Thursday, April 1, 2010

When Should a Church Split? Only if the Gospel is at Stake

Church splits are a scourge upon Christianity. They happen far too often over trivial issues. On top of that, we have so many denominations that I can't even keep track anymore. The divisions are wrong, plain and simple.

Jesus clearly prayed for the unity of His church in John 17:20-21, saying, "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."

This begs an interesting question: Should a church ever split? The answer is yes, but only if the gospel itself is at stake. I would also say that this should only occur after much discussion between all parties involved. Those who see themselves as defending the gospel must be certain that the others are rejecting it and not simply using different terminology or emphasizing different aspects of the gospel. Christians should not divide from other Christians.

That said, there are times when churches are forced to split because some of the people reject the gospel itself. When this happens, what is really going on is that those who are of the church are splitting from those who are not of the church. Only those who are saved by the gospel of Christ are part of the church.

We have a situation like this going on in Savannah. I have written previously about Christ Church Savannah. Christ Church is Georgia's first church. Interestingly, both John Wesley and George Whitefield served as rectors there.

A few years ago this church split over the gospel itself. I admire the courageous attitude and actions of those who departed from the Episcopal Denomination in favor of the biblical gospel.

This, sadly, is where things get confusing. There are now 2 (!) groups of people that claim to be Christ Church. First, there is Christ Church Savannah that meets in the historic building downtown in Savannah. These are the folks who believe in the gospel and have left the Episcopal Church. To see how their beliefs differ from the Episcopal Church, click here.

Second, there is Christ Church Episcopal. These folks also claim to be the mother church of Georgia, with the same heritage as Christ Church Savannah. I'm sad to say that these people hold to the beliefs of the Episcopal Church. Despite their rejection of core aspects of the gospel, they still see themselves as Christ Church.

To make things worse, these two groups are embroiled in a court case over the historic building.

The entire situation is a mess. I feel badly for the people of Christ Church Savannah because they were forced into this by the umbilical drift of the Episcopal Church. What were they to do? If they remained, they would be supporting a denomination that rejects the gospel. If they leave, this ugly situation arises.

This is a good lesson to us to be very careful whenever division arises. Let us strive for unity. Let us only divide over the gospel. When we do divide, let's be ready for things to get ugly for a while.

As for Christ Church Savannah, I'm thrilled that they are standing fast on the gospel. I just don't know if a building is worth fighting for.

In the end, they made the right decision. The gospel is worth taking a stand.

1 comment:

Jeffrey said...

Amen. We fight over the wrong things.