Meeting Christ in the Conflict

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-by Tim Schenck


Rembrandt's Two Scholars Disputing (Peter and Paul) 1628.
Rembrandt’s Two Scholars Disputing (Peter and Paul) 1628.

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’ (Acts 15:7-11)


Christians are nice people. We’re polite and friendly and we don’t generally engage in fist fights at coffee hour. Many of us are quite adept at making small talk and are well-versed in friendly nods. We’re quick to ask, “How are you doing?” when we run into people we know at the grocery story and we usually don’t yell at other people’s children. In some circles we’re quite well-known for our decorum.

The veneer of niceness, however, has nothing to do with the reality of the early church. If you think the first generation of Christians lived in complete and perfect harmony, held hands and spent their days affirming one another’s feelings, you need look no further than the Acts of the Apostles.

The book that recorded the days following our Lord’s earthly ministry, is full of disagreement and division among the disciples. These are faithful people, passionate in their convictions yet viewing the way forward through different lenses.

The hot topic of the day surrounded the issue of circumcision and whether or not the Gentile followers of “The Way” should be subjected to the practice. But the issue is, frankly, tangential to what it reveals about human nature — it could have been anything. People disagree. We argue, we have agendas, we articulate different visions.

And, no matter how nice we may be to people on the surface, Christians are not exempt from this. So it’s not about whether we will come into conflicted situations, but rather how we handle difficult circumstances. That’s what has the power to define us.

Dancing around conflict is merely a fancy form of avoidance. As with the cross on Good Friday, we can’t circumvent or skirt difficult places; we must go through them in order to come to a place of healing and wholeness. That’s what Peter and Paul do as representatives of the different camps. Through prayer, the study of Scripture, a willingness to admit they don’t in isolation hold all the answers, being open to the Holy Spirit, and by remaining in relationship through the conflict, they are able to come to resolution.

In an episode of the 1970’s sit-com MASH, Major Frank Burns once proclaimed, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.” Fair enough. But only in embracing conflict with love and authenticity are we able to live into the fullness of God’s vision for humanity.


What conflicted situations are you currently facing in your life? How can this season of resurrection help you envision a way forward? Will you allow the Acts of the Apostles to guide you toward resolution?

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