The process of mediation is not faith based. Mediation is a good tool for addressing most types of conflict, without regard to faith. For people who are Christians, however, scriptural principles in the New Testament have much to say not only about the value of settling disputes outside of court, but also about the spiritual ramifications that are inherent in how we respond to wrongs. Because of these scriptural principles, Bible-based mediation can differ from secular mediation in several respects.
This post is strictly about Christian mediation — mediation among Christians or within church groups (church mediation).
First, a first key goal of Christian mediation is that the parties become genuinely, and authentically, reconciled to one another. The essence of Christian reconciliation is based on repentance and restoration of a right relationship. Restoration of right relationship cannot occur until there has been a genuine acknowledgment of wrongfulness of our actions, acceptance of responsibility, and also forgiveness.
Forgiveness can be a challenge. It goes against the grain, making reconciliation counter-intuitive. Traditional methods of dispute resolution do not require forgiveness. The gladiator goes into the courtroom to do battle, and he takes no prisoners. On the other hand, avoiding a dispute and pretending that everything is “fine” is not healthy, either. If someone fails to acknowledge brokenness, then they also prevent the possibility of acknowledging error and correcting it.
Christian author Ken Sande has coined terms “breaking peace” and “faking peace” to refer to these two very different, and unscriptural, attitudes toward conflict. Doing battle, whether through warfare or traditional adversarial litigation, “breaks” the peace. Ignoring or running from conflict, on the other hand, as we do when we pretend that nothing is wrong, “fakes” the peace. Christians who sue each in court are breaking the peace. A church which fails to acknowledge that it has conflict is faking peace. The path which acknowledges conflict yet seeks to forge a genuine resolution that restores right relationships, is to “make” peace. To “make” peace is more challenging, and requires deep tilling of spiritual ground. When this effort is successful, the return is profound: genuine peace and reconciliation. It’s not just an ideal, it is a potential reality! So, where does one start?
The way of peacemaking, of reconciliation in a Christian sense, is not just a matter of saying “I’m sorry” and pretending that nothing ever happened. The middle ground, making peace, involves acknowledging that something went wrong and then extending and accepting forgiveness and grace, for both parties. Once the dispute is aired and the parties have done what they can to make things right, this opens new possibilities for the miracle of genuine, authentic reconciliation. (Restoration of right relationships is also the idea behind Restorative Justice — a new application of justice principles which because of its effectiveness is sweeping criminal justice systems across the world. Restorative Justice is discussed in my secular blog posts HERE and HERE, but it also has strong scriptural support.)
For the party who has been wronged, the act of extending forgiveness comes as the result of God’s grace. We receive the grace to forgive. For the party who has done the wrong and who receives forgiveness, acceptance of that forgiveness is also a matter of receiving grace. In forgiving and in receiving forgiveness, we put into action our words in the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive us our debtors.”
True repentance and forgiveness is not always easy. The process of giving and receiving forgiveness will involve prayerful self examination, acknowledgment of and acceptance of responsibility for wrongful thoughts or actions, a commitment to genuine change, as well as acceptance of the grace that forgiveness brings. (The whole idea of forgiveness is worthy of its own article, which can be found HERE. A key issue in the inner spiritual journey of repentance and forgiveness — both to give and to accept — is to examine one’s sense of righteousness and self righteousness. ) Once we are willing to walk the path of repentance and forgiveness, then comes the step of restoring right relationship.
Galatians 6:1-2 gives a relatively clear admonition concerning the importance of restoring a right relationship with another Christian, a grace we impart to another even when we feel we have been wronged: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. . . . Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
If you see a brother despondent over a sin he has committed, run up to him, reach out your hand to him, comfort him with the Gospel and embrace him like a mother. When . . . [a person] has been overtaken by a sin and is sorry . . . [h]e must be dealt with in the spirit of meekness and not in the spirit of severity. A repentant sinner is not to be given gall and vinegar to drink.
Luther also writes:
The Law of Christ is the Law of love. Christ gave us no other law than this law of mutual love: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another.” To love means to bear another’s burdens. Christians must have strong shoulders to bear the burdens of their fellow Christians. . . . [W]e ought to overlook the shortcomings of others in accordance with the words, “Bear ye one another’s burdens.” Those who fail to do so expose their lack of understanding of the law of Christ. Love, according to Paul, “believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13)”
In Matthew 5, Peter asks Jesus to place a measure on just how much is enough. How much one is really required to forgive? Peter asks, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?” In answer, Jesus replied, “I say not unto thee, until seven times; but, until seventy times seven.”
This willingness to look beyond the fact of being wronged is the beginning in the path toward Christian reconciliation.
If you are serious about Christian reconciliation with your Brother or Sister in Christ, consider adopting the following as guiding principles:
- Prayerfully think about how justice is intertwined with mercy: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Mic. 6:8).
- Accept responsibility for your actions, and admit your fault: First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matt. 7:5).
- Be honest, say what you mean, and mean what you say: Simply let your “yes” be “yes,” and your “no” be “no” (Matt. 5:37).
- Be compassionate: Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).
- Listen carefully to others: He who answers before listening, that is his folly and his shame (Prov. 18:13).
- Overlook minor offenses: A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11).
- Be constructive, positive: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Eph. 4:29).
- Be open to forgiveness and reconciliation: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Eph. 4:32).
- Be willing to change harmful attitudes and behavior: He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy (Prov. 28:13).
- Make restitution for damage you have caused: If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit must pay for the loss (Ex. 21:33-34).
Fundamentally, a person who seeks to do follow principles of Christian reconciliation will seek to follow the Golden rule:
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them
do to you,for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”
(Matt. 7:12). If you are interested in pursuing Christian mediation with a Brother or Sister, please mention this when you speak with me, and I will give you more resources to help you prepare and either resolve the dispute among yourselves or with help. Additional characteristics that distinguish Christian mediation from secular mediation are discussed HERE (role of prayer in transformative, Biblical reconciliation) and HERE (the “Four G’s” of Biblical reconcilation).
I can be reached at 803-414-0185, and I welcome your questions on this topic.
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