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A Winnable War We Must Not Ignore.

by Larry Cory


(Which church is the best church? Competition or cooperation?)

     What is the goal of the local church in a community? If we see the church we attend as our church, we can then also selfishly see it as a determiner of our success or failure. Our church, then, is in competition with other peoples' churches. Our reputation is on the line if our church grows to be the largest church in town or if it loses in the church race. Our secret goal, then, can be that our local church become the best church in town so that we can see our self as the pastor, a church leader, or a member of the largest church in town—so, we are successful or unsuccessful based on the church's success or failure. The result that comes from all of this is that we can come to see our churches as being in competition with each other rather than seeing them as cooperating with each other toward a common goal. This perspective changes completely the way we look at other churches and other Christians. They are not fellow Christians, but they are competitors with us. Is it God's goal for the churches in a community that they compete with each other or that they cooperate with each other?
     For many, most, or all churches; the goal, in our capitalistic society, is to grow in attendance until we are the largest church in town. The church with the most people in attendance wins. Or, at least most will admit, a major goal of most churches is for them to grow in attendance. But like those seeking after a gold medal or a super bowl victory, only one comes out on top. In March Madness, college basketball teams are eliminated until only two are left.  Recently, the team I pulled for lost in the championship game. Was only one team successful and were all the other teams then losers? Is that what happens in a community—only one church wins and all the others are losers? Is this what Jesus had in mind?
     Could it be that Jesus had something else in mind for the church He died for? If His goal for the church is different than many local churches competing with each other to be the top church in the city, state, or country; what, then, is Jesus' goal for the local church? Is He watching as we compete with each other, cheering us each on saying, "May the best church win?" Who is the greatest according to Jesus?  Or is it His goal that every church in town be alive with His Spirit.  Years ago, I heard the leaders at Peninsula Bible Church say that they wanted every church in their area to be alive with God's Spirit in the same way that they were experiencing God's life.
     Certainly, in Jesus' mind, there are not many churches but there is only one church.  How did we get into the state that we are in? Why do we have so many churches. It started quite early in the church. "You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not mere men?" (I Corinthians 3:3-4) The Greek word translated "worldly" is sarkikoi, which means "fleshly" or "flesh-controlled." 
     We see division all around us—liberal versus conservative, racial strife, religious wars, the mass genocide of those who are on the other side of some division, divorce, and the list of divisions goes on. When, the world looks at the church, what do they see? They also see division! To them, we in Christ's church are just like the world.
     I recently talked with a young man who was spending the night at our cold weather shelter.  He graduated from the local university, but is presently without a job. We talked about his view of the church. He said that his generation that are called millennials reject the church because of all the divisions in it. In John 17, Jesus prayed to the Father that the church would be one, "so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:21) Our disunity appears to have communicated to this young man that modern-day Christianity is not authentic. (Another possibility is that he was using our Christian disunity as an excuse not to change his lifestyle.  At his age, that is the type of thing that I did.)

Why are there so many churches?

     Over the years, we as members of Christ's international church have found much to divide over. Some divisions have been necessary. We have divided over such essential issues as the nature of God, the nature of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of salvation by grace, the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and the miraculous birth of Jesus. On these areas of division, we have divided over the essential teachings of the Bible—we have divided Christian beliefs from non-Christian beliefs. So, divisions formed early in church history that divided Christians from non-Christians, Christian beliefs from non-Christian beliefs.
     These types of divisions, though, did not cease to be a problem after they divided the church in its early years. There are still those who call themselves churches who hold unbiblical beliefs.  They are called liberal churches or cults to differentiate them from evangelical churches. They, for example, believe that they are more loving than evangelical churches because they welcome homosexual marriages and do not call homosexuality a sin. Many churches also believe that the Bible is an ancient book that is, therefore, both error-filled and fallible. Divisions between churches and church-goers over these issues are necessary; for they are, again, divisions that divide non-Christians from Christians and non-Christian beliefs from Christian beliefs.
     But, where do we stop dividing and start uniting?

