An Abstract of The Peacemaker Ken Sande. Grand Rapids, WI: Baker Books 1991 Christianity is a vital faith that takes human life head on. Hardships, disagreements, arguments, broken relationships, hurt feelings, apologies, forgiveness—all of these are part of life as a Christian and as instruments for God’s hands to refine. So the question is this: If unity and peace are so vital to the witness of the church, yet their absence is so much a part of life, how do we then maintain them? Ken Sande, a lawyer and committed Christian and member of his church, presents in his book The Peacemaker.
I have found this book to be a practical, up-to-date guidebook to the Bible’s teaching on conflict resolution in the church. Part one of the book encourages us as Christians to look at the unavoidable conflicts in our lives as opportunities to trust God, mature our faith in His provision, and ultimately glorify Him through our response. Part two leads us to examine our own lives, teaches us to determine what situations are really worth fighting over, and gives some practical teaching on repentance.
Part three outlines Jesus’s teaching on conflict in Matthew 18, giving practical advice and examples on how one should approach a brother who has sinned; one should use the “two or three witnesses,”. Part four offers a well-balanced study on forgiveness, and encourages Christians to “overcome evil with good. ” One of the best characteristics of Sande’s book is that it is distinctively and unapologetically Christian. The entire first half of the book is an extended study of how conflict is uniquely handled in the Christian life. Sande writes on p. 5, “Most importantly, the Bible teaches that we should see conflict neither as an inconvenience nor as an occasion for selfish gain, but rather as an opportunity to demonstrate the presence and power of God. ” That is a welcome emphasis, and quite a different one from what the world would tell us. Sande’s thoughts are distinctively Christian, declaring meaning of all conflict is fundamentally for the glory of God. He mentions several times that he has prayed for people who were in conflict, thus recognizing that it is not finally a conflict-resolution program but the power of God that is the substance to real reconciliation.
Sande makes a strong case that the church is uniquely positioned to be a powerful agent for resolving conflict in a healthy way. The church, says Sande, is able to cut to the heart of a disagreement and create long-term, permanent solutions in a way that secular courts cannot. The desire is too immediate in our society today to move straight to trial when any conflict arises. “[But] litigation,” he writes, “usually increases tensions and often destroys relationships. In contrast, the church can actively encourage forgiveness and promote reconciliation, thus preserving valuable relationships. . . The church can help people to identify root problems,” p. 48. Where a judge is limited to awarding monetary damages, transferring property, and basically re-shuffling the surface; the church is able to address issues of sin, relationships, and personality. All in all, the church is much better equipped, if it would ever take up that divinely ordained mantle, to handle disputes, heal relational ruptures, and be in the process a shining testimony to the grace of God. It should be mentioned here as an aside that Sande has included some quotes on this topic from an article by Justice Antonin Scalia from the Christian Legal Society.
It is fascinating to see a Justice of the Supreme Court calling on the church to do the job it was given by Christ and thus to take back that burden (and that authority, frankly) from the secular courts. Chapter 10 is an interesting one that will spark much thought about forgiveness. There are certainly passages in the Bible that tell us to forgive unconditionally, that ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. ” Then again, there is Luke 17:3, which says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he repents, forgive him. I am sure that any number of arguments could be made to allay the conditionality of this statement, including the fact that this is not speaking about a personal offense, or that this passage isn’t teaching about what to do when the offender doesn’t repent. Notwithstanding these arguments, though, and they are certainly worth discussing, I do not think one can escape the conclusion that throughout the Bible, forgiveness of all kinds, both God’s and ours, is spoken of in some sense as conditioned on the offender’s repentance.
Sande offers the suggestion that we should “approach forgiveness as a two-stage process,” pp. 190-191. The first stage, “positional forgiveness;” the second is called, “transactional forgiveness. ” Positional forgiveness is “a decision . . . not [to] dwell on the hurtful incident or seek vengeance or retribution in thought, word, or action. Instead, you will keep yourself in a “position of forgiveness” in which you pray for the other person and are ready to pursue complete reconciliation as soon as he or she repents. ” (See Joseph Baker’s discussion of this on pages 251-253 of Polity. Transactional forgiveness, on the other hand, is a commitment not to bring up the offense again or use it against the person, not to talk about the incident to other people, and not to allow the incident to hinder your personal relationship with the offender. Until the person repents, it would actually be inappropriate, Sande says, to offer transactional forgiveness, since it may be necessary to confront the offender with his sin. I am sure that this two-fold conception of forgiveness is not the end of the conversation, nor should it be.
To consider well the nature of forgiveness would be a noble pursuit for Christian minds. On the whole, though, I believe Sande’s idea goes far toward faithfully taking into consideration both those passages that demand forgiveness in all situations and those that seem to be conditioned on repentance. I would raise two minor points about a couple of particular, isolated statements in the book. The first is on page 18, in Sande’s discussion of “escape responses” to conflict. Under “flight,” Sande mentions “changing churches” as one of several unhealthy responses to conflict.
He says in the next sentence, “Flight may be a legitimate response in extreme circumstances when it is impossible to resolve the conflict in a constructive manner. In most cases, however, running away only postpones a proper solution to a problem. ” I think Sande is correct in that statement but I would want to add that “extreme circumstances” may come about more often than Sande’s statement might convey. For any individual member of a church, it is imperative for the health of both himself and the church as a whole that he be able to trust the leadership of the church.
Typically, personalities and sin unite to make it impossible to restore fully a trust that has been broken, whether legitimately or not. I believe, in some of those cases, it is not bad thing for a church member to leave his church and seek out another one where that distrust is not so deeply rooted. Sande leaves that category open with his statement about “extreme circumstances,” but I think it is worth bringing to the attention of readers. I am also in some slight disagreement with Sande’s statement on page 109 that “Since a heart sin takes place only in your thoughts, it does not directly affect others and needs to be confessed only o God. ” He is talking most directly here about confessing that sin to the person who is the object of it, and in that sense, I am in agreement with him. I think it is good practice to confess sins of sensitive-kind not only to God, but also to a trusted third-party, a pastor or elder or another friend. The human heart is a complicated, tangled knot of sinfulness, and confessing to another person can be invaluable in pulling back the cover from those sins, tracing them to their roots, and taking positive steps toward destroying them.
As a matter of fact, I have already begun to put Sande’s advice to good work. My Wife and I have recently begun seeing a Marriage Counselor; not because of specific problems or distrust between the two of us but mainly just to communicate more effectively and productively. It helps to get an outsiders opinion and clarification on our total opposite ways of thinking. We have been able to bring to light our various frustrations as well as some built up anger and emotions. Each session is allowing us bonding time as well.
To be honest, I feel like I am actually hearing my wife for the first time instead of just listening to her. Our counselor attends the same church as her Uncle so he has a strong Christian background and has been working with us on forgiveness, of all things, reminding us both to let go of possible regrets, grow from them, and move on. My uncle/pastor has instilled this one saying in his family “Let Go and Let God”. I could not agree more and I’m sure Sande would approve.