Recognizing Seeds of a Devastating Church Schism
Updated: Nov 25, 2022
Churches have been destroyed by preventable church schisms. In this post, we’ll discuss recognizing the seeds of a devastating church schism.
I. Church Schisms Result from Unbelief
II. Confrontational Leaders Can Prevent Church Schisms
III. Confusion Occurs When Gifting is Misunderstood
IV. Chaotic Churches Believe God’s Will Cannot be Thwarted
V. I Was Part of a Church Schism
VI. Schisms are Prevented Through Church Discipline
Church Schisms Result from Unbelief
All of us have heard stories or been witness to a church schism (split). These rebellions are often led by wicked church leaders and/or a professing ‘Preacher of Righteousness’ intent on leaving and taking members with him.
Inevitably, these fellowships are thrown into such disarray because of ‘Lack of Love’. However, there is a more foundational sin present: UNBELIEF! Unbelief erodes love that may have been present. Thus, it is unbelief that is the missing element in any Christian relationship which has soured.
Jesus said (Mark 11:23):
Notice in this text, Jesus doesn’t just focus on the ability to call things that seem impossible to bear, but adds: “and does not doubt.” No mountain in the spiritual life of the church is too high to be moved.
These mountains (some call them storms) stay within fellowships because of lack of faith. Many once healthy fellowships are dealing with issues that just won’t go-away.
We are quick to admit Ha Shatan “is busy” in our churches, but slow to respond to such busyness.
This is further compounded because our prayers are neither effectual, or fervent, rather are rehearsed and dead. Some are trying to figure out what happened to the times when church folk loved one another.
Either there was never and to begin with or it eroded away over time being not properly tended.
Near my home, there is a gully in which all water flows after a rainstorm. It stretches for about 2 miles across the subdivision and is about 25 feet wide by 14 feet deep. It was in awful shape when we moved into our home in early 2004.
The city began a repair process focused on the water flow path because craters, dings, and general erosion was endemic.
The repairs took about 9 months to complete. They used the best mixed cement and other materials in the repair effort. It is now 5 years later, and new craters, holes, and general erosion is taking place again despite repairs just a few years prior.
Like the rain that erodes that gully, unbelief has the same effect on relationships that were once formed on truth and love! Also like the gully, the longer one waits to repair the holes and erosion, the more unstable the foundation will be.
Any who profess to believe in JESUS, should never want more for ourselves than God wants for us. You have heard it said that when we get ahead of God, we wind up in a place where He doesn’t want us.
Think about this: we run ahead of God and use His name to justify why we are doing so. That statement won’t make much sense to the carnally minded Believer. However, it illustrates the confused state of demonic associate Pastors who desire to lead God’s people while using His name to do so by “any means necessary.”
I remind such men and women (Isaiah 5:20):
There is no one as dangerous as is the ambitious preacher intent on Drawing Away Disciples after Themselves.
Paul warned of these unsavory demons (Acts 20:28-30):
This begins with their belief that God is ‘Calling them to Pastor.’ While this may be true at times, it is certainly not when its accomplishment brings division!
The Apostle Paul called the Church Elders to visit him right before he went to Jerusalem in the Book of Acts. These were the leaders of the church at Ephesus, the very men who were to protect the church from wolves.
An uncalled ambitious preacher is just such a wolf whom the church needs protecting from. Their ambition knows no bounds and they view dividing a church as a "small price to pay" to achieve "their" dream (if not God's).
Unfortunately, the church I now lead had just such a man who, thankfully, is no longer in our church.
Confrontational Leaders Can Prevent Church Schisms
Nevertheless, there was something about Paul which held these wolves at bay. Paul was the most confrontational Apostle, in the New Testament, and someone who believed in order. Churches weren’t going to be split on Paul’s watch (although he had issues to deal with).
There are very few Pastors with the spirit of Paul in this area. If Pastors dealt with wayward sheep in a biblically sound manner, fewer churches would suffer the dilutive effects of a church split. The courageous Shepherd that will deal with this is often seen as a ‘Divider’ and not a ‘Unifier’.
Where did Jesus Christ, God in the Flesh, ever claim to be a “unifier?” You will not only find Jesus was no such man, He was also the most divisive figure in the entire biblical narrative than Jesus.
