Why Churches Are So Contentious

Why are Christians fighting all the time? Why all the church splits and stupid disagreements, why all the factions and denominations which seem to outnumber the pages of the Bible itself? Shouldn’t they be more loving and tolerant? Aren’t these annoying, insufferable boors ample proof that Christianity doesn’t, you know, work?

Setting aside the fragility of any proposition that is based merely on “what works”, the reason is actually quite simple: I was reminded of it in Tim Keller’s article, “The Fading of Forgiveness“, where the following quote from theologian Don Carson appears:

The reason there are so many exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to love other Christians is because . . . the church itself is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In this light we are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake. That is the only reason why John 13:34–35 makes sense when Jesus says: “A new command I give you—Love one another as I have loved you.”’ . . . Christian love will stand out and bear witness to Jesus because it is a display, for Jesus’ sake, of mutual love among social incompatibles.

The church is not a social club for dewy-eyed friends who blithely get along. It is a broken community of individuals in need of a physician. Seen in that light, it is miraculous that churches hold together at all: that there isn’t considerably more disagreement and conflict in the thousands of churches which dot the American landscape.

In fact, one should be extremely wary of churches where there are no confrontations or conflicts. Such a place is quite likely shallow and low on the diversity scale, and weak in its faithfulness to the biblical mandate to share life together, be vulnerable, and hold one another accountable to a higher standard.

By the same token, one should be suspect of contentious churches where inane disputes erupt over the minutiae of faith and practice. Such churches often fail to embody the Christ-like patience and forgiveness which Keller describes in his essay.

Image Credit: “The Divided Church,” http://www.placefortruth.org