9-1-1. Three digits that evoke an emergency. We tell our kids to memorize that number and only use it when they absolutely need help, and when they need help NOW.
What do we do when our emergency is not a police, fire, or ambulance issue? How do we handle emergencies just as real, but which require the Spirit of God to rush in to fight back the devil, quench the fires of conflict, and breathe life into a suffocating soul? What number do you dial, then? Which kind of phone or e-mail server can you use?
The way to call for help in our spiritual emergencies has been around for centuries—long before the existence of ‘911.’ God is infinitely wise, and knows that His covenant people will not be able to handle crises on their own. So He built into the structure of His Church a covenant relationship with one another. He expects us, commands us, and desires us to follow His ways of bringing peace and health to our spiritual emergencies. Some emergencies that we all have experienced or witnessed include crises in a marriage, or with a wayward child, or an unsolved conflict between church members, or even between church leaders and members of the congregation. The most common Biblical ‘911’ passage is Matthew 18:15-20. Jesus outlines His process for maintaining peace between His covenant people. This process requires humility and also a submission to our fellow Christians as they counsel and correct a sinning Christian who just doesn’t see (or won’t see) his problem.
A less familiar, but just as valuable, Biblical ‘911’ passage is Philippians 4:2-3. We need to notice right away that Philippians is THE MOST JOYFUL and POSITIVE THINKING book in the whole Bible. AND IT singles out FOREVER two squabbling church ladies by name. We read in Philippians 4:1-4, 1Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. 2I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. 4Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Who is responsible for bringing peace to spiritual conflict? First, those who are involved in creating the spiritual emergency must do something about it. These two women, Euodia and Syntyche, are responsible for self-discipline and mutual discipline in coming to the same mind with one another. However, the responsibility doesn’t end there. Second, the church leaders are expected to reinforce (and enforce) the bringing of peace between these Christian women who are at war with each other.
What does this mean for us today? It means your ‘911’ call is actually the front door of the fellow Christian that you have a complaint with. It also means that, when the one-on-one conversations don’t bring a Biblical reconciliation, then ‘911’ is the phone number/e-mail/front door of your pastor and/or elder. It also means that, when your conflict is with your church officers (or within a Consistory or Spiritual Council), and you have taken your case to them but Biblical reconciliation has not occurred, then dialing ‘911’ means dialing the phone number/e-mail/front door of the appropriate pastor/elder in your Classis. Submitting to one another “in the Lord” means submitting to this structure of covenantal relationships which Christ created.
When we seek God’s plan for emergencies, we do more than call for help. We must remember WHY we are seeking peace with one another. The Christian(s) we are at war with in a particular moment is also our “fellow worker, whose name is in the Book of Life.” (verse 3) We are not free to write off everyone we disagree with as a person on his way to hell. We also treat them with the same compassion and mercy which God has already shown us personally (see Ephesians 4:31-5:2). Whenever someone dials ‘911’ and the Lord Jesus calls us to serve as spiritual Emergency Responders, we never say “I told you so,” but “God has told us both so.”
May God grant each reader, each congregation, each Consistory, each Spiritual Council, each Classis, and the entire Synod of the RCUS a desire to follow Christ’s method for bringing peace to conflict. Let us never be too proud to ask for the help God has provided us in one another!
Rev. Kyle A. Sorensen, Manitowoc, Wisconsin