God's Gift for Those Facing a Conflict in Conscience
The Center for Bioethics and
7 January, 2005
Reproduced with permission
The church is God's gift to His people for times
when conscience is in conflict. For this "gift" to be effective, the church
must be what God has created it to be. . .
God has given us much to assist us in times of conflict. We have His
Word, the ability to pray, and, as Jesus-followers, the indwelling presence
of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, one of the most important gift's God
has provided to lead toward wisdom in the midst of times of
conscience-conflict is not utilized fully.
We need a community that is: multi-perspectived, multi-gifted, and
diverse; committed to God and His wisdom through prayer, worship, and Bible
study; humble and ready to serve one another; united in faith and
mission-made a part of one another through the Spirit of God; and committed
to one another's growth and maturity. This community is precisely what the
church is to be.
The church is God's gift to His people for times when conscience is in
conflict. For this "gift" to be effective, the church must be what God has
created it to be: a called and redeemed family of God, made up of people
from every tribe, language, and nation living in community created by the
Spirit of God to fulfill His mission in the world and, thus, bring glory to
His name. If we are to live wisely in the midst of difficult moral
decision-making, the church must be the church, and each of us must live in
the midst of it and be a vital part of it.
For those who think of the church primarily in terms of its visible
externals, the idea of a church as God's gift for wise living in the midst
of conscience-conflict may seem foreign. Focusing on church activities,
buildings, and organizational structure leads to an inadequate concept of
the church. Craig Van Gelder in his book, The Essence of the Church
points to a better way of understanding the church. He writes, "The
interrelationship of three aspects is clear: The church is. The church does
what it is. The church organizes what it does." Getting these three in the
right order is important.
The Church Is
When we take time to consider what the church is, we find it is precisely
what we need in this fallen world if we are to pursue wise and moral living.
The church is made up of fallen people who have cast themselves upon the
grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus and received mercy-the
forgiveness of sins and the promise of a path to a new destiny. The presence
and work of God's Spirit guarantees that we will be conformed to the image
of Christ. We are promised that nothing will separate us from God's love
until this process is complete. Based on faith in Christ, we are knit
together into a new family comprised of similarly redeemed people from all
people groups regardless of age, gender, socio-economics, or ethnicity. In
this new family of God, we are to serve one another, exhort one another,
instruct one another, etc., until each one is "complete in Christ" (Col
While not a single person in this new family of God is yet complete, each
has been given gifts to contribute to the whole. This family, created by the
Spirit of God, must live together within a cultural context and seek to
proclaim Christ and to grow in wisdom together. This new family finds
identity along faith lines rather than bloodlines. We find in our world the
normal divisions between people no longer exist where God reigns among those
who have placed faith in Christ.
This is what the church is. It is not some sort of organization that
people join voluntarily in their community to meet personal needs. It is a
family, a building, a body, called together by God, made possible because of
the cross and resurrection of Jesus, formed by the work of the Holy Spirit,
and entered into by faith directed toward the person and work of Jesus.
The church is made up of very diverse people, people incomplete and fallen
in and of themselves, but nevertheless gifted by God's Spirit. Such people
are not meant to deal with the complexities of life in this world in
isolation from the rest of the Body of Christ. Instead, it is in the context
of life in such a broad-based community of believers committed to Christ and
His ways, seeking wisdom through the Word of God, and living in support of
and accountability to one another, that we can deal with issues of
conscience-conflict. We can be rescued from our time-bound, culture-bound,
sin-bound limitations in a community of people as diverse as God's family
is, a family in whom the Spirit of God dwells.
The Church Does What It Is
The local church is to be a place in which God reigns. Each local
congregation is to reflect the make-up, values, and ways of our Father.
Functionally, we must focus our efforts on doing the kinds of things that
facilitate the biblically revealed identity and nature of the church if it
is to direct and help people to live according to God's wisdom. Local
churches need to be places as diverse as the family of God in order to have
the breadth of perspective and input needed to live wisely. Then, it must
find ways together to learn God's Word and to apply it to life's moral and
ethical situations. This kind of church must have the kinds of relationships
that are a catalyst for mutual ministry, support, accountability, and
prayer. Only then can God's people help one another make choices that
closely reflect God's ways. In short, the pursuit of God's wisdom in this
world operates within the community framework we call the church.
The Church Organizes What It Does
The CBHD annual conference is an example of what must happen within the
local church in terms of organizing what it does in the light of what God
has called it to be. The leadership team recognized that Christ-followers
were facing complex moral and ethical issues. Theologians were expected to
make pronouncements about the issues from the perspective of Scripture.
Jesus-followers in the medical world, faced with never-before-conceived-of
possibilities, wanted to make wise and moral choices. Christian counselors,
public policy makers, and attorneys found themselves in settings in which
they wondered how their Christian faith could make a practical difference.
Each of these professions has a role to play-a role that will be incomplete
if isolated from the others. What was needed was a place in which all these
individuals would bring their concerns as well as their experience and
expertise to bear upon the bioethical questions and then hear from others
who are committed to Jesus Christ and have additional input or broader
experience. This forum would have to facilitate open and frank dialogue. It
would have to engage straightforwardly issues many find controversial. There
would have to be mutual respect for one another. Using an image from
Proverbs, as these diverse people engage with one another, "iron will
sharpen iron," and steps toward God-honoring wisdom may be secured. For this
to happen, CBHD had to organize for the task.
Similarly, the church must identify what God has raised it up to be and
then organize to do what is consistent with that calling. Such an approach
to church life and ministry will affect every part of the church. Evangelism
will focus on bringing the full diversity of the local community into the
church's fellowship. Worship will reject splits along lines of musical
taste, ethnicity, or age. The church must intentionally work to provide
settings in which people can minister to one another so that we can seek
wisdom together, and, as the writer of Hebrews said, "Spur one another
toward love and good deeds."
Much more should be said but time and space will not allow it. I simply
want to reiterate that God has not left His followers alone in this
difficult world where we repeatedly face issues of conscience-conflict. As
technology and knowledge advance, the issues will become increasingly
complex. God has given us His Word. He has given us prayer. He has left us
His Holy Spirit. And, my main point: He has given us one another. The
church, when it is what God has established it to be, is God's gift for
those times in which our consciences are in conflict.
Copyright 2005 by The Center for Bioethics and Human
The contents of this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
CBHD, its staff, board or supporters.