Let all bitterness and wrath, anger and evil speaking be put away from you Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God has forgiven you.
- Ephesians 4: 31-32
In a perfect world there would be no controversy large enough to divide a church - or a family, community or company with more than one employee. Learned or nave, rich or poor, pagan or filled with faith, human beings have a built-in reservoir of treasured opinions that, when provoked, rise to the surface like cream on a bowl of raw milk.
Im grieved by the disharmony at Augustas First Baptist Church, but Im not surprised. After working in churches in one capacity or another since I was in my teens, Ive witnessed - or joined - a not-so-divine argument or two in every one. As the bumper sticker says, Christians arent perfect, just forgiven.
And therein lies the difference! The church may falter, incur deep wounds, and suffer public humiliation for a while, but she doesnt die because, more than any other human institution, the church has all the internal resources necessary to get well.
Long-time residents of Columbia County know that First Baptist is the grandchild of our own Kiokee Baptist Church. What Daniel Marshall began on the banks of the Kiokee in 1772 spread quickly to the parent church of Abilene Baptist in Martinez, Botsford Baptist near Waynesboro, and First Baptist in Augusta where, in 1845 at an earlier building on Greene Street, the Southern Baptist Convention was born.
With such a heritage, and such a lengthy reputation for healing hearts and souls in this community and around the world, why the consternation now that a temporary wavering between two opinions (I Kings 18:21) will signal the demise of this church? To be surprised by a church in difficulty, we should turn to the New Testament and read what the Apostle Paul had to say about a group of churches in only their first few years of life.
Even in Philippi, the church with a minimum of faults, there were tensions between individuals (4:2-3), and dissension over leadership and doctrine. Reminding the people that good behavior was more important than complaining and arguing (2:14), Paul admonishes them to, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (2:3).
To the Thessalonians, another church troubled over leadership, Paul lists what commentator William Barclay calls his jewels of good advice:
Respect your leaders be at peace among yourselves encourage the timid and help the weak dont pay back evil for evil and never stop praying (I Thessalonians 5:12:22).
Paul was deeply troubled about the situation at Corinth, a church he had established himself, and to whom he had the most to say.
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, thatthere be no divisions among you (for) I have been informed that there are quarrels (I Corinthians 1:10-11).
Paul spends the first four chapters of his first letter to the Corinthians on the subject of unity. Already this young church had split into sects, depending on which leader - Apollos, Peter, Paul, or Christ alone - they preferred. Paul repeatedly addresses them as brothers, signifying that they all belong to the same family and, as such, should care for each other and present a united front.
He also reminds them that they are not as wise as they think they are, because they are thinking only in human terms and have not taken time to study the wisdom of God. (1:18-31)
Who of us has enough of the wisdom of God to judge First Baptist? Instead, as brothers, sisters, and fellow members of the church universal, we, too, can follow Pauls advice to never stop praying, especially for those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).
Paul had faith in his young churches, and Jesus had faith in his all too imperfect disciples to maintain the church He established on earth. According to an ancient legend concerning the church, when Jesus returned to heaven following his brief time on earth, a dubious angel Gabriel asked, But, Lord, what if your plan fails?
Jesus replied, I have no other plan.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.