Changes in Church Demographics: Conflict, Part 2 (Why Christians Fight)

[Moved and expanded from a comment I made in Part 1]

For some reason, I’ve been consulted in a number of church conflicts in the last few years, sometimes as a lawyer, sometimes as an elder, sometimes because of my blogging here. Some of the disputes have been outside the Churches of Christ — Baptists and Christian Churches, for example. And I’ve learned a few things.

First, regardless of denomination, churches get into fights and sometimes split. Some splits are accomplished by part of the church leaving and joining another church down the road, but it’s still a split even though no new congregation is created.

Second, regardless of denomination, the same things can trigger a split. The “worship wars” are not unique to Churches of Christ. Neither are fights over whether to fire the preacher. Nor are doctrinal fights. Nor are fights over high-handed elderships.

However, in the Churches of Christ, we are far more likely to wrap a conflict up in doctrinal clothes. I mean, we and the Baptists both have conflicts over contemporary worship. We “doctrinalize” the fight, while the Baptists just fight. But we fight over the same things.

Now, this should tell us that not all doctrinal fights are about doctrine. Sometimes the doctrine is just the weapon of choice in a fight over something else entirely. And often the doctrinal clothing causes us to try to resolve the fight the wrong way — such as by yielding to scruples when we should be calling for repentance.

Third, most fights (not all, but most) are over power — who gets to rule the roost. If you study a dispute in a given church objectively, and set the doctrinal issues aside for a moment, you’ll often find the doctrine is a cover for a power struggle — often between the preacher and the elders.

However, some fights are over the vision of the church: are we here to preserve and defend our traditional way of doing things? Or about seeking and saving the lost? Do we care most about the lost or the saved? And these can be the toughest to resolve, because the differences in vision often mask an underlying difference in theology — works vs. grace. And yet we often don’t talk about the underlying theological issues. Rather, we talk about contemporary music versus traditional music as though it were about personal taste and preference and entertainment, not missional effectiveness.

In short, nearly all church disputes fit into either (or both) of two categories — who runs things and grace vs. works.

Now, I’d like to say that once we get over the bad theology the other stuff goes away, but it doesn’t. However, it is greatly reduced. Power becomes less important to people who are steeped in grace and God’s mission.

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One Response to Changes in Church Demographics: Conflict, Part 2 (Why Christians Fight)

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    Jay:
    You have articualted well and are so bold in stating the truth. My wife and I were talking the other day about this. Power in a local congregation is a very nasty terrible thing we have seen it again and again. Then the emtional security of being right on every doctrinal issue is the other thing that people of our tradition just can't seem to study themselves out of. When you put these two things together you a reciepe for disaster.

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