Why Divide and Conquer Won’t Work

battle map
Image credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/thqinsider/5471549614/">THQ Insider</a>

Galatians 2:6-10

Moreover, those so-called leaders – I say so-called, because I don’t care what they really are, and God doesn’t make distinctions – they didn’t add conditions to my endorsement. Instead, when they saw my mission was to take the Jesus story to the heathen, just as Peter’s mission was to Jews, and that Jesus was working through Peter’s efforts with Jews and also through mine with pagans, and when James and Cephas and John, who everyone agreed were the “pillars of the church” gave their okay, they gave Barnabas and me their endorsement to go to the heathen, while they tended to the Jews. The only thing they wanted was for us to take care of the poor, which I readily agreed to do.

It’s a simple plan. Paul goes to convert the pagans, and Peter (with the old guard in Jerusalem) takes care of the Jews. You do your thing, we’ll do ours. Maybe we can get together and talk about how it’s going every couple years, but otherwise we’ll just stay out of each others’ way.

The fly in the ointment is that little side remark about “God doesn’t make distinctions.” Paul means it as a backhanded insult to the Jerusalem leaders, who Paul sees as having gone back on the deal. But Paul says more than he knows. It’s the reason a deal to parcel out different kinds of folks as being the exclusive domain of a certain faction just won’t work. As much as Paul opposes adherence to “Law,” this deal merely legislates that certain people are fair game and others are off limits. It’s no better than any other kind of competitive “empire building.” It’s the first church arms race, and Paul is determined to win it.

If God doesn’t make distinctions, though, you can’t expect people to follow that God from different walks of life, and remain only theologically, theoretically equal. At some point they have to mix in real life. And if Jesus is really about setting people free, you can’t build a Jesus movement on the assumption that people are pawns that can be shuffled around on a denominational battle map. You have to treat them like – well, people.

The same is true for any strategy to grow a movement. Those who insist that the only way forward is “divide and conquer,” will eventually end up divided against themselves.

Just Get Over It

cloth stuck on barbed wire
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/joost-ijmuiden/5576616224/">Joost J. Bakker</a>

1 John 2:18-23

Kids, it’s the final hour. You’ve heard that the anti-christ was coming. But now many anti-christs have shown up. They’re evidence that it’s the final hour.

They split away from us, but they’re not us – and never were. If they’d been us, they’d have stayed with us. But since they split away from us, they proved that they’re not us.

But God has made you legit. You know everything you need to know. I’m not writing because you don’t know the truth. You know it. And you know that lies don’t come out of truth. The liars are the ones who deny that Jesus is the messiah. Any such person, who denies God and Jesus, is the anti-christ. Anyone who denies Jesus denies God. Anyone who recognizes Jesus recognizes God, too.

Church splits are some of the worst kind of disagreements. Nearly always, there is a lingering sense of deep betrayal. And, as in this case, it easily leads to one side demonizing the other. It can seem as if the world is ending. The final hour. It’s all over.

And, while its common in churches, it happens wherever people interact in close-knit groups. Families. Companies. Unions. Project teams. Occupy movements. You name it. Disagreements happen. People go their separate directions. For their own reasons. And sometimes the parting of ways can be painful.

The good news, hard to see at the moment, but more obvious from a distance, is that it’s not the end of the world. Life will go on, if we let it. For both sides.

But to go on requires letting go. So long as you’re focused on the other side, calling them the anti-christ (or whatever pejorative is in vogue), you can’t broaden your vision to see the other possibilities that are on the horizon in another direction.

And maybe they did do something really awful to you. But as often as you keep dwelling on it, and re-engaging in whatever that was, you’re letting them do it to you all over again. Only, now it’s not them doing it to you. It’s you.

As hard as it is to do, and as cliche as it sounds, sometimes you really do have to just get over it.