The Ridiculous Reason Why Churches Fight with Each Other

October 6, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

From what I read it would seem that there is an important part of my job that I’m not doing.  I’m supposed to look at other churches and criticize them for all the ways that they are different from the church that I lead.  If it gets serious enough, I should get angry.  I am right in every conceivable way, and it is important for me, them and everybody that I declare to all the people and the pastors and the churches that I am the most right of all.

Taking a stand for what matters!

Taking a stand for what matters!

Confession time, there was a time in my life when I did consider this part of my job/life.  I was ready to fight with everyone about any issue where you disagreed with what I believed the Bible taught. There were no issues that were too insignificant. “But the Bible says,” was my launching pad for a number of angry disagreements about a wide array of issues.

However, the older that I get the less I want to fight and the fewer and fewer things that I want to fight about.  God’s call on our lives to reach the world and tell them about the love of God through Jesus is too serious and big for me to spend my time angrily critiquing the way that fellow pastors and believers are trying to accomplish this Great Commission that God has given us.

However, there are still plenty of places where it is considered a noble duty to angrily critique churches that “do it the wrong way” or “don’t believe the right things.”  It seems a good way to get a book published and to become popular as well.  Just say something hostile about another church or pastor or movement and boom you are in the limelight.  In the meantime, the world continues to see God’s people unable to get along with civility much less demonstrate genuine love for each other.  This is incredibly serious, because the way that we treat and talk about each other is what Jesus said would be one of the defining characteristics of how people would know that we follow him.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35

This is how people will know.  If they are paying attention, then they likely don’t know.  Many of us believe that we are doing well if we can simply get along well with the people that worship in the same building as us, which is quite a challenge sometimes.  However, this principle is not limited to just your local church, although a great place to start.  We all need to love each other and stop fighting regardless of where we worship on Sunday or (gasp) Saturday.

Why do we fight? I believe that we fight because we do not know the difference between a major theological difference and a minor theological difference.  We also then can’t tell the difference between a minor theological difference and a tactical difference.

Major theological differences are those that if you do not believe them, then you just aren’t a Christian.  Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. That is a major difference and is part of what makes them not Christians.  When and how you baptize people is a minor theological difference.  It doesn’t determine whether or not you are a Christian.  It doesn’t mean that it’s not important.  It’s not essential and we shouldn’t act like it is.  Whether or not you play drums during your worship is just tactics.  It’s how you do church, but isn’t theological at all.


(sigh) I received an email like this once.  We were wanting to replace uncomfortable plastic folding chairs with cushioned chairs.  Apparently I used the phrase “comfortable chairs” or “cushy chairs” too much, which apparently was a quote from a book that was popular at the time and I was in trouble.  The logic of the email was as follows.

You want different chairs

You want them to be comfortable

God doesn’t care about comfort

You don’t care what God says

You don’t listen to God

You should read the Bible and pray

It was a strange email.  The application point for me in the email was that I should start reading the Bible and praying.  I took that, ever so slightly, as insulting.  But this is how we think.  My opinions about how to do church come directly from God.  If you disagree with me, you disagree with God, and therefore…(insert sanctimonious insult here).

However, what if we reserved that kind of frustration for people who claim to be followers of Christ but don’t understand who Jesus is and the purpose and nature of his death on the cross?  Then we simply have spirited but respectful conversations with people who baptize differently, or do or don’t ordain women or believe that the Holy Spirit works in a different way.  Then we can also just enjoy the diversity of styles or worship and teaching that are out there and view ourselves as all being on the same team trying to accomplish the same goals in different ways.

The line itself may be blurry, but that does not mean that there are not issues that clearly are on one side of the line.  Can we all agree that what you believe about the end times is a minor theological point? Can we all agree that what instruments your worship team plays is simply a tactic?  Sadly, the answer to this seemingly rhetorical question is no.  We can’t all agree.  However, let’s start by everyone who is reading this agrees.

Some of the best pastor friends that I have ever had believe radically different things about the Holy Spirit than I do.  We let one of these pastors use our building for worship, for free.  I even coached basketball with one of the pastors who was Pentecostal.  He is a great friend and our daughters were friends.  The issues we disagreed about never came up.  I repeat, NEVER CAME UP.  We were too busy encouraging each other and praying for our city and figuring out ways to partner together and make a difference in our city.

Now one of my great pastor friends is someone who baptizes babies (gasp).  I’ve known him for a couple of years now and guess what? Hasn’t come up.  Why? Same reason.  Too busy encouraging each other and praying for our city.  If there came a point where the city no longer needed prayer and neither of us needed encouragement, we might have some time to debate theology.  I don’t have it penciled in though.

My sincere prayer is that this will continue to catch on, that the movement for churches and pastors to love each other and partner together will sweep the world.  We can put aside small differences with each other in order to make a much bigger difference in the world that desperately needs God.

The way I figure it, we will have billions of years in heaven for me to tell all these guys how right I was.

“Our Church is Better Than Your Church”

February 10, 2012 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

A couple of days ago, we were praying for unity among churches in Fayetteville.  As some of you may know, this is very important to me.  Other churches are not rivals.  We are not businesses competing for marketshare.  We are one group, trying to bring hope and life to a hurting world.  So, when we feel the need to compete that’s bad.  When we decide to publicly attack and ridicule one another it is worse.

It goes something like this:

That church has a big building. That means they don’t care about missions or the poor.


That church only has a few people, they must not care about reaching out to other people.

I could do this all day, because I have heard plenty of these.  We look at other churches and feel that we can not only judge what they do, but their hearts as well.  Two questions: How do you know that church has a wrong attitude?  Even if you do know (which you probably don’t) what is gained through your public criticism?

Typically what is gained is the self-satisfaction of knowing that you are “right” and “doing it right.”  You also get to justify your own weaknesses but comparing them to (your perception of) other people’s weaknesses.  Then you get to feel better about yourself.  It’s actually much easier to point out the blind spot of someone else than to discover your own and work on that instead. Criticism is easy and feels good.  Rooting out sin in your own life is hard.

I’m currently reading a book where the author laments how megachurches build huge buildings and also talks about how bad it is that churches create celebrity pastors that do video preaching.  I know that’s not unusual. It is however unusual for that to be from a pastor of a megachurch with a large building who offers simulcasts of some of his teaching. How is such a thing possible? Because “we” do it the “right way” and “they” have insincere hearts.

When I first was reading this, I’ll confess, I was violating my own admonition here and I became angry.  After thinking about it, I realized that I really was less angry and more disappointed and sad.  I wish it weren’t that way.  I wish that we could believe the best in each other.  I wish that we could present a united front to the world.  I wish that when we do disagree and feel that the issue is serious enough, that we would (novel idea coming) talk about it (another one) in private. (Side note, if they live far away and you don’t have access to talk to them, then try just letting it go and trusting that the Holy Spirit will work on them.)

There are some pretty specific commands in Scripture about what we do when we see a brother or sister in sin.  They say crazy things like go to them and try and restore them.  They don’t say “publicly rant about them in your blog.” (Irony noted)

I know “they” upset you, because “they” don’t get it like “we” do.  Hey, I’ve got some (bad?) news for you.  There is no “they.”  There is just “us,” and we need to show the world the love of Jesus, in part by showing our love for each other.

John 13:34-35

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”