(Emmitt Cornelius Jr.) came to Grace Fellowship while pursuing a doctorate degree in theology at a local seminary. Shortly after (his) arrival, (he) was invited to join the church staff full-time as Christian Education Director. A few years later (he) became the senior pastor upon the retirement of Pastor Doug, the only other senior pastor Grace Fellowship had known. It seemed like a perfect transition. However, upon reflection, it was more like the quiet before a storm. Most of the congregants had appreciated (his) ministry over the years, and (his) installment as senior pastor generated incredible excitement over the future of (their) church.
The biggest problem in the church was one that many churches face: one or more prominent members who are hungry for power. These people often feel their membership, relationship to the founder or financial means give them some sort of carte blanche in exerting control in the church. In this situation, the controlling members belonged to the former pastor's family. Pastor Doug's wife was particularly challenging. From day one, she saw (Emmitt’s) appointment as a threat to the status and control the "first family" had enjoyed. Teaming up with the former "first lady" was her influential and successful son-in-law, Deacon Hall. He believed his status, prominence and influence as a deacon was threatened by the (new Pastors) role. At first, the opposition was insignificant. But as time went on, it became more overt, and more people were slowly but methodically recruited to their cause. Though this was a major problem in itself, there were (some) conditions that combined to make a perfect storm.
Pastor Doug remained in a key leadership position upon his retirement and (Cornelius’) installation. He continued as a voting elder and was given the title "Pastor Emeritus.” Some of the congregants exalted Pastor Doug and his family in such a way that made it difficult to correct them when they were wrong. At one point, Pastor Doug's wife would routinely leave the sanctuary when (the new pastor) preached. When Pastor Doug was confronted about his wife's disrespectful behavior, he defended her actions by commenting that she didn't want to be a hypocrite. the leadership was divided. Division existed at two levels. First, the elders and deacons disagreed over the role of deacons. (Pastor Emmitt) even presented a paper on the roles of elders and deacons, but Deacon Hall was infuriated. Disagreement and power struggle continued for several years.
Eventually, all these conditions collided to produce a perfect storm that caused a devastating church split, and it led to (Conelius’) early resignation.
Church splits and divisions are, unfortunately, far too common place today and throughout history. Some of them are good and legitimate reasons and some are ludicrous. Churches have split over buildings, locations, music, sacred cows, leadership, and just plain ole stubbornness. As I stated it is true that there are some legitimate splits (i.e., heresy preached from the pulpit, sin issues of the pastor, denomination is not holding to biblical truths and so on). One thing is for certain though, church splits or even inner church conflicts rarely happen in a healthy manner, they are almost like a divorce. I know of one church that split and the two churches literally divided everything in half… Each church received half the chairs, desks, office staff, and other assets.
Apparently church conflict is an age-old thing since James is dealing with similar issues that we are continuing today.
James 4:1 - 10
Quarrels and Fights
Vs 1- 3: The beginning of this chapter is not an introduction to a new topic; instead, James shifts his focus from wisdom and words of believers to the worries and woes of the church. Apparently, there were struggling in this community, people were sowing discord among the congregations. They were starting fights and disputes with others for their own selfish reasons and desires without regard to how many people were hurt in the process. This was and is a problem because James addresses the topic and then asks the rhetorical question, “Where do quarrels and fights among you come from?” He answers, “It comes from selfish desires that are at war in us.” Disunity and conflict in a church is almost always the result of selfish desire.
We need only to look at churches in more recent times that were at war over the style of music that is played for the time of worship. How ironic is that? We argue and split over something that is designed to draw believers together into the presence of God. This was was/is all based in preference or selfish desire. Some churches divide over communion, others over where the pulpit should be placed, some fight over whether there should be a pulpit at all? The list goes on.
