What can be done when a conflict arises between two members of an assembly who are also members of the same family? What if one party does not want to resolve the issue, but instead spreads the issue to other assembly members?
The presence of family members, business associates, neighbors, etc., in an assembly is wonderful, and can be very supportive, but it creates the potential for some unique problems which may taint all of these relations, and may mar the unity of an assembly for years to come. A person is received into an assembly as a believer, not as a member in these other relationships; therefore, God’s Word must be brought to bear on such matters.
The particular details not being known, I can only suggest that several courses of action are open, depending on the nature of the issue.
First, the most Christ-like way is set out in Ephesians 4:31, 32 concerning forgiveness. Verse 31 represents the offender; verse 32 represents the offended. The matter itself may not be resolved immediately, but such forgiveness sets at ease the mind of the offended, knowing we are acting as God has done with us, and that He will complete the process of healing in His own good time. Think of Joseph and his brethren, or of David and Mephibosheth.
A second course of action, is seen in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. It applies when a dispute is material or secular. The preferred course, we are advised, is to “take wrong” or “be defrauded” (i.e. write off the loss) when another believer wants to take us to court to settle the matter. God will ultimately make it right, if not now, then in the coming day of reckoning.
A third course, least preferred from the above passage, when adjudication is required, is to allow a “tribunal” of those “least esteemed” in the assembly to hear and judge on the matter. Their decision can then be written and recorded for future reference.
And fourth, if a person has sinned against another, Matthew 18:15 outlines a three step process which may be taken. First, the offended is to graciously approach the offender to rectify the matter; this is preferred. Second, if step one is unsuccessful, they are to take one or two assembly members for the same purpose. If still unsuccessful, the matter is to be taken to the assembly, its body of elders, who validate the seriousness of the matter and determine if the completion of this process is to be effected. That is, should such a person be removed from the assembly?
Three points are to be observed: a) the initial sin must not be a frivolous matter without Scriptural foundation; b) if one party is a member of the oversight, they must withdraw from this process and, c) the person excommunicated is deemed not to be a “brother” because of his behavior (as in all extreme discipline cases). Such action is therefore serious.
As to the second part of the question, it is very serious business to gossip such matters to the assembly, for if it escalates into denigration of one’s character, it becomes railing, and may require excommunication. Let the injunction of 1 Peter 3:8 saturate our treatment one of the other: “love as brethren.”
-Dr. Paul Robinson