The Path to Peace
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Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil. 2:2-4)
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Many years ago an elderly brother, long deceased now, approached me with a concern. The wrangling and arguing that he witnessed among his brethren bothered him. Why, he asked, couldn't preachers simply get together to iron out all these differences, and let the churches know the outcome of their deliberations? Wouldn't that put an end to all the bickering and squabbling?
I appreciated the anguish with which this brother was struggling. It is discouraging to belong to a group of Christians--followers of the Prince of Peace--who seem to have nothing better to do than to find fault with one another. Surely there must be a way to resolve all this internal conflict.
In response, I told this good brother that his suggestion had already been implemented--many times, in fact. The preachers who came together to discuss their differences were called "bishops," and their gatherings were called "church councils." Starting in the mid-second century A.D., there were several of these councils convened to hammer out various issues of doctrine and practice. The decisions that came out of these councils were more or less binding on the churches, under threat of anathema.
Unfortunately, these proceedings did not eliminate the conflicts. More disagreements surfaced, requiring more councils and stronger enforcement mechanisms. Over the centuries, this approach to unity resulted in the Roman Catholic Church, a highly centralized command-and-control institution that rules its followers with an iron fist. And--surprise!--that Church is still roiled with internal strife.
The answer to conflict in any group of people does not lie in top-down authoritarianism. Rather, it grows out of individuals surrendering their selfish interests for the welfare of their companions. When people consider others as more important than themselves, the issues that divide them will largely take care of themselves.
Truth is paramount, of course, and cannot be sacrificed for the sake of peace. But so much of our internecine warfare is driven, not by different interpretations of truth, but by self-centered attitudes and behaviors that render conciliation impossible. If brethren want to bring peace to a divided brotherhood, they first must address those attitudes and behaviors.
Without purified hearts, all the meetings in the world will not heal our broken fellowship.