W O U N D E D H E A RT S
A N D E M P T Y P E W S
Biblical Guidelines to Deal with a Church Split
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My Path Book Distribution
Copyright © 2017 F. Wayne Mac Leod
All rights reserved.
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Cambridge University Press
Special thanks to Diane Mac Leod for proof reading.
CONTENTS
Title Page
Copyright
Preface
1 - The Reality of Divisions and Splits
2 - Why People Leave Their Church
3 - Is it Ever Right to Leave Your Church?
4 - Is There a Positive Side to Church Splits?
5 - When Division is Inevitable
6 - Healing from a Church Split
About The Author
M
PREFACE
y missionary career began in an oversees church that was going
through some significant problems with division among its
members. That would not be the only such experience I would
have in my ministry. I have often been called to work with churches that
have gone through difficult times. The inspiration for this study, in fact,
comes from one of those times and was my way of sorting through the
various issues I was experiencing in those days. I suspect that I am not
alone in this.
This book has sat on my computer for over ten years. I suppose I needed
time to continue sorting out my own feelings and hurts. For some reason, I
am now ready to share it with others. I trust that the insights the Lord has
given will be a blessing to those who read.
What causes people to leave their church? Is there ever a right reason to
leave a church? Are all church splits bad? How do you leave a church when
leaving seems inevitable? How do you heal from the emotional and spiritual
pain that comes from a harsh division of believers? These are some of the
questions I would like to address in this book.
I cannot hope to cover all the questions the reader might have. This is not
the purpose of this study. I do, however, want to direct the reader to some
basic principles that could be of help as they seek the direction of the Lord
for their circumstance.
I can only hope that the reflections of this book will be a comfort to those
who have suffered through having to leave their church or who have
experienced people leaving their church for various reasons. May the Lord
be pleased to use it to direct and comfort His people in this regard.
F. Wayne Mac Leod
T
1 - THE REALITY OF
DIVISIONS AND SPLITS
his age in which we live could very well go down in history as the
age of church splits and divisions. While the message of the gospel
is crossing cultural and political frontiers in a way that is
unparalleled by any generation before us, there has never been so many
denominations and splinter groups. In an article in the June 14th 1996 issue
of the Wall Street Journal, Calmetta Y. Coleman states that one
denomination reported an average loss of 29 churches a year to other
groups. She went on to say:
Even among the centralized denominations, the switch is occurring.
There are Baptist churches becoming Presbyterian, Lutheran
churches going charismatic, Pentecostal churches turning
Episcopalian and so on. The number of denominational switches
reaches well into the hundreds, and religious experts say the pace is
accelerating. (Coleman, Calmetta Y., A Charismatic Church Deals
With a Preacher Who Finds New Faith” The Wall Street Journal,
June 14, 1996: A7.)
In my years of ministry, I have seen many such divisions. My initiation into
the work of oversees missions was one of trying to bring reconciliation to a
church stifled by division. This problem is evident no matter where you go
in the world. Much of church growth as we know it today could be
characterised by the phrase “multiplication by division.” Take the time to
look at the history of your church. What evidence is there of splits in its
history? What evidence is there of this in the history of your denomination?
In one of the towns where we worked, a church split into three groups and
moved to separate towns. Very shortly after this one of these groups
underwent a second split, forming yet a fourth church (this time of a
different denomination). The total membership of all four churches was less
than one hundred. When we arrived several years later, the believers were
still struggling with a sense of confusion and abandonment resulting from
this split. Two of these churches were struggling simply to survive.
I know of two towns where two or three churches of the same denomination
are within eyesight of each other, each with a building large enough to hold
them all, but members would never think of joining forces. One does not
have to go far to see evidence such divisions.
Division is not always wrong. Many times, it is God’s way of purifying His
church. Church splits, however, often leave scars. Sometimes believer is
turned against believer causing years of bitterness and hostility. These
divisions can also greatly hinder our Christian witness in the community.
What causes divisions? Is there ever a good reason to leave a church? If a
split is inevitable, what can we do to minimise the damage it will cause? In
this study, we will look at these important questions. It is my desire that this
study be a comfort and guide to many who have experienced or are
experiencing such a struggle.
For Consideration:
What evidence is there of divisions and splits in the community where you
live? What were the reasons for these divisions?
Is there ever a good reason for church members to go their separate ways?
What are they?
For Prayer:
Take a moment to thank the Lord for your church fellowship. Thank Him
for some very specific blessings He has given you in that fellowship.
Ask the Lord to reveal any dissension in your church that needs to be
addressed in a godly way?
Ask God to help the members of your church to walk together in greater
unity.
W
2 - WHY PEOPLE LEAVE
THEIR CHURCH
hat causes churches to split? Why might people feel compelled
to leave their church? There are many reasons for this. Let’s
take a moment to examine some of those reasons.
Doctrine
There are certain basic doctrines on which we must take a firm stand.
Personally, I hold three doctrines close to my heart. I believe that if we are
to have true fellowship with others we must be agreed on the authority of
the Word of God. If we do not see God’s Word as our authority, we have no
basis for determining what God expects of us and have no common ground
on which to determine our beliefs and practices. Second, we need to take a
firm stand on the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. To reject this
doctrine is to cast aside the work of our Lord Jesus. Those who preach a
salvation apart from Christ, preach another gospel. Third, we must also
have a solid belief in the deity of Christ. We must believe that Jesus is who
He said He was.
There are other issues, on which I also have a firm stand. I believe these
doctrines to be based solidly on the Word of God and hold them also very
dear to my heart. These issues, however, should not be the standard by
which we measure true fellowship. While I have my view of what the Bible
teaches about the end times, I am quite free to fellowship with others who
do not hold my position. Some people see this as a compromise. I have
never felt that I have compromised my belief nor do I feel that those with
whom I worship are inferior because they do not see Scripture the way I see
it. I have had tremendous Christian fellowship with those who do not
believe as I do on secondary doctrinal issues.
There are people who will not associate with others who do not believe
exactly as they do. They seem to believe that unity comes from a common
doctrinal statement. There could be nothing farther from the truth. Our unity
comes from the fact that we are saved by grace and adopted into the family
of God. We don’t have to agree on everything to be children of God or
worship together. Some years ago, I was part of an evangelical,
interdenominational prayer and fellowship group. As a group, we
experienced tremendous unity and fellowship in Christ. The Lord used this
group in many lives. Individuals from various doctrinal persuasions came
together on the basis that they had a common Saviour. We grew in love and
understanding of what true fellowship is about. On the other hand, I have
seen churches filled with people all adhering to a common doctrinal
statement, who could not get along.
