Additional Resources – The End of Conflict

Through Many Tribulations

Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  This saying was used by the Apostle Paul to strengthen the souls of the churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.  In contrast to this view of the Christian life, a view that includes travail and hardship, many contemporary evangelicals are being taught a contrary doctrine.  They are told that it is God’s will for the Christian to be monetarily prosperous, to be free from unresolved conflicts, and to be healed of all sickness because poverty, conflict and sickness are not to be a part of the lives of the faithful.  While this statement should seem false at the outset, many are taken in by its promises of a pain-free life here and now.  An overrealized eschatology has been problematic in the church dating back to the early Corinthian believers.  To examine this false teaching we must consider the various components of the claim.  First, is it true that all Christians ought to be monetarily prosperous?  Secondly, is it true that Christians should be free from all unresolved conflicts?  Thirdly, is it true that Christians should be healed of all sickness?

In response to the first question, what is the teaching of Scripture concerning the Christian and material prosperity?  Is it God’s revealed will that Christians be financially well off and care free in their lifestyle?  Biblical evidence supporting this assertion will be hard to come by, even with significant distortion of the original meaning of key texts.  The Bible addresses the issue of wealth, clearly stating that, far from being normative for Christians to be wealthy, the wealthy are a separate subgroup given correspondingly specific warnings and responsibilities.  For both poor and rich, the goal is found in contentment and gratitude to God, their ultimate hope.

God has ordained the existence of the poor, the rich, and all those living between these two poles of human material existence.  Many throughout the Old Testament history of Israel as well as the New Testament history of the church have been moderately or even extremely wealthy (e.g. Abraham, Job, Solomon, the women who supported Jesus’ ministry, several of the twelve, Zaccheus, Joseph of Aramathea, the “rich” addressed in 1 Tim. 6:17).  However, it is equally true that there have been many godly people throughout Old and New Testament history who have been extremely poor (e.g. the Israelite multitude in Egypt, Ruth, the Shunnamite widow to whom Elisha ministered, Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, Christ, the widow with the mite, the believers addressed in the letter to the Hebrews, the churches of Macedonia, most of the Corinthian church).  In fact, it is noteworthy that the Apostle Paul specifically clarifies that the majority of believers in this New Testament era will not be materially prosperous or powerful in this world.  He reminds them that “not many were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” as accords with God’s plan to use the base things of this world to confound the wise that He might receive all the glory to Himself (1 Cor. 1:26).  The poor have been given a special place in the kingdom of God being made “rich in faith” (James 2:5).  Both lots in life, rich and poor, have been ordained of God and are to be accepted by the believer with gratitude and humility.[1]

The wealthy, a non-normative subset of the Christian community, are given certain extra responsibilities or stewardships, and also warned of certain inherent risks that attach to their outward status.  With prosperity comes a unique temptation to forget God and His benefits and to trust in oneself and one’s assets.  Just as it was a concern for Israel (Deut. 8:11-20), so it would be a concern for New Testament believers who might be tempted to be “haughty,” or to “set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches” (1 Tim. 6:17).  It is foolishness to set one’s hope on temporal blessing; nonetheless, we are susceptible to this temptation.[2]  In addition to a unique temptation, the wealthy have unique stewardship responsibilities to “do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18).  Therefore, it is clear that the wealthy are a subset of the believing church with unique temptations to face and unique contributions or roles to play in the life of the body.  All believers have never been intended to fall into this category.  On the contrary, the church is characterized by suffering of various types including material want.  This is the ordained lot of the majority of the chosen.   Their key to living, along with the rich, is “godliness with contentment” (1 Tim. 6:6).

What about the second question, the promise of conflict free living?  Does the Bible promise the believer a life free from conflict?  If there are conflicts in the life of a believer, can we infer that there is something deficient in that believer’s life?  The Bible is full of conflict from cover to cover.  Conflicts with God and conflicts with others, this is the bulk of the biblical content.  When God became Man in the person of Jesus Christ, He was born into the thick of conflict.  At His birth, Herod sought to destroy Him and in his lunacy killed a whole generation of baby boys.  Jesus conflicted with Satan and the powers of darkness throughout his three-year ministry.  He frequently found Himself in conflict with the rulers of Israel, the Priests, the Saducees and the Pharisees, who opposed him and ultimately sought His death.  His own family opposed Him at times, and at least once accused Him of being crazy (Mk. 3:21).  So, if the Son of Man experienced a life of conflict around every corner, why would we expect a life free from it?

Conflict didn’t end with the crucifixion.  The rulers of Israel thought for a moment, on that Good Friday, that they had ended the madness of the world going after Jesus.  They must have been greatly disappointed and a bit fearful to hear a few days later that the One they had crucified was risen and had been seen by many of His followers.  They stepped up their opposition to the followers of Christ.  The early disciples were subjected to frequent persecutions as part of the conflict between their Lord and the Jewish authorities.  The apostles not only experienced conflict from the Jews, but also from rogue sects such as the Gnostics.  Conflict was also experienced internally in the churches.  Many of the early congregations were marked by conflicts that are clearly referenced in the Epistles addressing them.  And we are taught today that we ought not be experiencing conflict.  Jesus taught specifically that we should anticipate and would experience conflict in the world, in the church, and even in our families.  Why are we shocked at its existence among us?

In response to the third question, what is the Biblical teaching regarding the believer and sickness?  Is it God’s will for the believer to live a life free from the effects of the fall, a life devoid of pain and suffering as a result of sickness and disease?  The Bible provides numerous examples of devout believers that have suffered in one way or another physically, who in no wise have been exemplary of unbelief (e.g. Isaac, Mephibosheth, Peter’s mother, Paul, Timothy) and others who have been ill as a result of God’s chastening (David, the Corinthians, Ananias and Saphira).  While the Bible, and for that matter church history since the biblical era, confirms the presence of illness among the people of God, it also offers and bears witness to the first fruits of the redemptive work of Christ, the Healer, in the accounts of various saints who by the mercy of God have been miraculously healed of various conditions.  Believers of deep piety have been found in each extreme of the health continuum, and have accepted their calling in this regard from the Lord.  All illness is not necessarily the result of personal sin, but is often for the purpose of God’s glory and growth in character of the suffering saint into the likeness of Christ, the Suffering Servant.

The age in which we live is an era marked by the presence of remaining corruption and futility as the creation awaits the final redemption to come (Rom. 8:20-21).  Our bodies are a part of that creation awaiting final redemption and subject to the consequences of the curse upon the created order.  Our “outer man,” our body, is fading away or decaying day by day while our inner man is being renewed simultaneously (2 Cor. 4:16).  Sometimes, in the midst of this futility, God still mercifully provides physical healing, however, not always nor in every case.  Oftentimes God’s purposes take the believer through sickness and suffering to teach them invaluable truths they could not otherwise grasp.  John Piper says it well, “God’s goal for His people in this age is not primarily to rid them of sickness and pain but to purge us of all remnants of sin and cause us in our weakness to cleave to Him as our only hope.”[3]

The believer, then, can rest assured that in poverty or wealth, in conflict or shalom, in sickness or health, they have a loving heavenly Father who is watching over every aspect of their lives, working without fail to bring to pass His likeness in them through whatever adversity He ordains.  God wastes nothing, even our own sin in His great plan of character transformation.  We are living in the “not yet.”  This side of Christ’s return, we are not promised a life of ease and comfort.  On the contrary, we are promised a life characterized by sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10).  In the final analysis, we see the wisdom in Paul’s teaching to the suffering churches, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).


[1] See Calvin, 1960, 3.7.9; see also Phil. 4:11-12.

[2] See Lk. 12:20; Matt. 6:19-24.

[3] John Piper, “Christ and Cancer,” (17 August 1980), 5; available from http://www.desiringgod.org/library/sermons/80/081780.html; Internet; accessed 1 May 2006.

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An Evaluation of Peacemaker Ministries

Peacemaker Ministries is the “industry standard” model for Christian conciliation among conservative Christian believers.  Any current discussion of the topic of conflict resolution from a Christian perspective rightly need include interaction with this existing paradigm.

What is Peacemaker Ministries (ICC)?

Peacemaker Ministries and its division the Institute for Christian Conciliation (ICC) are the largest and most utilized conciliation training and services provider in the Evangelical community.  From the website of Peacemaker Ministries, the history of the organization is as follows:

Peacemaker Ministries was founded in 1982 under the auspices of the Christian Legal Society, which helped to establish many similar ministries throughout the United States. In 1987, many of these conciliation ministries joined together to form the Association of Christian Conciliation Services, which coordinated national networking, education, and conciliation activities. Peacemaker Ministries served for four years as the national headquarters for the ACCS; in 1993 the ACCS merged into Peacemaker Ministries. The 1990’s was a time of significant growth, due to the publishing of Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker, which was followed by a 2nd edition in 1997. Between 2000 and 2010 the staff doubled and many new resources were developed. Peacemaker Ministries’ outreach continues to extend globally, with Peacemaker resources being taught in over 100 countries.

