1. DISPUTES, A FACT OF LIFE
Disputes have always been a fact of life. As humans, we are inherently different and at times we find ourselves in disagreements with each other over some of the most ridiculous reasons. The question is not if we get into disputes or not, but as Christians and members of the body of Christ how do we reconcile our differences with each other. As a model the early church was able to find reasonable ways to reconcile their differences and still function to expand the church in a world where Jesus had never been heard of.
In the book of Acts we find a few occasions where even the early church found themselves in arguments. How did they deal with these differences and still manage to co-operate as a body of believers. In this report I intend to look at a few of the ways the early church resolved disputes.
In Acts chapter 6, the first major dispute in the church comes up. The Grecian Jews had noticed that their widows were being over-looked in the daily distribution of food. Note: the early church divided among themselves all there possessions like a family would. When this issue is brought up to the apostles they had this to say, (v.2-4 "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."). Looking back to Moses we find that it is not looked down upon or unwise to delegate the workload to others in order for the whole group to run more smoothly, (Ex.18: 17-23). There is a stipulation in both of these situations, that is, that the men chosen are God fearing men. The early church delegated when they felt it was necessary to do so, but it was never done lightly. The men that were put in charge were always to be, first obedient to God, so that they could best serve the people; secondly servants to the people. Delegation is a viable form to resolve an issue provided it is delegated to the correct people.
3. THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
In Acts 11 we read of another dispute that came up. This was a question of whether it was right that Peter had gone to the gentiles when it was against the Jewish culture to associate with them. Peter resolves this argument in the simplest of ways, he tells the truth and all of it. From the vision, to the voice of God, to the witness of the Holy Spirit descending on the gentiles (v. 4- 17). He left out no details. In the end the people believed that it was true; the dispute was settled and they praised God for the repentance of the gentiles. At times the simplest solution to a problem is also the best answer. Disagreements can often be just a simple matter of misunderstanding each other and our motives. The early church was honest with each other and therefore able to avoid many arguments that could have come up.
4. TO THE HIGHER POWER
There are times when disputes cannot be settled that easily, in these cases it is necessary to go to a higher authority. In Acts 15 we find the early church in another disagreement, this time over the necessity of circumcision on the gentile believers. When discovering that the dispute was not being settled the church sent out a party containing members of both sides to go to Jerusalem to consult the counsel on the issue. There is a key here about solving disputes.
First, it is important to have people of wisdom in the church willing to give a solution, and to have people who rely on God in an elevated position of a counsel over the churches and ourselves. Second, we need to take on the position of a student willing to learn and be corrected if necessary. Thirdly, we need to remain humble before the Lord and willing to receive an answer from Him. The counsel could have chosen differently favoring the side of circumcision. Are we in a humble state where we are willing to allow others to speak into our lives? I believe the early church understood it was necessary to be in a state of humility. As Paul says in Philippians 2:3 "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." When we put these attributes into play disputes are able to be resolved with as little amount of bickering as possible.
5. DIVIDED PATHS
Although it is not always our most favored way to resolve a dispute separation can be the answer to a dispute. When I say this I am not revering to an unhealthy separation but of a departure on good terms. In Acts 15: 36-41 we read of the dispute between Paul and Barnabas. As it says in verse 39 "They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company." Although the two left each others company Paul never speaks harshly about Barnabas, and his problems with John Mark are resolved at some point as we know because John Mark joins Paul in his later ministry.
Though the separation may have been unexpected I don't believe it to have been an unhealthy one. In our own lives we find that as friends we can begin to find ourselves being drawn to other ministries, places, or work. Our choices in life may lead us down different roads. How can we then prepare ourselves for this kind of a solution? Be prepared to let the things go that are of this world. 1 John 2: 17 "The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."
6. VIABLE FORMS OF RECONCILIATION
Disputes will come and go in our lives as they did in the early church. I believe that we can learn and use these examples of how the apostolic church resolved disputes and apply them to how we live as the body of Christ today. Delegation, speaking the truth, counsel, and healthy separation are all viable forms of reconciling differences within our church body.