What I am saying is this: There are people who leave a church because they
do not like the church’s position on a secondary doctrine. We should study
these doctrines and have our opinions. Leaving a church because we don’t
agree on a secondary doctrine, however, may be a pretence for something
deeper. The person who leaves a church because of a minor doctrinal
difference may think he or she is doing so to maintain the purity of doctrine,
but in reality, the reason may be quite different. Maybe they are leaving
because they are too proud to associate with anyone who doesn’t believe
exactly as they do. To split a church over minor doctrinal differences only
proves that we have never learned to accept and love each other with our
differences.
Worship style
The question of worship is a big one. In recent years, we have seen much
division in churches over this issue. The younger generation wants to sing
more contemporary music. The older generation enjoys the traditional
hymns. Some prefer a formal, structured church service while others would
rather a spontaneous worship format. What church has not had to face these
issues in our day?
Many worshippers are not comfortable with a certain type of worship. We
should by all means find a church where we can worship in the way we feel
most comfortable. On the other hand, we have also seen bitterness and
hostility develop between believers over this issue. Splits over the form of
worship need to be examined very carefully. Very often the issue is not so
much the worship style as it is a glorification of tradition or a spirit of
rebellion and pride.
People who leave a church because of its worship style need to ask
themselves whether they are leaving for God or for themselves. Are they
leaving because God is not being honoured, or because their personal
comfort zones have been trampled on? It is one thing to quietly leave a
church to find another where you are more comfortable. It is another to
cause division and bitterness over how sincere believers prefer to worship
God.
Practices
How about the church that split because the pastor was not comfortable
with giving an altar call? While the pastor was preaching faithfully the
Word of God, many interpreted his refusal to give an altar call as being a
lack of concern for lost souls. I have seen another church split over the issue
of whether a sincere Christian should participate in a certain community
group. Each of these issues needs to be examined carefully. It is clear from
the Word of God that Christians will not always agree. Paul and Barnabas
had to part company over a dispute they had about John Mark (see Acts
15:36-41). While partings may be necessary in certain situations, we need
to be sure that it is not because of a spirit of intolerance and spiritual pride.
Remember that of all the people of the New Testament, Jesus spoke most
powerfully against the Pharisees (“the separated ones”). This group saw
themselves as being more spiritual than anyone else because of their strict
religious lifestyle and practices. In God’s eyes, however, they were no
better than the common sinner.
Disagreement over Decisions
We have all heard people threaten to leave the church over an unpopular
decision made by the leadership. Let’s be honest with ourselves. You are in
the minority if you agree with every decision that was ever made in your
church. We have all heard the story of the church that split over the colour
of the carpet in the sanctuary. I have worshipped in a church building with a
leaky tin roof and open holes in the wall for windows. I have also preached
and worshipped in a car garage with bare concrete floors and walls. These
times of worship can be just as alive as worship in a luxurious church
building.
Behind this type of split very often is a spirit of wounded pride. We didn’t
get our own way so we decide to leave. Sometimes we even threaten to
leave to get our way. This is obviously not an acceptable reason for leaving
a church.
Dominant Personalities
Another reason for church splits has to do with the issue of dominant
personalities in the church. People have a natural tendency to follow. They
will flock like sheep to an individual they respect as a leader. At times that
leader may come into conflict with the rest of the church. When he leaves,
his followers may leave with him. Other times these leaders catch a
different vision for the work. Soon they have influenced others to follow
them. While a new vision or direction may be good, we need to ask
ourselves who we are following. Are we following our respected leaders or
are we truly being led of God?
Changing Membership
As a missionary family working overseas, we had the opportunity of
visiting many different churches. Over the years, we have seen the
personalities of churches radically change. People grow old and die. Others
move away from the community. Still others move into the community.
When we returned to some churches for furlough, we found that we did not
know many of the people. Old friends had moved away. Other churches,
due to lack of youth have chosen to cater to the older folks. Still others tend
to draw a younger crowd. We can begin to feel out of place in our own
church. These changes may be too much to handle and may cause people to
move on to another church.
It is important for us to realise, however, that a changing membership is not
necessarily a reason to leave. While old friends may no longer be near, there
is nothing stopping us from developing new friendships. These new
relationships can be equally as valuable as the old. Some time ago I was
doing a Bible study in a church. A young man from another province,
passing through on business came to the meeting. Some of the members
went over to him after the meeting and apologised for not having anyone
his age at the meeting (most of the people present were retired). The man
responded by telling them that seeing so many older believers in that
meeting was a real source of encouragement to him. The church he attended
was composed entirely of young people. They longed to see older people
come to Christ but were not making a breakthrough. Before you leave a
church because of changing membership, ask yourself whether this is really
the will of God. Maybe God has a specific role for you to play in this
changing church.
Boredom
Others leave a church because of boredom. They see the same people week
in and week out. Nothing seems to change in their church. They know the
church service inside out. They have become tired of singing the same
hymns. The messages don’t seem to have any impact. They feel the need of
a change. We all know of many churches like this. The problem, however,
is that these churches need life too. If all the dynamic people leave for more
exciting pastures, where does this leave the church? Could it be that the
Lord would have you to make a change within the church?
Discipline
One of the problems we had to deal with on the mission field when
exercising church discipline was the tendency of people to simply leave the
church and join another without ever dealing with the issue at hand. This is
very much like the person who says to his boss: “You can’t fire me, I quit.”
In many cases, this is simply a refusal on the part of those under discipline
to submit to the authority of the church. To leave a church because you are
being disciplined would be wrong. If the discipline of the church is being
properly administered, it is for the good of the person concerned. It is far
better to submit and be reconciled than to take your problem with you to
another church.
Disillusionment
Sometimes people come to a church with big expectations. They have
exaggerated ideas about a given fellowship. When they discover that people
in this church have the same problems as the church they left, they become
disillusioned. We have all met people who move from one church to
another in search of the perfect church. When they find some fault with the
church they leave and move to another. As someone once said: “If you find
a perfect church, don’t join it, you’re sure to ruin it.”
None of us is perfect. Human nature is such that problems and conflict are
inevitable in any church. I used to feel that I had to defend my church.
When people would point out its imperfections I would take it personally.
The Lord is teaching me, however, that the reason He places us in churches
is to help deal with these conflicts. To leave a church because you are
disillusioned is to fail to recognise human nature. You ought to expect
difficulties and conflicts. I was once speaking with a man who told me that
the thing he liked about his marriage was that it was perfect. My immediate
thought was: “Where has this man been for the last ten years?” Anyone who
is married understands that conflict and disagreements are inevitable. These
conflicts, however, do not need to case a separation in the relationship
between the couple. Sometimes it takes hard work and a great deal of pride
swallowing to deal with conflict. Married couples know, however, that you
come out stronger for it in the end. This can be the same in a church. Before
running away, try to deal with the conflict. You will be surprised at what
may happen.
