The Tragedy of Division in the Church

October 23, 2011 in Bible - NT - Acts, Ecclesiology, Meditations

Acts 15:36-40
Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.
At Presbytery learned not only of great deliverances but also of troubles in some churches. That which has sat most on my heart is one of the original congregations in the CREC whose elders – all godly men – have found it impossible to labor side by side any longer. Their difference of vision has become so entrenched that they have decided, for the sake of long term peace, to part ways and plant a new church in the same community while endeavoring to preserve fraternal relationships with one another through joint meetings, psalm sings, etc.
Their story reminded me of the event in the life of Barnabas and Paul that we read in Acts. They simply could not agree on what to do with John Mark. Barnabas was willing to give John Mark another chance; Paul felt that to bring him along would compromise their very important mission. Luke comments on their disagreement that “the contention become so sharp that they parted from one another.” They could not agree on the course forward.
Here’s the question: was the division between Barnabas and Paul a result of sin? No doubt. Not only had John Mark’s sin provided the original cause for the dispute but our general condition as fallen human beings means that both Paul and Barnabas were sinners as well and no doubt their particular weaknesses contributed to the conflict. But here’s another question: does Luke make an attempt to sort this situation out and ascribe blame? Not at all. These were godly men, they had a difference of vision, and so they parted ways because they simply could not agree on a course forward.
Isn’t that humbling? We imagine in our idealism that we Christians should be able to work all these problems out. We’ve got to preserve the unity of the Spirit – didn’t Paul himself write that?! But the story is put here to remind us of the stark reality of our current human condition – we are finite and sinful and stand in desperate need of the grace of God? Here are two godly men who couldn’t agree and had to separate from one another for a time. Here in the CREC are godly men who cannot agree and are separating from one another while endeavoring to maintain fellowship. How this ought to humble us, to cause us to cry out to God for mercy, to beseech him to keep us united and give us a common vision.
Job tells us, “Man is prone to trouble, as sparks fly upward.” Knowing how prone we are to such trouble, our calling is to be gracious to one another, to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and to cry out to God to unite us in love. Unfortunately we often fail to do so. We bicker and complain; we seek our own good rather than the good of others.
And so reminded of our need to be humble, to seek the face of God, to treat one another with kindness and mercy, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Son of Encouragement

October 29, 2010 in Bible - NT - Acts, Meditations, Thankfulness

“Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Acts 4:36-37

Humans are born faultfinders–slicing and dicing God’s law either to excuse behavior we’d like to engage in ourselves or to condemn things we don’t want others to enjoy. Rare is the man who is so thankful for the gifts of God to him, so awed by the mercy which gives him life and breath each day, so grateful for what God has given him rather than jealous for what He has not, that he loves God’s law, delights in God’s people, and is quick to let them know it.

Joseph, known by his cognomen Barnabas, Son of Encouragement, was one such man. Thankfulness and generosity bubbled out of him. Bump him and joy and gratitude spilled on the floor. And it is this gratitude which we see today – selling a piece of land and donating the proceeds to the work of the Gospel. But this is not an isolated incident – as his name indicates. We see it again later in Acts when Barnabas and Paul cannot agree what to do with John Mark who had deserted them during the course of their first missionary journey. Paul refuses to take him; Barnabas refuses to go without him. And so he and Paul part company–but it is Paul who later acknowledges the blessing of Mark’s ministry. Paul had left him; but Barnabas stuck with Mark and encouraged him and so today we possess the Gospel of Mark. Such was the power of Son of Encouragement’s ministry.

And so, beloved, let me ask you today–have you been a Barnabas this week? Have you been so filled with thankfulness and gratitude that you have seen very little to complain about and much to encourage? Have you looked at the world with the eyes of faith, knowing that if God can save you from the kingdom of darkness then there is nothing that He cannot do?

Husbands and wives, have you praised your spouse this week for all the little things they do for you? Have you shown them how much you delight in them? Parents, have you praised your children as much or more than you have corrected them? Do you look for things to praise or things to critique? Employees, have you encouraged your employers by letting them know how grateful you are for your position? Children, have you thanked your parents for their love and their willingness to bring you up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Siblings, have you spent the week praising the gifts that God has given you in your brother or sister?

Listen, beloved, it is easy to criticize. We are, as I said, born faultfinders. There will always be room for improvement. But Barnabas understood as I think few of us do that the best way to accomplish the improvement is to lavish praise on even the smallest deeds done in faith.

So let us bow before our God, acknowledge our critical natures, and petition Him to forgive us through Christ and to make us all into sons and daughters of encouragement. Let us kneel together.