Why the Church is Divided
You know, the thing about unity is, it’s easier to destroy that it is to build. It’s easy to drop the ball. Any single person can destroy the whole thing if they aren’t 100% onboard. And it’s interesting, all the insect movies that were coming out for a while, they all had a similar theme.
In Antz it was Z, the quirky cynical Ant who wants to reform the entire colony. In A Bug’s Life it was Flik, the ant who had great ideas about how to reform ant-life and make it better, but who constantly is defeating the system. In the Bee movie it’s Barry B. Benson, the bee who thinks the entire way of life of bees is boring and he wants something more.
And all three of these movies are somewhat a coming of age story where the main character nearly destroys his own colony in an effort to ‘find himself.’ These are stories where the individualistic self-expression of the character nearly devastates everything.
And everything seems lost until the character figures out what his specific niche is within the colony. He finds out that the problem isn’t himself. And the problem isn’t the colony. It’s just a matter of figuring out how his gifting can better the colony as a whole. And when that happens, beautiful things begin to happen. The day is saved and the colony is changed for the better.
And that’s practically every movie if you think about it, right?
That’s Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. That’s Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings. That’s Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games; all of them, unlikely heroes trying to find their place in the world and risking the very stability of the world they live in to figure out what they are supposed to do.
You know, we talked last week about the exclusivity of the church, and why it is that people of other religions can’t be involved in the same mission as each other and why they, in a very practical sense, really can’t gather together to worship God or their gods together.
But, what about all the Christian people? What about all these churches that line this stretch of Avenue R here in East Palmdale? Why is there a dozen or more churches, not just one? Why is there this kind of division in the church?
And the answer is because we aren’t ants. We aren’t all identical. Ants actually work together, basically all the time. People are almost never like that. At least not by nature.
I think we like this extraordinary ordinary motif in movies. I like the idea that, even though I look just like everyone else on the outside, I just don’t quite fit in with a group of people; there must be something different and maybe something special about me.
And if you think that that way, you’re absolutely right! The Psalmist says,
For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you, because I have been remarkably and wondrously made. ~ Psalm 139:14 CSB
God designed every person uniquely. You are a remarkable contribution to God’s creation. You have potential to do wonderful things. Although you may seem very common when you look around at other people, you are indeed special. You are an extraordinary ordinary like the heroes of so many of our modern tales. You belong to the colony, but you are on a journey to find your unique contribution.
So, I just want to say this about the church. I said that it is easier to destroy unity than it is to build unity. And so, after almost 2000 years of the church, there have been times when unity was destroyed. And there are lots of reasons for that; I don’t want this to be a history lesson. But, organizations that allow their members to explore their spirituality and creativity to become a unique contribution to the community are going to be more fragile than other organizations. And the church has always, since its inception, encouraged people to find their unique contributions.
Today, I don’t want to spend time talking about the reasons for the divide in the church-at-large—that is, why we have Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, non-denominational, Catholics, Lutherans. Instead, I want to talk about preventing division here at Sonrise and developing greater unity.
Why unity? Why not just go our own ways and do our own things?
Look what Jesus prays,
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:20–23 ESV
Those of you who get our daily email already know this, but Jesus says that he and the Father are one. In this context, Jesus means, one in heart, one in mind, one in purpose. But, then he prays this great prayer that all of those who will believe in Him will also be one with God. Jesus wants all of those who follow him to be one in heart, one in mind, one in purpose with God the Father. He prays that the church would become unified, perfectly one, for this great reason.
Do you see the reason?
Jesus wants us to be unified so that, “the world may know that..God loved them.” There’s something special that happens when a local church like us unifies in heart, mind, and purpose. When a local church unifies, the world sees that God loves them.
So, for this very important reason, I just want to challenge you to consider: What might that look like for you to…
Commit to Unity?
We are going to spend our time jumping around 1st Corinthians, a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in the city of Corinth, which is in Greece. It’s still there today. Here, Paul is going to–surprise, surprise–challenge them to be unified, not divided. But, I want to make this observation. Paul doesn’t say that the entire church in the known world should be united as a single church. No, he says that this local church body should be unified.
So, that’s why I’m not so worried that we have multiple local churches. I actually think that’s part of God’s design.
So, here’s what Paul says about unity in Chapter 1.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV
So, Paul says the same thing Jesus said earlier. Paul wants a local church to be unified in their thinking and judgments. And think those are two different things. By same mind, Paul means that we agree on doctrine.
For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 2 Corinthians 11:4 ESV
Later in 2 Corinthians 11.4, Paul gives some guidelines for doctrine or beliefs. He says that a church has to agree on the nature of Jesus. In order to be a church, I can’t proclaim one Jesus and another pastor here proclaim something different. We have to agree on the nature of Jesus, which in this church, we agree that Jesus is fully human and fully God. Then he says a church has to agree on the same working of the Holy Spirit. And a local church has to proclaim the same Gospel–that Jesus died and rose again and that by belief in Him, we escape the wrath of God we are due for our sins. A church has to agree on these basic tenants of the Gospel.
