The church of Jesus Christ is presented in Scripture as God's new society in the world. She is described as that body of people who form a new humanity, distinct from the old humanity, yet having its origin in it. The Christian Church is the ’ecclesia,’ the 'called-out ones'; they are those who have been separated from the world, that is, from life
organised apart from any consideration of God or His Word of truth, to be a peculiar people chosen by the Sovereign God. As such,these 'called-out' people are different from those who have not been ’called-out’ from the world. They have a different outlook in life, observe different principles, serve a different Master, and are going to a different destiny. They are the people of God, the elect.
Now since it is impossible, in this life,to detect exactly who the elect of God are, our Lord teaches us that it is "by their fruits" that they are to be known,(Mt.7:16,20). What they are on the inside will be revealed by what they do outwardly. It may take a long time, even a life-time, for this to appear, but appear it assuredly will. But until that time comes, it is almost impossible to tell among those who make a public profession of faith just who are the true children of God, and who are not. So great care has to be taken so that mistaken judgments are not made before the time, (1 Cor.4:5a; cf.Mt.13:30a).
It seems to be here that the problem of conflict occurs. There are those who claim to be Christians, who believe and say the right things, go to the right places and meetings, and associate with the right people, but who may not be Christians at all. They have all the appearances of being true believers, but alas they are from a different family altogether. And within the church of Christ, these people are accepted as members on a profession of faith. In the church, the wheat and the weeds grow and develop together until harvest, (Mt.13:25); within her bounds, the children of the flesh and those of the Spirit co-habitate, (Gal.4:22,23,29,30).
Further, there is the fact that in the world, there are those who are not God's people just as there are those who are. They share the same planet together, work in the same places, travel on the same roads, live on the same streets, attend the same churches, and do so together. These two distinct groups of people belong to different kingdoms whose rulers are utterly opposed to each other. Therefore the respective members of these kingdoms are automatically involved in a spiritual battle, or conflict, with those who serve the other master. There is a given-ness about this state of affairs that cannot be gainsaid. This is the true situation in which the Christian believer finds himself. God and Satan are at war; and their respective followers are called into and are actively engaged in the battle as well.
Given this scenario, it is but inevitable, though surprising, that conflict should arise within the body of Christ on earth. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon," (Mt.6:24). The sheer impossibility of this ever happening is denied categorically by our Lord. Any man can but serve one master at any one time. The Christian Church is set apart for the exclusive service of the Living God; but when there are those within the church who even hold positions of authority and leadership over God's people, yet who are in the service of another master, conflict will inevitably arise.
Conflict, then, within the church as visible must be recognised as normal, and not in anyway abnormal or strange. There should be great concern in the hearts of all true believers when the church is at peace with God's enemy. Christians should engage in deep and thorough examination of their hearts when they can get on well with those who hate their Saviour, and blaspheme His holy name. That is not to say that Christians ought to go out looking for trouble and conflict, for they ought to live at peace with all men, as much as it depends upon them, (Rom.12:18).
However, that being said, Christians often compromise their own testimony when they refuse to take their stand for Christ, when He is being ridiculed. And in so doing, they display a disregard for their Lord's honour in the world that is nothing short of disgraceful.
In trying to serve two mutually exclusive masters, they end up serving only the one, Satan. When a survey of the teaching of the entire Old and New Testaments is carried out, it will be observed that the first record of conflict is found in Gen.3, where the serpent confronts the woman, Eve, and makes suggestions to her of the harshness of God in not allowing her and her husband free scope in the Garden of Eden, and then,having gained her ear, proceeds to deny outright the doctrine of divine judgement which was pronounced by God upon Adam in the event of his disobeying His Word. This having been done, enmity was established between God and humankind, Gen.3:8, 13,16, and between God and the devil, Gen.3:14, 15. This conflict between heaven and earth had its ramifications between men, for in Gen.4:1,8, the account of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain is given in a simple,unadorned and factual manner. Separation of man from God resulted in separation between people in the one family, a separation that was evidenced in death, the basic meaning of which is 'separation, not termination.' The remainder of the Old Testament is full of the same sin which manifested itself in various ways.