Band Wagon
There is one more reason I would like to examine for church splits and
divisions. I have met individuals who left their former church because they
saw everyone else leaving and so they did the same. The reality of the
matter is this. Many people leave a church because that is what their
friends are doing. They will jump on the wagon and go with the flow even
though they may not have a clear sense of why they are doing so.
Before making a radical decision to leave your church, examine your
motives. Are your motives pure? Are you leaving for the glory of God or
are you leaving for yourself? Carefully seek God in this. Ask Him to reveal
your true motives and seek His leading in what you are doing.
For Consideration:
Do we need to share the same beliefs to have fellowship and worship
together? Have you ever had good fellowship with a believer who differs
from you in the interpretation of Scripture on some minor point?
Can believers differ in how they worship or in what they believe is
acceptable practice? How accepting are you of these differences? Where do
you draw the line and say you can no longer fellowship with believers who
differ?
How has your church changed over the years? Have these changes been
good or bad?
When is it best to submit to the discipline of a local church? Is there ever a
time when it is better to leave?
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to give you grace to be more tolerant of the differences
between believers in the interpretation of Scripture and in practice.
Ask the Lord to show you when you need to work with those who differ
from you and when you need to move in a different direction and find
another church so as not to hinder what they feel God has called them to
do.
T
3 - IS IT EVER RIGHT TO
LEAVE YOUR CHURCH?
here are people who believe that when you become a member of a
church you can never leave. For these individuals, their
commitment to the local church is a life time covenant which can
never be broken. To leave the church would be equivalent to leaving one’s
marriage partner. Is this a fair comparison?
It is true that Scripture uses the symbolism of marriage to illustrate the
relationship between God and His church. There is no doubt that my
relationship with God can be compared to a marriage. The relationship
between God and His people is a lifetime covenantal relationship. As a
loving husband, God will always care for and love His wife the church. He
will never leave her or forsake her (see Joshua 1:5). The church, as a loving
wife, is bound to God by a covenant of faithfulness. Marriage is a
wonderful example of the relationship between God and His people.
The illustration of marriage, however, is not necessarily a good illustration
when it comes to the believer and the local church. There are a couple of
reasons for this. First, it can shift attention from God to church. Admittedly,
my relationship to God does include the local church but it goes much
deeper than this. The local church is only part of my relationship with God.
I would venture to say that there have been times when the local church can
even stand between a believer and his or her relationship with God. I have
been in ministry now for long enough to have seen individuals who have
placed their church before God. I have met pastors who have spent so much
time working at their church that their families have suffered. I have myself
have at times neglected my relationship with God because I was too
involved with church activities.
There may be times in the life of the believer where he or she must choose
between obedience to God and the local church. Paul told Timothy that an
elder must first “manage his own family well” (1 Timothy 3:4, NIV). This
implies that he will not be able to devote as much time to the work of the
church because of his family obligations.
In my lifetime, I have been a member of many different local churches and
denominations. My commitment has changed over the years. God’s leading
has taken me to many local churches and denominations in Canada and
overseas. Where does the illustration of marriage to a local church fit into
this picture? If I had seen my relationship to the local church to be for life I
would never have left Canada to work overseas. My commitment is to God.
When God leads me to a certain location, I seek out a local church and
contribute what I can to the work of that church. When God moves me
elsewhere, my commitment to that body ceases. I am not married to my
local church; my covenant is with God.
While God expects us to be faithful to a local body, He may lead us to
another church or to another ministry. There are those who place their
church or their denomination on a par with God. Those who do so make an
idol of their local church.
While I don’t believe that we should make an idol of our local church, it
very important for us as believers to find a local body of believers where we
can fellowship. Having said this, there are circumstances where the local
church ceases to be a blessing in our walk with God. In fact, I would
venture to say that the local church can even become a hindrance in our
spiritual growth. When this happens, we need to examine whether it is
God’s purpose for us to remain or to seek another fellowship. There may be
many reasons for us to consider leaving our local church. I use the word
“consider” here because we need to be sensitive to the leading of the Lord
in this matter. What may apply to one person may not apply to another.
Let’s take a moment, however, to some of the reasons why a person might
consider leaving their church.
BIBLICAL / THEOLOGICAL REASONS
Rejection of the Authority of God’s Word
I would personally have great difficulty remaining in a church that denied
the authority of the Word of God. The Bible is the standard upon which I
build my faith. I can always remember attending a Religious Studies class
in University where the professor lectured on “the danger of believing in
the authority of the Bible.” I am glad I did not attend his church. If you take
away the Bible, what do you have left? You have nothing more than human
philosophy and reasoning. Anything is possible and admissible. The church
becomes nothing more than a social club whose purpose is to share
religious ideas without any authority base to validate their thinking. How do
we know who God is if we do not have His Word? How do we know what
He expects of us if we do not study and apply His Word? Seminaries and
Universities throughout our countries are producing pastors who have
serious doubts about the authority of the Word of God.
When a church has turned its back on the Word of God they are doomed to
fight the spiritual battle that rages on in our society without a weapon. They
are defenceless against the onslaught of the philosophies of this world. Its
members fall prey to the influences of the world. The prophet Hosea put it
this way: “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge (NIV, Hosea
4:6a). Without God’s intervention, there is no hope for spiritual growth and
renewal in the church that has rejected the authority of the Word of God. If
you belong to such a church, I would suggest you find another church
where you can be fed upon the Word of God. There can be no growth apart
from His Word.
Denial of Christ
John writes in 1 John 2:22,23:
Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ.
Such a man is the antichrist - he denies the Father and the Son. No
man who denies the Son has the Father … (NIV 1John 2.22,23).
I seriously wonder how anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the Son
of God can call themselves Christian. This may be a strong statement, but it
is fundamental to all I believe. John calls such a person an antichrist. What
hope do we have of eternity if Jesus is not God? If Jesus is not God, He is a
liar and deceiver for He certainly claimed to be God in the Scriptures. If He
is a liar and deceiver, He is unworthy of our worship. To worship Him
under these conditions would be blasphemous. Once again, if you belong to
such a church, I would suggest that you find a church that gives Christ the
honour due His name. Listen to what Paul says:
(Romans 16:17 NIV) I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those
who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary
to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.
If you see brothers who are causing division by teaching things contrary to
the teaching of the apostles “keep away from them.” This certainly gives
us cause to leave the fellowship of those whose teaching is contrary to the
teaching of Scripture about Christ.
