Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The fruit of sundering what God has put together

I wrote yesterday about putting asunder what God has united. In this case I was speaking of the Church, not marriage, but the fruits of disunity in the church are every bit as pernicious as the epidemic of divorce in our society. That is a pretty bold statement and one that might cause some concerns but I believe that the disunity of the church is crippling to the cause of carrying out the Great Commission and living out the Great Commandment.

Here are some of the ways our disunity is damaging…

Division damages our witness

I can think of nothing more counterproductive than a disunified church. As God’s people we are called to be His witnesses to the world and yet our lack of unity is antithetical to that calling. What do unbelievers see when they look at the church? Do they see people who love one another? Or do they see a dizzying array of churches marketing themselves and competing with one another? I think we know the answer to that question.

Oftentimes it seems that we are evangelists for our denomination, our movement or especially our local church more than evangelists for Christ. Someone who is on the outside of the church looking in sees all sorts of signs touting this church or that. Our little free community paper runs advertisements for churches with marketing phrases like “Bible believing”, “welcoming”, “family” in an effort to paint this local church as the place to go. Here is the problem. Americans are savvy consumers and recognize a marketing ploy when they see it. We are trying to appeal to the world through the methods of the world by presenting a smorgasbord of church options instead of a unified Body of believers that collectively is more interested in seeing you saved than in seeing you become a member of “my” church.

Division creates a church shopping mentality

Many people, especially new believers, spend a lot of time trying to find the “right church”. Local churches feed into this by emulating the corporate world to market themselves to potential members (and their wallets). Flyers, advertisements, bulletin boards, special events, demographic surveys, targeted mailings. Some churches put Madison Avenue to shame in their effort to attract believers to Sunday morning services. Other times disgruntled church goers, upset over a perceived problem, take their ball and go somewhere else. Far too many churches are more than happy to fill their pews with those who have left other churches. The other side of this equation is that all of that money and effort being spent to market each local church to believers is that it detracts from reaching the lost with the Gospel. We have a finite amount of time and resources and when we spend those precious resources trying to attract people who already follow Christ to follow Him here instead of there, we naturally are not reaching the lost with the urgency and unity we should be.

Division leads to inefficient duplication of efforts

This is kind of pragmatic but it has serious stewardship issues. How many churches offer poorly attended Sunday schools and Vacation Bible schools just like half a dozen others churches in a five mile radius? How many churches offer very similar ministries to the same area but don’t cooperate because of doctrinal differences? How many churches have activities on Wednesday and Sunday but sit empty all week while other church have activities on Sunday and Thursday? Church after church, ministry after ministry recreates the proverbial wheel over and over again. Why do we do this? Because we don’t trust other Christians to “do it right” so we feel compelled to “do it ourselves”. We even treat the Great Commission this way. Southern Baptists have Southern Baptist Missionaries to evangelize and plant Southern Baptist churches. Meanwhile PCA Presbyterians do the same thing, except they are planting PCA Presbyterian churches. The same with Pentecostals and other evangelical bodies. Often they are in the same country, in the same cities. How confusing that must be to people in foreign lands that didn’t grow up with the fractious and competing church world of Western evangelicalism!

Division denies Christians the fellowship of most of the Body

Perhaps the least obvious but most damaging impact of our disunity is the way it serves to deny fellowship among believers. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that our division means that the vast majority of Christians who live in a given area will have minimal or no fellowship or interaction with other believers. I wonder how many wonderful believers I have lived near over the years that I never got to know because we went to different local churches? I am someone who could use a lot of wisdom and I am quite certain there has been lots of wisdom all around me over the years that I never even knew about. A lot of that is on me, we didn’t do much in the past to meet other Christians but it also just isn’t something that we thought about much.

Disunity is nothing but a list of bad stuff. I can’t think of a single redeeming quality to it. If anything I am probably underestimating the impact of disunity.

Of course saying that disunity is bad is pretty easy. Where it gets hard is when you start getting down to details. How do we change our collective mindset in a way that sees unity as a primary mission of the church rather than something that is nice if it happens but unnecessary? That is my post for tomorrow…

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