     So why, then, are there so many churches? As was just mentioned, some churches have divided over essential issues, but other divisions have been divisions over issues that are not so essential.  Churches can be divided over beliefs that determine what is and what is not practiced in their church's services.  Years ago, I co-led a one-week high school summer camp. After a message, I gave an invitation to the young people. I encouraged them to believe in the gospel message and be saved.  Many did not come from church backgrounds. Some responded to my invitation, and I prayed with them to receive the free gift of salvation. But, the co-leader of this camp, who was a pastor in a church from another branch of our denomination, confronted me. His part of the denomination believed that the young people could not be saved unless they were baptized. Later, we baptized the young people who responded to my invitation in the small river next to the camp. It became obvious to me at that time, though, that there can be church practices that can divide our churches—in this example, a church cannot both require that someone needs to be baptized to be saved and at the same time say that a person can be saved through a prayer of faith followed at a later time by baptism.  Our churches can have these types of practical problems when we seek to work together. Another example of a church practice that divides churches is the issue concerning what type of baptism is practiced: some believe in the baptism of children by sprinkling and other churches only practice believer's baptism by immersion.
     There are many divisions of the church in our country. How did this happen? A study of church history explains much of it. In the history of the church, churches and Christians have divided over issues such as the following: (1) Should the church be led by the congregation, by a group of elders in the church, by the pastor of the church, or by leaders outside of the church.  Such names as Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians come from divisions over this issue. (2) Do we still experience the miraculous gifts of the early church. Such names as Pentecostals and Charismatics come from divisions over this issue. (3) Does God's sovereignty or man's free will determine who is saved. Such groups as Methodists, Nazarenes, and Reformed have divided over this issue.  Plus, there have been other historical issues that have divided the church.
     Another cause of the divisions in the American church has been our country's religious freedom. Many early Americans came to America from Europe to gain freedom to worship and practice their religious beliefs according to their own views. In Europe, at that time, there were national religions—English Anglicanism, German Lutheranism, Spanish Catholicism, and others.  America became the land of religious freedom. As a result, new denominations have been allowed to form freely until we now have divided into the great number of denominations that we have today.
     There is still another reason that we have so many different churches in one city—church splits. Years ago, I was hired to be the assistant pastor in a church in a large city.  After I had been there for a while, I learned that the church where I was employed had broken off from the biggest church in our denomination in that city. I also discovered that the older members in the church had the goal of growing the church to be larger than the church that we had divided off from, to prove that they were right in dividing from it. I also learned, at that time, that my job was to make sure that happened.  I no longer recall what led to the division.  I was still a fairly young Christian at that time. I found that my job was not to go and make disciples, but to fill the church building so that we would outperform the other church. So, another reason for the many churches in a city are church splits.

Is there a silent war between churches?

     The answer to this question is both "Yes" and "No." In a community, there is not one church but many churches. Also, these churches are all competing with each other for members (often for the same members). Certainly, in nearly every church there are those who once attended another church.  Also, those who have come from another church may have left the other church on bad terms. They may even have left the other church because of a power struggle in that church. What, then, is their attitude about the church they left? There, of course, is a high likelihood that there are unresolved issues between them and that church. They may even quite frequently speak badly of their former church. If this is true, the war that they were in at that church has continued on after they left that church. So, the war from the local church has extended to the city-wide church. Most of us have heard people complain about the church or churches they once attended.
     Also, assuming that there is competition between the churches, what type of competition is it? Is it a friendly competition or is it not so friendly? When a group leaves one church and goes together to another church, does that lead to bitterness? When a church splits off from another church, does that division continue to divide the Christians in the two churches? Is there a silent war between churches? The answer to that question is both "Yes" and "No."
     Another problem that can develop is the human tendency to exalt ourselves over others.  For example, we can see our denomination's distinctive belief or beliefs as making us superior to other Christians in other denominations. Those who have a good understanding of God's grace can see themselves as superior to those who have a more legalistic outlook. Those who use only the King James version of the Bible can see themselves as superior to those who use newer translations. Calvinists can see themselves as superior to those who do not adhere to their exact beliefs. Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals can see themselves as having a superior form of Christianity to others with different beliefs. Within each of these circles, they can unite with those of similar beliefs in looking down their noses at those who disagree with them.
     Then, there can be the perception that our church is better than their church. Then, also, we can believe that we are competing with other churches so that more people will be attending our better church. In this case, there is a silent war between churches. Only the humblest of Christians is free from this type of attitude.