Conflict often happens because we don’t want to change something because we might not like it even if it is from God. Some peoples’ attitude can be that it doesn’t really matter if God is behind something, I really don’t like it. Now, I have never heard someone say that, but I have sure seen someone believe it. Theologian and Biblical scholar Douglas Moo writes, “The seventeenth century Jewish philosopher Spinoza observed: ‘I have often wondered that persons make boast of professing the Christian religion – namely love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity to all men – should quarrel with such rancorous animosity and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than the virtues which they profess, is the readiest criteria of their faith.’ Some battles to be sure, need to be fought. But even they must be fought without sacrificing Christian principles and virtues.”
The source of many quarrels comes from one place… selfish desires that war within us. Maybe to the individuals James was writing felt justified in their fighting? Maybe they thought they were noble in their efforts or zeal for something to happen or change but apparently, they were not honoring to God.
Vs 2: James expands on the nature of these sinful desires, and he uses some strong words to describe their actions, words like desire, murder, and covet. Now it is uncertain as to whether these people were literally killing one another out of selfish desire (which wasn’t entirely out of the picture) but it’s safe to assume that he is using analogy in the same way Jesus describes a person as a murderer as one who hates his/her brother or sister in Christ. A person who holds animosity in his heart towards another is just as guilty as the person who commits murder. This is probably what James is suggesting.
All this conflict was fruitless because as they were seeking God’s counsel, they were seeking with wrong motives. They were not seeking God’s will; they were seeking God’s approval for what they were doing. They were asking for God’s stamp of approval on their selfish motives.
The Problem: Frenemies
Vs 4 – 10: “You adulterous people!” Some versions say, “Adulteresses!” These are robust words and have deep implications to the body of Christ. Up to this point in the letter James has referred to his recipients with affection by calling them “brothers” and “my dear brothers”. Now, he speaks harshly to them because in all this warring and fighting with each other they were acting like the rest of the Godless world. Christians and the church should be unique because of our love towards one another. However, the recipients to the letter are embracing the world’s ways of doing things and not God’s thus ultimately committing spiritual adultery with the world. Spiritual adultery always ends with those involved becoming enemies of God. Being an enemy of God is a two-way street as it does show God’s hostility towards the believer but also shows the hostility of the believer towards God.
These people have been living worldly lives up to this point by showing partiality to the rich, neglecting the poor, speaking negatively to others, and starting fights in the body to fulfill their selfish desires. When believers start living as the world lives, we are showing where our allegiance lies… to the world, and God will not take backseat to the world.
The Solution: Submit, Resist, and Draw Near
God is always willing to give grace to those who humble themselves, but He is an opponent to those who are prideful and self-dependent. Since God is willing to pour out as much grace needed James exhorts his listeners…
When we follow the words of James, we see that fellowship or friendship can be restored between person and God. We must note that this portion of scripture is not a method for salvation because there are some key components missing (i.e., faith in Jesus and public confession of sins) this is intended for restoring fellowship with God.
Vs 10: James returns to the act of humbling oneself before God. When we recognize our spiritual deficiency without God is when we truly can stand in humility before Him. When we can stand humbly before God in spiritual poverty then and only then will God lift us up and exalt us thus victorious Christian living.
There is a lot packed into these 10 verses and I have merely scratched the surface; but they are very practical to us. We know for certain that church fights, splits and disunity happen all the time. It has happened since the beginning of the Church age. And it will, unfortunately, continue throughout time. However, we have the key right to avoiding and confronting conflict and division right in front of us. It is important for us to seek unity in Christ together, we need to strive to not be divisive in our words, slanderous in our talk and hypocritical in our worship. We should not seek friendship with the world but instead be single-minded in our devotion to God. We must submit to God and his will (not our selfish desires), be Spirit-driven so we can resist the devil in his attacks, draw near to God in our private and corporate times of worship, and lastly humble ourselves before the Great and Mighty King knowing our place before him and in doing this, and in doing so He will lift us up.
 CT Pastors, December 2012 Anatomy of a Church Split Heeding the early signs of conflict can save churches untold heartache. EMMITT CORNELIUS JR.|POSTED DECEMBER 10, 2012
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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