Peacemaker Ministries is a well-developed parachurch ministry that serves Christians and churches in various ways to help resolve conflicts.  The landmark work that sets out the process taught by Peacemaker Ministries is Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker.[1]

The Process of Peacemaking: The Four ‘G’s

Ken Sande and Peacemaker Ministries organizes the process of peacemaking in the following four steps all beginning with the letter “G,” therefore, appropriately labeled the four-G’s:

Glorify God

The First “G” stands for the principle of “glorifying God” in the midst of conflict.  This first area of the process asks the peacemaker to consider God’s glory in their handling of conflict situations, rather than their own natural comfort.  Conflict in this sense provides various opportunities for the believer to trust God, obey God, imitate God, and acknowledge Him.  The proper handling of conflict is also a way to love and serve others.  The key here is to approach the resolution of conflict with “peacemaking” responses as opposed to either “attack” or “escape” responses.  These responses are organized in the Slippery Slope of Conflict.

Escape responses, or peace-faking responses, include: suicide, flight, and denial.  On the other side of the slope, attack responses, or peace-breaking, responses include: murder, litigation, and assault.  The believer is to avoid these two sides of the slippery slope and instead pursue biblical peacemaking within a range of six acceptable responses.  The unassisted peacemaking responses range from overlook at the bottom of the scale, to reconciliation, and lastly to negotiation.  Assisted peacemaking responses move from mediation, to arbitration and, lastly, to accountability (formerly called “church discipline).

By following biblical peacemaking and staying on top of the slippery slope, the believer glorifies God, serve others as stewards of God in reconciling conflicts, and provides an important witness to the watching world of “unity” among believers so that the reputation of the Christian community is not a hindrance to onlookers coming to faith in Christ.  In this way, conflict is seen as a God-given opportunity to do the right thing when the wrong thing is so frequently what is done, even by believers.  The whole process centers on this central goal of staying on top of the slope of conflict.

Get the Log Out of Your Eye

The next “G” is directly derived from Matthew 7:1-5 that warns believers against judging one another.  Jesus cautions His followers to “get the logs out of their own eyes before they seek to remove specks from the eyes of others” (v. 5).  The emphasis in this second “G,” then, is to count the cost and to practice healthy self-examination.  The pertinent question becomes, “what is my contribution to the conflict?”  As I see my own sinfulness, confess it, repent of it and seek the forgiveness of the other party, my side of the conflict is readily resolved.  The hope is that in the presence of healthy honesty and confession on the part of one party, a softening on the part of the other will occur.  If all goes well here and the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of all parties, repentance and forgiveness are effected and reconciliation occurs quite naturally.

Gently Restore

The third “G” is based on Matthew 18:15-20, the most often-referenced passage on church discipline in the Evangelical community.  Wisely, Ken Sande connects the process of Matthew 18 with the wisdom of Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”  The emphasis in The Peacemaker is on the gently that is so frequently missing from the process.  In this third part of the process, the path of the believer in obedience to Christ’s words is outlined.  The circle of loving confrontation is widened over time as the one party seeks to restore the other to “usefulness” in the kingdom.  The process escalates as appropriate in response to the response or non-response of the parties being confronted.  The goal is always true biblical reconciliation with God and others.  The hope in this section is that step five: “treating the other person as a non-believer” is averted.

Go and Be Reconciled

This fourth “G”emphasizes the critical place of forgiveness in the process, the need to look out not only for our own interest but also the interest of others, and lastly the principle of overcoming evil with good.  The goal of the peacemaking process is reconciliation, the resolution of both substantive and relational issues that have broken the relationship.  God calls His people into this ministry of reconciliation, even as He Himself has reconciled us to Himself in Christ.

Areas of Strength

There is much to commend the book The Peacemaker as well as the myriad services and resources of Peacemaker Ministries.  The following are a few of the many strengths clearly evident in the organization and philosophic approach:

Leading the Field

The Peacemaker is perhaps the industry standard text among conservative Evangelicals.  The book and its related ministry have much to commend themselves to the Christian community.  Peacemaker Ministries has led the way in the area of seeking to develop a Christian theology and practice of conflict resolution.  Peacemaker Ministries is a strong parachurch organization that serves the church and believers at many significant levels.

Peacemaker Ministries and its division, the Institute for Christian Conciliation (ICC) has led the way in the development of a systematic approach to conflict resolution that many churches and other organization have integrated directly into their respective polities.  Peacemaker Ministries has trained and equipped hundreds of Christian conciliators in churches throughout the country.  Through national conferences, training events and certification programs Peacemaker Ministries has made a definite impact in the Christian community in the United States and abroad.

Takes the Bible seriously

Ken Sande is a conservative Presbyterian believer, first and foremost.[2]  Though he is an attorney by training and practice, his devotion to the Scripture and its ultimate authority shines through.  The same can be said for the other staff of Peacemaker Ministries.  Any disagreements that this author would have with Peacemaker Ministries are fraternal disagreements.  These are sincere brothers and sisters, people with whom we will enjoy the benefits of the kingdom to come.  Our day, sadly, is a day when we can no longer take for granted that believers, even leaders in the church, will build their lives on the foundation of God’s word.  Ken and the rest of Peacemaker Ministries and ICC are not of this ilk.  The Bible is taken seriously and exegeted carefully as the source of truth.

Takes Sin Seriously

Not only is the Bible taken seriously, its doctrine of sin is also taken seriously and soberly.  The Peacemaker is one of the first books in the Christian community, in recent years, to unpack the paradigm of sin as idolatry from James 4 and other pertinent passages.  So many conflict resolution strategies, in and out of the Christian community, focus more on agreeing to disagree, negotiation, and settlements.  The relational heart of conciliation is evident in this approach.  Sin is the problem, with God and in our relationships.  Confession and repentance are the answers to the problem of sin.  So, Ken and company are serious about the biblical teaching regarding our sinfulness as the heart of the issues that divide us.  We will note below, however, that there may be a possibility that the doctrine of sin can be overemphasized.  For now, we acknowledge this healthy biblical footing.

Emphasizes Forgiveness and Grace

The conciliation advocated in The Peacemaker is full of grace.  The gospel is clearly understood as the center of the process.  Forgiveness with God and one another permeates the paradigm.  Those who have received grace are able to extend grace, “breathe it” on others.

Forgiveness, in full as a completed transaction, granting forgiveness is rightly described as conditioned upon repentance.  Until transactional forgiveness can be realized, believers are encouraged to have an attitude of forgiveness, to be ready to forgive upon the offender’s repentance.  This posture includes prayer for the other person and standing “ready at any moment to pursue complete reconciliation as soon as he or she repents.”[3]  This attitudinal disposition will protect them from bitterness and desires for vengeance.

Practical Advice in Confronting Well

The heart of the process is found in chapters 7 and 8.[4]  These chapters give sound biblical advice to help the process of personal confrontation of sins too serious to overlook.  Careful and prayerful planning are recommended.  Specific skills are also discussed that will be required to confront well.  These include: active listening, the use of “I” statements, and similar biblical and psychologically astute skills that will greatly increase the likelihood of successful outcomes.

Areas of Weakness

While there is much to commend this philosophy and system of peacemaking, there are also some areas of apparent weakness that are potential concerns.  The following represent parts of the system that may benefit from additional adjustment in accordance with the standard of God’s Word:

Definition of “Conflict”

In The Peacemaker, Ken Sande defines conflict as, “a difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires.”  In chapter four, we sought to define conflict in such a way as to differentiate the concepts of “difference” and “conflict.”  We said that we can have differences of opinion or purpose, we can disagree with each other about a given situation or topic, but that those differences fall short of the idea of “conflict.”  Differences are built into the diversity of creation and exist prior to the fall.  God created a world of rich diversity.  The problem, however, came when sinful desires entered the picture.  Then, our disagreements became hotbeds for potential conflicts.  Frustrated goals and desires are parts of life.  No one is able to attain or possess all that they desire.  We will all encounter blockage toward goal fulfillment.  We can, nonetheless, accept these unmet goals and desires with non-sinful responses.  This is the essence of biblical faith, a confidence that trusts God even in the midst of loss and pain.  So, at a definitional level, we can respectfully disagree with Ken Sande’s definition of conflict.