Here are Jesus’s own words on the issue (Matthew 10:34-36):
Weren’t we told “Jesus came to bring people together?”
One charge of a Shepherd is to not to unify anyone. How could it be when that wasn’t Jesus’ mission? We must equip the body in such a way that when Ha Shatan shows up, it responds accordingly.
Pastors aren’t called to be problem solvers for backslidden believers either. We are called to equip the Saints to solve their own issues through discipleship, sacrifice, fasting, and prayer!
Your Shepherd isn’t greater than Jesus and if Christ, Himself, didn’t come to unify, how can we be expected to? Remember, a Disciple is an ‘Imitator of Christ’ so how can one imitate what was not modelled?
My wife and I sometimes laugh when we think about how far the LORD has brought us, together, as man and wife. When we were first married, we had a Pastor and anytime my wife was angry with me, or I with her, we rang him.
He would immediately get involved and try and resolve the issue (or so we thought).
We moved to Colorado and joined another fellowship. However, the first time I tried to tell the new Pastor on my wife, he asked me a series of questions:
“Brother, do you pray with your wife?”
“How much time do you spend with her and your family?”
“Are you discipling your wife?”
His view (which is Biblical) was, as a Preacher: “If you can’t rule your own house well, how can do so with the house of God?” What he was teaching me is that I am the Priest in my home, and it is my job to disciple my wife and deal with the issues.
There are issues that a Shepherd may have to become involved with, but those should be few and far between.
The issue of ruling your house well is not a topic that will be addressed in this writing. That topic will be covered in another post. However, the example Christ set for us when dealing with women remain largely ignored.
This unholy subjugation of our Sisters in Christ has created the very thing JESUS spoke against, a Religious Caste System.
Here is but one example of this expectation of equality (Galatians 3:28-29):
This is important to his article's subject matter because our women comprise approximately 78% of most church congregations. God did not mean this to be so but men have largely fallen away.
Confrontation, then, must include Holy women who God is using to build the body. However, our sisters are not meant to lead the congregation! Much church tension is present because there are too few men while women are serving in roles not meant for them.
Praise God for our sisters however! If it weren't for them, most church building would be closed. Divided churches, which will soon be closed anyway, always result when people serve in roles not meant for them.
This is not exclusive to women either. There are men, calling themselves Pastors, leading congregations, who are no such thing. I serve with some and Jesus called these sorts "hirelings."
Confusion Occurs When Gifting is Misunderstood
Just because God has called someone to “preach” doesn’t mean that He called them to Pastor. Preaching doesn’t any more qualify one to Pastor than pumping gas qualifies someone as a mechanic!
The Bible says: “I have given some to be Prophets, some Pastors, some Teachers…”
Shepherds are born, just like Jeremiah, by God’s own words, was born to be a Prophet. Further, they are qualified although there may appear a lack of qualifications. Pastoral criteria put forth by misguided Pastoral Search committees lack Holy Spirit filled vision.
These selection committees are charmed by self-appointed “bottom-feeders” while God’s real choice winds up ignored. Pastoral imposters have allowed their corporate ‘Line of site’ to distort the operation of the Holy Spirit.
Whether one begins with good intentions or bad, the resulting destruction will be the same. What is also troubling is that such men fail to take a regular ‘Spiritual Inventory’ of where they are in the LORD.
The failure to discern this critical difference is where ineffective and destructive ministry begins! Churches don’t die because a storm comes. It dies because the man who is charged with guidance is absent.
In his place is someone carnally minded search committees have “snuck through the back door.”
Search Committees often do the small things wrong and expect the larger to turn out right. One such example is they often pray but immediately resort back to worldly selection procedures.
Here is but a fraction of their S.O.P. for Pastoral selection:
Opening By-Laws to discuss how each candidate stacks up against misapplied doctrine. This document is necessary for any non-profit as the law is concerned however, it lacks Jesus’ example. You cannot quote Jesus’ Words and leave out His example!
(i) It isn’t through By-Laws that God’s Man will be noticed, rather it is through the power of ‘Effectual Prayer.’
