Day Twenty - Restoring Broken Fellowship

In this chapter Mr. Warren expounds what he calls “seven biblical steps to restoring fellowship.” (p. 154) The necessity of this chapter is guaranteed by the content of the prior chapters. Mr. Warren’s emphasis over the last several chapters has been on the factors that make for “real” fellowship. We have seen that a prominent aspect of Mr. Warren’s idea of “real” fellowship is the open transfer of information regarding hurts, feelings, fears, pain, failings, doubts, etc. He has acknowledged that this practice prompts gossip and is very strong in condemning gossip and in urging confrontation of those who gossip. He also has acknowledged that this practice prompts conflict, but assures us that, “the tunnel of conflict is the passageway to intimacy.” (p. 147) He even goes so far as to consider that some may leave the church as a result of gossip or conflict, but is firm that, “…the fellowship of the church is more important than any individual.” (p. 150) Now, when the emphasis is upon reconciliation, he brings a much different view of the matter.

He now tells us on page 154 that, “Restoring broken fellowship is so important, Jesus commanded that it even takes priority over group worship.” It is not true that the church is more important than the individual. But having affirmed this position, Mr. Warren now finds it necessary to compensate with the equally untrue position that the individual is more important than the church. Here we see the wavering of the dialectical tension exhibited most clearly and dramatically. On the one hand Mr. Warren presents the group as more important than the individual. For him, on page 150, the group so outweighs the individual that the exodus of individuals is of little or no concern so long as the fellowship of the group is maintained. On the other hand Mr. Warren presents the individual relationship as of supreme importance. For him, on page 154, the individual now so outweighs the group that we are to reach beyond any rift, hurt, or conflict to preserve the individual relationship. There is in Mr. Warren’s thinking the irresolvable dialectical tension between fellowship and relationship. Throughout the last several chapters the emphasis has been upon fellowship. However, the true nature of biblical fellowship has not been observed; rather we have seen an idea of fellowship that involves the unrelenting revelation of hurts, feelings, fears, pain, failures, etc. This course unavoidably will result in conflict - not fellowship. This necessitates that now in the present chapter the emphasis must shift to “restoring relationships.”

Mr. Warren appeals to II Corinthians 5:18 as it is put in the so-called “God’s Word Translation” in support of his notion that, “God has given us the ministry of restoring relationships.” (p. 152) There is no doubt that it is a very good thing to restore relationships. Indeed, we might build a biblical case that God calls us to restore relationships whenever possible and appropriate. We might think for example of Matthew 5:9, 24, Mark 9:50, Romans 12:18; 14:19, and others. But we may not build such a case upon II Corinthians 5:18. This text does not involve reconciling one man to another, but clearly has to do with the reconciliation of men to God. The “ministry of reconciliation” spoken of in v. 18 is clearly expounded in the verses that follow, as we see from an actual translation, for example, the New American Standard: v. 19, “namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” v. 20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” There is no room for “interpretation” here. The “ministry of reconciliation” announced in v. 18 is the work of missions whereby we bring the “word of reconciliation” to the world, entreating men on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God. In further support of his view Mr. Warren cites this same text again on page 154, this time from “The Message,” which is Eugene Peterson’s idea of what the Bible says. The way Peterson construes II Corinthians 5:18, God has “called us to settle our relationships with each other.” As explained above, this is completely foreign to what this text of the Bible actually says. But Mr. Warren accepts “The Message” as a type of “Bible,” and so he can make his ideas seem “biblical” by appeal to it. In reality this is not Bible study, but a grievous abuse of Scripture. We quarrel not with Mr. Warren’s position that we ought to seek reconciliation of human relationships where possible and appropriate. Our quarrel is with his method of biblical argument that snatches phrases here and there from the most liberal paraphrases of Scripture with apparent disregard of what the texts actually say and mean. As a result, his idea of “restoring fellowship” is equally muddled as is his method of biblical argument. Let us look briefly at the “seven biblical steps to restoring fellowship” that Mr. Warren proposes.

Mr. Warren’s first step is: “Discuss the problem with God.” (p. 154) The idea of a man having a “discussion” with God is awesome and wondrous. Yet, Mr. Warren throws the expression out rather glibly, as though this were to be the common experience of everyone. As he proceeds it becomes evident that by this phrase what he really means is prayer. “Discuss the problem with God” is supposed to mean “pray about the problem.” A truly biblical idea of prayer concerns Man, the creature and the sinner, coming before God, the Creator and Redeemer, with praise for Who God is, thanksgiving for His Providence, and petition for the needs arising from the contingencies of Human life. An image such as we derive from the phrase “discuss the problem with God” can only be meaningful if we view Man and God as correlates upon a single continuum - God, of course, inhabiting the greater end of the continuum - and Man appealing to God for the advice His greater wisdom affords. One cannot construct two more widely divergent ideas of prayer.

