A Good Split?
For decades the secret to the growth of the Kingdom has been the starting of new churches. Baptists have perfected this art. One of our strengths has been the good ole fashioned “church split”. You find dotted across the state of Texas stand Baptist churches of all different shades of color. Many of these churches trace their birthright back to a church fight apparently gone wrong.
You know something is up when you drive down a rural highway in Texas and pass Harmony Baptist Church on one side of the road, and then a couple of miles ahead you pass Harmony Baptist Church #2 on the opposite side of the road. I have often liken hearing God’s people fighting among themselves to a child hearing mom and dad fighting in the other room and hearing the “D-word” spoken out loud—“DIVORCE”.
In Acts 15 the reader finds an amazing story of the Church (capital-C) handing a major conflict between two vying factions. The Jewish and Gentile believers faced a critical crossroads, and instead of choosing to part company they found a “win/win” solution that opened the door to Kingdom expansion. However the chapter ends with a dark note in the story. Paul and Barnabas have a “sharp disagreement” or a good ole fashion fight over whether are not to take the coward John Mark on the next missionary journey. These two old comrades in arms went toe to toe over the issue finding no middle ground. In fact the conflict led to a split, and the two longtime friends parted company with heated words.
As you analyze the conflict who was in the wrong? Often in a church split or convention split we assume someone was out of God’s will. Someone had to be in the wrong or this would have never happened. Was hot-tempered Paul in the wrong? Was he too demanding or critical of John Mark? It seems to me that Paul has a legitimate argument about the foolishness of taking John Mark on this trip. The advance of the gospel was not getting easier, but harder. The probability of persecution was sure. He did not want to go to war with someone he could not trust and who could blame him.
On the other hand was Barnabas too soft? Did Barnabas not understand the dangers and challenges of leadership? I would say no. Barnabas, the son of encouragement, was playing to his strengths. Barnabas was notorious for taking chances on people take Paul for instance. When the brothers in Jerusalem shunned Paul, it was Barnabas who came to his side. Can you imagine where the Kingdom would be if it was not for encouragers like Barnabas. Take the New Testament as an example. If you take out the books attributed to those who Barnabas took a chance on you would lose all the letters of Paul and one of the gospels. Even Paul came to value John Mark in the end after he had proven himself faithful.
Could it be Paul and Barnabas were both right? I believe it is very possible. They both played to their strengths, and followed their hearts. In the end their relationship was strained but not permanently destroyed, and the Kingdom advanced with two strategic mission teams rather than one. It amazes me how God can take our conflicts and turn them to His glory and to the advance of His Kingdom.
So what are the lessons from this page out of our history? One, we need to be true to our hearts. Too often compromises hurt more than they help. I am a firm believer in “win/win” solutions and believe these solutions lead to the synergy of the Spirit among us, but the harsh reality is we live in a real world with real people. Two, we need to realize that a “split” does not mean the relationship is over nor does it mean the final chapter is written. Going our separate ways for a few miles in a slightly different direction does not mean we cannot find places of cooperation in the future. Don’t allow a “split” in the past to be the final word about a relationship in the future. People change. Circumstances change. We need to be willing to change and embrace each other down the road when the opportunity arises. Three, we need to realize God can work in the midst of our broken relationships. God did not allow Paul and Barnabas’ “split” to stop His Kingdom.
I believe these simple lessons from a dark note in our history can shed light on our future as Texas Baptists. Whether you march under the BGCT, SBTC, SBC, CBF, TBC, or any other banner of choice you are still my brother and sister. We may not see eye to eye. We may choose to go our separate ways, but we are all in the same Kingdom and will probably need each other one day when the battle gets hot.
Don’t forget the story out of the annals of Jesus and his disciples when one of the “sons of thunder” wanted to shut down a group for casting out demons in the name of Jesus. (John) Mark reports:
39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. (Mark 9:39-41 NIV)
I believe Jesus knows what He is talking about and we would be wise to listen to Him, especially today!