So, that’s having the same mind. But, then there is this other issue of judgment. These ideas of mind and judgment seem very similar. Especially when you look at some other translations that say things like mind and thought, or judgment and opinion. But, there is a distinction. Paul wants the local church to be united in basic doctrines. But, he also wants us to be united in basic practices. Look how Paul continues:
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Corinthians 1:11–13 ESV
So, there’s fighting in this church. And one of the groups, “Chloe’s people” writes to Paul to come settle the dispute. But, Paul doesn’t settle it. He doesn’t ever deal with the issue. All he does is sort of litterarily, roll his eyes. And it’s funny to me. It’s not clear exactly what the issue was, except that it had something to do with who was their favorite teacher–Paul, Apollos, Cephas (which is Peter) or Jesus himself. Those guys were sort of the celebrity preachers of the day and they were getting into it over some stupid difference between them. So, Paul doesn’t settle it for them, he just challenges them to get on the same page.
And I don’t mean to say that Paul doesn’t care about the dispute because he does. He brings it up again in chapter 3. He says,
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 1 Corinthians 3:1–8 ESV
Paul wants the church here to see that each person is a unique individual. They have different giftings and contribute to the church in different ways. And they all relate to people in different ways. And they all communicate in different ways. And this might be shocking, but it’s okay that some people are different. It has to be okay, actually, because all people are different.
Paul planted the garden–he shared the Gospel with the first people in Corinth and got the church going. But, then Apollos came on the scene and Apollos watered; that is, Apollos spent time teaching and training the believers there how to live as Christians. Paul and Apollos had very different roles in getting that church started in Corinth. And both did great work. But, look, neither of them did anything notable, because it was God who gave the church growth.
You know, we might be able to look at a football team, like one playing later today, and say, ‘They’re only as good as their weakest member.’ And that might be true.
But, not in the church. Not for us. All we need to do is unify under the same judgment. It doesn’t matter who the preacher is, who the deacons are, who the band leader is. It doesn’t matter if the church is big or small. It doesn’t matter what the building is like. None of that matters unless we are united under the same judgment. And that judgment is this: God gives the growth. God gives the growth.
And I get the disunity. I get the fighting and division at the church, because no one likes change, especially when it’s a change of leadership. Paul was here, and then Apollos, and then this Peter guy shows up. And later Paul sends Timothy to Corinth and they have to get used to him. But, when God gives the growth, we can relax a little. And we can…
Unify Under Leadership
And I think we need to unify under leadership. And here’s why. Look at chapter 4 of 1st Corinthians.
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:1–2 ESV
Paul says he is a steward of the mysteries of God. So, first of all, a steward is like a manager. And that seems like a good thing, like a high position. But, you know, a manager of a business is not anything like an owner of a business. A stewards job is to manage the business and to protect the owner from loss. And here Paul tells us that it is required–not a good idea, not like if you try real hard, then maybe you’ll do good enough–it is required that stewards be found faithful.
So, what do these church leaders have to manage that is so important?
Well, the mysteries of God, of course! And that sounds like a very mystical thing…like when I went to seminary, they gave me an ancient tome of some sort that has all the secrets of God, and no one gets to see it except for pastors or something like that. But that never happened. To my knowledge, no pastor gets an ancient tome full of secrets when they go to seminary.
And that’s because the mysteries of God are not secrets never to be told. I mean what fun would a mystery novel be if you got all the way to the end–you know you’re reading Sherlock Holmes or something and you are getting closer and closer to the end and you’re running out of pages and Sherlock and Watson are going to and fro trying to solve this great mystery and you finally arrive at the last page and Sherlock and Watson just throw their hands in the air and quit!
That’s ridiculous. Mysteries aren’t secrets. Mysteries are meant to be revealed. And that’ the role of church leaders. Our job is to reveal the mystery to you. And then to steward that mystery, to make sure that you continue to believe the mystery the way the Bible proclaims the mystery.
So, you might be wondering, what’s the mystery? What is the mystery that leaders in the church are supposed to manage so faithfully?
Well, I think we find that mystery in 2 Corinthians 5. Paul goes through this whole line of thought where he says some really obvious stuff. He says we are flesh; people are flesh. And he says flesh dies. So people are going to die. And then he says that Jesus died because Jesus was flesh. But, then Jesus rose from the dead and he still lives. And if that’s true, then when we are one with Jesus that means we too are new creations, we will one day get new imperishable bodies.
And I know that’s mind boggling, like, I’m not even exactly sure what that means and I have very little idea what that will actually be like. Then he says,
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:19–20 ESV
Do you see what it is that Jesus left in the care of his stewards?
He left the message of reconciliation. We call that the Gospel or the good news. That’s the mystery, that in Christ God is taking this dying, broken, and faithless world, and he is reconciling it to Himself.
