Church Splits and Fights: How Do You Heal Them?
I am a new Christian and the church where I found Christ had a big fight and split in two. It was awful. People were fighting and choosing sides. The pastor was forced to leave and started a new church nearby. I’m not sure I ever want to go to church again. Some of my new Christian friends now tell me that church fights are not that unusual. I don’t want to be around any of those people. I thought that when I became a Christian things would be different. Most of my friends who aren’t Christians are nicer than the ones in church. Help?
Once upon a time I was interviewing a candidate for the position of worship pastor in our church. After asking him my questions, I turned my attention to his wife to see how she was handling ministry.
After a moment she said to her husband: “Should I tell him?”
She paused and tears came as she began to speak. It seems that the chairman of deacons was making sexual advances to her. Her husband told the pastor and he refused to deal with it because the deacon was so powerful, influential, and financially supportive. Now, she was weeping. I encouraged them to insist that their pastor deal with issue or for them to get out as soon as possible. No one needs to remain in that sort of dysfunctional system. The pain in their lives was incredible.
Unfortunately, conflict between among Christians occur all too often. They may be out in the open for all to see; on the other hand, they may be hidden deep below the surface. I grieve that you were hurt in church by fighting Christians. I am sorry you experienced the pain of watching a church crumble. While it may seem to you now that Christians are not different from other people, there really are some wonderful Christian people who really are different. They solve problems in a mature Christian way following the guidelines God laid down for solving conflicts in an atmosphere of love. I’m sorry that as a new Christian your church was not one of those.
As you search for a new church, I hope you find one filled with love, mentoring, and spiritual health. Find one with a spiritual atmosphere. Find one with a loving, compassionate pastor who leads with forgiveness and grace. Attend a Bible study with some of the members. Hopefully you soon will find the kind of Christian people you want to share your live with. Don’t give up on Christianity because of one bad experience. As you grow in faith, you will enjoy more and more your relationship with Jesus and with other Christians who are growing to be like Christ.
God says that the reason most Christians fight is because they are spiritual babies: “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
The Christian life is one of spiritual growth. We begin as spiritual infants, grow into spiritual childhood, mature into spiritual adolescence and finally become spiritual mothers and fathers. In your search, find a church which has some spiritual maturity. Spiritual babies may still start fights but the more mature Christians will arrest the fighting and solve conflicts in a loving and Biblically mature manner.
Let me give you some thoughts to consider as you grow on to maturity.
It is the rare Christian who doesn’t get wounded in church at one time or other. The reason is obvious. Christians are people, too. Just because Christians are forgiven in no way implies that they never sin and hurt people.
We live in a society where people are looking for perfect companions: “I want someone who will love me unconditionally, never let me down, disappoint, hurt, or cause me pain. And if you let me don’t love me unconditionally, let me down, disappoint, hurt, or cause me pain, then I’ll leave you, and find some one else who will love me unconditionally, won’t let me down, disappoint, hurt, or cause me pain.” Unfortunately, they will look long and hard for that person. They are doomed to disappointment.
In my experience hurts from church come at us from all directions—just like they do in life!
Some have church friends who betray them.
Some experience the trauma of divorce and look to the church for help and felt dirty, left out, and ostracized—second class citizens.
Some are abused in church. The Roman Catholic Church has many wonderful priests who dedicate their lives to Christ. But maybe that’s not the priest you had.
Some go to a pastor for spiritual counsel and are spiritually abused with legalism and come away beaten down spiritually instead of set free from bondage.
Some in dire financial need feel abandoned by the church family which pledged to help them.
Some experience tremendous emotional trauma and look to the church for care and support—but there is none.
Some are lonely and the church people they think are friends just aren’t there for them.
Please don’t mistake my line of thinking. I am sharing some hurts that we may experience in church, but I am in no way down on the church. For those who are wounded scores more share story after story of the blessing and care and love they have experienced in the company of Christ’s children.
Fortunately, the Bible has many stories of Christian love and compassion. It contains many examples of great Christian churches. Nevertheless, it occasionally “pulls back the covers” to reveal that there are no perfect churches. Most all have flaws. Read Revelation chapters two and three to see a cross section of the good and bad of Christian churches. No matter the circumstances Jesus says that those who refuse to give up on Christianity will receive great rewards in Heaven.
In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 Paul dealt advice to a church family which was filled with hurt. A man had brought much pain and shame to the church at Corinth and to Paul himself. Paul gave the church leaders several guidelines for healing pain and binding up the wounds of a hurting church and the Christians in it. These principles are good for healing individuals as well as churches. Let me outline them.
First, beware for Satan’s schemes.
Remember that the “sheep” are not the enemy (Ephesians 6:10-12). Satan’s schemes revolve around inducing us to refrain from extending forgiveness to those who have hurt us: “If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes…” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11).
Second, the proper utilization of church discipline exposes issues so that they can be handled with openness and honesty.
Church families can be dysfunctional. They often allow conflicts to go underground which eventually rise up and do devastation at a future time. Dysfunctional churches keep secrets and communicate in half-truths. Refusing to recognize and deal with the truth opens the door to tremendous pain and suffering.
