“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23, 24).
Jesus was clear. If a person claims we have hurt him or her, it is our responsibility to do four things:
1. Stop and pray, asking how we may have hurt others.
2. Take initiative. Even if you believe you are innocent, go to that person. Whether you meet face to face, write a letter, or talk by telephone, be the one to act first.
3. Humbly listen to the claim against you. Take it seriously. Express your heartfelt sorrow that you were involved in causing hurt to a brother or sister. Do your best to restore the relationship.
4. Resume your worship. After you have finished, offer your gift to God and you will be blessed.
Jesus indicates that resolving conflict has a higher priority than even worship. And although reconciliation is difficult, we must give it our best effort.
In following Jesus’ words, we follow his actions. He came to us while we were yet sinners to bring peace and reconciliation, to restore us to worship.
We may have hundreds of excuses that keep us from attempting reconciliation. But the only valid reason for not doing so, in my opinion, is in cases where we believe the person intends to cause us physical harm. Otherwise the burden is on the person who caused the alleged harm to initiate reconciliation.
The same principles apply in congregational and denominational settings. In congregations where there is unresolved hurt, sides are frequently taken. No one seems willing to take the initiative to create peace and reconciliation. But the truth is that no one can be right in the eyes of Jesus when worship continues without reconciliation.
On a larger scale, the Christian Reformed Church has unresolved issues with the United Reformed Church, many of whose members withdrew from the CRC following the conflict over women in office. Twenty years after that split between brothers and sisters, I have read nothing to indicate that our leaders have attempted a reconciliation.
At the upcoming synod, our leaders will be dealing with complex problems, including members and worshipers with same-sex attractions. This could lead to another serious crisis.
So let’s consider what Jesus teaches us about reconciliation. Whether you are a delegate or just watching the events of synod unfold, heed his words:
Stop to pray. Is there anyone who may have a complaint about the way they were treated in your church, or by you personally?
Take initiative. Make the phone call or get together and talk it out with grace and humility.
Humbly reconcile. Do your part to create reconciliation. Even if you have polar opposite opinions and will never agree, you can still be reconciled. You can, at the minimum, be respectful in your disagreement, just as Jesus was.
Resume worship. When you humbly attempt reconciliation, you will return to worship having experienced the heart of God.