Consensus is ought rather than true leadership of God’s anointed. One strategy is for mediocre Christians who other committee members: “How they feel” about a particular Pastoral Candidate.
(i) It is Godly to ask: “what has the Holy Spirit revealed to you through prayer and fasting?”
Seeking to disqualify candidates based on what they view as ‘Limited PAST accomplishments.’ The focus should not be on: “those things which are behind.” To focus on perceived lack of accomplishment will usher in a spirit that will have a very difficult time accepting God is doing a “new thing.”
What Biblical qualifier did Abraham have to be called out of the Chaldees? Abraham was the Son of Terah, and brother of Nacor, and before God called them out of Ur of the Chaldea’s, they worshipped idols! Now, again, what qualified Abraham to be the "father of many nations?"
Am I suggesting you hire a NOVICE? NO! The Bible speaks against that very thing in the (1st Timothy 3:1-6):
Further, I am surely not suggesting the hiring of a heathen either. All I am encouraging is for church leadership to look past what is written in a resume into the heart of the man. You may find the "experienced" Pastor is "all wrong" while the inexperienced is he whom God sent.
Should a committee make sure the candidate is biblically sound? YES! Should it perform proper verifiable due diligence? YES! Should the committee immediately sort through and disqualify a candidate based on what is on that Resume? NO!
A self-appointed preacher is skilled at telling the people what they want to hear. It will be only after he has ushered in the spirit of the Evil One will you discover how devastating things have become.
Pastoral selection time should be blessed and exciting as God reveals His Will. Don't allow it to degenerate into a "demonic block party" ending in an almost unrepairable "fissure" in the congregation (or worse).
Chaotic Churches Believe God’s Will Cannot be Thwarted
Confused Believers say: “you can’t stop what God is doing.” Oh, the deception littering that short-sighted statement! You can’t stop what God is doing in the life of the Universal Church, sure.
However, wayward congregations have certainly become efficient at stopping what God is doing with them. Remember - although God is the "author and finisher of our faith", it is our decision on whether to follow Him.
The Bible is littered with examples of how people stopped God’s perfect Will:
Adam and Eve were created without Sin, ate the fruit, and God’s sinless creation became sinful.
(i) Was "sin" God's perfect and Holy Will for them?
Solomon was spiritual enough to ask God for an ‘understanding heart to judge God’s people’ but didn’t apply that same wisdom to his own life.
(i) Was it God's perfect and Holy Will for Solomon to begin in obedience end his life writing Ecclesiastes which basically questioned life's purpose?
After having the bondage of the Egyptians broken by the mighty acts of God, Israel turned a two-week walk into 40 years of wandering through disobedience.
(i) Was it God's perfect Will for Israel to disobey Him and prolong entry, by 40 years, into the Promised Land?
The Rich Young Ruler received a personal invitation from JESUS to walk with HIM but loved his possessions more than the opportunity.
(i) You get the point, right?
Those choosing new church leadership must understand the consequences mixing eternal decisions with temporal thinking. A very appropriate example of refusing to walk with God’s Will are HIS chosen people, Israel.
Any student of the Old Testament knows it was the Jews who God chose to reveal Himself to the world through. Yet, from the time of Abraham right up until the Birth of Jesus, the Jews refused total obedience to Him.
God said (Deut. 32:21):
We know these mysterious “non-people” today as Gentiles. Jesus said: “I was sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” Israel, as a Nation, refused to repent and JESUS made the statement: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold (Israel) to attend to!”
This “other fold” turned out to be the Gentiles which fulfilled the Deuteronomy prophecy!
God raised up Gentiles to Preach Jesus Christ to the world because Israel refused to accept His ways. This not to suggest Gentiles replaced Israel. God forbid I should teach false replacement theology!
However, the gospel has been spread to much of the Earth and not based on Israel’s efforts rather, Gentile Believers. God will yet fulfill His promises to Abraham and his physical descendants (Israel), however.
What more proof do you need of this than the Jews returning to the Land God promised Abraham after 2,000 years of being dispersed throughout the world (commonly called the Diaspora)?
Back to the church schism waiting to occur through non-called religious leaders.