Persistence in Sin
The third Biblical reason for leaving a church has to do with lifestyle. Once
again Paul has some clear teaching on this issue:
(1 Corinthians 5:11, NIV) But now I am writing you that you must
not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is
sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard
or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
Matthew 18 tells us that when a brother sins we are to go to that brother and
show him his fault. If he refuses to listen to us, we are to bring a witness on
a second visit. If he refuses to listen to us in the presence of a witness, we
are to bring this matter before the church. If he refuses to listen at this point
we are to separate ourselves from him.
In recent years, we have had to face several moral issues in the church.
Dishonesty and corruption occurs even in the church of Christ. Paul tells us
that we are not to associate with this type of people. I see this to mean that
if we belong to a church which does stand firmly on the moral principles of
Scripture, even after being approached and exhorted in this matter, then we
have every obligation as true believers to separate ourselves from them and
find a church that walks in integrity according to the principles of God’s
Word.
PERSONAL REASONS
Stagnation and Spiritual Decline
Maybe your church does not fall under any of the above categories yet you
have been in this church for many years and have not seen any spiritual
growth in your life. I have met many individuals like this. For years, they
have sat under the preaching of their church but have never grown. Years
pass and they are no closer to the Lord than when they first met Him. There
can be any number of reasons for this. Sometimes the fault lies in the
preaching. Sometimes the Word of God is not being preached from the
pulpit. At other times, it is in the fact that there is no spiritual appetite in the
congregation. People attend church but have no real desire to grow. This
leaves the person who wants to grow with no fellowship or spiritual
encouragement.
These things can cause stagnation in the life of a true believer. In these
cases, I would suggest that believers seek out a group of sincere believers
who can encourage them in their walk with the Lord. This does not
necessarily require leaving their church. This fellowship group may be
outside their church. In the end, however, spiritual growth and maturity in
Christ should be our great priority. If your church is hindering you from
your growth in Christ, you have cause for concern and need to seek the
Lord about this.
Irreconcilable Differences
Paul and Barnabas had an irreconcilable difference regarding the question
of John Mark (Acts 15:36-41). The only solution to their problem was to go
their separate ways. There are many similar cases in churches today.
Sometimes these differences may be related to the way things are done in
the church. Other times an individual has a change of theology which
makes his participation in a particular denomination very delicate. While it
would be nice to think that we could solve every difference in a
congregation, this is really too idealistic. There is often more than one way
of seeing things. Answers are not always black and white. Some people will
simply never be able to resolve their differences in this life. If they were to
continue to work together, they would only cause friction for the rest of the
body. Like Paul and Barnabas, there are times when the best solution is
simply to respectfully part company.
Leading of God
I would like to touch on one final reason for leaving a local assembly. There
are times when the Lord will simply call us on to another location and
work. Even as pastors sense the call of God to move on to another church,
so we must allow God the right to redirect our gifted members to other local
bodies. God still calls missionaries from local churches to go to foreign
fields. He may very well call some of your gifted young people to full time
service. He may call an average member to another work. I am sure that it
was not easy for the church in Antioch to hear God tell them that He was
taking Paul and Barnabas from them for another work (see Acts 13:2-3).
Our commitment is to the greater cause of Christ and not simply to the
building up of our own local church. Let us count it a privilege to have one
of our members reach out beyond our walls to serve in another part of the
vineyard. To feel bitterness and animosity in such a case is to despise the
call of God. Be open to what God may be calling you to do. To place one’s
local church ahead of the call of God would be to live in disobedience to the
will of God.
For Consideration:
What is the difference between the relationship of a husband and wife and
our relationship with our church? How do these relationships differ? Does
God have the same expectation of both relationships?
What are some Biblical and theological reasons for which you might want
to consider leaving your church?
Is it acceptable to leave a church where you are not growing spiritually?
Are there times when God may call a church in a direction that not all
members are comfortable with? What should those who are not comfortable
with this direction do in this event?
Have you ever had a time when you felt that the Lord was calling you to
another church? Explain.
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to forgive you for times when the church took God’s place in
your life. Ask God to help you to always place Him alone first in your
heart.
Ask God to give you a clear understanding of what is important to Him.
Ask Him to help you to stand firm on those truths and never give in.
Ask God to show you if you are ever standing in the way of what He wants
to do in your church. Ask for grace to either humble yourself or the wisdom
to move out of the way lest you hinder His purpose for the church.
Ask God to show you when you need to fight for what you believe and
when you need to leave and let Him work in His own way.
I
4 - IS THERE A POSITIVE
SIDE TO CHURCH SPLITS?
f you have ever been part of a church split, you may very well have
wondered what good could possibly come out of it. We all know the
negative side of a church split with all the emotion and deep hurt.
There are times, however, when going our separate ways can be beneficial.
In saying this, please understand that I am not encouraging the reader to
leave his or her local church. My goal, however, is to show that the Lord
can use these circumstances for good.
Purifying of Church
Very often church splits have a purifying effect. During the time of the
Reformation, the church had been wandering from the basic truths of the
gospel. The doctrines of salvation by grace alone and the absolute authority
of Scripture had been watered down. The church needed to be cleansed.
Martin Luther was one of the men God would use to bring about this
cleansing. While it was not his original intention to leave the church, his
questioning of the established leadership lead to a great renewal and
ultimately to the formation of a new church. The reformation had a
purifying effect on the church. The gospel once again was being preached
from the pulpits of Europe. Sin was dealt with and people were renewed in
their faith.
The fact of the matter is this. Human beings left to themselves have a
natural tendency to turn from God and the principles of His Word. It is
much easier to let matters slide than to exercise church discipline. It is more
pleasant to preach what people like to hear than to confront them with the
sometimes-harsh truths of the Word of God. Very often we become
comfortable with our traditions and our eyes are taken from Christ. The
world and its influences are never far from us. If left alone churches will
naturally drift away from the clear teaching of the Word of God. Like He
did in the Old Testament, every so often God will send a prophet to shake
the church and awaken her from her sleep.
In Exodus 32 we read how Moses had been on the mountain in the presence
of God. God told him to return to his people because they had rebelled
against Him. When Moses returned to the camp, he discovered that the
people had made for themselves a golden calf. When he saw what was
happening, Moses called all who were for the Lord to join him. Some
rallied to his side while others refused. This was one of the one of the first
splits between God’s people. God expected nothing less of Moses that day.
Moses and his followers separated themselves from those who had turned
from God. That day God sent a plague to wipe out those who had bowed
down to another god. It was by this means that the people of Israel were
purified and sin was removed.
