One of the most painful and heartbreaking times in our church’s 80-year history was the church split that took place in the early 1980s. The pastor at the time took half the church and planted another church just a few blocks from our church.
Church splits are very unfortunate and painful experiences anytime they happen, but what made this split that much more tragic was the reason for the split.
One of the main issues I have been told that caused the split was disagreements over spiritual gifts. It is important that we realize that our church is not the first to be divided over spiritual gifts, as this was the reason Paul wrote a portion of the letter of 1 Corinthians to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 12-14). As the stories go, I am told the split at our church was so nasty and painful that families even divided.
That was 30 years ago. …
Although these gifts can divide, God in his sovereign grace has his ways of doing what Paul says to the Corinthians these gifts should actually do—unite God’s people.
After half the church left, our church continued on and the church that split off began that new work just down the street. About five years ago, the newest pastor of that church and I, in God’s kind providence, became friends.
We began to discuss the histories of our two churches and wondered if we now had a responsibility to get these two churches back together since they split over something that was supposed to unite. We determined for different reasons that bringing the two churches back together as one would not be the best thing to do, but we did decide to have a joint service together as a symbol of that unity that is supposed to exist and could now still exist among our two churches.
About five years ago, the church that split off from us came to a joint Sunday-morning service at our church. The new pastor from that church and I led the service and we asked Don Whitney to come and preach. It was an amazing moment. We watched people who hadn’t seen each other for 25 years embrace and reunite. It remains a highlight for me as a pastor and for my ministry at our church.
The church that split off from us continued to decline and all that remained was a few older members and a large building largely unused. A few months ago the church that split from us joined with a healthy and growing church plant in the area. This church plant had a thriving young, internationally diverse congregation, but no older people and no building. The church that split from us had a few elderly members left and a good-sized building. As a result, the split of our church over 30 years ago is no more.
It is now a part of this church plant that is a strong, healthy church led by a faithful pastor who is taking great care of those few faithful elderly members that remained. Now all of those folks, old and young, diverse in many different ways, are being united around a love for Christ and a love for each other. What a powerful display of the gospel and God’s kind providence to God’s people.
May the wounds continue to heal. May these churches never divide again over that which should unite. May the gospel be displayed in the multigenerational, multi-ethnic congregation that now meets at that same place—just down the road from us.