Joel Belz - Church mending or splitting?
WORLD Radio - Joel Belz - Church mending or splitting?
What does it take to stand for truth and pursue peace within the church?
NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, June 29th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Here’s WORLD founder Joel Belz.
JOEL BELZ, FOUNDER: Have you ever helped split a church? I don’t mean on purpose. I mean joining with others in making your point so vigorously that your church falls apart.
And I’m not referring primarily here to some time when you disagreed in the past with others over baptism, or the millennium, or who wrote the book of Hebrews.
I’m thinking more of the vigorous discussions we’ve had in recent months about masks, and vaccines, and presidential politics. I don’t remember any other time in my adult years when I’ve seen more local churches so fractured and worried about their very future existence.
These debates—or should we call them squabbles?—are by no means limited to smaller or mid-size churches. Even some once-vigorous mega-churches are stumbling and staggering these days.
Take it a big step farther and note how even entire denominations find themselves in a mode of debate where many of the participants fear the ripping apart of a once unified body. Headlines just a few weeks ago—even in the Wall Street Journal—raised the spectre of major rifts in the Southern Baptist Convention. Earlier this year, similar concerns arose within the much smaller Presbyterian Church in America. Meanwhile, the United Methodist Church is currently in the process of dividing between liberal and conservative factions that some observers say is too orderly to call a “split.”
To be sure, there may be very good reasons why splits and divisions seem more prevalent within conservative churches—whether we’re talking about smaller congregations or large denominations. Conservative churches, almost by definition, tend to be doctrinally fussier than their liberal or progressive counterparts. Liberals, almost by definition, tend to be a good bit more tolerant.
So as I near my 80th birthday later this summer, I find myself reflecting on where I’ve put my emphasis over a lifetime. Have I been more a church mender or a church splitter? Every time I’ve taken vows of membership or leadership, I’ve committed myself “to study the peace and the purity of Christ’s church.” When I’ve pursued purity, I’ve in effect put an emphasis on sound doctrine and teaching. When I’ve pursued peace, I’ve put an emphasis on what I have in common with other believers.
For the record, I think that in my lifetime I may have leaned a bit more toward the pure doctrine side and a bit less than I wish toward seeking peace with my fellow believers. But I’m thankful I serve an understanding and forgiving God, and that others can make up for my lack and shortcomings.
Every Christian believer has to make those same choices, to a greater or lesser degree. You do that when you decide where to put your membership, where to continue your support, what kind of pastor you will call, what kind of missionaries and educators you will support, and dozens of other decisions along the way.
And I hope WORLD readers and listeners will be known more and more as folks who are intentional along the way.
I'm Joel Belz.
WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.