Ken says that “conflict provides opportunities” for glorifying God and for growth.  This is certainly true.  Under the providence of God, just like Joseph, we can see how God can bring good out of evil situations. But, does this then lead us to conclude with Ken that conflict is not “necessarily bad” (p. 30).  Again, here we can note some influence from the secular literature on conflict.  If we have properly connected the concepts of conflict, sin, and foolishness in this volume, it is important to clarify that conflict cannot exist apart from sin.  Therefore, conflict, we can say, always involves sin and is always sinful on the part of the person whose sins underlay the conflict itself.

Slippery Slope: Acceptable Responses to Conflict

As we have reviewed, the Slippery Slope of Conflict has three basic sections (responses to conflict): escape, peacemaking, and attack.  The theory is that the peacemaking responses on top of the slope are the only appropriate responses to conflict.  Thus, the two sides to which we fall on the slope are representative of inappropriate responses to conflict.  The top of the slope seems to be consistent with biblical patterns and principles of conflict resolution.  However, can we say that “escape” or “attack” responses are inherently wrong?  Maybe these should more accurately and precisely be identified as “sinful escape” and “sinful attack” responses.  This model resonates from a human behavioral standpoint.  When faced with conflict, most of us lean toward either fight or flight responses.  We are either conflict-inclined or conflict-avoidant.  If we merely follow our natural inclinations, then, very little would result, in terms of true reconciliation.  Therefore, the Bible calls us into the duty of conflict resolution in a God-glorifying manner.

When we systematize concepts and attempt to simplify processes, there is an inherent risk that important details will be lost in our simplification.[5]  There may be something intrinsically flawed in the Slippery Slope, due to its inability to illustrate the whole of the biblical data on conflict and conflict resolution.  For instance, as we reviewed in chapter thirteen, the Bible is replete with direct instructions and even commands to withdraw from impenitent, obstinate, foolish, divisive people.  If all “escape” responses are wrong, how do we interpret these passages?  We have also seen that God Himself, who is the pattern of our conduct, exercises both attack and escape responses according to their respective definitions in the system advocated in The Peacemaker.

The Slippery Slope is the foundation of the system taught in The Peacemaker.  Any flaws in its logic will inevitably affect the remainder of the structure.  If we’ve wrongly described the basic allowable responses to conflict, we’ve set out to resolve it without some of the available biblical options.  At this point, we can see that we’re on a slippery slope in terms of our overly broad definition of conflict.  To add to that problem, now we’ve limited the range of possible responses available to the faithful believer in the midst of conflict.

Doctrine of Sin

The Peacemaker approaches the question of conflict from a definite perspective.  The Presbyterian and Reformed theology of the Westminster standards and the Three Forms of Unity underlay and undergird the theology of The Peacemaker.[6]  It is written from a conservative Calvinistic perspective.  This is important as we consider a third area of concern.  Calvinism, in its conservative form, has always advocated the doctrine of total depravity.  What many Calvinists fail to understand is that conservative Arminian theology is in total agreement here.[7]  Conservative theologians from both camps agree that our fall in Adam has rendered us incapable of moral reform in our own strength.  Calvin said, “Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls “works of the flesh.”[8]  Wesley said, “Know that you are corrupted in every capacity, in every faculty of your soul.  You are totally depraved throughout your being; all the foundations of your life are misaligned.”[9]         I. Howard Marshall sums up this common theological ground between the two:

Sin thus affects every relationship of man, to God, to his fellows and to himself.  Its influence is seen in every part of his life.  Its badness corrupts all that he thinks, says and does.  This does not mean that he is as bad as he can be, but that no part of him is entirely free from the taint of sin.  This is what theologians call “total depravity.”[10]

This is the longstanding doctrine of original sin and total depravity to which the evangelical Church has held.

The peacemaking process of Ken Sande clearly identifies the need for a robust doctrine of sin and a correspondingly vigorous practice of confession.  Ownership of personal sins, specifically our sinful contribution to the conflict, is the heart of Peacemaker Ministries processes of conflict coaching and mediation.  This is clearly taught in Scripture by no less than Jesus Himself.  Honest ownership of our sin is the beginning of change.  True confession and repentance on our part is prerequisite to attempts at assisting others (Matt. 7).[11]  Can we, however, over own our sin?  Can the wise person, who sees their sin take the lion’s share of responsibility for the conflict while the fool goes free?  If we add to this healthy self-awareness of our own sinfulness, a doctrine of sin on steroids, an over responsibility for our own contributions to the problem, we inadvertently create a system in which honesty and sincerity are transformed from blessings into liabilities.

The wise, by definition, will always tend to be honest and sensitive to ownership of their sins.  They tend to see the logs in their eyes more clearly.  Fools, as we have seen, will resist.  By focusing on ownership of sin and personal responsibility equally with both parties in a conflict, it is likely that the one that will break, first and foremost, is the wiser person, the more honest person, the person who is more sensitive to the Spirit.  The abused spouse, the bullied pastor, the mistreated employee, the target of the initial aggression in the conflict can, through this practice, take unhealthy and inordinate responsibility for their contribution to the conflict.  With little or no distinction between primary and secondary offenses, as we have described the difference, this process loses the ability to properly assign responsibility for offenses and their contribution to the conflict.  As we have shown, sin is not just sin; there are degrees and levels of sinful conduct in the midst of conflict.  An overly robust doctrine of sin has a tendency to eschew the overall process of justly sorting responsibilities.  In a conflict, all parties are “sinners.”  They may not, by that principle, all have “sinned,” and most often have not “sinned equally.”

Doctrine of Grace

Calvinism, as a system of theology, is often referred to as the “doctrines of grace.”  Grace, understood rightly, is a tremendous thing.  To receive God’s favor (charis) freely in our union with Christ is as Newton said “amazing.”  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, sola gratia, sola fide.  However, as many have clarified, “the grace that saves is never alone.”[12]  True grace results in a life of bearing fruit.  So much so, that we would do well to notice that the final judgment is “according to works.”  Many in the Calvinist tradition have taught a robust view of sanctification as the pursuit of holiness and of perseverance to the end in those good works as requisite for salvation.  Contemporary Calvinism, in some modern contexts, is losing its grip on the necessity of good works and perseverance.

When salvation becomes only a legal and forensic thing, we are in danger of falling into antinomianism.  If my relationship to Jesus is only legal, and as many have claimed, salvation remains only outside of me and is only and all about Jesus, my imputed righteousness, I can wrongly conclude that my actions are automatically and already forgiven.  This system of thought opens the door to the potential for professing believers to disconnect their actual works, including their sinful contributions to conflict, from their righteous position in Christ.  Antinomianism has never been good at holding people accountable.

C. H. Spurgeon is the author of a small book entitled All of Grace.  Who wants to argue with this thesis?  Who wants to suggest that merit has a place at the table of salvation?  No one.  However, this title itself exposes the potential dark underbelly of overly consistent Calvinism.  If it is truly “all of grace,” if all my sins are forgiven (past, present and future) the moment I trust Christ, if I am justified no matter what I do or do not do, how motivated am I to resolve conflicts for which I am largely or solely responsible?  Grace covers it all.  This potential for cheapening grace is costly in the realm of peacemaking.  Peacemaking is inherently tied to concepts such as justice and responsibility as much as grace and forgiveness.  Shalom-making, as we have seen is about the restoration of things to the way they ought to be.  It inherently embodies important concepts of justice, equity and truth.  Grace is a great thing, when understood within the whole of the biblical paradigm.  Cheap grace, sloppy agape[13], kills the potential for a peacemaking process to bring deep and lasting change, by short-circuiting the path of wisdom through repentance.

Unity and Evangelism

One of the reasons to pursue peace among all men is, according to Sande, found in the Lord’s high priestly prayer of John 17.  Jesus there prays, that we “would be made one, just as He and the Father are one so that the world will believe that He was sent by the Father.”[14]  Listen to Ken’s words:

Unity is more than a key to internal peace.  It is also an essential element of your Christian witness.  When peace and unity characterize your relationships with other people, you show that you are God’s child and he is present and working in your life (Matt. 5:9).  The converse is also true: When your life is filled with unresolved conflict and broken relationships, you will have little success in sharing the good news about Jesus’ saving work on the cross.[15]

This passage is taken from a section entitled, “Jesus’ Reputation Depends on Unity.”  Let’s break down the thought further.  If we have unresolved conflicts in our lives, we may conclude, according to Ken, we will not be able credibly to share the gospel with others with any “success.”  So, therefore, unity is the key to Jesus building His kingdom on earth.  If we mar His reputation, by not living in unity with all people, souls will be lost in the process.

This is a very heavy responsibility!  Is this what Jesus meant when He prayed this prayer?[16]  What does the history of the Christian church have to say about this idea?  Jesus, in His public ministry did not experience this kind of unity.  He was opposed by the religious leaders of His day and many others.  Even many among His own family of origin resisted Him for much of His three-year public ministry.  Jesus so offended the crowds at times that not only the crowd but also his own twelve considered abandoning Him (Jn. 6:67).  Jesus was not a unifying figure among all people.

