Direct Confrontation: The “How” of Conflict Resolution

October 6, 2008

So let me set the stage for you. In one corner, you have Peter-the one who walked with Christ, the one who denied Christ, the one who saw the empty tomb, the one who experienced Pentecost, saw the risen Jesus ascend into heaven, etc. And in the other corner, you have Paul-who used to persecute Christians, who had a special “audience” with Christ on the road to Damascas, who preached to the Gentiles, who communed with God through prayer, who was trained by one of the greater rabbis of the time in Jewish law, one of the most sought after and accomplished apostles of his time. So why do I set the stage like this? Well, we are going to explore how two of the early church fathers resolved a conflict: direct confrontation.

Now, I know for a lot of people, the word “confrontation” signals immediate negative connotation, but it does not always have to be that way. Sure, like everything, there is a perversion of confrontation that can get hurtful and ugly, but we are not going to discuss that model. Let’s look at Paul and Peter in their particular difference and see if we cannot derive some key elements of the healthy Christian way of dealing with conflict.

Antioch is where the discussion takes place. As you read through Acts, you will understand a bit more about the story leading up to this biblical conflict. Peter, a Jew, felt that all Christians should be circumcised as all Jews were in his time. Now, God had made Himself clear about preaching to the Gentiles and accepting them, teaching them the Christian faith without too much legality as the Pharisees had over the Jewish nation. In Acts 10:28, Peter acknowledges to a new Christian Cornelius that God showed him in a dream that he was in no place to determine what was clean and what was to be deemed unclean. However, when Peter returned to the higher crowds in Jerusalem, he quickly reverted back to the common belief that circumcision was the only route to true faith. With Peter’s extreme influence at the time, this carried a great deal of weight in the early church. One moment, Peter is sharing the table with the Gentiles, but when those who are of Jewish notion enter the scene, Peter suddenly changes his actions and indirectly endorses the idea or doctrine of “A Gentile must become a Jew to become Christian.”

Paul, on the other hand, was convicted by Christ and stood firm that circumcision or lack thereof should not prevail and that the “new person of Christ” should be recognized as a new creature versus simply one who had undergone a physical procedure. Paul was convicted in such a way, that he had to confront Peter on what Christ had told both of them. So, how did he do it?

If you look at Galatians 2:11, Paul doesn’t really beat around the bushes stating, “…I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.” Now Paul did this in the community of fellow believers. Although he was stern, he was backed by the Holy Spirit and Truth prevailed. So what are some key elements from this story regarding Direct Confrontation?

  1. Know the Truth: Paul and Peter had both been convicted of the Gospel being spread to the Gentiles and that they were to also inherit the riches of Christ’s offering of salvation. The key difference? Peter showed more allegiance to the “people of the day” where Paul remained convicted by what the Holy Spirit had told him. Knowing the truth means staying in the Word, prayer, and discernment with Christ. If Christ has convicted you of something, then when the time comes for direct confrontation with those who oppose it, the Holy Spirit will inspire your words and thoughts, just as He did Paul’s in the address to the group. (Galatians 2: 16-20) How does this relate to HR? I don’t know about you, but there have been several meetings or other situations where I have felt convicted about a certain topic. Through fervent prayer, discernment, and spending time in the Word, when the right time came, I was able to confront the issue directly with conviction in the Truth.
  2. Confront in the Presence of All: Now, in HR, this is a tougher pill to swallow. We have always been taught to handle things privately, however, there are times and situations allowing for confrontation in the public arena. What is the benefit of this? If you read further in Acts, you will find that those involved in the display offered a compromise between the two. So what was the end result? Not only was there a compromise between the two, but further, there was an opportunity for comprise to happen. Until Paul brought this issue to light, many of the elders of the church considered it a nonissue. If Paul had not opened the avenue with confronting Peter in the presence of the assembly, there may have been a faction early in the church’s history. Of course, depending upon the subject, a private meeting may be required, but let’s not be so quick to make every confrontation a private one and let’s not go to the extreme to fight every battle in front of an audience. Pray, discern, and spend time in the Word to know when and where.
  3. Be Bold: Now, we think of Paul as this great church figurehead because we have the advantage of looking back and seeing his great accomplishments. Let’s consider his role and rank at the time. It was not that long ago Paul, then called Saul, was known for his persecution of the Christians. Not only that, Paul was going against Peter, the named head of the church prior to Jesus’ ascension into heaven. To say the least, Paul had a lot riding on this gamble, but he had the conviction of Truth, empowered by the Holy Spirit. With this, Paul brought this subject to the forum boldly and in reading his statements, I would daresay he argued/presented his case boldly. In HR, we sometimes feel we need to be the nurturer, the comforter, and the politically correct one of the crew. If we truly believe in our position and responsibility, we will recognize there are times when we need to directly, and boldly address an issue. Now, certain topics are easy like sexual harassment, or discrimination to be bold, but what about when we are helping a manager coach someone on performance or attitude. Perhaps if we were to be a bit more bold and direct, we might get the point across a bit quicker and help that associate or employee shape up before having to “ship them out.” After Paul confronted Peter and reminded him of the vision both he and Peter had been given by the Holy Spirit, look at what Peter did … there was a somewhat immediate and lasting change.

Again, “all things in moderation” as St. Augustine so eloquently put it. There is a season for everything, and there are times to be private, times to be open…etc. My only plea for those who are Christian HR Leaders is to shed the cloak of constant humility and step up to be bold. You never know, you could be helping someone like Peter, get back on the right path, back onto God’s plan, and back in His arms. Be Bold, Be Strong, but always be Direct!



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About the Writer:


Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help churches and other Christian organizations incorporate some common business practices into their ministries to enable them to better serve the Kingdom. He currently works for SourcePointe, an HR Outsourcing Agency while continuing to own and operate Christian Management Consulting as a ministry. In his free time, he also writes a lot on Church Development as a Church Consultant.



  1. Wow,

    This is really good. Biblical. Precise. Relevant. Applicable. I like your site. It seems you have a lot of truth in you. Keep writing…you have a lot of people to bless

  2. Hey Trent,

    Let me ask you a question, would you have any objection if I put this post on my blog? You of course would be credited as its author…I just find this so relevant to the marriage of the Bible and business.

    So…waht do you say??

  3. Not a problem. Just link back is all I ask. Thanks for asking. I subscribe to yours as well. Like what I’ve read so far.

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