Littleboy was released by the bomber Enola Gay and plummeted toward Earth. When Littleboy dropped to the predetermined height of 2,000 feet, the altimeter clicked, setting off a chain reaction. The atoms from a few pounds of Uranium-235 split and produced an explosion equal to 26 million pounds of TNT (13 kilotons). Instantly, Hiroshima, Japan was destroyed. Three days later Fatman was dropped over Nagasaki. Within days, the bloody fighting of WWII was over.
When atoms split (fission), they release a tremendous amount of energy that is capable of great destruction. Church splits are very similar. When a church splits, it can be very destructive to its members and the surrounding community. Splits have left many church members bitter and disillusioned and have caused many non-Christians to think that Christianity is a farce.
Although it is a sad commentary on the Christian community, there is the unfortunate need to include this chapter in this book. Since most Christians will experience at least one church split in their lifetime (sometimes two or three), it is important that you know how to properly respond to this type of problem. There are two reasons for this. First, turbulent times in a church can seriously disillusion you and hinder your spiritual growth. Second, responding incorrectly to church problems can actually cause a church split. The previous chapter, Standing up for Principle, provides some guidelines on how to handle basic problems with people. This chapter will provide you with more specific guidelines in dealing with church problems.
Church problems are difficult enough for mature Christians to handle, but they can be devastating to new Christians. Serious church problems can suck your breath away. You see a side of "Christianity" that you never knew existed. It can rock your faith to the core and can even cause you to doubt your faith. It can make you wonder if Christianity is truly of God or just another man-made religion.
Christians, of all people, should be able to get along with others better than anyone else. We have the Bible and the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us wisdom. We have a "new nature" that allows us to overcome our "old nature." We have the examples of Jesus to show us how to love and forgive. If we can’t get along, what hope do we have to offer the world?
When a young Christian sees intense discord within his church, he starts to wonder about everything he has been taught. He begins to wonder if Christianity is really the answer to his problems. If Christianity can’t handle these simple problems, how can it handle the enormous problem of delivering us from the penalty of sin?
Many of the Christians who have been deeply hurt by church splits have stopped being involved in their church. They are reluctant to get involved again for fear of being hurt again. They are hesitant to invest time and money only to be "betrayed" again.
Although we may know in our head that our Christian service should be motivated only by our desire to serve God, our hearts often have difficulty with this. Our hearts have been wounded and if we don’t let the Great Healer heal our hearts, we will not be able to trust again. See the chapters The Great Healer and Forgiveness for more information.
When church problems arise, it is important to respond correctly. Every Christian has a moral obligation to be actively involved in their church, even in times of church turmoil. The best type of involvement, in times of church turmoil, is usually prayer. Bathe your church and its problem in prayer.
I cannot overempathize the importance of bathing a church problem in prayer. I believe this is more important than anything else you can do. It is even more important than your "preparations" to save your church. If you feel God is leading you to take a more active role in a church problem, bathe yourself in prayer. Ask others to pray for you. You will need all of the prayer you can get.
Be courteous and polite at all times. Never deliberately ignore someone or act rude. Keep your emotions under control and never respond in anger. When you speak, maintain a calm composure and never raise your voice in anger. Although your speech may be full of passion, there should never be even a hint of anger or contempt. Of course, it should go without saying, never swear or resort to name-calling. I was at a church (during a split) when a woman got up and started hitting the person besides her with her purse.
I have seen situations at church where one group would not talk to another group. They acted like this other group was not even there. I have also seen other situations where one group would be rude and obnoxious to the other group. Christians should never exhibit this type of behavior.
The sad thing about most church splits is the damage they cause. Very little good usually comes of church "wars." The "good" that does comes out of winning a church war is usually outweighed by the price it extracts. If it is at all possible, try to resolve the problem without going to "war." Refer to the chapter There are no Winners in War for more information.
Most Christians involved in church conflicts feel they are "in the right." Just because you think you are right does not mean you are right. There are a large variety of views, doctrines, and opinions within Christianity. Obviously, not all of these "sides" can be correct. Chances are, the person you are fighting against probably thinks he is "right."
