Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Church Divided

I recently heard a Pastor recount an event he recently experienced. He received a request to come to another town and give his aid in planting a new church. When he arrived, he took it upon himself to investigate the number of churches that currently existed in the community. The final tally revealed there were already one hundred Christian congregations that served the area. The result of his investigation forced him to ask the question why it was necessary to add one more. What progressed from that point, he did not say, but it compelled to the forefront a problem that has been nagging me for a long time. Why is Christ’s church divided, and what is it that makes it so?

Of course, there are obvious reasons that cause a split in congregations. To list them all here would require more space than is prudent and there is no need to write a thesis on them. The most legitimate reason is to plant a new church in an area that is in need, and the most disturbing, a turning away from sound doctrine and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. There is no shortage of preachers who teach health, wealth and prosperity. Their message, “God has a plan and a purpose for you” is usually void of any solid teaching of what God expects from Christians. Then there are the churches that teach God’s Word evolves as times change, perverting it to suit the sinful natures of the congregants and giving them license to continue in their sin. The consequences of a sinful life are rarely taught, hell is never mentioned, and a head-count and full coffers are all too often the driving force in filling the pews. The list is endless and, I might add, nauseating.

However, I found it troubling that the Pastor I mentioned above also has a divided congregation. Two identical sermons are preached each Sunday because the older generation prefers hymns and dirges to the contemporary music the younger generation desires. Instead of the worship leader placating both by providing a good mix of each, this congregation of less than one hundred people has chosen to part company, and as one group files out, another group files in. In other words, the Pastor can see beyond and into other church’s shortcomings, but he fails to recognize a petty and disturbing problem within his own. If he has recognized it, he has chosen to let the flock lead the shepherd rather than the other way around.

There is never a valid reason for division in the church that is preaching the fullness of the Gospel and providing sound Biblical teaching. If this qualification is met, the congregants should be satisfied. However, because of the importance placed on certain things such as the type of worship service that is led (great music provided by big bands and large worship teams that stir the emotions, and entertainment that pleases the congregants), the real message is being missed. There is one church and it is Christ’s church which is comprised of all true believers who are in Christ Jesus. Christ’s church represents “one body” which is “not made up of one part but of many,” and is unable to function effectively if one part dictates its will over the other parts. To put it in simpler terms, no single part is more important than another. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it… If the “ligaments” that hold the body together are weakened by division, the result is an unfruitful church. But if the body is held together, drawing its strength from its Head Jesus Christ, then there is unity and a common goal. (1Cor 12:12-27)

Satan has been very effective in causing unrest, petty arguments and breeding contention that tears apart the body of Christ. When Christians allow him to assume control over their emotions, the result of his interference spills over into the rest of the body. The conclusion is always division, and it is usually catastrophic. I have personally witnessed the destruction of a church that became divided. The Apostle Paul cautioned the Romans “to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles” in their way to disrupt and destroy their unity in Christ Jesus (Rom 16:17). If in our commonality we remain devoted to Him and His will, the “obstacles” that are thrown in front of us are easily overcome by reason and through the strength of the entire body.

Jesus, in response to the false charges the Pharisees brought against Him, responded with this: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matt 12:25, NKJ) When a church finds itself in this position, the reaction is to divide itself and go their separate ways rather than to unite and solve the problems within it. Paul asked the Corinthians, “Is Christ divided?” (1Cor 1:13). The answer to his question should be clear to us: Never! His question should pierce the heart of every Saint and cause us to re-examine the petty complaints or arguments we may have that causes separation.

Jesus Christ is building an eternal kingdom, one that will last and never be divided. However, at this juncture, it is up to us to help hold it together until that great day, remaining united in all things of Christ. And if we are faithful in our endeavor to hold Christ’s body of believers together, there will not be a need to build another church.

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