Further, He specifically taught His followers that just as He had caused not unity, but division, so they would experience division in their most intimate family relationships (Matt. 10:34-39).  The apostles, following Christ’s resurrection and ascension, experienced persecution at the hands of their countrymen the Jews and at the hands of Greeks as well.  All but two were martyred for their faith.  Until the time of Constantine, Christianity was a persecuted sect.  In fact, when Christianity was made acceptable, after conflict against Christians subsided, it began to lose much of its original impact!  The Hebrew believers in the first century certainly did not experience unity with their Jewish families.  The opposition they encountered was so strong that it tempted them to return to Judaism and to forsake the sacrifice of Christ.  Yet, we teach that Jesus’ reputation depends on peace among all people, that no one will believe if we, His followers, have unresolved conflicts in our lives.

Contrast that thought with the words of Jesus to his disciples about what they should experience in their relationships with others:

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved. . . . A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household (Matt. 10:21-22,24-25)?

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.  But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me (Jn. 15:18-21).

Add to this the typical paradigm in the psalms of lament.  It is almost always the case that the psalmists lament over their persecution at the hands of people within the covenant community.  Professing believers in Yahweh are most often the “enemies” of which the writers speak.  This pattern of enemies within the ranks seems to have continued into this New Testament era.  Didn’t Jesus tell us that there would be tares within the wheat field until the harvest?  If we are thinking that we need a weed free field of wheat so that the world will believe in the claim of Christ, we will likely wait and labor in vain.

What happened to the sovereignty of Christ?[17]  Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against Me.”  Sande teaches that, “Jesus can’t build His church unless we are walking in unity with one another.”  Which is true?  Clearly, God’s standard for our conduct includes striving for real Christian unity with one another, just like that in the Trinity.  However, false unity has never helped the cause of Christ and it likely never will.  Peace at all costs is too costly.  If the success of the gospel, and the cause of Christ, and the salvation of lost souls is truly contingent on our success in conflict resolution, we’re in trouble.  We’re not alone, however.  The church throughout the ages has been a church experiencing conflicts within and without.  In times past, often conflict resolution would involve the end of a sword.  Now, most of our conflicts are limited to the damage that is done with the sword of the tongue.

At some point, it’s as if we’re at a bad Christmas pageant all being encouraged to sing the liberal ballad from the sixties:

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Let there be peace on earth, the kind that was meant to be.

With God as our Father, brothers all are we.[18]

Let me walk with my brother, in perfect harmony.

This is just another example of the myth of utopia, of pushing the future idea of realized shalom into the present.  This is humanity attempting to usher in the shalom that can only come in and through Christ.  The least tolerated segment of our society is the remnant of Evangelicals who actually believe that we can’t create peace on earth like the song speaks of.  We are called to be faithful in reaching out to a lost world with the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We preach Christ, not ourselves (2 Cor. 4:5).  Though our lives are not conflict-free, we can rest in the fact that we are in good company.  The prophets, the Lord Jesus, the apostles and many believers throughout church history have also experienced the reality that we are in the “not yet.”  We, like they, are looking for a better place, the New Jerusalem to come.

Summary Evaluation

The peacemaking model of Peacemaker Ministries has several significant shortcomings.  Beginning with its definition of conflict, it may set us on a path away from biblical conceptualizations.  The slippery slope may overly narrow available and obedient responses to offenses committed against us that are too serious to overlook.  Their doctrines of sin and its practical outworking in conflict, as well as the understanding of grace advocated, may both be guilty of going to extremes beyond the teaching of Scripture.  And lastly, the impetus for making peace may have been incorrectly tied to the task of world evangelism.  These stakes may simply be too high.  Though the model has many good aspects to commend it, we may as a whole be better off pursuing an alternate model that may reflect a broader and more pervasive sense of the wisdom of Scripture.


[1] Peacemaker Ministries and ICC are also closely affiliated with the Lutheran organization Ambassadors for Reconciliation, led by Ted Kober.

[2] Ken and Corlette Sande have been active members of Rocky Mountain Community Church (PCA) for many years.  Ken is an ordained elder in the PCA.

[3] Sande, 211.

[4] Sande, 143-184.

[5] Many examples of this exist.  Consider the problem that has arisen due to the Synod of Dort’s reduction of theology to five principles and the counter arguments that have continued for the last five hundred years.

[6] The Westminster Standards include the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.  The Three Forms of Unity include the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism.

[7] Classical Arminian theology has no argument with the first or last of the five points of Calvinism.  It affirms total depravity and perseverance of the saints, without hesitation.  See Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006).

[8] Calvin, 1960, 2.1.8.

[9] Kinghorn, 132.

[10] I. Howard Marshall quoted in Cole, 69.

[11] The Lutheran influence of Ted Kober is evident in this aspect of the process.  Lutheranism has always been strong on the need for confession and assurance of pardon.  This strength of Lutheranism, in general, may become a weakness in its interjection into the process of peacemaking.

[12] This true statement has an ambiguous origin.  It is attributed to Martin Luther, John Wesley and others.

[13] This phrase is borrowed from Pastor David Rosales, Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel of Chino Valley.

[14] John 17, the high priestly prayer of Jesus, can be somewhat difficult to exegete.  For instance, Jesus statement that is pertinent to this discussion, “make them one, even as we are one . . . so that the world will believe that You sent me (and that You have loved them)” (vs. 21 and 23), is variously interpreted.  The “oneness” of which He speaks can be understood in different ways.  It seems that He is speaking of relational oneness or even oneness of union, “one in Us” (v. 21), something beyond mere commonness of purpose or unity, by referring to its connection to the oneness shared in the Godhead.  Further, we need to understand the nature of the making them one.  Is it “one with God” as the phrase in verse 23, “known as the loved ones” may seem to imply, or is it “one with each other” as Ken Sande suggests?  Our interpretation of this section of the prayer doesn’t answer the other questions that flow from alternate understandings.  How does our being one with God (union) connect to the world’s believing that Jesus was sent by the Father?  Will the world ever believe this?  Or alternatively, how does our being one with each other (unity) connect to the world believing that He was sent by the Father?

[15] Sande, 47.

[16] By the way, this is a conversation, a prayer, between the Son and the Father, recorded for our benefit.  There is no place in Scripture where this idea, that we are responsible for the success of the gospel by living lives devoid of conflict, is taught either didactically or as an imperative.  We are often called to promote unity (c.f. Eph. 4), but no where is this tied to Christ’s ability to successfully build His church, in terms of the evangelistic cause.

[17] Ironically, Calvinistic theology, that is often characterized as deterministic or at least semi-deterministic or compatibilist, is the context of this teaching that God’s sovereign ability to save is hindered by man’s lack of unity.  Can we really have it both ways?

[18] The universal fatherhood of God and the corresponding universal brotherhood of man is an unbiblical, yet sentimental, theme that is constantly put forward by liberal theology.  This same sentiment is being promoted today by formerly biblically conservative theologians.

[19] See Appendix F: An Evaluation of the Judeo-Christian Model.

An Evaluation of the Judeo-Christian Model

What is the Judeo-Christian Model of Peacemaking?

The Judeo-Christian model of peacemaking is the model advanced by Dr. Ken Newberger.  Dr. Newberger earned his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from Nova Southeastern University.  He has formerly served as a pastor and now serves the broader church as a conflict resolution practitioner, trainer, coach, and speaker.  Notably, Dr. Newberger grew up in a Jewish home and lived in Israel on two occasions before coming to faith in Jesus ha messiach.  His Jewish background and grasp of the Old Testament as connected to the New are evident and extremely valuable to the formation of a whole-biblical model.

The Process of Peacemaking

The Judeo-Christian model of peacemaking is a third-party Christian conciliation process based on a “mediatorial model to make peace.”[1]  Dr. Newberger organizes his model in twelve stages (not steps).  Stages, as opposed to steps, may overlap within the overall process of mediation.  The twelve stages, in his own summary, are as follow:[2]

Initiating the Process

In the same way, God, the aggrieved party, initiated the process to make peace with mankind by sending his Son as mediator, so the aggrieved party initiates the process by contacting a qualified peacemaker.

Mediator Immersion

In the same way Jesus was fully immersed in the identity, perspective, and experiences of both God and man as mediator between the two, so the peacemaking mediator immerses himself or herself in the perspective of each side of the conflict.

Envisioning Justice

In the same way God set forth a vision of ultimate justice for the sins we commit against him, so the peacemaker learns from the aggrieved party what they would consider a just outcome for the wrong they suffered.