Is what is occurring, God's best for the churches and the church?

     A capitalist society benefits both businesses and consumers. Businesses which are in competition with other businesses in town need to improve their businesses or they will lose customers or even lose their business. Consumers also win, for they receive better products at cheaper prices. So, churches in our capitalistic society also need to improve their services so they will not lose their members (consumers) or even lose their church. But in this capitalistic-type of society not all win, but often one business is very successful and other businesses die. So, are we to compete with other churches so we will out-perform them (beat them) or are we to sacrificially serve God together so that we will together bring Him glory? May I suggest that this competitive model where churches compete with other churches to win the highest number of members in a marketplace of churches is a worldly model for the church and not the model for the church found in the Bible. 
     Churches competing with other churches is the way it is. But is this God's best for the church? This model for churches produces many problems that work against God's plan for the church. When we are competing with other churches, what happens when our church wins? It can very easily lead to pride. We can feel that our larger church is a better church than the churches that we are outperforming. We who are members of the largest church in town can feel that we are better Christians than the Christians in other churches. It can also be discouraging to a church that has members who leave to go to the more successful church. This all begs the question: can we accomplish God's goal for His church better if we work together as one team, rather than competing with each other? Does Jesus want us to compete with each other or does He wants us to be one team? In short, does Jesus want us to compete with each other or does He want us to cooperate with each other?
     Also, when we compete among ourselves for members, we can attempt to draw people to our church by seeking to put on the best show in town. And it takes a great amount of time to put on a better show than the other churches in town. Getting people to attend our church can become the preeminent goal. It can become a more important goal than making disciples. Should drawing people to our church be of such paramount importance to us? Rather, should we not focus on growing closer to God and to each other? Should we not focus on having better marriages and families? Should we not focus on growing in Christian maturity?  Should we not desire that every church and every Christian is growing in these ways? Should we not focus on loving and encouraging people in all of our churches rather than hoping some members from other churches start to attend our church?
     Competition for church members can get us off track from Christ's goals for His church.  Do we most want to have shallow and loosely united churches all pursuing their own church's success or do we most want all Christians in all of our churches who are growing in love, maturity, and commitment to each other? Is this focus on church attendance and competition the best way to impact our communities?

A fresh vision for the city-wide church:

     What would happen if the city-wide church began cooperating with each other rather than acting like many churches competing with each other? It may be too much to ask our churches to put their distinctives and pride aside and be Jesus' church and nothing else. A friend of mine has wondered for years why we cannot be one church with many elders (pastors). Recently, though, he was reading a western novel. In the novel, someone talked about the many churches of that time becoming one church. A character in the novel said, "Then, we will all be Methodists!"
     My friend concluded that it is this spirit that makes it unlikely that we will all be united. But persecution may come that will unite us. But wouldn't it be better if we all chose to restore our unity. Certainly, we will be more effective in reaching our secular society if we are united.  That was Jesus' prayer for us.  "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:20-

How can we move toward oneness and grow in our experience of oneness
 as a city-wide church?

