved in the quarreling themselves, is their posture of defensiveness. Let me clarify first that making a defense (which is biblical) is different from being defensive (a nonbiblical posture). Making a defense means stating your case, reason for what you believe in with truth-based claims and evidence. If I was accused of cheating on my wife. I have the right to give a defense that I am not doing so when in reality I am not doing so. Being defensive, however, is insisting I am right even if compelling claims and evidence begs otherwise. If I have been accused of cheating on my wife and the accuser produces evidence (whether screenshots of conversations with another woman with content that shows suspicious intimacy or photographs showing me entering a hotel with another woman) and I continue to insist that I am innocent, or even if I plead guilty but blame my wife or others, then I am being defensive.

Defensiveness often spirals into shaming the accuser of committing similar or more heinous acts. A man impregnating someone else’s daughter out of wedlock blames the daughter’s father for being overtly strict in their relationship. A daughter’s insistent and frequent partying in college instead of studying accuses her parents of doing the same during their college days. Similarly in churches, members who have been caught in sin tend to deny such accusations and at times accuse the members bringing the charges of committing other sins. A member may be confronted for sexual immorality and accuse those confronting as committing the sin of being unloving and legalism. A pastor may be confronted about his anger issues and he may respond with accusations that the church members have taken him for granted. Too often we see defensiveness as a preferred and insisted response more than merely settling in making a defense.

Nonbiblical interventions for quarreling often has been the go-to response of churches, for many are do not know or are hesitant on how to deal with such conflicts biblically.

Reaction Three: Dullness

Dullness, or apathy is the third kind of response often seen whenever there are quarrels. Very often these are seen among people who have gone through much quarrels and are tired and dismayed by such occurrences, or among people who by their personality and disposition hate conflict, non-confrontational, or despise being hated by members of both parties in conflict. Dullness says all quarreling and conflicts are bad and to be avoided at all costs. On one hand, there are issues and concerns that should not be quarreled about, or at least quickly resolved. On the other hand, this is dangerous as it allows issues where conflict is necessary (such as core doctrinal disputes, egregious sin, usurpation of God-ordained authority) to go on unchecked. Church members who have leaders who are apathetic towards dealing with quarrels suffer from sin being undealt, to fostering a culture of antinomianism within the church.

With many Christians disoriented, defensive, and dull when facing quarrels in the church, has God not given His wisdom on dealing with such issues? Is Christian Scripture silent or vague about dealing with quarrels in the church? Thankfully God has, and in Scripture we find God’s wisdom imparted to His people when they face conflict or quarrels in the church. The most often passage referred to by Christians is the book of Matthew, where Jesus gives guidance on how the church is to discipline sinning members. Another is Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where 1 Corinthians notes Paul’s address to the divisions among the church members. The the book of James is also reference, were the issue of partiality is addressed. One notable place where we can find God’s revealed wisdom, however, is Paul’s second letter to Timothy, particularly in chapter 2.

In 2 Timothy, we see apostle Paul writing to Timothy from prison, encouraging his beloved disciple as Timothy was pastoring in the church in Ephesus. Based on the content of Paul’s letter, we could safely surmise the challenges Timothy was facing as a pastor. First, he was possibly experiencing discouragement, stemming from the fact that his spiritual mentor, Apostle Paul has left him behind. Paul was in prison, far from him, and thus unable to minister to him and encourage him in his struggles and fears as a pastor. Maybe Timothy used to go to Paul to look for answers in theology or in church matters, but now, he would not be able to do so due to the precarious situation of Apostle Paul. Second, he was possibly facing division in the church due to the quarreling that was going on inside the church - quarrels about words, unspiritual issues, and controversies. Third, he was facing departures from the faith by members of the church, members whom he had probably invested much time, heart, and effort to impart to them the teachings of Scripture. Fourth, Timothy could be facing temptations to detour from his calling, as a combination of the challenges that he faced could truly disrupt and discourage even the most faithful pastor in churches today.

Despite the discouragements Timothy faced, God, in his faithfulness, spoke through Paul. In his love for his disciple as evidenced in this letter, he instructs Timothy on how to remain faithful. In chapter one, we see Paul reminding Timothy that though he is distant from him, Paul sincerely and tearfully prays for him, reminding him that their trust is in the power and presence of God, not in the presence of Paul. We also see Paul reminding Timothy to not be afraid, for God has gifted him for the ministry, and has given him a spirit of power, love, and self-control, not of fear. Finally we see Paul reminding him of what are they fighting for: the proclamation, preservation, and the suffering for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This connects to what he now says to Timothy in chapter two, on how to address the quarrels in the church that are hindering the proclamation and preservation of the Gospel.

Despite the discouragements Timothy faced, God, in his faithfulness, spoke through Paul. In his love for his disciple as evidenced in this letter, he instructs Timothy on how to remain faithful.

In chapter two, we find Paul dealing with specific issues that Timothy was facing inside the church. Based on his instructions to Timothy, we can surmise that Apostle Paul recognizes the very specific challenges that Timothy was facing as a pastor - namely the surfacing of quarrels among members inside the church. We see that there are at least three kinds of sources for these quarrels: words, irreverent babble, and controversies. Quarrels are happening among individuals, and with individuals influencing others to join their side of the quarrel. In such a volatile situation, Paul gives three specific steps Timothy is to take if he is to continue in his calling as a minister of the Gospel in the face of quarrels, steps that are vital for the health of the church, and the faithfulness of every Christian in the face of quarrels.

To be continued.


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