Challenges facing the early church part 2: Conflict

I remember as a young Christian going to tea with my Housegroup (yes, we had housegroups back then) leader (his name is Andy Fraser) and family one Sunday afternoon.  We had a great family tea and were chatting around the table about a whole range of subjects.  The subject of church life and the complications of life in the UK in the late 20th Century (yes, this was way back in 1979!). 
I remember saying how much easier it would have been to have been alive in the days of the early church, and suggesting that we needed to get back to the days of the early church.  I can remember Andy’s response very clearly, he said: “Have you actually read the Gospels and Acts?” to which I said, yes; “Then you need to read them again, you’ve obviously missed a lot of the detail, or else you wouldn’t be thinking that the early church was some kind of ‘Golden Age’ that we should be trying to recapture!”.
We are looking into Acts at the moment and in particular looking at some of the challenges facing the early church.  I think that’s what Andy was trying to get at in asking me to re-read that Gospels and Acts. (And we could easily go on to think about the reasons why Paul wrote most of his letters.)
Now let’s turn to a particular incident to explore this morning:

Acts 15: 35ff (NET Bible)

 “Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and proclaiming (along with many others) the word of the Lord.  After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s return and visit the brothers in every town where we proclaimed the word of the Lord to see how they are doing.” 
Barnabas wanted to bring John called Mark along with them too, but Paul insisted that they should not take along this one who had left them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. They had a sharp disagreement, so that they parted company.
Barnabas took along Mark and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and set out, commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers and sisters. He passed through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
Therefore, in the midst of what some people hanker after as a golden age, we see a clear case of serious conflict.  The conflict is so serious that the disagreed parties separate and go in different ways.  The good thing is that both groups go out to visit churches and to strengthen the people; but the bad part is the unresolved conflict.
·         Here we know conflict was not immediately resolved
·         We do know that Paul was reconciled with John Mark (Col 4: 10; Philemon 1:23-25)
·         We do not know whether Paul and Barnabas were reconciled
Therefore I want to finish with 4 questions to think about in response to these verses:
·         Do we court conflict – I mean do we set out to disagree with one another?
·         Do we avoid conflict?
·         When conflict comes – how do we deal with it?  Can we do better than this story from the early church?
·         If the early church is not a golden age that we should be reaching to recover; what should our goal be?
Keith Brockbank, 18/02/2014