     Much of what will be presented in this section is already being done by Spirit-filled Christian leaders and Christians. But would it not be great if the church in a city (or cities) had a united vision to begin to operate together as one church? What if we were united in seeking and carrying out Jesus' goal for His city-wide church?
     What follows are some ways that Jesus' church can act more like one church and less like many churches: 1. We can emphasize our oneness and focus less on what divides us. Again, Ephesians four makes it clear that we are already one. Paul urges the Christians in Ephesus not to become one, but to keep the oneness that we already have. "Make every effort to keep [preserve] the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:3)
     What are some ways that we can emphasize our oneness as Christians? I will give some examples, but creative church leaders and Christians can come up with many more. (1) We can refer to Christians in other churches as fellow Christians. (2) We can support the ministries of other churches. (3) We can pray for each other from our pulpits. One church in another town that we have visited a number of times, prays from the pulpit for another church in their community each Sunday. 
     2. We can seek to preserve or keep the unity with other Christians that we already have. Ephesians 4:2-3 says the following: "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep [preserve] the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." How do we preserve our unity with other Christians?  We do it with gentleness and humility.  Where there is division among Christians, there is likely also arrogance and a harsh spirit. Humility and gentleness preserve our oneness. Pride and harshness divide us.  What is the solution? Humble ourselves and treat each other with gentleness. "And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (II Timothy 2:24-26)
     Where Christians have been divided due to arrogance and harshness on one side or the other, do not allow the divisions to remain. A simple, "I was wrong, please forgive me," keeps many marriages together. The same words could also keep many churches together. But, these words rarely pass between two divided Christians. But when they do, untold good comes from it. Such words will often pass, though, between humble and gentle peacemaking Christians. Such Christians put maintaining a love relationship with each other above giving the impression that they are never wrong.
     3. We can completely change our view of what makes a church successful or unsuccessful. Is it God's goal that every church be the biggest church in town? That cannot be true, for only one church can be the biggest church in town. So, is it God's goal that we participate in this competition over who will be the biggest and best church in town? The answer to that question is so obvious that it is amazing that every Christian does not see it. Would a father want his children competing with each other over which one is the greatest? No! He would want them all to prosper and succeed.  God's desire for His church is that we all grow in Christ-likeness and love. He wants every church to multiply Christian disciples.  Every church should want every church in town to be successful at building and multiplying disciples, even if they do not all become Methodists.We should be helping each other to accomplish that task, not competing with each other.
     This type of cooperative seeking after each other's success may be already taking place in communities. But, where it is not happening, why is it not happening? The main reason may be that individuals in churches are using their church to seek after their own personal glory. Their personal success is tied to the success of their church. There is no place for this, though, in the church that the Son of God died for and rose from the dead to create. It is a church begun by the blood of Christ and a church that is continuing and growing because of His indwelling presence. In His church, He alone deserves the glory. 
     4. We can focus on praying for each other. The other churches in town are on the same team with us. We should be seeking to get to know their needs so that we can pray for them.
     5. We can seek to find ways that we can complement each other. The Body of Christ illustration in I Corinthians 12 is not describing only the Christians in one local church, but it is an illustration describing the whole church throughout a city and throughout the world.  We should not be competing with each other, but complementing each other and cooperating with each other. If one church community is being effective in a children's outreach ministry, other church communities in town can send their neighbors' children to it.  If a church fellowship is very effective in reaching out and helping those with addictions, we can encourage people to go to that program (even if they end up going to that church). If one church community has a good financial counseling program, we can encourage people who need this type of help to go to those sessions. There are many more examples that can be given. Wouldn't it be exciting to start a ministry, if you knew that the whole church in the city would be behind it and would be encouraging people to go to it? 
     We can devise and promote city-wide events and city-wide efforts. In the past, there have been many Christian events that have been promoted by all or most evangelical churches. Here are some of them that I can recall: the Billy Graham Crusades, the "I Found It" campaign by Campus Crusade for Christ, the Promise Keepers, James Dobson's emphasis on the family, Moral Majority, and more. We can be more effective as a united church when we devise and promote together these city-wide church events.
     If we have pure motives, our goal will be to help people and help other churches, rather than seeing everything in terms of whether or not it will help our church to grow (even if our helping someone helps another church to grow). But, if the churches put helping people first, God will certainly bless the whole church.
     6. We can seek to work together to reach neighborhoods. A neighborhood may have people from a number of different churches in it. What if we had a city-wide outreach in which neighbors from different churches united in short outreaches to their home neighborhoods.  For example, one home could be opened up for a barbecue and all of the church people from that neighborhood could invite their neighbors to come. Then, testimonies of people from different churches could be shared. (It could be decided beforehand that divisive issues would be avoided.)  I believe that all of the churches would benefit from such a city-wide emphasis.
     7. We can make it a city-wide practice to support and pray for events and ministries in all of the churches. Then, promotions for events in other churches would be welcomed and enthusiastically supported. This would demonstrate that we are not competing with other churches, but at one with them. Also, it will show that the local church is not our church, but Christ's church. Furthermore, it will show that we are supportive of every part of Christ's church.
     Much of what is described here already takes place in many churches and in many cities. But is it the highest priority in our city and in all cities? Most would agree that we can do better at it than we are doing.  Can the church in a city flourish better in a city than it is doing right now? Can God work in a fresh way among His people? The answer, of course, is "Yes!" We need to stop competing with each other and dividing ourselves from our fellow Christians and start working together. We are one church, one family, and one Body of Christ.  May we come alive to this reality.  May the world see God's church united!

