THE SCANDAL OF A DIVIDED CHURCH
R. D. ICE
There is a joke which says: "Where you have one member of the Church of Christ - you have a church; where you have two members - you have a church-split; with each accusing the other of not teaching the Bible." Another: "Old uncle John is the most spiritual man I know. He is against everything."
Perhaps you know of the preacher/elder/deacon who left to form a new church just down the street. "But I wanted to do God's will. I was in the right. That church wasn't obeying God. This city needs a church that does it right!"
Paul warned against "choosing up sides" and commanded all stand together. A new birth makes us brothers and sisters in the Lord's Family. Note Colossians 3:10-11; 1 Corinthians 12:13.
Some years ago a Church had a successful ministry. The job market was very good and people moved into the small city from all over the USA. They brought along a variety of viewpoints and traditions. They accepted each other. Jesus was their Lord; and the preacher had a peacemaking spirit. Membership grew from 50 to around 150 on Sunday mornings. They had a radio program, a good VBS, held a Campaign, got "Amazing Grace" put on the TV, and were generally very active in promoting the Lord's Cause. Elders and deacons were appointed for the very first time.
But some felt it was time for the preacher to move on, and that someone more "evangelistically oriented" be called to fill the pulpit. The new man didn't make any waves in the community, and his spirit was not as peacemaking or cooperative.
"We've got to be more conservative," some said. "If we do like they did back home, why, the building will be running over!"
Not everyone felt that way. Those who did feel that way "split off" to form a new Church. They hired a preacher and began to build a new building. This effectively tied up their finances. They had obligated themselves for serious monthly payments. Rather than "evangelizing," they concentrated on paying for the new building.
"You're still not conservative enough," others said. "You believe in doing this and that to try to evangelize people, and you support that TV program, all of which we know is wrong!" So these "split off" to form a third Church in this small city.
A preacher two generations ago said in frustration: "If Jesus had told His people to split up into as many small groups as possible, we could hardly have done a worse job." He meant, of course, can't we agree on anything!? He had raised the alarm on some issues which he believed were crucial. But he drove wedges in the Body, which fragmented into more and more "issues." Rather than "standing together," as he had hoped, even more began standing in smaller groups and drawing circles around themselves.
Some today have raised the alarm and intend to oppose what they see as a "New Movement." Old issues are being resurrected and held up as models of behavior. One wrote in "The Current Digression" . "This editor feels there is something new and fresh afoot in this brotherhood.. New Journals are cropping up with the sole purpose being to combat liberalism... Some of the old preachers see the certain unraveling of all they have labored for, and they are beginning to speak out as only they can... Our children and grandchildren will look back on us as heroes of the faith, and in some secret recess of their souls wish they had been here to help us." [This sounds like what was being said in the 50's when the "Non-institutional Movement" was organizing.]
The "brotherhood" is becoming more and more fragmented as people choose up sides in an attempt to be "pure." But going back to the 50's is not the same as returning to the church of the New Testament. And it seems unwise to "burn the house down to get rid of the mice."
Dr. Mac Lynn’s new directory: "Churches of Christ in the United States" makes interesting reading. A number of "parties" are identified. But more ominous is the observation that the average age in the "Churches of Christ" may be over 40. This is slightly older than the US population. Because of the age factor it becomes more difficult to speak to young people; to speak to the surge of immigrants; or to be "all things to all men" as was the apostle Paul [This is not to say that "old people" must lack vision or fail to give glory to Christ. This writer is 85.] It certainly must be our intention to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ's Doing and Dying and Rising Again. (Gal. 1:8; 3:1-7; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Romans 10:3-13.) The Bible reveals Jesus to us. We believe in Him and love Him. "He is our everything..."
There is, however, a context. "There is no such thing as a religious occurrence that is not also a historical, social, economic, political, and cultural occurrence. Every religious movement, then, is produced and shaped by a convergence of all these and other forces." [Robt. M. Anderson] The Gospel is UNCHANGING. Note, however, that Paul adjusted the "context" to Jewish, Gentile, weak, etc. [1 Cor. 9:19-23).
There is a real danger that the "brotherhood" will "Amish-ize" in the attempt to preserve The Past As We Remember It. The Depressions years were years of amazing growth. But much of the spontaneous element has become ritualized and what had been a flowing spiritual movement has crystallized into a number of splinter groups. There are remnants of an older, rural-agrarian culture whose dominance began to wane more than a century ago. Stereotyped preaching, praying, a simple often folksy manner, are characteristic. So too, sometimes mournful hymns. It is in the realm of "music" that the crosscurrents within the "folk culture" and its interaction with the larger culture are most clearly discerned. We sing the "old hymns" [and I love them]. This new song from Malaysia, however, better reflects the Book of Acts and the living faith of the First Century.
"There is a sound coming out of Zion
That's stirring up the church for war,
And in her midst there's celebration,
Such singing we've never heard before."
"The JOY of the Lord is your STRENGTH!" [Nehemiah 8:10]. We must restore the SPIRIT of the Book of Acts as we see this being expressed in Acts 4:23-31. The devil wishes to steal away our JOY and BOLDNESS and LOVE FOR CHRIST. We must do, as Ephesus was told to do: " You must love Me as much as you used to! If you don't, I will come and take away your candlestick." [note Rev. 2:4-5].