Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by John Howard Farmer

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Uniting to do good for Christ

Far too frequently I receive an unexpected call from a friend, acquaintance, or at times from total strangers. The hair on the back of my neck rises. I listen to the strained voice wading into some tale of woe relative to his or her house of worship.

Sometimes the call is to gather information. Sometimes the call is to enlist my support. Sometimes the caller wants to sign me on, being assured that I would agree with the caller’s prejudices. What to do? What to do?

More liturgical gatherings than we free evangelicals probably will wonder about this dispatch. Their congregational polities, denominational structures, often prohibit such distractions. As troubled as I am by church fights, I still would rather risk the conflagration than to have no say in the matter. Democratic government of each house of faith is still my cup of tea.

When such a plea enters my study by wire (or on feet) I begin praying for the caller and also for those who he or she seeks to represent. This I know: the devil loves a good fight. I will further venture that he is usually the one who wins, when a house of faith is divided against itself. It is Satan, and not the Lord, who institutes division in the army of the redeemed. My Bible upholds that.

I don’t want to get into a contest of quotations. But I do want us to focus upon the grand truth of the New Testament. Jesus was pressed by those who wanted things about them to be different than they were. He pulled out all the stops. He knew backwards and forwards the wisdom of the Old Testament. When it was time for a legalism question, Jesus simply said, “It is a new commandment that I give you, that you must love one another.”

After my caller (or at times visitor) finishes the eruptive and painful sharing of the predicament I will usually press the envelope a bit. “How do you see the love of Christ in this deterioration?” I will ask. That’s it; conversation is over, but not always. Sometimes we get to really share how God is leading a person or a group to do more than they could possibly accomplish without the divine intervention of the Lord Christ himself.

To every house of faith experiencing relationship pains, I offer the same pilgrimage. Put Christ first. Determine to love those folks with whom you are at odds. Forgive them; ask for forgiveness—even if you have no reason to do so.

Something else usually creeps into the conversation. Some drastic force has been at play. Perhaps some new warrior has come into the fellowship. I describe this believer as a visiting prophet. Often times this man or woman will move right the way into the congregational leadership and not bother with the time honored necessity of full membership. They are such truth seekers as to place themselves above the congregational constraints. They have usually left a trail wide as the sanctuary from which they most recently removed themselves. So, look carefully at those among your house of faith who represent themselves as change agents. Look to Christ.

Sometimes great division comes to a congregation because they have called the wrong person to pulpit leadership. They have selected from among a field of candidates that person with whom they imagine they have the greatest ally. This minister is indeed going to learn about Old Testament religion. They will soon be sacrificed for the good of the body, never for the good of the Lord.

When the first century church was growing and the carpenter lad cum Lord was walking amongst them, they had the good sense not to identify themselves with place, or structure, rather only by belief. His disciples established new circles of faith by going out, two by two, or in enlarged delegations to share the story of one faith, one Lord, one baptism. I can find no instance where the Lord took a meat cleaver to a group of believers and hacked off a dissident arm to send them forth. He always calls us back to the commandment “that you must love one another.”

A household of faith that is employed in loving one another will not divide. It can’t. The one God will deepen the circle of love and Christians will grow tolerant of differences, each from the other, and will learn to disagree without being disagreeable.

Let’s keep a Biblical perspective. Get a lad, lass, lady, veteran deacon or elder and ask that person to drop to his or her knees with you. Go sit in the sanctuary holy and pray aloud the names of those who pioneered that house. Call the roll of the departed saints who struggled for that place to survive. Pray to Christ for direction and purpose. How’d you get there?

Cleanse your own soul. Make no accusations. Then, only then, go to that person (and it will usually always be only one) who is leading the movement. Take inventory. Just what really is the rub? Is the house divided by Christ, or the personal prejudice of a few dissident members (visitors) who see themselves as saviors of the faith?

Division is still not an option. Uniting, loving the family back together is the way of Christ. Folks who love one another can even effect great change for the cause of Christ. Everybody wins, except Satan.