Your church leaders–myself and other pastors and deacons and directors–it’s the job of the leaders at Sonrise church to protect this mystery, this Gospel, that…
for God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. ~ John 3.16-17, CSB
And I’m just going to be honest here, but it seems like the longer we are Christians–and I’m not just pointing fingers, I’ve been a Christian a long time–the longer we are Christians the more we seem to take it upon ourselves to condemn the world and we lose our way. And we want to separate and seclude ourselves from the world because the world is so hateful and ugly and we don’t want any part of it.
But, that’s not why Jesus came and that’s not why Jesus died. He didn’t come to condemn the world. Condemnation is not the Gospel. He came that the world might be saved through Christ. That is the Gospel. Be reconciled to God through Christ. That is the Gospel.
So, if you are committed to unity and you realize that you unify under leadership, because your leaders are stewarding the message of reconciliation, then I want you, like Z, the quirky ant from the movie Antz, I want you to…
Explore Your Unique Contribution
The Apostle Paul uses the analogy of the body to describe what it is like to be a part of a local church. He says,
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:14–20 ESV
The idea here is that there are many different parts to the body, and all are necessary for the body to stay alive and to function well. And he says, that all of you who are part of Sonrise Church are necessary for the proper function of the church–this body.
There are many churches that are sick churches, injured churches, dying churches because the members are not coming together to carry out the mission of the church. It’s important that each and every member of a church be involved in the function and mission of the church in some way because just like a person’s body dies when it’s members stop function, a church dies when it’s members stop functioning.
So, what’s at stake here? What if I don’t want to be a part of the mission of the church? What if you aren’t willing to do something to carry out God’s mission?
Well, Paul said, “God arranged the members in the body…as He chose.” If you are a member of Sonrise church, it’s not so much that you decided to be here, but that God decided you would be here. And 1st Corinthians 12:11 says that God gifted you–that is, he gave you the ability or talent–to do what He wants you to do here at Sonrise. If you are a member here, then God designed you to be a part of the work we are doing here.
All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 1 Corinthians 12:11 ESV
So, we had this question about other local churches in our area, why do they even exist. Why are there like 20 churches in three miles right here on Avenue R?
And I think it’s safe to say, based on this passage, that God has a unique purpose for them. He has gifted them for His purposes, just like us. I don’t think it’s an accident in such a large city that there are so many churches. They aren’t the competition; they’re other churches working to carry out their unique callings for God.
I think that’s God’s will. And I think we probably need even more churches to come together and express a unique set of gifts in order to carry out God’s will for East Palmdale and the Antelope Valley.
But, getting back to our body, Sonrise Church, I just want to say this. If you aren’t sure what God is calling you to do, you need to look to your talent and gifting. Ask yourself some questions.
What am I good at? What do I like to do? What am I capable of doing? And what are the needs? What is going undone? What are others doing that I could be doing?
Questions like these are healthy. Sometimes we come into a church and get a sense that everything is being done already. It looks like everything is already getting done by someone else and we think we aren’t needed.
But, I’ve been involved in church ministry long enough that I know better. And I’ll tell you a secret. You have no idea how much work goes undone in a church because the leaders of the church are so busy carrying out the day-to-day functions of the church that everyone sees, that they have a hard time prioritizing some of the important ministry needs and spiritual needs of the church that happen behind closed doors. In fact, surveys have estimated that as much as 80% of the work that pastors with master’s and doctorate degrees do on a regular basis, requires absolutely no special training to do. In other words, 80% of most pastors jobs could be done by anyone.
Less Than 5 Hours — 8%
5 to 7 Hours — 23%
8 to 10 Hours — 25%
11 to 15 Hours — 23%
More Than 15 Hours — 21%
~ Lifeway Research
I’ll give you one example of how this plays out. Classically, it has been taught that 30 hours of a pastors week should be consumed with preparing, practicing, and praying over Sunday’s Sermon. 30 hours. But, Lifeway Research reports that about 80% of pastors in our denomination spend less than 15 hours a week. And about a third of pastors spend less than 8 hours a week. And this is interesting because Lifeway found an unmistakable correlation between the amount of time spent in sermon prep and the health of the church. Churches where the pastors spent more time in sermon prep, were growing at a higher rate, had healthier giving patterns, and had higher effectiveness in reaching out to the community around them.
So, here’s why I share this. I’m actually blessed to have the ability to be on the higher end of that spectrum. My schedule, even in busy weeks allows me sufficient time to process and pray through a message and often I even have time to practice. So, I don’t share this to complain.
I share this to show the correlation; that the more work the members of the church do to carry out the daily functions of the church, the more they free their leaders up to carry out the specialized tasks of teaching, preaching, counseling, praying, studying, and so on. And as a consequence, the church will be healthier. Our generosity will be greater. And the church will be more effective in loving the community around us.
So, you see, the church isn’t divided. The church is made up of many unique people, who come together to explore and enact their God-given gifts to further the Kingdom of God and to love the people God created in this world. So, I’ll end by simply encouraging you: Commit to Unity and Unify under your leadership. And then find a way to get involved in the work that God is doing here at Sonrise.
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Sunday Service: 10am
Address: 2751 E Ave R, Palmdale, CA 93550 (Click for Directions)
Phone: (661) 878-8316