Lately it seems the only thing people can agree on is that they cannot agree. The last several years have been marked by division in the world between a contentious election, racial tensions and the seemingly endless pandemic. Sadly, this division has not stopped at the political and national level of the public square, but has infected the Church as well. While I would contend that the recent years have only shone a light on deeper fault lines of division, the Church’s unity and witness has taken a brutal beating publically in recent days. Regrettably, much of this division has been propagated by leaders within the church that had once held much clout with large swaths of Christians.
If you are like me, many of your favorite teachers and preachers have not been unaffected by divisiveness in the last couple of years. Many seem to be set on stirring division especially on social media platforms where their hot takes and polemics create a buzz of attention, likes and responses. Many of the leaders who I once looked to for encouragement and as an example now rant about the same subjects, feeding off of and stirring the pot of division. I have lost count of the preachers, theologians and teachers I have had to unfollow because I just could not take it any longer. Talking with other believers, unfortunately I know I am not alone.
As a lover of the Church and one who deeply desires to see a unified body under the headship of Christ, this breaks my heart. I am deeply grieved by the loss of once highly esteemed leaders. As I consider this heartbreaking reality in today’s church culture, I cannot help but think that God is trying to teach his people a valuable lesson. A lesson that he has had to teach his stubborn people again and again. What is that lesson?
The lesson is that he is God and we are not. He is our ultimate leader, not the loudest or the most popular voice. Look at Israel’s history and the long line of wicked, divisive and inadequate kings. Who was faithful even when his people were not? God! Today’s leadership crisis and division is not a new phenomenon. In fact, Paul addressed this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit with the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. Just read this passage and consider its comparisons to the current state of the church today:
“10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
This division is heartbreaking, but it is not new. This division is hard to watch, but is nothing more than a rerun of a TV show at 2 A.M that has been seen countless times in church history. Again and again we are duped into following man rather than God. We follow our favorite teacher or preacher because they are smart, funny or in today’s culture, divisive. We do this again and again because it is temptingly easy to follow an imperfect human rather than a perfect and holy God. But Paul reminds us not to follow men, not even himself! Paul encourages us to fix our eyes on Christ, not the most eloquent teacher or preacher. In fact, look again at verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” When we look for and follow the wisest or the most eloquent leaders we are actually emptying the cross of Christ of its power. No wonder the church is struggling today! We have built a culture of church celebrities that literally empties the cross of its power!
The way we follow celebrity pastors today combined with the current division is harmful to the church, but it does not thwart God’s plans. While Satan is meaning this division for evil, God is using it for good because in all of this, God is reminding us that the church is not ultimately about the leaders or the loudest voices. It is about Him! I have lost respect for many of my favorite leaders and teachers, but I have not lost respect for my God and Savior. If anything I am reminded of his faithfulness as it is juxtaposed with man’s faithlessness.
In this difficult season for the Church and the crisis in leadership, let us not forget the true leader of the Church: Jesus our perfect King. He will never seek to divide us for greater attention and publicity. He will not seek to pit us against one another. He knows what is best and he constantly points us to unity in it, not division. So if you are like me and you are struggling with the division, quarreling and backbiting in the Church, join me also in fixing your eyes on the true leader: Christ. Let the quarrelers quarrel, but let us seek to be united in our pursuit of Christ. While we may lose earthly leaders, we gain (or rather remember), the true leader, which is ultimately found in our Savior, Jesus Christ. Follow Christ and share the power of the cross of Christ with the world who desperately need Him!