     I close with the words of a current song titled One by Chris Sligh:

We know, we know
We know, we know
That nothing else even matters
But love

We keep trying to find a way
To come together
Lord, take these fears away
And make us one, one, one, whoa
Lord, make us one, one, one, Lord, make us one

We are the face of Christ
In a world of shadows
Is it God's love we're fighting for
Or our denomination's ego?

We got to let go of pride
Embrace the idea of difference
Make unity our calling
And move within forgiveness

We know, we know
We know, we know
That nothing else even matters
But love

We keep trying to find a way
To come together
Lord, take these fears away
And make us one, one, one, whoa
Lord, make us one, one, one, Lord, make us one

Imagine what could be, imagine what could change
If love was all that really mattered
Would the light of Christ finally shine through
Me and you?

Holding onto our beliefs
Like a child holds to its father
It's like we're trying so hard to breathe
With our heads underneath the water

The Silent War In The Church

Table of Contents and Brief Intro Table of Contents
Introduction Introduction
The Silent War Inside our Churches - Part 1 Part 1a
The Silent War Inside our Churches - Part 2 Part 1b
The Silent War between Churches Part 2
The Silent War with Satan and his Demons Part 3
The Silent War can be Won by God's Love in us Part 4
The Silent War can be like the Wars in the World Part 5
The Silent War between a False and Coerced Unity and a True Unity Part 6
An Essential Requirement Needed for Ending the Silent War Between Christians Part 7
The Silent War Caused by Turning the Church into the Kingdom of Man and not the Kingdom of God Part 8
The Silent War inside of Each Christian Part 9
The Silent War in the Church with the World Part 10
The Silent War Over Divisive Issues Part 11
The Silent War caused by a Mysterious Invading Army Part 12
The Silent War Caused by Seeking Worldly Success Part 13
The Silent War Always Results in Persecution Part 14
The Silent War Caused when Godly People Divide Part 15
The Silent War Caused when Godly People Cause Divisions Part 16
The Silent War Caused by the Church or a Church Dividing over an Important Issue Part 17
When the Church is Winning - Part 1 Part 18a
When the Church is Winning - Part 2 Part 18a
The Bible's Description of Victorious Soldiers in the Silent War Part 19
How Victory in the Silent War can Lead to Revival in the Church Part 20
Conclusion Conclusion
Addendum: The Silent War caused by "the onlys" "The Onlys"
Addendum: A Pastor's Authority by Ray Stedman A Pastor's Authority
Addendum: Galatians 6:1-3 (my commentary on these verses) Galatians 6:1-3
Addendum: John Wesley's sermon at George Whitefield's funeral George Whitefield