Envisioning Shalomic Peace

In the same way God set forth an image of shalomic peace that includes sinful mankind, so the peacemaker helps disputing parties paint a picture of shalomic peace that is inclusive of the other side.

Humanizing One Side to the Other

In the same way God created humanity with no essential differences, so the peacemaker helps parties in conflict understand that there are no inherent differences between them.

Seeing the Error of One’s Ways

In the same way sinners are urged to change the erroneous thinking that has brought them into conflict with God, so the peacemaker helps offending parties see the error of their ways.

Making a Genuine Apology

In the same way a person’s confession of sin to God is expected after repentance, so the peacemaker encourages the offending party to follow up the recognition of wrongdoing with a verbal apology to the injured party.

Making Reparations (Restitution)

In the same way God expects those who sinned against him and hurt others to make reparations to those harmed, so the peacemaker encourages the offending party to make the aggrieved party materially whole again.

Exercising Faith

In the same way people place their trust in Jesus as the mediator to make peace between them and God, so the parties in dispute place their trust in their mediator to make peace between them.

Granting Forgiveness

In the same way God forgives repentant sinners, so the peacemaker encourages aggrieved parties to forgive those who express genuine sorrow for the wrong they committed against them.

Building of the Spirit of Reconciliation

In the same way God reconciles with those he has forgiven, so the peacemaker encourages the parties to build upon their spirit of reconciliation and work toward a future characterized by shalomic peace.

Problem Solving Follow-up

In the same way Jesus continues to serve as mediator for believers even after they have made peace with God, so the parties rely upon the ongoing work of their peacemaker to help them resolve all remaining issues in order for reconciliation to be complete.

Areas of Strength

This model has very much to commend and recommend it.  Among models currently used for Christian conciliation among the Evangelical community, this is perhaps the one that most exemplifies the spirit of the Scripture.  Several areas of strength in this model stand out from other extant models of peacemaking that are worthy of note:

Biblicity of the Model

God has given us the holy and inspired canon consisting of sixty-six books, thirty-nine of which we share with the Jewish people.  Dr. Newberger has wisely articulated a model that reflects the entire sweep of biblical revelation.  The model reflects an understanding of both continuity and discontinuinty between the testaments in keeping with the God-given progressive nature of revelation.  This model avoids any remnant of Marcion-like division between the testaments.

Reflecting the Character of God

God is a God of love and a God of justice.  Shalom, as we have seen is a concept large enough to hold both of these divine attributes together.  Dr. Newberger wisely connects the victims need for justice with the goal of shalomic peace.  God, throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, is portrayed as sympathetic and compassionate toward the plight of those on the receiving end of maltreatment by others.  God is not a neutral onlooker to the oppression of people in His image.  By placing stage three, envisioning justice, near the beginning of the process of peacemaking, he reflects an understanding of the largest obstacle in the way of the aggrieved party’s potential for regaining a measure of shalom.

Biblical View of Forgiveness & Repentance

There is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding among the Christian community in regard to the biblical nature of forgiveness.  The Judeo-Christian model has clarity in this area.  It rightly connects vertical and horizontal forgiveness, as they are connected in Scripture.  It avoids the common pitfalls of cheap grace (antinomianism) and therapeutic forgiveness.

Recommended Model for Third-Party Conciliation

The model, as we have seen, is designed for use in third-party conciliation processes that are mediator-led.  Though there are helpful insights to the process of conflict resolution in general, the model specifically proposed does not directly address non-assisted processes.  That being said, this model is highly consistent with the truth and process commanded in Scripture.  As such, this is the model of conciliation recommended for third-party mediation or arbitration.

Areas of Weakness

The Judeo-Christian has much to recommend it.  There are, however, a few areas that should be used with appropriate caution.  There is no perfect model.  So, while this may be the preferred model, it must still be exercised with appropriate wisdom and humility.  Though this model is highly consistent with the truth of Scripture, the following areas are potential concerns:

Mediator Role & Responsibility

Perhaps the greatest strength in this model is potentially its greatest weakness.  The model, patterned after no less than the mediatorial work of Jesus, creates big sandals for the peacemaker to fill.  Succinctly put, the model is as effective as the individual in the role of peacemaker.  If that individual is Christ-like and led by the Spirit, the model can be highly effective.  If less than those traits are present, the process will likely fall short of optimal outcomes.  Trust in the person of the mediator is indispensable to positive results.  Trust is directly connected to several factors, including trustworthiness.  The personal character and wisdom of the singular mediator will make or break the process.

For this reason, many other conciliation processes recommend a plurality of mediators.  With a peacemaking team approach, multiple perspectives are often helpful to the overall process of conflict resolution.  Differences exist between parties.  These differences include race, ethnicity and cultural differences, gender, age, etc.  In plural mediation teams, some of these differences can be better accommodated.  It is also true that “in the multitude of counselors, there is wisdom” (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6).  Therefore, though it is likely true that one highly skilled and experienced mediator may be a better answer than a lesser skilled team.  The entirety of the process itself rests, perhaps too much, on one individual.  We can remember the plight of the singular mediator, Moses (Ex. 18).

Humanizing Foolishness

The opposite of humanizing is dehumanizing.  This is a common tendency among aggrieved parties as they consider the wrongs done to them and the nature of their oppressor.   Dehumanizing is failing to see that each of us, even the worst offender, remains the image bearer of God and has certain inherent rights and dignity.  Further, we are not simply what we do.  Dr. Newberger’s caution is wise:

As hurt individuals, we often shrink a person down to the size of the act that was committed against us. The worse the offense, the more reductionistic and simplistic the description. . . Every such description only serves to diminish one’s ability to relate to that person.  The person becomes known, totally and completely, by what he or she did wrong. . . Each one of us is more than a given instant or period in our lives.[3]

While it is true that a person is more than any one act, it is also true that people are what they do, in terms of overall life trajectory and character.  We become, through patterns of behavior, foolish or wise over time.  This is the thrust of the wisdom literature.

So, while we need to always remember the humanity of the other, the image of God in them, we can slightly disagree with the idea that all people can or should be humanized.  Humanizing Adolf Hitler or Usama Bin Laden, while at some level possible, may not reflect the Bible’s connection of what we do and who we are.  Those who continue in their sinful and foolish ways will ultimately be judged, as we have seen, on the basis of their works which bely their true character or lack thereof.  In some segments of the Christian community, humanizing others is needed.  In the greater part, however, we’ve humanized ourselves to death.

Summary Evaluation

The Judeo-Christian Model of Peacemaking is one of the most thoroughly biblical models available today.  Dr. Newberger has done a masterful job of organizing the material in a way that reflects the overall thrust of the inspired content of Scripture.  The model wisely balances love and justice.  The sections on repentance, apology and forgiveness are excellent and stand out in the literature on these subjects.  In short, this model, with minor situational modifications as wisdom requires, is a highly recommended model for use in third-party attempts at resolving conflicts among Christians.


[1] Newberger, 23.

[2] The descriptions of the stages are presented verbatim as summarized in the overview of the process in Newberger, 48-49.

[3] Newberger, 135-136.

Foolishness, Bullying and Abuse

The Bible was written over 1500 years by over forty authors and consists of sixty-six separate books.  The Old Testament clearly delineates the paradigm of foolishness, describing not only its form but also its effects on others.  Biblical revelation is progressive.  The New Testament is built on the foundation of those things revealed in the Old.  The concepts of the New Testament, as we have seen, are clearly consistent with those revealed previously.  The New Testament, just as the former, reveals behaviors and character traits that together comprise the life of the person who refuses to live under the authority of God, the fool.  The books that comprise the canon of Holy Scripture have been complete for almost two-thousand years.

Throughout the history of mankind, people have been mistreated by others.[1]  In modern terms, this is most often referred to as the problem of abuse or bullying.  We used to think that bullying was a playground problem.  We are now beginning to understand that it extends far beyond the playground and into the boardroom, the office, the church, and other adult locations.  Looking at the paradigm for abusive relationships we can see some noteworthy similarities with the pattern of the fool.

What is Bullying?

Bullying can be defined as “the act of repeatedly and deliberately putting a weaker person under stress.”[2]  Bullying is “persistent unwelcome behavior, mostly using unwarranted or invalid criticism, nit-picking, fault-finding, also exclusion, isolation, being singled out and treated differently, being shouted at, humiliated, excessive monitoring, having written and verbal warnings imposed, and much more.”[3]  Bullying is a form of ongoing abuse that involves the systematic undoing of the victim over time.  The bully, sometimes acting alone, but often acting in concert with others referred to as “mobbing,” uses power and control to bring about the destruction of the victim.

