I lost a good friend this week.
We worked together a long time ago. For many years we’ve been hundreds of miles apart, but we were always able to see each other, with our wives, at our annual church conference.
That is, until the latest split took place. He and his wife went one way and we went the other. So, for the last few years of his life, we did not get together.
Church splits can be devastating on relationships. Even marriages have fallen apart when partners don’t see eye to eye on church affiliation. More than one church I know of teaches that its followers should have nothing to do with people in other church organizations, even when they are family.
It’s ironic when you consider that Jesus Christ said: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another” (John 13:35).
Unfortunately, churches are not immune from selfish ambition, differences over administration or doctrinal disagreement, three of the primary causes of splits.
True Christians will always strive to fulfill the words of Jesus Christ; even as others in their midst will deliberately cause division, believing that God is on their side.
One of the root causes of division is that people have a tendency to follow men. The Apostle Paul wrote about this in I Corinthians where some were following Apollos, some Peter and some Paul. As Paul said elsewhere, we should only follow one man and that man is Jesus Christ. That means we should all live in accordance with His words. What a novel idea!!!
ECLIPSE OF THE CHURCH
Church splits are one reason why churches are in decline. This is true of all churches, including mainstream Catholic and Protestant churches. The vacuum is often filled by other religions. Note the following headline from the Gatestone Institute:
Londonistan: 423 New Mosques; 500 Closed Churches by Giulio Meotti • April 2, 2017
Londonistan is a term often used to describe contemporary London, Britain’s capital. It is, like many cities in the UK, becoming increasingly Islamic. But that’s not the only problem churches face, on both sides of the Atlantic.
“For most of the country’s history, white Christian America —the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—set the tone for our national conversations and shaped American ideals. But today, many white Christian Americans feel profoundly anxious as their numbers and influence are waning. The two primary branches of their family tree, white mainline and white evangelical Protestants, offer competing narratives about their decline. White mainline Protestants blame evangelical Protestants for turning off the younger generation with their anti-gay rhetoric and tendency to conflate Christianity with conservative, nationalist politics. White evangelical Protestants, on the other hand, blame mainline Protestants for undermining Christianity because of their willingness to sell out traditional beliefs to accommodate contemporary culture.” (“The Eclipse of White Christian America,” Robert P. Jones, The Atlantic)
Many people still believe in God – they just don’t want to join a church. Consequently, churches are becoming irrelevant, arguably the worst thing that can happen to a church.
One reason for irrelevancy is that churches have failed to understand the dramatic changes that have taken place in the western world in the last few decades.
The writer and former atheist Peter Hitchens, now a deeply religious man, wrote an interesting book in the late 1990’s, showing how much Britain had changed in one generation. The book “The Abolition of Britain” compared the United Kingdom at the time of Churchill’s funeral (in 1965) with the country at the time of Princess Diana’s funeral, in 1997.
Whereas the people who witnessed Churchill’s funeral were little changed from those who stood in the crowds at Victoria’s funeral in 1901, by the time of Diana’s funeral the mourners were a nation of emotional basket-cases, rather like Diana herself. In the interim, churches had been replaced by psychiatrists, prescription drugs, mental health workers, television, movies and celebrities.
At the same time, we have witnessed the collapse of the traditional family. Many people today don’t even know what a family is – they call friends family and won’t even speak to people to whom they are related.
All of this shows a crying need for churches, for the restoration of basic Christianity and biblical teachings on marriage and the family. (Forget the doctrinal differences that separate Christians from one another.) Yet churches are not comfortable with the “un-churched.” That was not a problem with Jesus Christ. Note the following from Matthew 9:10-13:
“Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
This passage of scripture could be speaking to us today. Many of Christ’s followers were appalled that He was mixing with “publicans and sinners.” But those publicans and sinners needed Christ and His healing.
Just like people today. Only today, the problems are different. It’s unlikely that anybody joining a church today will not have an addiction, whether it be an eating or mental disorder, a sexual or drinking problem. Each of these requires professional help from outside of the church; but there’s also a need for spiritual healing, to remove the cause of the problem. This can only come from the Great Physician, Jesus Christ.
The need for Christ has never been greater. It’s churches that are at fault – many Christians will judge and condemn, when what’s needed most is love and compassion, two qualities sadly lacking today.
CHURCH AND STATE
It’s not just churches that are divided.
Our countries are also seriously divided, perhaps more so than ever before. This is especially true of the United States and the United Kingdom.
The British historian Paul Johnson, now 88, observed in his 1972 book, “The Offshore Islanders,” that “disunity has always been fatal for the island nation.”
The book was about Britain’s relationship with the European continent – ironically, that’s the issue dividing the country today. Although the majority of voters want to leave the EU, there’s a solid hardcore that will stop at nothing to remain in the organization.
A different division exists in America. There are those who are very loyal to Donald Trump, but others who will seemingly stop at nothing to get him removed from office.
The “antis” on both sides of the Atlantic do not care how much damage they cause – their hatred and anger knows no bounds. Our countries are in danger of falling apart. Once again, selfish ambition and greed are at the core.