When the New Testament is studied, the motif of conflict introduces the Gospel record. When the Christ-child's birth is announced by the angels of God, the enmity of men's heart was brought out in a terrible manner, with the decision of the government to kill all baby boys two years old and younger to ensure that the rival King to Herod might also be destroyed, Mt.2:1 -18. The entrance of the Messiah into the world which He came to redeem was bathed in conflict that issued in blood.
The earthly ministry of the Lord exhibits the same conflict principle. First with the religious leaders of His day, then with the political leaders, Jesus Christ found Himself regularly in confrontational situations which sought to compromise Him in some way or other. Traps were laid for Him by the lawyers, by Pharisees, by Sadducees, and by Scribes. Often the trouble arose because of the very presence of Jesus with them; what He said and did stirred up an unbelievable level of opposition against Him. No legitimate reason can be given to justify such opposition against the Son of God. It could not be said that His attitude towards those with whom He differed was sinful. Nor could it be argued that He set out deliberately to get people's backs up against Him and His cause and kingdom. Nor could it be alleged that He treated people badly, cared nothing for their feelings, forgot that they were people made in God's image, or simply tried to discourage them for the sheer sake of it. Who and what He was, was sufficient to guarantee a hostile reception from those who saw Him as a threat to their lives and religion. The pure and sinless Son of God coming into a wicked world that had already proved the depth of it's opposition to any intrusion into its affairs by the mal-treatment and killing of God's servants the prophets, was designed to provoke a strong uprising in men's hearts. And it did just that! When perfect holiness meets guilty sinfulness, something must give; and it won't be God's perfect holiness!
Throughout His earthly ministry, every step that God's Son took was contested strongly both by His enemies and by those called to be His disciples. Even they did not understand as they should the reason for His coming into the world. They imagined that He too would follow the ways of the world in order to establish His Kingdom in the world; that He too would attract followers by doing sensational dramatics, like being a 'temple-jumper,' Mt.4:5-7. But His Kingdom was not of this world, nor were His methods of establishing it. This lesson had to be learnt by His closest followers.
The death of the Messiah by crucifixion was the epitome of the wickedness of the human heart. At Calvary, the iniquity came to the fore for all to see. What men did to God's innocent Son was and is inexcusable, and is punishable by eternal death. Yet it was in precisely this way that God would redeem His people, and bring them into fellowship with Himself by reconciling them to God; for ”without the shedding of blood” there could be no forgiveness of sin for anyone. Christ was tortured, He suffered, and eventually died on that Roman gibbet.
Yet that was not the end of the matter, for on the third day, God wrought the greatest miracle that could ever be wrought when He raised His Son from death. The risen Christ appeared to the Eleven, to the wider group of followers, and last of all to Saul on the Damascus road, (1 Cor.15:1-8).
The fact of the resurrection of Christ, attested by many reliable witnesses, became a focal point in the kerugma of the early church. On occasions, the apostles were forbidden to preach in the Name of the risen Christ. Their message was a ridiculous one in the extreme; yet it was the crowning event of God's mighty acts. This event provided the proof that God had accepted the sacrifice that Christ made on the Cross for sin, thus opening up the way for the salvation or the world. When the early church commenced preaching this message, again conflict was provoked, and the disciples and apostles bore the brunt of it. The church was persecuted, scattered far and wide, and left as dead. But the believers of the Diaspora did not cease to be Christians when this happened, but saw this as God's mysterious way of sending out His people with the message of the Gospel that would enlighten men's natural darkness. One would have imagined that such a message would be welcome to men in sin, but such was not the case. Persecution intensified against the infant church, and this went on for many centuries until the life of the church was almost snuffed out.
Conflict commenced in time at a very early stage of man's existence in this world, and will continue unabated throughout history to the end of time, and this too will be marked by conflict. The forces of light and darkness will confront each other at the end, but the outcome will be in no more doubt then than it ever was during the years of history. God's truth, Kingdom, cause, and people will be vindicated publicly, and God's great eternal purpose which He wrought out in time through His despised servants, against all odds, will be seen for the glorious purpose that it is.