Wednesday, December 5, 2012

If the Center Holds

 Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

I remember being involved in a church that was going through a wringer. It had had problems before I got there, including the exodus of a large part of the congregation. Soon after I got there the pastor, who was burnt out by previous problems, left, and a certain part of the congregation left with him. We got a new pastor, but many of the officeholders of the church dropped out, either entirely from the congregation or from the carrying out of their office (some later came back; others did not). At one point the active leadership in the congregation seemed to consist in the pastor and five other people, and one of them kept explaining how their family was soon going to move out of town. Things came back together, but we kept having periodic minor conflicts, losing a family here and a family there.

One day I was praying through the sanctuary during a time it was empty. And the thing God impressed on me was, "If the center holds, you will make it through." (I know this ultimately comes from a pagan source, but when God brings things to my mind He normally uses the baggage that is there.) I took this as meaning that if the core of the church would stick together, we as a church would make it through.

Later, I was in a different congregation that appeared to be doing well. I knew there were potential problems, but I thought we could avoid them. Then one day when I was walking through the sanctuary, I felt the familiar nudge, "If the center holds, you will make it through." And I asked myself, Are we in that much trouble? Not long afterward we were involved in a major conflict, resulting in the loss of about half the congregation. Later, the pastor was promoted to a position in the denomination, and the new pastor had to deal with a series of problems and aftershocks. But we stuck together and made it through.

I do not want condemn people who switch churches. I have switched churches myself for various reasons on more than one occasion. But I think there is too much tendency to desert simply because things get difficult. Now there are things worth splitting a church over, and there may be individual congregations where it is just as well if they close their doors. But I do believe the Biblical exhortations to unity imply we need to stick together and work out our problems, where possible, rather than leaving at the first hint of trouble (Philippians 2:1,2; Ephesians 4:1-6; Colossians 3:12-15). One of the great innovations in ancient warfare was the shield wall. Instead of each warrior fighting for himself, they made a row of interlocking shields so they protected their neighbor's flank. We Christians need to do this for each other. Perhaps then more ministries would make it through, rather than collapse.

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