conflict is not the same as chaos

So says Walter Russell Mead in a column today found at Entitled “Why Culture War May Never End“, the article argues that there is liberty and safety in humanity when there is freedom for conflict. Here is the concluding paragraph:

Conflict is not the same as chaos. It may be that in a fallen world, we need the excesses of each party to be held in check by the other parties. The idea that the imposition of a single perfect program on the state and on government, on the country, is the way to perfect happiness for mankind is an old and constant dream in the world. Given that human beings are fallen and that our reasoning processes can be skewed, our understandings of justice distorted, it may be that this kind of open society, which is one of competition and contestation, may over time be the best way for human beings.

Conflict isn’t easy. For those not directly involved in the conflict, it is often seen as unnecessary. Those most stridently involved are often seen as the culprits in the exchange, even if they are reacting to real error.

Mead is making his point about the benefits of conflict in an open society especially for the cause of individual liberty and freedom. I would like to make an application to the world of Christendom.

Consider, for example, the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversies of the 1920s.

In the end, a minority withdrew from the denominations – the hardliners. Remaining on the inside were liberals and moderates. The liberals were seen as the “innocents” by the moderates rather than the cause of the conflict.

But let me ask you this: was this conflict unwarranted? Would it have been better for the church if it had not occurred?

Or consider the conflict over the new evangelical compromises of the 1950s. A group of significant and talented leaders changed their approach towards liberals, another group of leaders reacted, and the crowd (the multitudes of pastors, churches, and Christians not directly involved) generally reacted against the reactionaries – blaming them for the conflict and siding with the compromisers. The result is history, putting the fundamentalists in the minority and pulling the majority of Christian churches into the world of the compromising evangelicals.

The crowd assumes that conflict is chaos. The crowd dislikes conflict. The crowd just wants everybody to get along.

Was this conflict unwarranted? Would it have been better for the church if it had not occurred?

We are now well removed in time from both those scenarios of conflict. A new set of challenges face us. Some men are making changes in their approach … even if they will not admit it (see here and here). Can anyone doubt that conflict is likely to ensue in some way?

Should such conflict be avoided? Will it be unwarranted? Will the church be better off if the coming conflict does not occur?