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you are completely correct in the position you have taken in a church conflict. You still should be careful about going to "war." Just because your cause is righteous does not mean your methods of resolving the problem are correct. You may be completely "right" in your position and still be completely wrong in the way you behave and treat others.
The life of Job is a good example of this. Although Job was a righteous man, some terrible things happened to him. Yet, he trusted and praised God. He responded to his troubles much better than most of us would have. Although this man had done so many things correctly, he still made one mistake. Near the end of his ordeal, he dared to ask God why this was happening to him.
God spent about four chapters (Job 38 to 41) explaining to Job why it was wrong for him to question God. This situation shows how you could be completely in the right and still not handle the situation correctly. Job’s life should be an example of why we should carefully examine all of our actions.
There are four basic rules you should follow if your church is going through a turbulent time. First, make sure your primary goal is to glorify God with your thoughts, words, and actions. Second, always keep your emotions under complete control. Third, bathe yourself and the problem with prayer. Fourth, never "take sides." If most church members would operate under these guidelines, we would have very few church splits.
In the chapter Finding the Elusive Will of God, I point out that our primary goal in life is to bring glory to God. We are to glorify God with our words, thoughts, and actions. Unfortunately, during times of church conflict this can be very difficult to do. It is hard enough to respond correctly when a non-Christian mistreats you, but you feel betrayed when a fellow Christian mistreats you. You may think to yourself, "I expected this type of behavior from non-Christians, but a Christian should have known better."
It is important to understand that it doesn’t matter if others have acted inappropriately; you are still accountable for your actions. When you stand before God, He is not going to ask you what they have done to provoke you. He is only going to ask you about your actions. He will deal with them in His own time.
About 50 years ago my parents were at a church that went through a difficult time. After all the dust settled, the congregation voted to have the pastor leave. Although the pastor stopped preaching at the church, he refused to leave the parsonage. As a result, the police had to be brought in to have him evicted. Although it was necessary to evict the pastor, what kind of testimony did this provide the non-Christian community? It was basically a no-win situation.
Keeping your emotions under control is very important. We have all seen how problems can be inflamed simply by responding too emotionally to them. You should never be unkind even if others are rude and inconsiderate to you. Prov. 15:1 says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up wrath." Prov. 26:20 says, "Without wood the fires goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down."
"Taking sides" during times of church turmoil is one of the quickest ways to split a church. You should never "side" with anyone but God. Look at the chapter "Taking Sides in a Conflict" for more information about this. Taking sides in a conflict will polarize a church and a polarized church can be divided easily. If all church members would line themselves up with God instead of each other, it would be difficult to split the church.
There are many reasons why churches go through times of turmoil. Sometimes the issues are important and involve the spiritual soundness of the church. Most of the time, however, the turmoil is over petty and insignificant issues. Many churches have split over issues as simple as the choice of a hymnbook or the color of the carpet.
There is a church in Louisiana whose roof is green on one side and red on the other. This was done because some members of the church adamantly wanted green and other members adamantly wanted red. The disagreement was so intense that the church was going to split because of it. Fortunately, a compromise was reached and the church did not split. Unfortunately, the red and green roof is a monument to the surrounding community of the disunity within the body of Christ.
Many of these church problems are, in reality, not the church’s real problem. They are only a symptom of a much deeper problem. The color of the shingles was not the issue that was tearing the church apart. It may have been the issue that sparked the turmoil, but the church was ready to blow up anyhow. Usually, the underlining problems are very complex and have been developing for many years.
If a church is experiencing significant problems over "superficial" issues, the church should seek outside help. The church obviously has some deep-rooted problems that need professional help. Unfortunately, just as married couples are reluctant to seek outside help, most churches are too. Bringing in outside help is an admission that they can’t handle their own problems. Since churches feel they should be helping others, they don’t want to admit they need help.
It is my desire that nobody reading this chapter will ever have to experience a church split. It is also my desire that if you do have church problems, they can be eliminated because of the content of these chapters. Remember, if Christians are unable to get along with each other, what hope can we offer the world?
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