Other countries are ahead of the United States in identifying and addressing this growing international problem.  In America, mainly through the recognition of the problem in the school system, we are just now beginning to understand the severity of this issue.  Bullying is not just a child’s problem.  It occurs in the workplace, in the church, in the family, and yes, in the schools.  There is a striking similarity between the phenomenon we now identify as bullying and the biblical description of foolishness.  As we will see, the methods of fools and their effect on their victims are fairly consistent throughout history.  Only the labels are changing.

What is Abuse?

The concept of abuse and the concept of bullying overlap.  In many cases, the terms can be used interchangeably.  Abuse can be defined as the mistreatment of others in various ways that fails to regard their inherent dignity and rights as persons in the image of God.  It has many expressions.  The essence is, however, the same.  It is about controlling the other person.  It is always about power.  A brief survey of the most common forms of abuse will help to delineate the concept.  Abuse occurs in many different forms.  The first form of abuse is the easiest to detect and is therefore given the most attention in the criminal justice system and society in general.

Physical Abuse

This is the easiest form of abuse to detect and therefore to substantiate and prosecute.  Cigarette burns leave scars.  Striking, hitting, slapping, choking, leave evidence behind.  Broken bones can be seen on x-rays.  Physical abuse is a broad category including any and all forms of physically mistreating others.  It includes, but is not limited to, hitting, slapping, beating, kicking, throwing objects at, burning, restraining, stabbing, shooting, etc.

Sexual Abuse

This is one of the most heinous forms of abuse in society.  Particularly, sexual abuse perpetrated against children is rightly considered to be the epitome of human depravity.  Sexual abuse includes, but is not limited to, the inappropriate misuse of others for personal sexual gratification.  It may or may not include intercourse specifically.  It includes inappropriate fondling of others, voyeurism of others, exposure of sexual organs to others, any and all forms of unwanted sexual contact including rape, incest, pedophilia, etc.

Emotional or Psychological Abuse

Physical abuse can leave visible scars on the body of the victim.  Sexual abuse can sometimes be proven scientifically to have occurred.  Emotional abuse leaves no scars on the outside.  The damage is done internally, in the heart of the victim.  Emotional abuse can be defined as “any behavior or attitude that emotionally damages another person, regardless of whether there is conscious intent to do so.”[4]

Psychological abuse is a sinister practice of destroying the mental health of the victim through the use of various methodologies.  Practices such as “gaslighting,” a term derived from the Alfred Hitchcock movie, can be used to keep the victim constantly off-balance emotionally and psychologically.  Another famous form of emotional or psychological abuse is called the “mental health trap.”  In this scheme, the abuser continues to work the victim into an increasing state of depression and despair, and simultaneously points out to others the lack of mental stability in the victim.  “He’s losing it.”  This is often done with a hypocritical pretense of concern.  “I’m really concerned about her.”  This is like the person who lights the fire and after discarding the match has the gall to ask, “who started this fire?”

Verbal Abuse

The tongue is the most used organ in the ongoing perpetration of abuse.  Words can give life, and they can also kill.  Verbal abuse can be defined as the use of “words that attack or injure, that cause one to believe the false, or the speak falsely of one.  Verbal abuse constitutes psychological violence.”[5]

Spiritual Abuse

When other forms of abuse and mistreatment are occurring within a religious context, a church or family system, it is common for the abuse itself to include the additional weight of God.  It can become then, “not only do we think you are unlovable, but God agrees with us.”  Abusers need and crave power.  What greater power to add than the Almighty Himself.  Some of the greatest damage to an individual comes in the form of this destruction of God as a source of refuge, strength and comfort for the victim.  Spiritual abuse can be defined as, “the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment.”[6]

All other forms of abuse are damaging enough.  The addition of God to the equation by the spiritual abuser can create even weightier problems.  It’s one thing for an abuser to reject and persecute another human being, but to claim God’s alignment with the abuser is to do serious damage to the victim’s relationship with God Himself.

Spiritual abuse, however, puts people at odds with their best Friend.  It causes some people to question, doubt, and even run the other direction from their Source.  They see their strongest Advocate as their biggest accuser, their Ally as their enemy.  For some people, spiritual abuse can have eternal consequences.[7]

Spiritual abuse brings the victim’s relationship with God into the mix.  The classic example of this is Job’s friends and their implications about not only Job’s character but his lack of a real relationship with God.  Their ongoing spiritual abuse of him was instrumental in bringing him to the brink of despair.

Other Forms of Abuse

The catalog of various forms of abusing others continues to expand.  With the advent of new technologies we now have the ability to cyberbully and cyberstalk others.  Reputations can be destroyed almost instantly through the use of cell phones and Facebook.  The list goes on.  There seems to be no limit to the development of new means of using and mistreating others.

The Cycle of Abuse

Abuse and abusive or bullying relationships are cyclical.  There is an observable and predictable pattern of behavior that characterizes the abusive interaction over time.  Each time the cycle repeats the damage increases.  The victim is truly caught in a downward spiral.  The cycle of abuse can be delineated in four cyclical stages.  Because the pattern is cyclical, we can enter the discussion at any point:

cycle of abuse

Tension-Building

In this phase of the abusive relationship, the victim begins to feel a growing sense of dread.  Communication is beginning to break down.  The abuser may begin to show signs of growing irritation and unrest.  This in turn will begin to increase the sense in the victim of a growing need to placate and appease.  Both parties, but particularly the victim, will become increasingly aware that another incident is coming.  The rising tension becomes palpable.

Incident

When the tension reaches a sufficient level in the abuser, it takes very little to trigger another outbreak of abuse.  The abuse can include verbal, sexual, physical, emotional, spiritual or other forms of aggression.  Often, rage, threats and intimidation will be a key part of the incident itself.  Abuse, at a fundamental level, is about power.  During the “storm,” the abuser no longer restrains himself or herself, but freely uses any and all forms of power to bring the victim into subjection.

Reconciliation

When the abusive incident ends, the abuser will frequently but not always “apologize.”  These are typically not real apologies, but rather excuses for the behavior that has just occurred, justifications for the need to behave as such, or projections onto the victim of blame for the incident.  Often, the “reconciliation” is really a denial that the event even occurred.  If there is acknowledgement that something bad happened, often the victim is encouraged to see how they are “overreacting” to the situation.  The abuse is almost always minimized in this way.  This sets the victim up for another cycle to come.

Calm

This is truly the “calm before the storm.”  At this point in the cycle, sometimes referred to as the “honeymoon phase,” the abuser maintains an apparently positive stance toward the victim.  The abuser attempts to rebuild trust.  The victim is tempted to trust again, which will set them up for the next cycle.  The incident itself, at this stage, is “forgotten.”  At some point, the apparent calm begins to move again toward an increasing sense of tension.  Though the victim pretends everything is fine at this stage, all is not well.

Foolishness also tends to come in waves as it brings harm to others.  Similar cycles of foolish acting out, excuse-making, minimizing, forgetfulness, leading to an increasing sense of a need to placate and appease the fool, in an attempt to prevent future outbreaks, can be witnessed in the Scripture.  There is a striking similarity between the modern paradigm of bullying and abuse and the ancient description of foolishness.

The Effects of Abuse

The effects of ongoing abuse are felt long-term.  Each time this cycle of abuse circles back around, a larger piece of the victim dies.  All of the various ways in which abuse is perpetrated work together to have the following effects on the victim:[8]

  • Self-image.  The abuse damages the victim’s self-esteem.  Victims often feel increasingly worthless, unlovable, guilty and ashamed.
  • Reactive depression, despair.  The feelings of guilt turn inward and become a reactive depression.  This depression is caused externally, exogenously, to the victim as a result of the ongoing abuse.  The victim will often move toward hopelessness and despair and can sometimes manifest suicidal ideation.
  • Hypervigilance.  This is a jumpiness, an overreaction of the adrenal system to various apparently innocuous stimuli.  Provoked by various triggers, the body goes into high alert, fight or flight responses.
  • Emotional numbness.  The victim loses the ability to feel altogether.  The feeling system is simply fatigued to the point of no longer functioning.  This can at times be dissociative with feelings of detachment from reality.
  • Physical illness.  Stress and physical health do not go together.  The stresses involved in ongoing abusive or bullying situations often take a toll on the victims body.  The immune system is highly compromised leaving the victim open to all kinds of illness from the chronic diseases to cancer.
  • Flashbacks, nightmares, sleep disturbance.  The trauma can be replayed during waking or sleeping hours.  Sleep patterns will often be highly disrupted with either insomnia or hypersomnia.
  • Addictive behaviors.  The victim is highly vulnerable to the development of addictive behaviors (alcohol, drugs, pornography, etc.) as a result of using various means of coping with the ongoing pain of the abuse.

This cluster of symptoms has most aptly been referred to as CPTSD, complex post-traumatic stress disorder.[9]  It is similar to the more commonly know PTSD, that is triggered by the experience of acute stress (battle, terrorism, genocide).  CPTSD is about smaller stresses accumulating over time to create a similar set of symptoms in the victim.

