When a congregation is forced to relieve a pastor of his administrative duties for excessive unexplained spending, heretical teaching, spiritual abuse, and/or deliberate divisive tactics, what must the church do to heal and restore unity within the assembly? The answer lies in understanding the true purpose of the church because once we commit to this key doctrine of ecclesiology then it will be possible to heal the wounds of a church split through repentance and humility. The Bible is clear that the church is the Body of Christ; an assembly that is called out of the world (ekklesia) for a divine purpose; ordained by God; an organism that is unified by the Holy Spirit and led by Christ. Acts 2:42 could be considered a purpose statement for the church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” According to this verse, the purposes/activities of the church should be 1) teaching biblical doctrine, 2) providing a place of fellowship for believers, 3) observing the Lord’s Supper, and 4) praying.
As we do this, our focus must be on Christ especially if healing/restoration/wholeness is to be authentic. Therefore, expending time and energy on boasting because one’s side “won,” expecting an apology for hurtful words, dwelling on past mistakes or misjudgments, creating an atmosphere of paranoia, or refusing to forgive is the antithesis of the church’s purpose. The healing process must not ignore these important issues; but, the healing process must be about the denial of self-guided motives that are about the individual and not aimed at “the building up of the Body of Christ” (Ephesians 4: 12b). Everyone involved should confess the sins for which he/she committed that contributed to the chaos of confusion within God’s House even if the committed sin was silence or inaction in the face of injustice or false teachings. And, everyone should be submitted to the Holy Spirit enough to be able to reach out in love and humility to brothers and sisters in Christ whose view differed from their own.
The same dedication to prayer and devotion to study that was given to the removal of the spiritual cancer must be given to the recovery process as well. When a church is broken, the remnant is left in a state of grief, shock, dissociation, and distrust of the “other” side and the thought of future shepherds. Philippians 4:6-7 encourages us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Believers need each other. And, we have nothing to fear during transitional times because Christ is with us fulfilling His purpose through us no matter what experiences we encounter individually or collectively.
When God allows us to go through various trials, they are meant to make us stronger (James 1:2-4). Those who are left after disruption in a church have the responsibility to glorify God by doing the uncomfortable/unnatural task of forgiving those who hurt us and asking for forgiveness from those we hurt. This must be done because we are Christ followers: “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:18-19). It is my sincere prayer that churches everywhere be about the business of fulfilling the purpose God intended for the church as we learn to love, forgive, and serve in the spirit of unity not in a spirit of lingering brokenness.