I was seven the first time my church split down the middle. That split affected my family profoundly. My mother (and I) stayed with the church she (and I) still attend. My father went with the splinter group. My siblings scattered in different directions.
I was thirteen when my family split down the middle. My mom stayed. My dad left. There were other reasons the marriage broke apart, but there's little doubt the church split was a contributing factor.
I wonder if it's the first church and family split I lived through that makes this one I'm living through now particularly painful. Possibly. Possibly not. It seems to be just as painful for all involved. And that number includes everyone who attends (or attended) my small church. When a church decides to split, non-involvement is not an option. As when my father chose to leave his family, although the choice was his, the entire family unavoidably became involved.
I wouldn't have chosen to be involved in a church split, but I am. Now what?
I like to keep life simple. I like to ask myself questions like, “What is God asking me to do in this situation?” So, biblically, what should I be doing?
Avoid the blame game.
"Judge not, that you be not judged." (Matt. 7:1).
I have wrestled with this verse for years, and after all my wrestling, I still haven't got it pinned.
"Judge not," I'm told both by my culture and the Bible. My culture tells me that tolerance is the opposite of judgment. God's Book often teaches me to think counter-culturally. Biblically, the opposite of judgment is not tolerance but forgiveness. And forgiveness acknowledges a wrong done, or it's not forgiveness.
Perhaps the key to understanding Matthew 7:1 rests in Matthew 7:2. "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you."
Do I want to be corrected when I'm running badly off the rails? I look back to a time when I had to be corrected, and now that the pain has dissipated, I'm enormously grateful. If I occasionally need to be confronted, I might occasionally need to confront. If my church was splitting because of clear sin issues, I might need to do some confronting.
But that's not the case. And I don't need to sort all behavior into two neat categories. Acts 15:37-41 tells of a serious split between Paul and Barnabas. Interestingly, God's viewpoint on who was right and who was wrong isn't recorded. Apparently, I don't need to know it.
I must "judge not." Whatever else it means, it certainly means that I am to forgive. While confrontation, even church discipline, might be necessary in some situations, I can and must forgive the personal consequences of a wrong that has affected me. That much is clear.
Be a peacemaker.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matt. 5:9).
God is the God of peace, and as His child, I am to grow to resemble Him. This privilege is often a painful one.
The wimp in me prefers a different kind of peace than God's kind. Making peace with us cost God His Son. Making peace in my present situation will cost me something.
"If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men," Paul advises in Romans 12:18. And I like to live peaceably. Yet I'm called not only to be a peace-liver, I'm called to be a peacemaker. I'm called not only to be reconciled. I'm called to be a reconciler.
That's a much scarier thing. I'm terrified that the mission of reconciler might take me dangerously near the confrontation territory that I'm desperate to avoid.
No one likes getting in the middle of things (at least, I don't). But being a peacemaker will mean putting myself in the middle of things. There will be a cost, but any gains in true peace will be worth the cost.
Say Thank You.
"In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:18).
God's will looks impossible on first glance. And it would be impossible if I were told, "In everything and at all times feel thankful...”
I am commanded to, "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil. 4:4). And that command is followed by practical instructions on how to achieve the rejoicing. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7).
In times like these, I can't help praying. The part of Philippians 4:6 it's all too easy to forget is the "with thanksgiving." On the spiritual battleground that is a church split, prayer is a powerful weapon against the enemy. But prayer without praise is a weapon without the ammo.
I don't feel thankful at the moment. I don't feel peaceful. My heart feels heavy and a little rebellious. But I can still say, “thank you.” If I put my will to the “obedience” setting, over time, God's peace will invade my heart and my mind. I've seen it happen.
The rationale behind giving thanks in everything is Romans 8:28. If I love God and am His called, I'm promised He's working everything out for my good.
I haven't been able to look back on the church split that happened when I was seven and see for myself the good He worked through it. It's not part of the deal that I get to see it all in on this side of the grave.
I don't know when I'll get to see God extract the good out of the pain of this church split. But until I do, I can go on thanking Him, knowing He will do it.
Dear Connie. I love your honesty and frankness. I love the way in which you write. I sincerely hope you know which direction to go in, and pray that God will be in all your decisions and carry you, in all that you are going through right now.
Love Phoebe x