God has given us much to assist us in times of conflict. We have His Word, the ability to pray, and, as Jesus-followers, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, one of the most important gifts God has provided to lead toward wisdom in the midst of times of conscience-conflict is not utilized fully.
We need a community that is: multi-perspectived, multi-gifted, and diverse; committed to God and His wisdom through prayer, worship, and Bible study; humble and ready to serve one another; united in faith and mission—made a part of one another through the Spirit of God; and committed to one another’s growth and maturity. This community is precisely what the church is to be.
The church is God’s gift to His people for times when conscience is in conflict. For this “gift” to be effective, the church must be what God has created it to be: a called and redeemed family of God, made up of people from every tribe, language, and nation living in community created by the Spirit of God to fulfill His mission in the world and, thus, bring glory to His name. If we are to live wisely in the midst of difficult moral decision-making, the church must be the church, and each of us must live in the midst of it and be a vital part of it.
For those who think of the church primarily in terms of its visible externals, the idea of a church as God’s gift for wise living in the midst of conscience-conflict may seem foreign. Focusing on church activities, buildings, and organizational structure leads to an inadequate concept of the church. Craig Van Gelder in his book, The Essence of the Church, points to a better way of understanding the church. He writes, “The interrelationship of three aspects is clear: The church is. The church does what it is. The church organizes what it does.” Getting these three in the right order is important.
When we take time to consider what the church is, we find it is precisely what we need in this fallen world if we are to pursue wise and moral living. The church is made up of fallen people who have cast themselves upon the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus and received mercy—the forgiveness of sins and the promise of a path to a new destiny. The presence and work of God’s Spirit guarantees that we will be conformed to the image of Christ. We are promised that nothing will separate us from God’s love until this process is complete. Based on faith in Christ, we are knit together into a new family comprised of similarly redeemed people from all people groups regardless of age, gender, socio-economics, or ethnicity. In this new family of God, we are to serve one another, exhort one another, instruct one another, etc., until each one is “complete in Christ” (Col 1:28-29).
While not a single person in this new family of God is yet complete, each has been given gifts to contribute to the whole. This family, created by the Spirit of God, must live together within a cultural context and seek to proclaim Christ and to grow in wisdom together. This new family finds identity along faith lines rather than bloodlines. We find in our world the normal divisions between people no longer exist where God reigns among those who have placed faith in Christ.
This is what the church is. It is not some sort of organization that people join voluntarily in their community to meet personal needs. It is a family, a building, a body, called together by God, made possible because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, formed by the work of the Holy Spirit, and entered into by faith directed toward the person and work of Jesus.
The church is made up of very diverse people, people incomplete and fallen in and of themselves, but nevertheless gifted by God’s Spirit. Such people are not meant to deal with the complexities of life in this world in isolation from the rest of the Body of Christ. Instead, it is in the context of life in such a broad-based community of believers committed to Christ and His ways, seeking wisdom through the Word of God, and living in support of and accountability to one another, that we can deal with issues of conscience-conflict. We can be rescued from our time-bound, culture-bound, sin-bound limitations in a community of people as diverse as God’s family is, a family in whom the Spirit of God dwells.
The local church is to be a place in which God reigns. Each local congregation is to reflect the makeup, values, and ways of our Father. Functionally, we must focus our efforts on doing the kinds of things that facilitate the biblically revealed identity and nature of the church if it is to direct and help people to live according to God’s wisdom. Local churches need to be places as diverse as the family of God in order to have the breadth of perspective and input needed to live wisely. Then, it must find ways together to learn God’s Word and to apply it to life’s moral and ethical situations. This kind of church must have the kinds of relationships that are a catalyst for mutual ministry, support, accountability, and prayer. Only then can God’s people help one another make choices that closely reflect God’s ways. In short, the pursuit of God’s wisdom in this world operates within the community framework we call the church.
The CBHD annual conference is an example of what must happen within the local church in terms of organizing what it does in the light of what God has called it to be. The leadership team recognized that Christ-followers were facing complex moral and ethical issues. Theologians were expected to make pronouncements about the issues from the perspective of Scripture. Jesus-followers in the medical world, faced with never-before-conceived-of possibilities, wanted to make wise and moral choices. Christian counselors, public policy makers, and attorneys found themselves in settings in which they wondered how their Christian faith could make a practical difference. Each of these professions has a role to play—a role that will be incomplete if isolated from the others. What was needed was a place in which all these individuals would bring their concerns as well as their experience and expertise to bear upon the bioethical questions and then hear from others who are committed to Jesus Christ and have additional input or broader experience. This forum would have to facilitate open and frank dialogue. It would have to engage straightforwardly issues many find controversial. There would have to be mutual respect for one another. Using an image from Proverbs, as these diverse people engage with one another, “iron will sharpen iron,” and steps toward God-honoring wisdom may be secured. For this to happen, CBHD had to organize for the task.
Similarly, the church must identify what God has raised it up to be and then organize to do what is consistent with that calling. Such an approach to church life and ministry will affect every part of the church. Evangelism will focus on bringing the full diversity of the local community into the church’s fellowship. Worship will reject splits along lines of musical taste, ethnicity, or age. The church must intentionally work to provide settings in which people can minister to one another so that we can seek wisdom together, and, as the writer of Hebrews said, “Spur one another toward love and good deeds.”
Much more should be said but time and space will not allow it. I simply want to reiterate that God has not left His followers alone in this difficult world where we repeatedly face issues of conscience-conflict. As technology and knowledge advance, the issues will become increasingly complex. God has given us His Word. He has given us prayer. He has left us His Holy Spirit. And, my main point: He has given us one another. The church, when it is what God has established it to be, is God’s gift for those times in which our consciences are in conflict.
Gregory L. Waybright, “God’s Gift for Those Facing Conflict in Conscience,” Dignity 10, no. 4 (2004): 2–3.