A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“One of the things that Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks where such-and-such a point ‘really matters’ and the other replies: ‘Matters? Why it’s absolutely essential (p. x)…’ The Historic Christian Faith turns out to be something not only positive but pungent; divided from all non-Christian beliefs by a chasm to which the worst divisions inside Christendom are not really comparable at all (p. xi).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Here C.S. Lewis is clarifying that Mere Christianity was not meant to defend or promote any one denomination within Christendom and grieving the hostility with which many denominational and non-heretical doctrinal debates occurs.
However, I think from his statements we can gain some key principles for conflict resolution that apply beyond Christian academia and clergy. It is not only theologians who can get testy within Christendom. Spouses, friends, co-workers, and fellow church members have their own hot debates that betray the unity that Christ so earnestly prayed for His church (John 17:11).
I would pull three principles from Jack’s (as he preferred to be called) words.
1. Define the importance of the disagreement under dispute.
When you are having a disagreement, try to agree on the importance of the subject before trying to resolve it. This is a way that you can demonstrate a sincere desire to understand your friend, before that understanding would be mistaken for agreement. If there is not enough honor and mutual respect to discuss the importance of the subject, there will not be enough to fairly represent one another in the rest of the conversation.
Even if the two of you cannot agree on the importance of the subject, at least you will have clarified one key reason why there will be disagreement in the following conversation. Often it is this surprise that you disagree with me that creates shock that is expressed in condescending anger or sarcasm. You might try ranking the subject on a scale of 1 to 10 or comparing it to the importance of a mutually agreed upon subject.
2. Remember the comparative importance of what unites you.
We too often immediately assume that if you disagree with me or do not see things the way I do, then you must be against me. Jack points out that this is not true. The differences between Christian groups are nothing compared to our non-Christian neighbors.
It would do us good to remember this with our spouse, kids, and fellow church members. We become blinded by the immediacy of the subject and are blinded to the shared history, affection, beliefs, values, and dreams. If we are to resolve a particular conflict well, it must not skew our vision.
Sin, fear, and pride tend to magnify our differences and shrink our unity. Grace, charity, and the Gospel give patience and the benefit-of-the-doubt until we can rightly compare or unify beliefs with our dissenting beliefs. Consider these words from Ephesians 2:14-22 as you consider both church and home conflict:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
3. Try to settle the disagreement.
Now, and only now, are you ready to engage in “conflict resolution” proper. Until you know the significance of the disagreement and have considered the common ground you share with the other person, you are not ready to approach the subject.
When we cut corners we often wind up cutting throats (figuratively) and shredding our witness (literally). Once you establish a good history with someone the first two steps can be brief, but when you see the early warning signs of conflict going wrong make sure you take the time to prepare for resolution before you engage in conflict.
To see the first 100 posts in this series click here.