Church discipline keeps us from becoming dysfunctional by giving us a method to bring wounds and pain out into the open where they can be properly handled (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1-2; and Ephesians 4:15).
Third, forgiveness restores relationship so healing may proceed: “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:6-7).
Forgiveness removes the offense as a barrier to future fellowship. Forgiveness does not mean that the offense is forgotten or belittled. It is rather to act in God’s grace and use the ruptured fellowship as a stepping stone to more loving fellowship in the future.
I remember one night when my daughter, Bronwyn, kept getting out of bed when she was a child. I was so tired from a hard day and really tired of returning her again and again to bed. It was past 10:30 pm when Julie came home from orchestra practice. Bronwyn heard the door open and called out, “Is mom home?”
“No,” I hollered back.
Moments later she peeked around the door and asked, “Why did you lie to me?”
The reason didn’t matter. I lied to her. I immediately confessed my sin to her and asked, “Will you please forgive me?”
“No,” she said, followed moments later with, “I was just kidding. I forgive you.”
Our relationship is unbreakable. I would always be her father and she my daughter. However, my sin broke up our fellowship and I wanted to restore it as soon as possible.
Fourth, comfort disarms and brings encouragement.
We don’t know much about how to bring comfort in American society any more. Comfort deals with the inevitable disappointments of life. Imagine that your ten-year-old struck out with the bases loaded and his team lost. Or, perhaps, he came home to tell you that he didn’t even make the team. Imagine that your daughter comes in the door weeping to tell you that she failed to make the cheerleading squad. What do you say to your son or daughter? “That’s life … Better luck next time … “You didn’t really expect to make it, did you?”
Your thirteen-year-old daughter was mercilessly teased on the school bus and comes weeping in the front door. You say to your child, “What did you do to cause them to treat you like that?” Notice that you gave her condemnation instead of comfort.
Comfort is weeping with those who weep. “I am so sorry. I know this really hurts!” Comfort sounds like: “I have a great pain and sadness that you were hurt … I feel compassion for you because I love you … “My heart is filled with sorrow because of what has happened to you …” Comfort is filled with feeling words. It brings love, acceptance, security, and understanding. Comfort is not advice, logic, encouragement or reasoning.
Finally, love reaffirms and restores: “I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:7-9).
I remember reading about a fourteen-year-old boy who took his own life because “no one seemed to care.” He felt no love from anyone, except his dog, and in a brief suicide note written to his parents, he left instructions for the care of his dog.
It is likely that his parents really did care; but, they got distracted by the cares of everyday living and failed to communicate their love.
Let me share an insightful opinion from Chuck Swindoll called, “Lessons From A Tavern.” He creatively describes the kind of person I want to be and the kind of people I’d like to be around:
An old Marine Corps buddy of mine, to my pleasant surprise, came to know Christ after he was discharged. I say “surprise” because he cursed loudly, fought hard, chased women, drank heavily, loved war and weapons, and hated chapel services
A number of months ago, I ran into this fellow, and after we’d talked awhile, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You know, Chuck, the only thing I still miss is that old fellowship I used to have with all the guys down at the tavern. I remember how we used to sit around and laugh and drink a pitcher of beer and tell stories and let our hair down. I can’t find anything like that for Christians. I no longer have a place to admit my faults and talk about my battles—where somebody won’t preach at me and frown and quite me a verse.”
It wasn’t one month later that in my reading I came across this profound paragraph: “The neighborhood bar is probably the best counterfeit that there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality—but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets, and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers With all my heart,” this writer concludes, “I believe that Christ wants his people to be unshockable, a fellowship where people can come in and say, ‘I’m sunk, I’m beat, I’ve had it.’ Alcoholics Anonymous has this quality—our churches too often miss it.”
Now before you take up arms to shoot some wag that would compare your church to the corner bar, stop and ask yourself some tough questions, like I had to do. Make a list of some possible embarrassing situations people may not know how to handle.
A woman discovers her husband is a practicing homosexual. Where in the church can she find help where she’s secure with her secret?
Your spouse talks about separation or divorce. To whom in the church do you tell it?
Your daughter is pregnant, and she’s run away—for the third time. She’s no longer listening to you. Who do you tell that to?
Financially you were unwise, and you’re in deep trouble.
Or your wife is an alcoholic. Or something as horrible as getting back the biopsy from the surgeon and it reveals cancer, and the prognosis isn’t good. Or you had an emotional breakdown. To whom do you tell it?
We can become the most severe, condemning, judgmental, guilt-giving people on the face of the earth, or we can (1) be aware of the schemes of Satan, (2) deal honestly in the open with the issues, and (3) forgive like Jesus, and (4) comfort like Christ, and (5) open our lives and express love to those who are hurting. Then, we will be the people God has designed us to be on this earth.
Well, J, again, I am sorry for the hurt and wounds you sustained in church. I hope my answer encourages you not to give up on church and especially not Christianity. I hope you now have a better understanding of what can go on in churches and their people—and how to find healing when hurts of occur.