These symptoms can be seen, by those who have eyes to see, throughout the Psalter.  These modern-day effects arising from contemporary psychological diagnoses are the same effects of dealing with fools described in the Bible under a new scientific name.  Foolishness is highly detrimental to its target.

The Answer to Abuse

The Christian community has notoriously failed in responding to the problem of abuse.  It has far too often been the case that the church has sided, not with the oppressed but with their oppressors.  This is so contrary to the mission of Jesus that He has called the church to (c.f. Isa. 61:1-2).  Sadly, the secular literature better understands the reality of abuse and the responsibility of those who can help to intervene.

Exposing Abuse

For abuse to be stopped, it must be exposed.  The greatest power the abuser has is the power of secrecy.  Families and organization are replete with secrets, things done in the dark that need to be kept in locked closets.  The only way out of an abusive situation is to call the abuse what it is.  As long as minimizing and denial persist, the abuse will likely continue.  This is consistent with the call in Ephesians 5.  There we are called to “have no fellowship with the works of darkness [i.e. abuse in this case], but rather expose them.”  As children of the light, we are to walk in the light and to shine the light of truth into areas where the darkness keeps people enslaved.

Stopping Abuse

In many cases, the abuser refuses to acknowledge the existence of past or present abuse.  As we have seen, this is common to the problem of foolishness as well.  For abusers who will not admit their problems, seek professional help consistent with real repentance and remorse, there is little or no hope.  Consciences can become hardened and impenetrable to a sense of healthy guilt or responsibility.  When the abuser refuses to accept responsibility for what they have done or continue to do, we are left with fewer options.  We cannot and ought not to simply forbear or overlook ongoing or past serious incidents of abuse (see chapter 6).

In such situations, the only option that may remain for the victim is to discontinue the relationship.  For marriages and other extended family relationships this can be quite painful and difficult for the victim to do.  The alternative is to allow the abuse to continue to destroy us little by little.  God has called each of us to do all we can to protect and preserve life.  This is the essence of the sixth commandment.  That commandment tells us not only to protect the lives of others around us but also that we have a sacred duty to protect our own life as well.

Help for the Victim

This book is about dealing with conflict.  As we have seen, often these conflicts are unresolvable due to the presence of a pervasive pattern of foolishness in the person of the aggressor.  These fools leave victims in their wake.  If you have been a target of ongoing aggression and feel some of the effects of abuse that we have listed above, it is highly suggested that you seek professional help from not only your pastor but also a licensed Christian counselor in your area.  It is very difficult to heal from what has happened to you on your own.[10]

There is a stigma that is connected to going for counseling.  Others often try to use the fact that we would consult a counselor as further proof that there is something wrong with us.  The key thing here is our willingness to admit that there is something wrong with us.  What is wrong with us has likely been caused by those with such attitudes toward honesty and weakness.  It takes a measure of courage to come forward with the honesty to admit that we have been victimized by others and that we are suffering as a result.


[1] The vulnerable have often been the victims of the mistreatment.  In the Old Testament it was often the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the foereigner.  Often, children have been sinful targets of aggression on the part of their parents and other adults.  In many nations, slavery has been and continues to be practiced.

[2] Beyond Bullying Association, http://www.beyondbullying.com.au.

[4] Beverly Engel, The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How To Stop Being Abused and How To Stop Abusing (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2002), 41.

[5] Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond, 2nd ed. (Holbrook, MA: Adams Media Corporation, 1996), 81.

[6] David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1991), 20.

[7] Johnson and Van Vonderen, 29.

[8] Compare this list of symptoms with the descriptions in the Psalms.  If you are experiencing a significant number of these symptoms and are in an ongoing relationship of bullying or mistreatment, seek professional help as soon as you are able.  These symptoms grow worse over time.  The sooner you take action to end the abuse, the better off you will be.

[9] See Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (New York: Basic Books, 1992).  See also C. A. Courtois, “Complex Trauma, Complex Reactions: Assessment and Treatment,” Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 2004, 41(4).

[10] For further information regarding bullying, abuse and the stress created in victims, see

Tim Field, Bully in Sight: How to Predict, Resist, Challenge and Combat Workplace Bullying, Overcoming the Silence and Denial by which Abuse Thrives (Oxfordshire, UK: Success Unlimited, 1996).  See also http://www.bullyonline.org.  For those bullied in ministry, see Bullied and Abused Lives in Ministry’s Blog at John Mark Ministries’ website, http://aaa.net.au/articles/2051.htm.

A Brief Commentary on Forgiveness Passages

Many biblical texts touch on relevant aspects of the discussion of the nature and grounds of biblical forgiveness in the life of the Christian.  The following are some of the most widely referenced texts on this subject:

Luke 17:3-4 – Repeated Forgiveness Following Repentance

Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.

This passage begins with a present imperative (prosexete), to keep watch over ourselves.  This watch is in relation to our attitude toward forgiveness of those who sin against us repeatedly.  The reference to seven times in a day is a reference to frequency.  There is to be “no limit to forgiving” those who sin against us, even if this can be characterized as habitual.[1]  Without limit and indefinitely, we are to forgive those who come to us penitently.  Darrel Bock notes, “The picture is graphic and clear.  The disciple is always to forgive the repentant disciple, no matter how often forgiveness is requested.”[2]  John MacArthur makes a good point that all of us are repeat offenders.[3]

It is clear that we are always and without limit to forgive the repentant.  Though Ryle rejects the notion that this passage teaches “that we are not to forgive men unless they do repent,”[4] others, including Calvin see this as a clear qualification of the principle.  Calvin comments, “Christ does not order us to grant forgiveness, till the offender turn to us and give evidence of repentance.”[5]  Calvin is not alone in this contention, but is joined by many others in seeing this forgiveness as conditioned on repentance.[6]  One scholar describes the heart attitude of the penitent as an “experience of sincere sorrow over having offended a fellow believer.”[7]  MacArthur, along with Calvin, has a concern regarding the possibility of feigned repentance (c.f. Matt. 3:8).  He adds, “Our Lord was not suggesting that the disciples should throw discernment out the window when it comes to evaluating a person’s repentance.”[8]

Matt. 5:23-26 – The Priority of Reconciliation

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

This passage occurs within the broader context of Christ’s exposition of the true meaning of the Decalogue in contrast to the tradition of the Pharisees and scribes.  Here, he follows his teaching that moves the sixth commandment from outward act (murder) to inward act (angry thoughts, hatred).  As Calvin points out, in Jesus worldview “the law restrains not only the hands, but all the affections opposed to brotherly love.”[9]  The verb diallagethi is an ingressive aorist tense which translates as “take the initiative.”[10]  Lightfoot describes this particular term as referring to “mutual concession after mutual hostility.”[11]  The priority is placed upon interpersonal relationships (the second table) even over worship of God (the first table).  In effect, the point is that violating the second table, failing to love another, makes void the attempt to love God.  As John Wesley put it, “neither thy gift nor thy prayer will atone for they want of love: but this will make them both an abomination before God.”[12]  These two, loving God and not loving a brother cannot coexist (c.f. 1 Jn. 4:20b).[13]  Jesus’ teaching is further strengthened with the use of the warning of at the very least civil penalty, but even more motivating, the threat of eternal punishment at the hands of the Ultimate Judge.

Ephesians 4:32; Col. 3:13 – Forgive As You Have Been Forgiven

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

In these two parallel passages written by the Apostle Paul, believers are urged to imitate God in loving one another.  Even as God has forgiven us, so we ought to be forgiving toward one another.  As Leon Morris states, “Paul is counseling kindness, not criticism.”[14]  We are further to be tender-hearted, or compassionate, extending the “bowels of mercy (Col.) towards others.  John MacArthur describes this tender-heartedness as “a gnawing psychosomatic pain due to empathy for someone’s need.”[15]  The motivation for our forgiveness of others is our own forgiveness by God who “forgives us far more than we can ever be called upon to forgive others.”[16]  God freely forgives us in Christ, Hodge adds, “preceding even our repentance.”[17]  On this point which is not mentioned in the text Matthew Henry disagrees.  He states that we “should forgive even as God forgives, sincerely and heartily, readily and cheerfully, universally and for ever, upon the sinner’s sincere repentance.”[18]  By using the term “as” (kathos), Paul connects God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others in that as Foulkes puts it, “there is to be a real likeness between the forgiveness of God and the Christian’s forgiving.”[19] This is a critical observation about the relationship between the two.  They are not dissimilar as some have contended (therapeutic forgiveness) but remarkably similar.  In practicing this forgiveness we imitate God.  As Lloyd-Jones puts it, “if you forgive and are kind and tenderhearted towards others you become like God.”[20]  In summary, this passage teaches the requisite forgiving character of God’s children.  It does not address the circumstances in which forgiveness may be difficult but presents a simple statement as to the priority of this practice among believers.

