TO CHEW ON: “Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. Acts 15:39.
I’ll never forget some of the first church member-only meetings I attended after joining when I was about 14. At these meetings sensitive issues were brought into the open and discussed pro and con – sometimes with a lot of heat. Seeing adults who I respected speaking passionately for one solution, while others I also respected were just as passionate for another solution shook me up and gave my youthful idealism a dose of this-is-the-way-it-really-is in the church.
It’s interesting to see that the early church had disagreements too. The first part of Acts 15 talks how they dealt with the contentious problem of circumcision. The discussion was whether or not to demand that Gentile believers submit themselves to this rite. The letter recorded in verses 23-29 lays out the compromise decision the leadership came to about this.
In the latter part of the chapter we have a personnel problem. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark on the next missionary trip. Paul didn’t because they took him on an earlier trip and he deserted them partway through. Their disagreement “became so sharp that they parted from one another.”
If you are part of a local church you are probably no stranger to these kinds of problems. The church is made up of individuals. Many of us have strong opinions. The sad thing is that such intra-church conflict often has permanent negative effects. The aftermath of disagreements can be bitterness, unforgiveness, church splits, a party spirit, negativity toward the church as a whole, and on and on.
We can learn some positive things about how to deal with church problems from Acts 15.
1. Discussion is good (Acts 15:6,7). People feel better when their concerns have been heard.
2. A decision is necessary. Leadership is important to reach this point. In the circumcision dispute Peter talked about his experience. The leaders who had gathered to discuss this listened. James helped to spell out a compromise (Acts 15:7-12). If some were unhappy with the final outcome, they didn’t make a big deal about it and the church remained united.
3. Publicize and explain the new policy to everyone concerned. In Acts 15:22-29 the disciples crafted a letter and sent it via “chosen men” to the affected congregations.
4. Part ways if you must, but do it amicably. In Paul and Barnabas’s disagreement, two mission teams were sent out as a result of their split (Acts 15:39-41). Like a cell divides to help growth, their painful separation served, in the end, to help spread the gospel even more. Thankfully there was no permanent damage. Later John Mark became a faithful co-worker with Paul - 2 Timothy 4:11
Are you scarred from church fights? What are your thoughts?
PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to love the church and be a part of finding solutions when there are problems. Amen.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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