The self-appointed man can be the most dangerous to lead a church. This person, and their lust for power, are under the direct influence of deceiving spirits. They are smooth talking, quote scripture, smile, and personable.
If you remember, magic tricks are all about having you focus on the magician will the magician’s assistant is setting the magic trick up in the very place you aren’t looking.
Some of the prophesy in Paul’s Epistle’s compares these spiritual deceivers to “Jannes and Jambres” who were Pharaoh’s minister’s trained in the dark arts of the occult.
Read Pauls’ warning for yourself (2nd Timothy 3:8-10):
Modern day Jannes and Jambres masquerade in pulpits and are never spotted directly due to ineffectual prayer, undiscipled church leadership, and the need to select the most impressive person.
Unfortunately, the most impressive person will usually leave the church early, often, and in shambles. So devastating are these sorts, church splits occur often during their leadership tenure.
As a Pastor, I have seen this personally and understand that those who believe God's Will cannot be thwarted are deceived. I would go further to add: a disobedient congregation will not only thwart God's Will in the life of their church, but the entire community as well!
If you learn nothing else from the sin of Adam and Eve, it is impossible to ignore their actions still echo 5,700 years later. For one to believe God desired "sin", fails to understand the difference between "causing" (sin) and "using" (sin) for His good.
I Was Part of a Church Schism
At a Church in Denver, Colorado, the Shepherd was constantly under attack by the carnal church leadership. Their goal, by the time I arrived, was to get this Man of God out!
The intent of these people, like in Paul’s Epistle to his young assistant Timothy, was to ‘Heap to themselves a teacher who would scratch their ears.’
The Shepherd persevered through the chaos and endured constant attacks from these backslidden Christians. They were led by a demonic deacon and a "out of date", wandering former Pastor. According to God’s Word, this deacon’s life was out of order and instead of being repentant, he was taken over by an evil spirit.
The Shepherd brought this to his attention in a scriptural manner, loved him, and desired to work through this. Month after month, the lies of he. and those who followed him, continued to be brought against the Shepherd.
Each time lies were exposed; the people refused to respond in a Holy Ghost manner. It had gotten so demonic, that in each meeting, Pastor exposed the lies and those who "spun them", didn't even respond and simply went on to the next.
The deception in the lives of this leadership group continued to get worse and as the pressure intensified, one associate Pastor disappeared. Those standing with the Pastor didn’t know where he went, or why he’d left.
It was later discovered that he had left because a “side deal” was in place for him to replace the Pastor.
Ha Shatan has used the same tactics throughout the history of God’s People. Nehemiah suffered such attacks from Sanballat, Tobias, and Gershom. Sanballat, Tobias, and Gershom had concerns about The Wall being rebuilt in Jerusalem, and by Nehemiah. To stop the work, they kept trying to meet with Nehemiah by sending ‘Letters asking to meet with Nehemiah.’
Sanballat, Tobias, and Gershom thought to do Nehemiah mischief (as did this group of people who also sent letters to meet with the Shepherd).
This group created nice letters demanding meetings (based on lies) that began with: “we greet you in the name of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ.” They sincerely thought they were standing in the name of Jesus Christ while standing against His anointed Preacher!
Sadly, the Shepherd was fired, the church was split (into two), and the “sneaky” preacher showed back up to lead (well, not really). The rogue deacon had become so powerful during this time, he effectively was leading the church and as I understand it, continues some sixteen (16) years later.
Sanballat, Tobias, and Gershom, mocked the Jews and what they were trying to accomplish. The same is true in modern day churches with such statements from “members” (not Christians) as:
“We just don’t have the money to do that in the bank!”
“I don’t see how we can do that.”
“The people will never allow this.”
These three (3) are the most often used excuses in churches that refuse to do what God commanded.
Heartbreakingly, these statements were at the heart of the spiritual violence against the mentioned Shepherd and ended in a church split.
God’s people, in these situations, always make themselves known! They speak up, stand up, and find the boldness to stand for what is right. There are many church members who try to stay out of mess because they don’t want anybody to get hurt.
This is the stand of a spiritual coward and Jesus Christ doesn’t raise up cowards. Unlike those who finally find their voice while standing, these sorts bear the blame for church splits! They don’t realize that it is their silence which emboldens Satan’s workers in the church.
