Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. ( I Corinthians 11:17-19)
All things work together for the good, to those who Love God and who are the called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28)
I hope my readers will indulge me briefly on this subject a bit further. I blog about what I am going through, in the hopes that these experiences will be transformed into beneficial “teachable moments”.
Trials in churches always present a severe contrast to those going through them. On the One hand it is obvious that Satan, the adversary of the church, is working through unwitting people, setting brethren at nought with each other, lighting fires through careless tongues, and re-interpretting e-mails, letters and comments and even looks to cast everything into the worst possible light.
But there is another side to this according to the scripture above in I Corinthians. Paul tells us that occasional Heresies (Divided opinions, i.e. Divisions) must arise among us, as a test, that those who successfully come through it might manifest the reality of their faith.
In short, God doesn’t cause splits but HE allows them to arise as a test.
It is hard, humanly speaking, to maintain the unity of a disparate group of people of all walks of life, and station. Particularly in these days where the “Love of Self” is taught as a virtue and rebellion is literally the spiritual mothers milk we in our modern autonomous culture are raised on. Slogans such as “Follow Your Own Heart, Don’t let anyone limit you, Be yourself, Be the best You, Define your own code…”saturate the Media, Sports and education systems of our age. People are highly into self, just as Paul warned us.
That is why the ongoing functioning of a true, God centered church is a modern miracle.
I had been a member of a massive Catholic Parish since my youth, but my first encounter with Church in the New Testament sense of the Word occurred in a little Assembly of God church in Ames Iowa in the late 1970s. I walked into a worship service, and saw people from all paths and walks of life lifting Holy Hands unto God, and singing songs of Redemption from the heart, many with tears streaming down their cheeks as they worshipped.
I cannot describe the feeling of deep mystery and awe I felt, some kind of “Knowledge of the Holy”. I didn’t understand much of it, but I knew one thing, there was someone awesome on the receiving end of those songs and prayers. How separate I sensed myself to be from the beauty I experienced, yet I wished I was worthy to join them in worship, but each hand felt as though it weighed a hundred pounds.
I entered into a world I had never known; a company of people who prayed for each other, loved one another, cared about me, (I was a starving college student, and several times people I didn’t know felt “led” to slip me some cash for food or to invite me into their homes for meals. Eventually the love brought me to the altar of God and to saving faith. I didn’t know what “Church” was until then.
How could a church split be anything other than a hideous tragedy?
What causes splits in churches? Important things, such as differences in doctrine, (Doctrine is not trivial, it is the very body of Truth, the “Deposit” given to us by the Apostles).Other things also cause church splits, such as Pride, Ego, unwillingness to repent or admit to wrong, envy, factions and party spirits which are natural to carnal people, but transcended when people allow the Spirit of God to empower and guide them.
When those issues are forced and even injected into a body of people, by strong personalities, they present a test.
In our case a couple refused to even consider being corrected for losing their temper and truly being clamorous and abusive, verbally. Would they put their own feelings of importance above the unity of the church? Are some people forbidden to be clamorous, but other people who have served longer and risen “higher” exempted from it? (These people were in leadership).
By not accepting the slightest call to repentance, and instead coming up with their own list of grievances against the one bringing the correction…their test became their families’ test and their friends test and their relative’s test, for all of the above were also very much a part of the church.
It is called a “Party Spirit”. Everyone on that wider circle was brought into the test; would they become “partisans” in a fight? Would they go with the “faction”which had arisen? Or would they put the unity of church even above their friends in the church? Suddenly “sides” are being taken and the beautiful unity of the Spirit which is such a sign and a wonder, evaporates.
Tests do not add anything to anyone or take anything away from anyone, the function of a God ordained Test is to manifest something within all of us which is already there. This is how Splits are beneficial, they show everyone what is in their own heart, and they reveal who is approved of God and who is disapproved.
King Solomon once tested two women who were arguing over a baby, both claimed the baby as her own. The Son of David called for a sword to split the baby in two as a compromise between the two women. The answer seemed reasonable to one woman but outrageous to the other, for she was the True Mother of the Child. In this way Solomon tested to see who was real and who was fake.
The church is like that baby. She is often weak and despised, but precious to God.
When envy and strife arise in a church and factions break out among the members, some completely disregard the good of the church, it becomes evident that the church itself means nothing to them compared to their own sense of entitlement, or grievance, they are more than willing to split or destroy a church to preserve themselves. There is no way they would suffer a possible wrong, or commit themselves and their cause to the LORD, or any such thing. The church is nothing compared to their own feelings of hurt or embarrassment.
Believe it or not, that needs to come out, and God will allow a situation to arise which will bring it out, in the crucible.
I have seen that these things prove leadership as well. Elders need to be tested and proven. What does a real Elder do when a church is gong through a trial? He cares enough for the flock, to hang in there, humble himself, work for unity, listen and pray with the people, advocate humility and repentance, and submission to God, and keep teaching by word or deed the gospel, applying it to the situation at hand.
But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. ( John 10:12)
These situations are painful but instructive. We need to know where we stand, just as Peter needed to know HE wasn’t ready to stand and fight to the last man, on the night Jesus was betrayed. God provided a test which showed Peter what was in Peter. Fortunately Peter gained from it, and walked with a spiritual limp for the rest of his Life.
God will keep his church, Only He can do it. The ongoing, true church is a miracle.
Church can be a crucible, where things come out, and all is revealed in a safe, loving environment. The problem with many of us, is that just when we are put in the crucible and things began being revealed about ourselves, and The LORD is poised to do his skimming and refining, we often run away to another greener pasture.
Keep your feet in the fire if at all possible! Let God work! Love the ones He put you with!
The callousness I have seen, of people who simply turn their backs on others who have loved them, been there thru thick and thin, prayed, cried and consoled them and their children, taught their children and youth, out of offense or sense of grievance, is incredible to me. Is this how it is supposed to be? Are we Christians? It is not just the Pastor or leadership you have forsaken, but the other families you were raising children with, or those older people who pulled for you when you were young, or those people you taught in children’s church or Sunday School. Do we not have any obligation to each other?
Church splits reveal that spiritually toxic callousness, that love of Self, that strife, vindictiveness, cowardice, and party spirit. This is a good thing, although ugly.
We must remember that Jesus told us “If You LOVE ME ,Feed My Sheep”.