Luke 6:36-38 – Forgiveness After the Example of the Father

Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.

As God is merciful, so we are to be merciful.  Forgiving is an attribute of God in which we are to imitate Him.  Verse 37 is often cast in a cause-effect manner, a “salvation by merit”.[21]  Forgive that you may be forgiven.  This cannot be the meaning.  Those who “do not judge” (v.37) may still enter the judgment.  The “unthankful and evil” (v.36) toward whom God is kind may still be condemned in the end.  Instead Jesus gives a general principle of following the example of God as proof or evidence of our relationship to Him.  We are to be inclined toward all men, even as God Himself is.  The clear teaching is that God’s children have a general disposition toward forgiveness, like their Father in heaven.  This passage does not address some of the particulars of forgiveness in difficult situations.  What is commanded is “an attitude that is hesitant to condemn and quick to forgive.”[22]

Matt. 6:12, 14-15; Mk. 11:25-26 – Our Forgiveness, Prayer, and the Forgiveness of Others

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors . . . if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

C. S. Lewis asserts that this passage means clearly that “if you don’t forgive you will not be forgiven.”[23]  This assertion is often connected to this text.  These passages, however, occur in the context of a discussion about prayer and the believer.  As Walvoord and Zuck comment, they are discussing “personal fellowship” with God rather than salvific standing.  [24]Calvin, in commenting on prayer in this text, states that “God will not be ready to hear us, unless we also show ourselves ready to grant forgiveness to those who have offended us.”[25]    Lloyd-Jones wisely points out that the Lord here does not say, Forgive us our debts “because” we forgive or “on the ground that” we forgive, but rather “as” we forgive.[26]  Lloyd-Jones specifically points out that in this instance the Lord “is not so much concerned about the mechanism or the way of forgiveness.”[27]  It is therefore clear that as Hendriksen comments, “This certainly cannot mean that our forgiving disposition earns God’s pardon.”[28]  Though this forgiveness is not meritorious, it is nonetheless a critical aspect of the heart disposition of those who bear the Family likeness.  France comments, “The point is not so much that forgiveness is a prior condition to being forgiven, but that forgiveness cannot be a one-way process.  Like all God’s gifts it brings responsibility; it must be passed on.”[29]  Calvin agrees that “the forgiveness, that we ask that God would give us, does not depend on the forgiveness which we grant to others.”[30]

Luke 23:34 (c.f. Acts 7:60; Matt. 5:44) – Prayer for Enemies

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In this passage we are shown the example of Christ in praying for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him.  As He had taught earlier (Matt. 5:44) His followers are to be merciful as the Father is merciful.  In this text, He does not grant forgiveness to these, but prays for the Father to forgive them.  The answer to His prayer in the granting of forgiveness to these He prays for is not accomplished without repentance and faith (Calvin, Ryle).  Matthew Henry comments, “He did not intend that any be forgiven upon any other terms (repentance and believing the gospel).”[31]  The scope of His prayer and its corresponding answer is not made clear.  Most likely, it includes both Jews and Romans who stand in need of forgiveness and repentance.  This petition may not, however, extend to Annas and Caiaphas (Ryle).  Jesus (and Stephen following His example) shows us the character of God’s servants.  Calvin states, “He had pity on them and presented himself as their intercessor.  Yet knowing that God would be an avenger, he left to him the exercise of judgment against the desperate.”[32]  He separated his belief in the ultimate justice of God from his temporal stance toward men.  He did not, however, affirm the position of universal forgiveness through his words from the cross.  Ryle warns, “let us beware of supposing that the Lord Jesus holds out to man nothing but mercy, pardon, love and forgiveness.”[33]

Matt. 18:21-35 – The Unforgiving Servant

This section immediately follows the classic text on church discipline (vv. 15-20) and should therefore be understand as consistent with those principles.  The parable is in response to Peter’s question concerning the limit of the extension of forgiveness to others.  As Calvin explains the text “expressly declares that there ought to be no limit to forgiving.”[34]  This principle is taught in Jesus’ use of seventy times seven.  The parable Christ uses to illustrate this point does not address the question of the prerequisite of repentance in that the debtor begging for forgiveness from the unforgiving servant was clearly penitent (v. 29).  Calvin on this passage agrees with others that “Christ does not order us to grant forgiveness till the offender turn to us and give evidence of repentance.”[35]  The parable, by using the language of final judgment, stresses the idea that the children of God are to be known as forgiving people, that no unforgiving person ought to consider themselves eternally secure.  Hendriksen sums up the meaning of the parable as follows, “Prompted by gratitude, the forgiven sinner must always yearn to forgive whoever has trespassed against him, and must do all in his power to bring about complete reconciliation.”[36]  The servant in the parable clearly failed to do this.  Jesus goes on to stress that this forgiveness in response to repentance must be from the heart (ton kardion) meaning not merely outward sham forgiveness but an inward disposition.  Forgiveness, in the biblical sense according to Christ, is a heart matter.

The passage is clear in pointing out the acknowledgement of an unpayable debt on the part of both servants.  Both servants acknowledged their inability to pay and beg for mercy and forgiveness.  Thus, the parable is about the need to forgive others following sincere apology, and not about conditional versus unconditional forgiveness.  Dr. Newberger comments,

The servants in this parable each acknowledge their debt (sin).  The servants recognize and confess that they are in debt (have sinned) and are obligated to make things right.  The analogy for us is clear.  As God has forgiven us for our sins, conditional upon our recognition and confession of our sinful behavior, so we must do the same for those who acknowledge their sin and come to us with a sincere apology.[37]

Synthesis of Biblical Data

The above texts clearly teach the priority of forgiveness as an indispensable attribute for the children of God to possess.  Unforgiveness, the failure to forgive others in the way in which we have been forgiven, puts one in jeopardy in regard to kingdom standing.  In many of the texts referenced above, forgiveness appears to be an unconditional duty in all cases because in those specific texts themselves there are no qualifiers governing its practice.  In others, it is clear that the forgiveness we are required to extend is to be in response to repentance on the part of the offending party.  Putting these texts together, it is reasonable to infer from the latter that the precondition of repentance is presupposed in the former.  When we look at sound interpretation of these texts taken as a whole, it becomes clear that:

Divine forgiveness is based upon awareness, repentance, and admission of sin by the sinner.  As God forgives us, we are to forgive others.  Hence, human forgiveness also should be based upon awareness, repentance, and admission of wrongs by the wrongdoer.[38]


[1] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. William Pringle, vol. XVI (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), vol. 2, 364.

[2] Darrel Bock, Luke, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 1388.

[3] MacArthur, 187.

[4] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke, vol. 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), 225.

[5] Calvin, vol. XVI, 1993, vol. 2, 364.

[6] See Appendix D: Conditional Forgiveness Quotations.

[7] Robert H. Stein, Luke, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of the Holy Scripture, ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville: Broadman Press, 2003) vol. 24, 431.

[8] MacArthur, 187.

[9] Calvin, vol. XVI, 1993, vol. 1, 285.

[10] Archibald T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), vol. 1, 44.

[11] Robertson, vol. 1, 45.

[12] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (London: Epworth Press, 1966), 32.

[13] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973), 299.

[14] Leon Morris, Expository Reflection on the Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 149.

[15] John MacArthur, Ephesians, The McArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 190.

[16] Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Ephesians (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1991), 201.

[17] Hodge, 1991, 201.

[18] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), volume 6, 570-571.

[19] Francis Foulkes, The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 145.

[20] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Darkness and Light: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:17 – 5:17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1982), 288.

[21] Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), volume 3, 145.

[22] Bock, 605.

[23] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: Harper Collins, 1949), 178.

[24] Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., Matthew, in John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty (Victor Books, 1988), vol. 2, 32.

[25] Calvin, vol. XVI, 1993, vol. 1, 330.

[26] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), vol 2, 74.

[27] Lloyd-Jones, 1997, vol. 2, 74.

[28] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1973), 334.

[29] R. T. France, Matthew: Tyndale New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 137.

[30] Calvin, vol. XVI, 1993, vol. 1, 327.

[31] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), vol. 5, 666.

[32] Calvin, vol. XVII, 1993, vol. 3, 306.

[33] J.C. Ryle, Commentary on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1858), vol. 2, 462.

[34] John Calvin, vol. XVI, 1993, vol. 2,364.

[35] Ibid, 364.

[36] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1978), 709.

[37] Ken Newberger, Hope in the Face of Conflict (Three Sons Publishing, SDM, 2011), 330.

[38] Newberger, 331.