It is a rather unfortunate but true feature of churches today that divisions often occur between members. Some churches, in fact, almost seem to be marked by divisions, and many nearby churches were started by people who were once members of other churches within the same neighborhood.
Of course, it should not be that way. Christ told us that: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35 ). This is the standard set by our Lord.
Even though we are believers in Christ, and even though we have been born again, none of us have arrived yet. We are not perfect yet – but there should be a strong desire to grow and continually strive to be more like Christ – with His power.
Paul himself taught that believers should have “one mind” in Christ. He told the Philippians: “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Philippians 2:2).
In spite of it, Paul had a tiff with Barnabas. This man was a friend, a man who had accompanied him on missionary journeys before. We read the Biblical account of this ruckus in Acts 15:36-41:
“And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.”
The problem here was that they could not agree who should go with them on their next missionary trip. Both men were godly, and both truly wanted the will of the Lord. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark because he saw promise in the young man, but Mark had failed before, and Paul was less tolerant of quitters.
In spite of their differences in this, it may have ended up being God’s will. I say that because two teams can do more work than one – and their goals were the same. I also believe that they all wanted God’s glory. The book of Acts focuses on Paul’s outreach and we read of his ministry all the way to the end of the book. We do not, however, read of Barnabas again in Acts, but he is mentioned in other writings of Paul (which were written before Acts was completed).
Many churches in recent years have been started for the wrong reasons. Some of these reasons include:
1. Division – It is not God’s will to leave a church with a bad attitude and start a new one. Unity is God’s plan – unless doctrinal error is involved.
2. Pride – Some people just don’t like the new preacher because he won’t do things the way it has always been done. Unfortunately, that is often why you will continue to get what you got in the past. God brings in a godly preacher, who was prayed for, and then people do not want to follow – that’s pride, and Satan is the father of it.
3. Evangelism – I’ve actually heard of churches who start seeing souls saved, and some group rejects the new believers because they’re a little different and have not yet learned the ways of “respectable” church people – so they don’t want them coming there. What do they think the church is for? Evangelism is the churches mission – not parties and social gatherings!
4. Sour attitudes – Nobody recognizes my work or contributions to the church! I think I’ll go somewhere else!
More bad reasons could be added. Of course, God wants us united to seek His glory and do His will. While some division can’t be helped, sometimes it can actually help the Gospel to reach into new communities with people who have a burden to win the lost.
I could not end this brief discussion without mentioning the work of Satan. Anytime a church is doing the will of God and seeking to win people to Christ, Satan will be around sooner or later to stir up trouble. He can usually find someone who will listen.
Paul himself gave the solution, in Philippians 1:27: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Here is the secret to a unified church:
1. Let your life (not just words, but your life) glorify the Gospel and our Savior.
2. Promote unity through the Spirit.
3. Be united in doctrine (learn it).
4. Strive together to spread the Gospel.
This last point is very important. You see, when people are working together to get the Gospel out, they generally don’t have time to argue and cause divisions. Even in the case of Paul and Barnabas, they did not leave and start a new church nearby. They kept to the task of evangelism. Prayer unites, so does love, and seeking the glory of our Lord by bringing His message to a lost world keeps us working with each other.
When problems do creep in and disagreements come, there needs to be forgiveness and an effort to restore the relationship and reestablish peace. If a separation is necessary, we are to keep praying for those involved. Sometimes if an agreement cannot be made, it is a good idea to at least agree to be agreeable in the problem, rather than leaving in a huff, making it nearly impossible to ever get things right again.
If the church depends on you to help unify and build it – which it does – will your church survive?
Evangelist Mike Valles
Learn more about the Bible here.