Several years ago, an acquaintance of mine was hired to be the preacher for a church with a reputation for firing their preacher. In the process of hiring him, they had discussed this reputation, and he was convinced that there were lots of misunderstandings; and that they really wanted to change that reputation. After he had been there for 3 or 4 weeks, one of the “pastors” from a neighboring church called, and invited him to have lunch. Over lunch, the man ( a long time resident of the city) told him that he had known the last several preachers at the church; that there were some mean people at “his” church, that they would get mad at him, and would want to fire him. He went on to say, that when that happened to call him; and he would be available to talk.
Over the years, the churches of Christ have developed a reputation of “fussin’ and fightin”, and, sadly, often that reputation has been deserved. My next door neighbor in Florence, Alabama; had a couple of sayings about our brethren, that he often shared: one was “We would rather fight, than fish;” and the other was, “We would fight at the drop of a hat, even if we had to drop the hat.” A few years ago, I remember reading a history of the churches of Christ in two counties in my area, and nearly every local congregation has a split in their history. It is amazing the things that we have argued, debated, and divided about and over.
We have cloaked our disagreements as “doctrinal disputes,” and then they have become “issues,” as we have obsessed with being RIGHT! In our desire to go back to the Bible, and to do Bible things in Bible ways, and call Bible acts by Bible names — we have reached a point that we act and believe that if you don’t do it, like I believe and do it — YOU ARE WRONG! Then we carried it to the next step, and reached the logical conclusion; if you are wrong, you are a heretic and lost! I actually know one preacher that go so involved in one “issue,” that he withdrew fellowship from his own wife. Interestingly, she prepared the meal for their family, but he would not eat with her! Using a play on words from Scripture, we are a peculiar people.
For the last week, I have been reading the book of Philippians as my devotional reading. Each morning I have read it from a different translation, and I have been reminded; that “our” churches are not the first ones to have this problem, and likely will not be the last. As long as people are in churches, people are going to have problems; and they will fuss and fight with other people with problems. I want you to notice a few passages from Philippians:
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, (Philippians 1:27, NKJV)
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4, NKJV)
Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. (Philippians 3:15-16, NKJV)
It is my conviction, that all of those verses are not accidental — or teachings that they might need some day. I am convinced there was a problem in the church in Philippi, and that it was not a “doctrinal” problem, it was a personal, or personality, problem. Listen:
I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, … (Philippians 4:2-3, NKJV)
It appears to me that these two women, who appear to be strong, committed, and workers; have gotten crossways with each other. Their struggle with each other has robbed this local church of the joy that it should have. Paul, in my opinion, doesn’t write to the Philippian church about joy, because they have a lot of joy; but because division in the church is robbing them of the joy that they should have.
Personally, I feel this problem is still prevalent in local churches today! It seems to me that most of the problems and divisions, are not really “doctrinal” problems. Conflict arises because of personality, and feelings of authority and power — then a point of doctrine, or the interpretation of a passage, becomes the point of contention between the “warring parties.”
It is my conviction, that immediately after telling the brethren to help these two women, he tells them how to approach the problem in Philippians 4:4-6. Look at what he says:
1) Rejoice in the Lord always — find the joy that you have lost, reclaim it, and approach them with the joy that God has given you. Not joy, because they are fighting and fussing; but help them to see the joy that there is in Jesus.
2) Let your gentleness be known to all men — approach all troublesome situations with gentleness. Treat these individuals like you would want to be treated, and let everyone see that you are using a gentle approach to everything.
3) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God — don’t worry about this situation, take it to God. Every thought, every action, and every reaction; bathe them in prayer. Let God know that you are depending on Him to help you through this.
(Two notes: first, the preacher that I mentioned in the beginning of this devotional DID get fired after about 3 years, and I don’t know if he visited with that “pastor”; and, secondly, I believe in being a “Back to the Bible” movement for our doctrine and practice. BUT, I think that we need to be just as serious about having the spirit of Jesus in our attitudes and actions toward one another. Bill)