When I worked on the island of Mauritius some years ago, I had the
responsibility of serving in a church that had been experiencing much
division. As we began to deal with one problem after another and seek the
Lord and the direction He would have us go, the troublemakers began to
leave. Many of these individuals were not comfortable with the way the
church was headed and decided of their own free will to leave and go
elsewhere. I have spoken with pastors who have recounted the same story.
Very often God has His own way of purifying His church. He may purify
His church either by removing trouble makers or by separating for Himself
a people with whom He desires to do a greater work.
Growth and Renewal
I have met various individuals who have experienced tremendous renewal
and growth after leaving their church of many years. In some cases, these
individuals had been in churches where the truth of the Scriptures was not
being taught. There was a hunger deep in their souls that was not being
satisfied. I have seen what happens when these individuals are fed on the
truth of the Word of God. For many, their lives were transformed. I have
heard them say: “I attended church all my life and was never taught these
truths.” Like a root-bound plant that can no longer grow, when transplanted
to a Bible teaching church, these individuals exploded in new growth. It is
such a blessing to see this.
We also need to understand that not everybody is the same. Some people
worship best in a traditional setting while others need more freedom and
spontaneity. The combination of people, gifts and ministries is different in
each church. Each congregation has its own unique flavour and emphasis.
Like plants, people flourish in different soils. There are times when people,
like plants, need to be transplanted to another church if they are going to
reach their full potential. We should never be so focused on building up our
own local church that we refuse to allow our members the opportunity to go
where they can experience greater growth and renewal. What is important
here is not the number of members on our roll but the maturing of believers
in Christ.
Multiplication of Work Force
When Paul and Barnabas parted company in Acts 15, what was the result?
Barnabas took John Mark with him and set out in one direction. Paul took
Silas and set out in another direction. The missionary force was doubled.
Instead of one team of two people preaching the gospel we have two teams
of two people. While we have no record of the ministry of Barnabas and
John Mark at that time, we can assume that their ministry, too, was blessed
by God. It is true that Paul and Barnabas did part company because of their
different views. The fact of the matter, however, is that both were servants
of God intent on doing His will. I am convinced that God blessed and used
both missionary teams for His glory.
The church of our day has been riddled with splits and divisions. We do
have to realise, however, that God has used many of these divisions for His
glory. People are being drawn to the Lord and matured in the faith through a
great number of these churches. God’s true children can be found in many
different denominations. While we may not always agree, we must admit
that God is working in other churches besides our own. There is a sense in
which God is using these divisions for His glory. The work force has
expanded. Our efforts to reach the world have multiplied many times over.
Each group has its own emphasis and reaches people others cannot reach.
God has used splits through the years to multiply His missionary work
force.
Greater Unity in Division
There are times when the best way to get along with someone is to distance
yourself slightly from them. Face it, there are some personalities that clash.
When you put them together in the same church, they lock horns every time
they see each other. I am not one who believes that denominations are of the
devil. I believe that they are necessary because of human nature.
Denominations tend to group people of like mind. In theory, at least, the
possibility of conflict is reduced because we are associating with people
who see things the way we see them. While I would be the first to admit
that we need to see a greater co-operation among true believers of different
denominations, I also believe that, in this sin filled world, these
denominations may be necessary for a greater harmony within the larger
body of Christ. We have better things to do than constantly lock horns and
fight with each other.
Have you ever taught a children’s club where two children could not get
along? What do you do? You separate them and place them with children
they can get along with and continue your teaching. Separation is
sometimes the best route to greater unity. You may even find that you get
along much better with a person if you are not having to work side by side
with him or her on a regular basis. Sometimes church splits are God’s way
of creating greater unity in the body.
While it is true that sometimes the reason we cannot get along is because of
pride, jealousy or an unwillingness to forgive, there are other times when
we simply do things in a different way. I have friends who are very different
from me in how they work. They can do many things at once while I tend to
focus on one task at a time. While we are great friends and enjoy wonderful
fellowship, we work very differently. In fact, we would likely frustrate each
other if we were trying to work together.
In Deuteronomy 22:10 we read:
10 You shall not plow with an ok and a donkey together.
There was a law against making two very different animals work together.
The ox was very strong and hard working. The donkey was a weaker,
smaller and more stubborn animal. This was their nature. Imagine putting
these two animals together to plough a field. The ox would be held back by
the donkey and the donkey would be overworked by the ox. This
combination of animals was not healthy. What is true of the ox and donkey
is also true in the church. God has made us different one from the other.
These differences are not sinful but they can make it difficult for certain
people to work together. Sometimes the only Biblical solution is to separate
people whose personalities and work style clash so that they will not
frustrate or hold each other back. We need to distinguish sometimes
between sinful attitudes that keep us from working together and God-given
gifts and personalities that clash because we are all different.
What I am trying to say in this chapter is that division is not always a bad
thing. Just like a plant sometimes needs to be uprooted and divided for its
greater health so it is sometimes with the local church.
I was watching a documentary on a forest fire that took place some years
ago in Australia. The team documented the fire and the aftermath of this
fire over the coming years. While the fire destroyed vast expanses of forest,
they discovered that in the coming years the forest grew back and was much
healthier than it has been before the fire. In fact, seeds of plants that had
been dormant for years, now were coming to life and being seen again in
the forest. This forest fire was for the ultimate good of the forest. God will
sometimes purge His church. He will remove the old stagnant growth and
give new life. He will renew His people’s commitment to His Word. He will
expand His workforce. Church splits are not always negative. They can be a
very effective tool in the hands of a Sovereign God to purify, mature, and
make His church more useful for the sake of His kingdom.
For Consideration:
How did God purify the nation of Israel in Exodus 32? How does He purify
the church in our day?
How did God use the split between Barnabas and Paul to multiply His
missionary force? Can He do this today in the church?
Is it possible that creating groups of like-minded believers could potentially
bring greater unity to the overall body of Christ? While we worship in
different churches, what can we do to more fully recognize our unity as true
believers in Jesus Christ?
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to do what He needs to do to purify the church of our day?
Take a moment to thank the Lord for the churches in your region that
preach the truth about Jesus Christ. Ask God to help you to accept these
believers as your brothers and sisters even though they may differ on some
theological points.
Thank the Lord for the different ways in which He is working through the
various Bible believing churches in your community. Thank Him for the
people these churches are reaching and the impact they are having for the
sake of the kingdom of God.
Ask the Lord to give you grace as a church to do your part in the expansion
of His kingdom. Ask Him to show you the particular role He has for your
church.
T
5 - WHEN DIVISION IS
INEVITABLE
here may be times when leaving a church is inevitable. The
question we need to examine here is what do we do when this is
unavoidable? How do we deal with a church split or with an
individual who feels compelled to leave our church? When you have come
to the place where you believe that there is no other choice, how do you
leave your church?