Mr. Warren’s step two is to take the initiative in seeking reconciliation. Here he provides sound counsel that whether we are the offended or the offender it always is important not to delay in taking the initiative in seeking reconciliation. Also in this connection he wishes to represent as biblical the notion that unresolved conflict “blocks our fellowship with God.” (p. 155) In an attempt to enlarge his point beyond the basic wisdom of taking the initiative in reconciliation, Mr. Warren ends up grasping at straws. The texts he cites in support of his view - I Peter 3:7 and Proverbs 28:9 - have nothing to do with “unresolved conflict.” Since Evangelicalism conceives of Man as having no fellowship with God unless Man should initiate it, it is only natural that Evangelicalism also would hold the corollary that Man has the power to “block” this fellowship at any time. We provided fuller discussion of the Evangelical idea that Man blocks God in discussion of Day 19, and the reader is referred there for more on this topic. Truly biblical insight is that, “If God is for us, who is against us?...I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:31, 38-39)

Mr. Warren then advises, “Sympathize with their feelings.” (p. 155) He elaborates, “Focus on their feelings, not the facts. Begin with sympathy, not solutions.” (p. 155) In this we see that Mr. Warren proposes a sharp distinction between fact and feeling. The discrepancy between fact and feeling has troubled philosophers for millennia. In this question is bound up the entire problem of Human experience. The basic question of psychology centers in the necessity of the facts of reality to undergo interpretation in the individual Human consciousness. Mr. Warren does not consider such matters, but instead issues a blanket proclamation that we ought to focus on feelings and not facts. However, at times feelings are contrary to fact, in which case the true remedy is exactly opposite to what Mr. Warren proposes, i.e., the need is to focus upon the facts and not the feelings. So adamant is Mr. Warren concerning his priority of sympathy that he suggests the deceptive practice, “Nod that you understand even when you don’t agree.” (p. 155) This exploits the disconnect between fact and feeling and drives them further apart rather than working to bring them together. The fact of reality is that you are nodding. You interpret your nodding as, “I understand.” The other party interprets your nodding as, “I agree.” A “fact” that means everything therefore means nothing.

We shall not quibble with his next point, “Confess your part of the conflict.” (p. 156) It certainly is true that in anything that one is guilty of offense, upon conviction of sin he ought to make full and heartfelt confession, seeking forgiveness. This constitutes a refreshing oasis amid a desert of pabulum.

In his next point Mr. Warren is back to popular psychology vs. biblical wisdom. Says he, “Attack the problem, not the person.” (p. 157) This is but a variation of the common teaching of Evangelicalism that, “God loves the sinner and hates the sin.” In order for such sentiments to hold up it is necessary to make some real and meaningful distinction between the “problem” and the “person.” If a “problem” may exist independently from any “person,” such that the “problem” may be attacked without thereby attacking the “person,” this implies that “problems” arise from no fault of any person. Problems, therefore, are fundamentally mysterious in this view. Therefore, in this view people who appear to have serious issue with one another really are equally victims of a “problem” and need to stop battling one another and join together to battle the “problem.” But, people, such as Mr. Warren, who speak in this manner, never tell us where such “problems” come from and neither do they tell us how an independently existing “problem” could be combated, nor how we could know that it had been defeated. In truth, problems of the nature that are manifest in personal conflict arise from the actions of the persons involved. Problems are the responsibility of persons and cannot effectively be separated from the persons whose actions created them. The dialectical tensions of the mindset such as Mr. Warren exemplifies produce the most odd combination of opposing concepts. For several chapters Mr. Warren has been drilling us with the dire need for us all to “share” freely with others all about our fears, failings, hurts, feelings, doubts, mistakes, etc., otherwise our fellowship would be “fake.” Now, in dialectical tension with this, he urges us that the problems we face in conflict with one another may be attacked quite independently of the persons involved and so have nothing to do with the hurts, feelings, pain, fears, mistakes, etc., that are so important for us to “share.”

Mr. Warren’s next principle is, “Cooperate as much as possible.” (p. 157) This is a good principle with solid biblical precedent, and he cites a very appropriate text, Romans 12:18, from a fairly decent translation, in support of it. However, it soon appears that what Mr. Warren really means is, “For the sake of fellowship, do your best to compromise…” (p. 157) Cooperation does not equal compromise. There is a reason that Romans 12:18 says “if possible…” The most genuine and secure peace among men arises from the truth of God. When men are eager to compromise this truth in pursuit of peace it exposes their efforts to be superficially contrived. This principle of compromise goes hand-in-hand with Mr. Warren’s seventh and last step: “Emphasize reconciliation, not resolution.” (p. 158) This step brings us far from where things were in the prior steps. Before (page 157), we were to focus on the problem and not on the person, so we could be free to reconcile with the person in common cause against “the problem.” Now (page 158), we are told we may achieve common cause by focusing on persons and not on problems. He suggests that by mutually compromising our principles we may render “problems” irrelevant. He says, “When we focus on reconciliation, the problem loses significance and often becomes irrelevant.” (p. 158) In the dialectical pendulum swings of Mr. Warren’s thought things change constantly.

To sum up Mr. Warren’s approach to resolving conflict: first, “discuss” the problem with God, then studiously ignore the facts and compromise your principles to the point that the problem becomes irrelevant, all for the sake of “fellowship.” But, what sort of “fellowship” is it if no one will acknowledge the facts and compromise is the order of the day? If an estranged person should be “reconciled” into such a “fellowship,” the greatest significance of such “reconciliation” would be that the secretary then would be able to record 6843 bodies in attendance instead of 6842.


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