1 Corinthians 12:25 “That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”
A schism is a split or division between strongly opposed sections or parties, caused by differences in opinion or belief. When members of a church congregation disagree and divide into two separate churches based on their different beliefs, this is an example of a schism.
The East-West Schism, also called Schism of 1054, was an event that precipitated the final separation between the Eastern Christian churches (led by the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius) and the Western church (led by Pope Leo IX). The mutual excommunications by the pope and the patriarch in 1054 became a watershed in church history. It wasn’t until 1965 until this schism of excommunication was resolved.
Not every division lasts for a thousand years, some divisions cause churches to divide and reform, others lead to the disintegration of a body of believers all together. Drive through nearly any town in America and you’ll find old buildings that once were centers of worship, now only dusty relics of what used to be.
On a much different scale than the great schism of 1054, church division has been a continual issue in denominations around the world.
Ephesians 4:3-6 “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Some church splits occur due to negative reasons. These can include a scandal by a church leader or prominent member, a conflict regarding a building project or other church activity, or a split due to major changes such as the format of the Sunday service, music, or style of preaching. In these cases, there is usually some type of sin or problem involved that needs to be addressed to help the church return to reconciliation and pursue church health among its members.
Second, some church splits occur over doctrinal issues. For example, if a church denomination no longer holds to the Bible as God’s inerrant Word, then there is often a split between those who agree with the denomination’s decision and those who do not. Because this is a central belief, those who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture rightly seek to separate from the church denomination and will result in either the church separating from the denomination or a split into a different church.
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity! it is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—
There can be many reasons for church splits, from simple negative reasons to doctrinal issues, the reasons can range from a clear disregard of scripture to trouble within the ranks.
When examining the reasons for disunity, common themes are ever present.
In 2015, Thom Rainer listed 25 silly reasons for church splits, I’ll only list the top 10.
- Argument over the appropriate length of the worship pastor’s beard (I think I saw a verse in Scripture that indicated it is to be no more than 1.5 inches longer than the pastor’s beard.).
- Fight over whether or not to build a children’s playground or to use the land for a cemetery (I’m dying to know the resolution of this one.).
- A deacon accusing another deacon of sending an anonymous letter, and deciding to settle the matter in the parking lot (The church could have sold tickets to this event and raised a lot of money.).
- A church dispute of whether or not to install restroom stall dividers in the women’s restroom (I’m calling unfair on this one. The men should have their stall dividers too.).
- A church argument and vote to decide if a clock in the worship center should be removed (I think this one is a timely argument.).
- A 45-minute heated argument over the type of filing cabinet to purchase: black or brown; 2, 3, or 4 drawers (This one is an official cabinet meeting of the church leadership.).
- A fight over which picture of Jesus to put in the foyer (I just want to know who took the pictures.).
- A petition to have all church staff clean shaven (No church planters are allowed.).
- A dispute over whether the worship leader should have his shoes on during the service (I vote for shoes, shirts, and pants.).
- A big church argument over the discovery that the church budget was off $0.10. Someone finally gave a dime to settle the issue (I have to admit this issue is ten times more important than the church missing a penny.).
As you can imagine, the other 15 items were just as ridiculous as the first 10. Now tell me, what kind of people make issues out of men’s facial hair, or $0.10 off in the budget?
I’ll tell you…petty, small, unloving, unkind, prideful people who are more concerned about their agenda than the unity of the Body of Christ.
John 17:20-23 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
The prayer of Jesus in John 17 was a heartfelt prayer that revealed God’s heart for His people.
- Unity as one body
- Revealing God’s glory
- Perfected in Christ
- Testimony of the gospel
- Revealing the Love of God
As a body of believers that live by this creed, one that focuses more on the Head of the Church in Jesus Christ and living with a recognition of God’s ordained purpose for His people, there must exist a people that doesn’t get caught up in petty and meaningless arguments.
To begin to see a change of culture within a denomination requires good leadership and discernment that recognizes all that is not of Christ.
Healing and Reconciliation
2 Chronicles 30:12 “Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the LORD.”
For any pastor who wishes to see his denomination grow from a position of immature, self-seeking trouble makers into a people who carry the vision that God has placed over them, there has to be an understanding of where it must begin.
- The Lord establishes unity. If a pastor beats himself up trying to change the hearts of the people by his own strength, he will quickly burn out and lose hope. Only the Lord can change hearts, so prayer is the essential mark of the beginning of a culture change.
- An understanding of authority. All too often people think to high of themselves than they ought. A position as deacon or elder might lead some people into a place of spiritual pride, forgetting who God has placed over them as their shepherd and their role as servants of the body.
- The Word of God must be the guide. If a pastor or congregation gets caught up in self-help books or team building conferences, they miss the mark for which God wants to establish. Each step of the way, the Word of God must be the guideline for changing the focus of a church toward a desire to please God rather than themselves.
Romans 15:1-6 “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
How has God lead you to serve within the church?
The church is a spiritual hospital, it is the weak and infirm who come through those doors, looking for strength, encouragement, or hope. Should it be surprising there are those who might be a bit troublesome?
For those who are mature in their faith, bear up the weak, don’t get caught up in petty arguments or divisive gossip but encourage one another toward good works. Reconciliation and healing of any body of believers is lead by someone who is firm in their faith and committed to others in love.
If the pastor has deviated from the doctrinal integrity of scripture, sit down with him privately and bring scripture with you that supports your position of concern. Maybe it was you who were doctrinally misplaced and you might just be able to grow through the experience.
Remember, there are many congregations that place more focus on certain aspects of spiritual doctrine than others, as long as the core doctrine of the church is scripturally true, then the small details of style aren’t worth fighting over.
There is a reason most letters of the New Testament ended with an encouragement toward church harmony. The apostles understood people back then and people today are no different, there is always a propensity for conflict.
1 Peter 3:8 “Finally, all of you, be like-minded and sympathetic, love as brothers, be tenderhearted and humble.”
The same attitude we must have to maintain harmony within the church is the same attitude we had to have when approaching the Throne of God.
We can’t forget, the Church is the Lord’s, He watches over it as His own. You might be a member of this entity known as the Bride of Christ but no single element takes precedence over the greater good. If you mess with the Church, step very carefully, because your messing with Heart of Christ.
Personally, I’ve witnessed incredible moves of God where the Lord raised up a people in the most unlikely of places. I’ve also witnessed the Lord removing a church because the people lost their way, the pastor grew prideful, and elevated others into positions they should have never held.
A church body that understands their role is one that functions exactly as the Lord intended. People will grow in this congregation, others will hear the call elsewhere and missionaries, pastors, and teachers will spring forth from such a body. A community is blessed when a good church has been established in the area, the light of Christ springs forth from the people and the Lord is glorified.
If you’re looking for a church home, let your first inclination be whether there is love being expressed among the people. The Spirit of the Lord is love and those who walk in the Spirit reflect God’s heart.