Seek the Lord’s Purpose
After Esther married King Xerxes and became queen of Persia, Haman, the
king’s official, decreed that the Jews be destroyed. King Xerxes agreed to
this policy of Haman. We can only imagine how difficult this would have
been for Esther, a Jewess. Her own husband had decreed to the destruction
of her people. Mordecai, Esthers uncle, however, told her in Esther 4:14:
“Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as
this?” Mordecai reminded Esther that the series of events that led up to her
becoming the wife of the enemy to her people had not happened by chance.
God was working out His purposes and Esther had a very important role to
play. Before running away from a difficult situation in your church,
consider the advice of Mordecai. Could it be that God has placed you in the
church for this very purpose? Could it be that you are to be involved in the
process of change in the life of your church?
Seek Reconciliation
In Matthew 18:15-20 the Lord tells us that if a brother or sister sins against
us we are to go and speak with him in person about this. If he refuses to
listen, we are to take a witness. If he refuses to listen despite the witness,
we are to bring him before the church. If he refuses to listen to the church,
we are to separate ourselves from him. Too many people leave a church
prematurely. They leave without first seeking reconciliation with their
brother or sister.
While we can see how this principle applies to individual relationships, how
does it apply to a church? If your church is wandering from the principles
of the Word of God, maybe the first step, would be to go to the leadership
and express your concern. If the leadership refuses to listen, take someone
else with you and speak again to them on this issue. If they refuse to listen,
you may have recourse to either a higher court in the church or the head
office of your denomination. If even after these efforts, they refuse to listen
you may have legitimate reason to leave.
Maybe you belong to a denomination which has recently made a decision
that is contrary to the teaching of the word of God. What happens if your
concern is with the denomination as a whole? How does Matthew 18 apply
in this case? Where do you go when there is no higher church authority to
which we can turn? Possibly the first step, according to Matthew 18 would
be to express your concern as a local church to your denomination. If they
do not listen find other local churches and believers of the same
denomination who will stand with you. If even then they refuse to listen,
once again, depending on the nature of the issue, you may have cause to
leave.
What is important is that before leaving, you seek to work out the issue with
your brothers or sisters. Maybe the Lord will use you to bring the change
needed.
Leading, not Reacting
Very often, in church conflicts, people are hurt and react out of bitterness
and revenge. It is important that we seek to avoid this at all costs. In
conflicts, we ought not to be seeking to prove our point. First and foremost
on our minds must be the glory of God. How can you tell if you are truly
seeking the glory of God? Probably the easiest way is to examine your own
attitudes and actions. If we are seeking the glory of God in the church, we
will begin by examining our own hearts. I have seen too many dirty fights
in the church by people who claim to be seeking the glory of God. Is God
glorified when your attitude is not that of Christ? Is God glorified when
believer devours believer in the name of Christ? If your attitude is not right
toward your brother, then you are not glorifying God. Jesus tells us:
(Mat 25:40 NIV) 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the
least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
If you are seeking the glory of God in the conflict, you will be seeking His
will not your own. You will also demonstrate the attitude of Him who loved
you and died for you when you were His enemy. You will follow the
leading of the Spirit and not react out of bitterness or desire for revenge.
Actively Seek the Good of Your Brothers and Sisters
Listen to the King James rendering of Matthew 5:44:
(Mat 5:44 KJV) But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them
that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them
which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
In this translation, there are four things we are commanded to do for our
enemies. We are to love our enemies. The greatest example of this is the
example of Christ and how He was willing to die for us even though we
were His enemies. We are challenged here to follow His example.
The verse also commands us to bless those who curse us. The word bless in
the Greek language is “eulogeo.” From this word, we get the word
“eulogy.” The actual word comes from two other Greek words: “eu”
meaning “good or well” and “logos” meaning “words.” If you put these
words together, you get the idea of speaking well of or praising someone.
God is telling us to speak well of our enemies. While we may not appreciate
what they stand for, we are to look beyond this evil and see the good. We
are to banish any angry and bitter words about them or to them. Our words
to them and about them are to be seasoned with grace, forgiveness,
compassion and love.
The third thing we are commanded to do is to do good to our enemies. Our
brother or sister may not want to accept our gesture of love, but we are
commanded to offer it to them. This means that we are to actively seek to
bless and honour our brother or sister, even when we have been hurt by
them.
The final challenge of this verse is to pray for our enemies. This must be
seen in the light of the other commands. God is not telling us here that we
are to pray for their destruction and speedy judgement. We are challenged
to seek the good of our enemies even in prayer. Pray for the blessing of the
Lord to fall on those who disagree with you. Pray that they would come to
an understanding of the Lord’s will and be showered with His abundance
and goodness.
This verse tells us that we are to actively seek the good of our enemies. This
is radically different from what we see in the average church split. As we go
through the division and conflict, we are to be asking the question: How can
I seek the good of those who disagree with me? This is contrary to
everything that is natural to us. If we wish to glorify God in our church
conflict, however, we will be seeking His enabling in this matter. Isn’t that
what Christ did for us?
Legal Matters
In 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 Paul speaks out against the practice of believers
filing lawsuits against other believers in the secular courts. He tells them
that it would be better to be wronged and cheated than to devour each other
before the unbeliever. Horrible things have been done in the name of Christ.
Whether it is over the matter of who keeps the church building or what to
do with the finances, the fighting can become very dirty. Paul warns us
against this. As believers, we represent the name of Christ. Even in our
conflicts we can show the world that Jesus is alive and dwells in our hearts.
What does it do for the testimony of the Church when the world sees
believers steeped in greed and bitterness? While there is from time to time
the need to understand proper legal procedure, we should be very careful
about taking our fellow believers to court. Be willing to suffer loss, rather
than cast a shadow upon the name of Christ in your community. Even in a
church split, the glory of God must be our greatest preoccupation.
Expect a Response
Don’t be surprised if people respond negatively to you. In some cases,
people may not speak to you. In other cases, they may say things behind
your back. Sometimes people will have their own idea as to why you left
your church. You may not be understood at all. In these cases, lovingly
forgive and actively seek the good of those who speak about you.
Remember that, ultimately, you must answer to God alone. What others
think about you is unimportant compared to what God thinks. The Lord
understands what you are going through. Listen to the counsel He gives in
Matthew 5:11,12:
(Mat 5:11-12 NIV) "Blessed are you when people insult you,
persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because
of me. (12) Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in
heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were
before you.
