Snits, splits and hissy fits

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Spring is a difficult time for churches and pastors as ministers choose to change churches or congregations choose to make that change for them. Thanks for your prayers for clergy and their families during this very difficult time.

Apparently, there have been conflicts in the Christian church since, well, Jesus instituted the Christian church. It began with finding a replacement for the ill-fated ex-disciple, Judas. Then, in Acts 6:1: “But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food”

But that was just the beginning. The Apostle Paul devotes several sheepskins to the controversy over eating meat offered to idols, which apparently was being sold in pagan temples at a bargain price. Somehow “used meat” doesn’t sound appealing to me, but for some of the budget-minded Christians, it was considered good stewardship. For others, it was viewed as just one step away from screaming and running naked through the tombs of Gerasenes.

Dr. Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention—a rather contentious group itself—notes that there are ten “extra-biblical customs that become a way of life for many congregations,” which can become “a potential source of divisiveness.”

Number one, not surprisingly, was worship and music style followed by order of worship service, times of worship service(s), the role of the pastor and committee structure. Rounding out the top ten were specific ministries and programs, location of church facility, use of specific rooms, business meetings, and staff ministry descriptions.

My wife and I have served in enough churches to know that fits, snits and hissy fits are an inevitable part of ministry. Here are some battles we have found ourselves in:

The King James Version. It’s an old joke: “If the KJV was good enough for Paul and Silas, it’s good enough for us!” Sorry, but the original, Greek-speaking Bible authors had met their final deadlines centuries before the English version was published in 1611.

Hymnals. When we suggested projecting contemporary Christian music right on the sanctuary wall, we were told it was, indeed, an “off the wall” idea. Fortunately, the majority soon learned to enjoy modern music projected on a large screen.

Not eating in the church. Using modern translations and technology were easy issues to work through compared to the years-old prohibition of forbidding food in the church building. So, carry-ins—a tradition dating back to First Century Christianity—were considered the end-time prophecy of the “abomination of desolation in the holy place.” We compromised by holding dinners in the parsonage basement until the new multi-purpose building was completed and a few “senior saints” died off. (In most churches, revival is often just a few funerals away!)

Paul makes the argument—several times—that a relationship with Jesus Christ is infinitely more important than man-made rules:

      In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God (Romans 14:5-6).

      So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality (Colossians 2:16-17).

Jesus was well aware of how contentious His followers would become. With blood dripping from His brow, Jesus prays, “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:23b).

I guess it’s reassuring that not even the Son of God gets all His prayers answered!

So, here’s my point. Well, actually three prayer points:

• Pray that followers of Jesus will strive for the unity He prayed would show the world the Truth.

• Pray that followers of Jesus will display His truth and grace in responding to the clear biblical commands United States citizens are boldly and blatantly disobeying.

• Pray that followers of Jesus will put aside extra-biblical customs to reach more people for His kingdom.

Copyright © 2015 James N. Watkins (Originally appeared in Presidential Prayer Team‘s “Viewpoint.”)

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Photo: MorgueFile

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