When Churches Fight

I visited a former church for a social event the other night and the scuttlebutt was that a fight was happening within the church body over matters of theology. It burdened my heart… because nothing had changed.

Sixteen years ago, my family was kicked out of that church over a difference of theology. But it was not the theological differences that hurt us, it was the fact that our supposed “friends” turned on us and treated us like we were inhuman, like we were dirt. My dad went to an elders meeting and was not spoken to with kindness, but was ganged up on and given a sound emotional beating by people he had thought were his friends. My mother was not treated much better, but instead was not spoken to directly – instead, people took their differences to my dad, leaving her feeling as if she was not even worthy of being spoken to. And even though I was too young to be directly involved, I too felt shunned, particularly when the sermon was a thinly veiled assault on our family.

That was the last week we went to church there.

Much later, we realized that their theological stance was more scriptural than ours, but what truly mattered was how we were treated. It was not with compassion and love, and it was unworthy of the God that we all claimed to serve. That church incident scarred us for more than ten years; it drove us so far away from “legalism” that we wound up in churches that did not revolve around the Word, and that were adrift in meaninglessness. We stagnated and we hurt, and we licked our wounds. It hurt the most because Christians are supposed to be different from everyone else, but it felt like Christians had hurt us worse than anyone else.

And it was with a sinking feeling the other night that I realized… this particular church is still at it. They are still so focused on being “right” that they are hurting other Christians left and right; trying to enforce a higher standard not through love and salvation but through rules that if you do not agree with them, you are turned out into the cold.

Jesus was not hard on everyone; he was just hard on the Pharisees who thought they had religion all figured out, who thought they were better than everyone else because they followed the “rules.” When He met the woman living in sin at the well, He did not yell at her for living with a man outside of marriage, He was kind to her, and transformed her life, and then told her to go and sin no more. Christians have two things that are most important in their lives: to love God above all else, and to love one another. Love for one another does not include brutal dictatorship or condemnation; it does not include shunning or ganging up on someone, or living according to the Law and excluding the simple commandment of love.

Dealing with sin is one thing; if a member of the church is openly and sin and refuses to change even after that sin is addressed, they should be removed from the membership for a time, just as Paul encouraged them to do in the case of the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife. (He later repented and changed, and the church had to be told to let him back into the church… they were not fast learners.) But when it comes to matters of theology, churches need to be careful when implementing “laws.”

The irony is that now we are in a church that holds the same theological view of the church that so hurt us; but it does not come across as legalistic, because the people are so genuinely loving toward one another. It is a flourishing church filled with friendship and support and strength, rather than division and fighting. But it took us a long time to get to a point where God could heal us enough to gently show us that our theological stance was wrong. And He did it not through condemnation and shunning, but in love. God cannot tolerate sin, and He does have guidelines by which Christians are to live, but He deals with us in love first, and if the love does not work, that is only when He hauls out the whip and starts turning tables over.

Love one another as you love yourself; deal with conflict not with shunning and coldness, but in love. And if you are in a church full of division and anger, that is always embroiled in conflict and fighting, get out, because it’s not a godly church.

10 Replies to “When Churches Fight”

  1. What’s really sad is that your situation is so common. I can list many friends who have gone through the same thing or something similar. How can we hope to win the lost to Christ when so many of us are harsh and mean?

    1. The only way we can become better individuals is to become better believers. The more selfish we are, the less we “know” God and the meaner we tend to be to one another. I’m sure it must break His heart — and make Him angry.

  2. Sounds like the school where my parents taught when I was in 2nd grade. It was a Christian school and my folks still haven’t shared all the details about what happened, except that they ended up concluding that my dad was demon-possessed. I think it was probably a literature choice he had his 6th graders read or something along those lines.

    Bottom line, their words hurt, worse then they would have because it came from Christians, and my dad hasn’t taught English since. We really know how to chew each other up and spit each other out. It’s worrisome and it’s our sinful nature shining through when people jump to arguing instead of compromise within the church.

    I already knew this had happened to you but I feel bad that the church hasn’t changed its ways. It’s a shame.

    1. I’m sorry your parents went through that. It’s always hurtful to have other Christians cast stones. I think that we can do more damage to one another than anyone outside the faith can, simply because our words, as you pointed out, hurt worse. Even washed in the blood of the Lamb, we’re still so very fallen.

  3. It’s so comforting to hear that other families have dealt with these issues! You have described exactly one of the major burdens of my heart for Christianity. How can we love one another and still stand firm on our convictions? There has got to be a way if we would look to Jesus.

    1. I think the secret is in how we treat one another even in disagreement. If it is a matter of conviction and sin, we must be stronger with one another — but do so in love, not out of any desire to prove how superior our morals are, but when it comes to matters of opinion, I think it’s wrong to throw spiritual stones at one another. Church division is a tragedy, and is one of the many things that secular people use to prove how “nasty” we all are.

  4. My family has not personally had to deal with something like this but we’ve known families who have and also some of our own family has had a similar case. In the latter situation, my uncle wasn’t asked to leave but chose to because of differences in opinion.

    Whatever the case – you are right, normally in situations like that, things are not handled as they should be.

    1. It’s a shame that if one has not experienced it, they have known someone that has… that’s not how God’s Church is meant to be, and it’s a sad statement about the sinful state of our hearts even after salvation. We treat one another abominably at times.

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