They should further understand this (2 John 9-11):
Whether you accept it or not, silence in the face of evil is encouraging it!
To further justify their lack of biblical courage, some will say: “well that’s why I left that church.” Not only do such people refuse to stand against the enemies of the cross, but after not standing, they run away.
Although our church split because too few people were willing to stand for Jesus, your church doesn't have to. Watching this church schism was one of the most hurtful experiences of my life.
Schisms are Prevented Through Church Discipline
This ugliness can be prevented through the practice of Biblical Church Discipline as outlined in Matthew 18. Yet, we are back to those who say: “You can’t judge people!”
The same who speak this unbiblical nonsense are the very ones who say:
“The Pastor is making too much money.”
“The church is headed in the wrong direction!”
“Pastor isn’t the only one God speaks to!”
Oh, the scales that are covering their eyes! Are these statements, all too common, NOT judging a person or situation?
I have led a congregation long enough to understand it isn’t these sorts who are the issue. These statements are peanuts compared to the real culprits of church schisms: other leaders.
Matthew Chapter 18:15-17 says this with respect to church discipline:
If these, Jesus' Words, were practiced with Holy Ghost authority, most problems in the body would be effectively dealt with. We live in a culture which teaches: “Jesus doesn’t want us judging anyone.” Sure about that?
Here is what Jesus REALLY said about judging others (Matthew 7:1-7):
As you can see, yes, Jesus did begin saying “don’t judge.” But when the entire thought is read, He was teaching us when to, and when not to judge others! By the time you get to verse six (6) of this text, no doubt should remain on why judging others is right and sanctioned by God.
When we combine the earlier “church discipline” text with Matthew 7 (or vice versa), this becomes clear: judging righteously keeps churches spiritually healthy. Imagine how quickly church schisms could be dealt with if we only had the faith to believe the Words of our Lord.
Further, church struggles are all about power, full stop. When we look at the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Ha Shatan promised Jesus power: “All of this will I give thee if you will just fall down and worship me.”
We frustrate the plans of the enemy through constant prayer and courage to righteously judge (and be judged). Effectual prayers require the Believer to not only be obedient, but also possess the wisdom to ask God the right questions.
Yet, if you are like me sometimes - you keep asking questions He has already answered. The reason for the Believer’s lack of interest in God’s answer is simple: His Will is in direct opposition to ours.
Doing wrong is easy when the temptation of the Pulpit lies before someone. I truly understand the lure of being recognized in public as a Pastor and/or church leader. Literally, I would be a wealthy man if I had $5.00 for every time someone has shamelessly praised me in front of others because I am a Pastor.
This dishonors me in ways I can hardly describe. While I am not ashamed of who God made me, I am shamed that others believe they are less. I taught a Sunday School lesson on the local radio station. During one (1) lesson, I said: "Pastors are no more important to God than you (Christians) and even drug addicts!"
God’s people had never heard that from a Pastor and it was quite a shock!
When we first accept that Jesus commanded both church discipline and righteous judgment, we realize there exists a Holy method to prevent schisms. Next, when we righteously live what we believe, and repent when we don’t, our position to be a righteous judge is secure.
Finally, recognizing the beginnings of church splits allows us an opportunity to prevent damage.
As was pointed out, when we set out to serve others instead of being served by others, their needs become more important. All these areas of our ministries must align with the following for a healthy congregation:
Holy Ghost Discernment
Your Shepherd’s Gifting
Let me be clear: church chaos is often a result of a wayward shepherd’s non-godly visions. You are under no obligation to be obedient to things which were not spoken by God. If your Shepherd is casting a vision that is his own and not of God, deal with it privately.
Before taking such a step, however, understand the difference between God’s Command and God’s Permission. This will be dealt with in a later Volume of this series and is beyond the scope of this writing. However, the Man of God has wide latitude in how (permission) to make Disciples!
As I close, it is true that once a church schism occurs, it will never quite be whole again. In the most literal sense, it is like suffering a marital divorce.
I do not care who you are, no one ever recovers from a divorce. Jesus’ warning should be heeded: “what God put together, let no man pull apart.”
Header Image Courtesy of John Hain @ Pixabay