Disagreement and conflict is a fact of life.  Everyone has their own view of the world, and many of us want to share that view with others.  One of the real, ongoing difficulties in any church is where those different viewpoints rub against each other in the decisions that we have to make, causing friction, sparks and the occasional fire!

How we deal with difficult and contentious issues is therefore one of the great skills of a healthy and harmonious life.  I was born with a natural desire to sort out the truth of the world and spend time thinking it all through.  In that process, I used to spend a lot of time arguing with people (either out loud, or in my head) to convince them that I was right.  Somehow this very seldom seemed to work.  I’ve realised more recently that people seem to be convinced by what I do rather than what I say, and that I don’t actually know as much as I thought I did.

There are lots of issues around where we will disagree quite strongly.  We think of course of the question of marriage in our wider society which is about as polarised as an issue can get.  There are also more simple things like matters of taste in music that are very different between people and groups within the church.  But this Sunday we’re looking at the issue of what the Bible (particularly Ephesians 5-6) says about how we should live in relationships, an issue that I’ve had more arguments about than any other in my time in ministry.  We are going to have a more open time in our 10am service this Sunday about answering particular questions on this issue – not because I have all the answers or want to argue my case so that people agree with me, but because listening and conversation is the way that we actually understand what other people value and why they hold the beliefs that they do.  No-one will listen to us until we listen to them.

-Andrew-

Our sermon series on ‘Being the Church’, going through the letter of Paul to the Ephesians, is coming up to a difficult topic in two weeks (September 10th) when we reach Ephesians 5:21-6:9, the part where Paul describes how Christians should live in their household relationships. This is a very confronting passage for us, because Paul is speaking into a world of strong hierarchy, where slavery was a common part of life and all positions of authority were taken by men. How then can what he says speak to us in our own day, when he seems to endorse relationships of ‘submission’ that we find difficult to accept?

This is an area where there has been a lot of disagreement between Christians, particularly in the past couple of decades. There are very strong opinions on very different ways of interpreting these kinds of passages and how they should be applied. There has also been a lot of attention paid to these questions in wider Australian society recently, with conversations in the media about the place that particular interpretations of the Bible might have in perpetuating family violence.

As we approach this issue at St. Mark’s, I would be interested in hearing what questions members of our church have in this area, so that I can shape my teaching towards what would be helpful for us. I would also like to have a special time of ‘Q & A’ about this during the service on that day.

If you have a question you would like me to attempt to answer, it would be great to hear. If you are comfortable, you could post on the Facebook thread for this post. Or you can email me at andrew.bowles@stmarksemerald.org.au. We will also put out some sheets on Sunday where you can submit anonymous questions and will perhaps have a roving microphone on the day. I’m looking forward to engaging on this topic with our members.

-Andrew-

On Sunday at St. Mark’s we spoke about ‘walls’, and the many ways that we build divisions between ourselves, based on our fears and the things that we want. Paul reminded us in Ephesians 2 that Jesus came to break down the dividing walls of hostility between us, uniting us through faith in him and through experiencing the Holy Spirit. Our prayer of confession before communion encouraged us to reflect on the ways that we participate in the violence and conflict in the world, either through being perpetrators ourselves, through benefitting from the ways others are oppressed, through ignoring or allowing violence to be done to others, or by being trapped in hurt and bitterness over the way we have been treated.

This reality reminds us that ‘sin’ is not fundamentally about breaking rules or doing bad things, but about a state of broken ‘communion’ between us. It is about relationships that are not the way they should be. The way that Jesus broke down the walls between Jews and Gentiles in his own day was by allowing them both to access the forgiveness and grace of God, and to experience healing. What the world needs from the Church is to see people who understand for themselves what forgiveness means, and who are learning to live it out in our own lives. This is a very confronting challenge that requires a lot of grace, wisdom and reliance on God.

-Andrew-