If you have been seeking the will of the Lord in this matter, obedient to His
Word and seeking His glory, then rejoice that you have been found worthy
to suffer for His name. Have you ever met a war veteran who returned
home with battle scars? Have you ever heard him speak with pride about his
wounds? He considers it an honour to be able to bear the marks on his body
of faithfulness to his country. How much more is this true for those of us
who suffer for the cause of Christ. Don’t be surprised if you are not
understood. Seek the glory of God and His will and concern yourself very
little with what others may think.
In this world, we can expect disagreements and conflict. There will be times
when, like Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15 we will have to separate from
brother and sister for the greater glory of our heavenly Father. What is
important when this is inevitable, is that we do so with grace, forgiveness
and love. There are times when this will be very difficult, but our
commitment in these times of division is to honour Christ in our heart,
actions and attitudes.
For Consideration:
Why is it important to seek the will of the Lord in our church conflicts
before leaving? What was the advice of Mordecai to Esther?
What does Matthew 18:15-20 teach us about the steps we should take
towards being reconciled with a brother or sister?
What is the normal response to church conflict? What kind of response does
God want us to have toward those who differ from us or hurt us? See
Matthew 5:44.
Could it be that the greatest battle in any church conflict is not so much
with a brother or sister but with ourselves, our attitudes and responses to
this conflict? Explain.
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to give you grace to seek His heart before your leave any
situation. Ask Him if it is His purpose that you leave or be an agent for
positive change.
Do you have a conflict with a brother or sister in Christ? Ask the Lord to
give you His heart for that brother or sister. Ask God to help you to love
and forgive them as He loved and forgave you.
Ask God to examine your heart to see if there are any attitudes that do not
honour Him. Confess these attitudes to Him and ask Him to change them.
O
6 - HEALING FROM A
CHURCH SPLIT
ne of the problems with church splits is that people can go
through the rest of their lives filled with bitterness and hurt. I
have never met anyone who has had to leave his or her church
due to serious disagreements who has not been hurt in some way by the
whole process. For the most part, these individuals are left to bandage their
wounds by themselves. Many times, the pain associated with their old
church is hidden but not healed. From time to time, it resurfaces in
bitterness or anger. Generally, however, these individuals busy themselves
with their new church and keep their pain buried well beneath the surface.
In this concluding chapter I would like to give a few guidelines to begin the
process of healing from a church split.
Try to Understand your Brothers Perspective
Some time ago I was involved with a church that had broken away from
their denomination. This had happened some years before I arrived. I
learned later that one of the results of this split was a letter sent by the local
leadership of the original church to other churches of the same
denomination in their area indicating that no one from this new breakaway
group was to preach in their churches. The action only served to strengthen
animosity between people on both sides.
Some years later, I was asked by one of the churches in the original
denomination to preach in the absence of a pastor. I was only too happy to
help in this way, but eventually found myself in the middle of this debate.
Despite the blessing of the Lord on the work, I was removed from the
pulpit. Admittedly, I initially felt a certain bitterness, because I had had
nothing to do with the split between these two churches. My desire was
simply to help a church without a pastor. As I reflected on this decision,
however, and tried to put myself in the shoes of the leadership of the
original denomination, I began to understand why they chose this route. The
church split had been quite messy. The denomination was simply protecting
themselves from any potential problems. Understanding this perspective
helped me to have a better attitude towards them.
I would like you to think back in time to when you were a child. Do you
remember how unfair and hard you thought your parents were when they
required certain things from you or demanded that you restrict the amount
of time you did the things you enjoyed? When we grow up and have our
own children, we understand more fully why our parents did the things they
did. It is not until we face a similar situation with our own children that we
understand why our parents made these decisions.
Take the time to try and look at the perspective of those you perceive to be
your enemies. You may be surprised to discover that you agree in essence
with their actions. A vital part of the healing process is to try to understand
the perspective of your brother or sister.
Don’t Judge Your Brothers Motives and Intentions
(1 Corinthians 4:5 NIV) Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time;
wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness
and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive
his praise from God.
The apostle Paul tells us in this verse that the judging of motives and
intentions does not belong to us but to God. None of us know what truly
motivates the actions of our brother or sister. The Bible commentator
Matthew Henry says this about judging someone else’s motives:
We make ourselves our brethren’s masters, and do in effect usurp the
throne of God, when we take upon us thus to judge them, especially
to judge their thoughts and intentions, which are out of our view.
(Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole
Bible, Vol. VI, Acts to Revelation: New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell
Company, pg. 475.)
To judge the motives and intentions of our fellow human beings is to take
God’s place. Only God has the right to judge these intentions because only
He can see into the human heart. Often, however, we judge our fellow
human being based on what we perceive to be his or her intentions.
We are quick to say that our enemies are acting out of bitterness, greed or
anger, but do we really know this? Could it be that we have misjudged our
enemy? Only God knows his or her true motives. It is not for us to judge
what we do not know. It is very important that we deal with any such
judgmental attitudes.
Don’t condemn your enemy for something you have no way of proving. If
you have been guilty of this, confess it as sin to God. As Paul says in 1
Corinthians 4:5: “judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord
comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the
motives of men's hearts (NIV).” When you find yourself judging the
motives and intentions of you brother or sister, confess this to God and ask
Him for grace to leave this in His hands.
Forgive
What does it mean to forgive your brother? When someone offends you,
they place themselves in your debt. To forgive such a person is to release
them from any debt they may owe you because of the pain or difficulty they
have caused. When you release them, you are in reality saying: “I will never
ask you to pay for what you have done. I will never hold what you have
done against you.” This does not mean that you no longer feel pain over
what you have suffered. Nor does this mean that you naively believe that
they could never do it again. You may even take precautionary measures to
assure that your brother or sister does not repeat his or her offense. If you
have truly forgiven, however, you will treat them as if they had committed
no offense whatsoever against you. Their actions towards you will not
influence how you lovingly respond to them.
To hold someone accountable to us for what they have done is to tie
ourselves to them. There are many people who are so weighted down
demanding that people pay for what they have done to them that they
cannot move forward themselves. One of the most important steps toward
recovery from a church split is to set our brothers and sisters free from
whatever debt we perceive they owe us. To set them free is to free ourselves
to move on into whatever the Lord has for us.
