Book Review: If You Bite & Devour One Another, by Alexander Strauch
Alexander Strauch, If You Bite & Devour One Another: Biblical Principles for Handling Conflict. Lewis and Roth Publishers, 2011. 177 pages.
As a youth pastor fresh out of seminary, I was discipling a teenager whose family was deeply involved in our church. When speaking with his mom about his future plans, I was shocked when she told me that of all his options, the one she least desired for him was ministry. She explained that some of her deepest hurts and some of the most unchristian behavior she had ever witnessed came from within the church. She didn’t want those experiences as constant companions for her son. At first, I thought she was jaded, giving an unfair assessment of God’s people. But then I thought about my own local church experiences.
- Church 1: A traditional large church with leaders who couldn’t adjust to a new pastor and planned secret meetings to force him out. He left and discord ensued.
- Church 2: A growing seeker sensitive church birthed out of a church split.
- Church 3: A mid-sized healthy church that was the product of a church revitalization effort years in the making.
- Church 4: A small traditional church embroiled in controversy over secondary issues where many were divisive, proud, and filled with distrust of leaders.
- Church 5: A mid-sized church that 10 years prior had dismissed a pastor who didn’t shepherd well and was trying to change things too quickly.
- Church 6: A small church that had faced a nasty church split a few years prior, marked by disagreement over secondary theological issues and ministry methods moving forward.
When I paused to consider my experience in the local church, I realized that that almost all had division and conflict as part of their story. Christians aren’t always kind and often don’t play well with others. We are indwelt with the Spirit, but still wage war with the flesh. We are positionally righteous, but still working on practical righteousness. We have transformed hearts, but divided hearts. Because of these realities, churches can often look more like a wrestling ring than a heavenly assembly.
LET’S DISAGREE LIKE CHRISTIANS
Obviously, your experience might be different than mine and, by God’s grace, many faithful, united, gospel-proclaiming local churches exist throughout the world. But none of them are perfect. After all, they’re all full of sinners—sinners who create conflict. Pastors, therefore, need direction on how to handle conflict.
Enter Alexander Strauch’s If You Bite & Devour One Another. This book mines Scripture to discover God’s way for handling conflict in the church. With three opening chapters on the foundational biblical principles of acting in the Spirit, in love, and in humility followed by seven chapters of specific principles for handling conflict, this is a valuable resource for pastors and church leaders to shepherd their flock toward unity and grace in their dealings and disagreements.
Strauch argues that conversion provides resources for the believer to be transformed and then shows how the Spirit-led, love-motivated, humble believer has spiritual power to conquer conflict with grace and truth. With biblical and practical tips to control our anger, our tongue, and our critical spirit, Strauch shows the dangers of these vices and how to replace them with godliness. He emphasizes actively pursuing reconciliation and peace in broken relationships, unpacking the importance of church discipline in this process. He also reflects on when to pursue peace and when to divide, focusing on how to deal with false teachers. I particularly appreciated that he illustrates each principle with easily relatable church scenarios that are realistic, engaging, and remind readers that peacemaking must be pursued corporately.
12 HELPFUL QUOTES
Stauch’s book is full of pastoral wisdom. Here is a small taste of what he provides throughout the book:
The world loves the sweet music of revenge, but God loves the sweet music of prayer, forbearance, and kindness. (28)
For Paul, freedom in Christ means loving, slave-like service to others, not self-indulgence. It is the flesh—always preoccupied with the self and ready for a fight—that demands its rights and freedoms. (34)
When Christ’s attitude of humble servanthood permeates a local church, it can weather any storm. But when pride characterizes a church body, every little disagreement stirs up a whirlwind. (40)
Satan knows that pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. So provoking people’s pride, especially the pride of ‘rightness,’ is an effective scheme for corrupting a good church. (43)
Some Christian people today who would never curse, steal, miss a prayer meeting, or think of getting drunk, respond with unrestrained anger toward those who disagree with them. (51)
Anger is like fire. It can be used for heating and cooking or it can burn the house down. (53)
Conflict can turn the mouth into a weapon of mass destruction. (63)
Confrontation doesn’t have to be ugly or hurtful. When confrontation is done in the power of the Holy Spirit with gentleness and tact, it can be cathartic and life-saving. (101)
Unfortunately, we often prefer a comforting lie over the challenging truth. (103)
Christian peacemaking is not about ignoring problems, wishing they would go away, or negotiating a truce. It is not appeasement or peace at any price. Christian peacemaking is hard, sacrificial work that must be guided by the truths of Scripture. (115)
Disagreeing with a brother over a doctrinal matter is one thing, but pouring out vile, angry accusations, distorting another person’s beliefs, demonizing a godly saint, and acting belligerently or childishly is another matter. (146)
We must defend orthodox doctrine with orthodox behavior and speech. (148)
A GUIDE FOR CHURCH UNITY
This book isn’t an ivory tower examination of church unity but a nuts-and-bolts guide to dealing with real conflict between real people in real churches. It shows Christians how to act like Christians and protect their witness when they don’t see eye to eye. It’s readable, biblical, devotional, and practical for ministry—all things a busy pastor values. If you want to help your church look otherworldly amidst the discord and division all around us, grab a copy, read it, and liberally pass it around.