Reject Negative Talk and Thoughts
Don’t allow yourself the privilege of thinking wrong thoughts and speaking
accusing words about your brother or sister. One of the tactics of the enemy
is to try to get us to focus on our differences. He delights in having us think
negatively about those who have hurt us. When he has succeeded in getting
you to think negatively about your brother or sister the next step will be to
get you to speak your thoughts to others. The apostle Paul gave this advice
to the Philippians:
8 Finally, brothers, whatever it true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is
commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy
of praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4, ESV)
Like poison, negative and hateful thoughts can spread from one person to
another until entire churches can be contaminated by wrong attitudes. The
work of God will be hindered because of this poison. People are hurt in the
process and the name of Christ is dishonoured. Don’t be responsible for
spreading this bitterness through your church and community. Reject these
thoughts and attitudes when you first encounter them. To harbour them is to
prove that you have never really forgiven your brother. In reality you still
want him to pay for what he has done to you. This will not only hurt your
brother, but it will also drag you down spiritually. Ask the Lord to help you
to truly forgive.
Focus on the Good
Very often we have been so weighted down by the negative side of a church
split and division that we fail to see how the Lord has accomplished good
out of evil. A church split can give birth to a second church where the
presence of God is evidenced in many beautiful ways. The church may
grow rapidly. There may be immediate evidence of spiritual growth and
renewed excitement about what the Lord can do in their midst. People will
come to the Lord and certain ministries will being particularly blessed. In
the midst of this, however, there may be those who were still stuck on the
past. They had never really gotten over the pain associated with the split
from their former church. They cannot rejoice in the expansion of the
Kingdom of God and the work He had chosen to do.
There are people who so dwell on the difficulties of the past that they can
never enjoy the blessings of the present. Are you in this situation? Stop for
a moment and look around you. Consider the blessings of the Lord. He tells
us that all things work together for good if you love God (see Romans
8.28). What good has God accomplished? Make a list of these blessings.
When you are tempted to dwell on the negative, consider the blessings of
God. Instead of being discouraged, take a moment to praise the Lord for His
goodness and sovereignty in your situation. It is hard to remain discouraged
when we see the evidence of God’s good hand in our difficulties.
Take your Emotions With You
When you leave your church, take your emotions with you. Very often
while our physical presence is removed, we leave our emotions in our
former church. It has never ceased to amaze me to see how upset people
who have left a church can get when the church they left makes a decision
they do not like. The church down the street can make the same decision
and it wouldn’t bother them in the least. The problem is that they have not
completely cut their ties to their former church. Have you ever noticed that
you have more patience with someone else’s children than your own? The
reason for this has to do with our emotional ties to our children. We take
what our children do very personally. We feel that they are acting on our
behalf. They represent us in their unruly behaviour. We become angered
because what they do reflects on us.
In the same way, we become emotionally attached to our church. What our
church does reflects on us. The hardest part of leaving a church is to take
our emotional attachments with us. Even though we are now a member of
another church we still feel that the actions of our former church reflect
upon us. This leads to bitterness and anger.
Transferring your emotional allegiance to your new church is not always
easy, especially if you have fond memories of your former church and its
members. It is necessary, however, for complete healing. This does not
mean that you cannot remember the good you experienced in your old
church. It is good to remember with thankfulness, the blessings of the past,
but don’t stop there. God’s purposes are still being worked out in the
present. You will yet have much for which to praise the Lord.
Even as we must set our children free when they reach the age of maturity,
we must hand over the reins to those who remain in our old church. We are
no longer accountable for what they do. Their actions no longer reflect upon
us. Like our children who have left the nest, while we are still concerned,
and while our prayers are always with them, they are now accountable for
their own actions.
See your Brother and Sister as God see Them
There are times when we need to step back from a situation to be more
objective. Sometimes we have difficulty loving those who have offended
us. For healing to take place, it is necessary to ask yourself the question:
“How does the Lord see those brothers and sisters that have offended you?”
Has He stopped loving them? Doesn’t He extend His forgiveness and
compassion to them as well as to you and me?”
Seeing our brothers and sisters as Christ sees them is a vital part of healing.
It requires a deep commitment on our part to reject false and harmful
thinking and confess it to God. It may require much prayer and seeking God
for the ability to see those who have offended us through His eyes. God
expects us to swallow our pride and chose to love as He loves; to forgive as
He forgives; to bless as He blesses.
Seek the Good of Those Who Have Offended You
Jeremiah 29 contains a copy of a letter the prophet sent to those who had
gone into exile in Babylon. These individuals had just been through a
horrible ordeal. Their land and their homes had been taken from them. They
had been removed from their land and taken by force to a foreign country
where they were being held as prisoners. There was very likely a certain
amount of bitterness in their hearts towards their enemies the Babylonians.
To these exiles, Jeremiah the prophet writes:
(Jeremiah 29:4-7 NIV) (4) This is what the LORD Almighty, the God
of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to
Babylon: (5) "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat
what they produce. (6) Marry and have sons and daughters; find
wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that
they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do
not decrease. (7) Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to
which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it,
because if it prospers, you too will prosper."
God expected that His people become model citizens in the land of their
captivity. They were to seek the peace and prosperity of their enemy’s
cities, for in their prosperity they too would prosper. This is a lesson we
cannot afford to miss. The Word of God exhorts us to love our enemies (see
Matthew 5:43). Jeremiah tells his people that they would prosper only as
they sought to bless their enemies.
The negative attitudes we have towards those who have offended us will
only bring us spiritual poverty. Do you want to prosper spiritually? Cast
aside your bitterness and pride. Ask the Lord what you can do to seek the
good of your enemy. Ask Him to open your eyes to their needs and reach
out in love. Pray for them and seek God’s richest blessing for them. You are
not the only one who is hurting. They also feel the pain of separation and
division. Make it your desire to see them healed and restored so that they
can become everything God intends them to be. Do this in the strength the
Lord provides. Let His love fill you to overflowing. Let it flow like oil over
those who have offended you. This is the only route to full healing in your
life, in the life of your church, and in the life of those who have offended
you.
For Consideration:
How does understanding our brothers or sisters perspective help us to be
more gracious and forgiving?
How does an unforgiving spirit harm the person who has refused to forgive?
Have you ever chosen to dwell on negative thoughts toward your brothers
or sisters? What does this say about what you think of them?
How important is transferring our emotional allegiance? What is the
difference between being concerned for a brother or sister and being
emotionally attached to them?
How does seeking the good of our brother who has offended us bring
healing to both him and yourself?
For Prayer:
Take a moment to ask the Lord to examine your heart for any ungracious
thoughts toward a brother or sister who may have offended you in the past.
Ask Him to give you grace to forgive.
Ask the Lord to help you to see your brother or sister as He sees them.
Ask the Lord to set you free from any unhealth emotional ties to those who
have hurt you. Ask Him to show you the balance between concern and
unhealthy emotional ties.
Have you been offended by someone or hurt by a situation in life? Take a
moment to thank the Lord that He is a sovereign God who promises to work
out all things for our good. Ask Him to open your eyes to the good He will
accomplish through your circumstance.