I have been a pastor as of the date of this writing for 35 years. The most difficult times I have had in ministry is when there is conflict in the church. Unfortunately, I have experienced that, lived through it, and did my best to believe that God could somehow bring hope out of the fallout. This article treats a very serious issue. What happens when good men fight each other. This article is based off the movie Captain America: Civil War.
We begin with Jesus prayer for the good men and women of the church of Jesus Christ. Here it is in John 17:20-23 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word that they all may be one, (in Captain America: Civil War -a disagreement caused division and conflict and fighting among the once close band of superheroes.) as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
Here is the truth about civil war in the church: God doesn’t get any glory, nor does it make His name famous, when the good guys in the church have a civil war.
I hope you have had an opportunity to see the movie, Captain America: Civil War. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie! One of the best superhero movies I have ever seen…just for pure action. If you have not seen the movie…there is going to be some spoilers.
Here is what has happened for those of you who don’t follow the movies or read comic books: There is a group of Super heroes that has joined together to form an alliance. That alliance is called The Avengers. It is not important that you know all of the superheroes’ names. But can we just say for now that all of them were basically good guys.
Can we say that they are like any church? Some are better than others. They never always had perfect agreement in everything. They have their own minds. They seemed to be on the side of fighting for right and for the good of the world. Together they fought and they defeated a real enemy called Ultron.
So as the movie opens…We find Steve Rogers or Captain America leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But after another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team.
The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps – one led by Steve Rogers (Captain America) and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s (Iron Man’s) surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability. This results in the good guys having a civil war.
How many of you think that the good guys shouldn’t be fighting each other? What is true of Super Heroes is true of the church of Jesus Christ as well. There is just something wrong when the guys who are supposed to be out fighting evil wind up angry at each other, and fighting each other.
Unfortunately, this has happened in the kingdom of God. It has happened in the church of Jesus Christ. I will be honest enough to let you know, it has happened in the church I pastor. It probably happens more than you know.
And I think that from the Word and from this movie we can discover the following truths.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN GOOD MEN (in the church) FIGHT
- WE REPEAT NEGATIVE CHRISTIAN HISTORY
Conflict and division is nothing new. One of the most horrible things to experience in the kingdom of God is conflict and division. Unfortunately, I have been a part of the church for 58 years. I have seen my fair share of civil war in the church.
I can immediately tell you the reason why it has been there. It is because the church is made up of human beings. And human beings all have a flaw. Even Christians who know the Lord have this incredible weakness. Even so called “Spirit Filled” believers have a weakness. It is called the flesh in some versions of the bible. It is called the sinful nature in more modern translations.
What I mean is the church although it largely made up of people who have asked God for forgiveness, and who have asked Christ to become the Lord of their life. But that doesn’t mean that everyone in the church is perfect, that we are all completely like Jesus. The truth is that the church is made up of broken people.
If you are new to Christianity, reading this article on Facebook, or folcc.org, can I give you kind of an education on Christians? Can I tell you the truth? Can we understand who we are from a biblical perspective.
Every person who is a Christian came to Christ because of their sin and because they were influenced by their sinful nature. Every last one of us, including me. What God does is that he puts us in a process to change our lives. Over a period of many years, we gradually get transformed from our old habits and old selves and become more and more like Jesus. So if you come and meet church folk, understand that the thing that binds us together is Jesus not our perfection.
In fact, the only claim any person has to righteousness is not from their own personal striving and efforts. The only claim we have that we are good comes from Jesus.
In the movie, the Avengers are all super heroes. In the church, there is only one super hero! And his name is Jesus.
Its Jesus we rally around! Its Jesus who is the only hero in the church. That is why we don’t put our eyes on anyone but him.
What is interesting is that early on conflict started erupting in the early church. Acts 15:37-38 “Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another.”
What? Contention in the church? What? The brewing of a civil war? That was a simple conflict between two leaders who should have gotten along. But they parted from one another. But the time we get over to the Corinthian church. The whole congregation was divided. They were fighting each other for power. Because of contentions they were criticizing each other.
1 Corinthians 1:11-13 “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.2 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 3 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
We shouldn’t separate into factions. Why? Because we are supposed to be the one body of Jesus Christ.
Why does it happen then? People want have a group following them. In Corinth the leaders were saying, “These are my people.” They think those people belong to them. And so, people start picking and choosing sides. We are just like the world when that happens.
When civil war erupts…it gets ugly. It got ugly in the movie. It gets ugly in real life. But it has going on in the church for a long time. So don’t think that this is something new happening.
In fact, the New Testament has many directives geared to having the church learn how to get along.
Read the epistles and Paul’s writings and you will discover 52 one another challenges in the New Testament.
Bear one another’s burdens.
Love one another.
Forbear one another.
Care about one another.
Pray for one another.
Forgive one another.
It has never been God’s will for the church to fight each other.
- GOOD PEOPLE GET WOUNDED
In the movie Civil War, the Superheroes survive. But there is one Superhero who gets hurts. He falls from the sky and is injured. His name is War Machine. The good news is he survives, but loses the use of his legs. One of the most poignant and tragic points in the movie was when Iron Man pulls the mask off of War Machine. His best friend. As the movie progresses we discover that war machine can’t walk by himself.
Stop and think about that. The Civil War affected a man’s walk. The same thing happens when good men and women fight in the church.
I recently received a telephone call from a woman and man who I once pastored. I pastored in a little town out in West Texas. Silly me, I thought it was the churches mission to tell Jesus to everyone in that town the good news of Jesus. The church I pastored was a little country kind of a church made up of some prejudiced white folks. To tell the truth, they didn’t like us bringing in all the neighborhood children. They didn’t want to be a hospital for the hurting. They didn’t want the Hispanics there. They didn’t want the African Americans there. They didn’t me there because I was a Yankee. They wanted their church for them.
A kind of small civil war had erupted in the church having to do with racism. In the final outcome, my family left there to continue in ministry elsewhere. As did all those who were not white. That small civil war hurt real people.
Recently my wife and I got a call from a precious lady, a sister in the Lord. They were active on fire Christians when we knew them. We hadn’t spoken to her in 27 years. Immediately I became her pastor again. I said, “Do you go to church?” She said, “Pastor Millsaps, we have visited some churches since then, but we have never joined, it’s just too painful.” Fortunately, her kids are now adults and regular attenders, her grandson was going on a missions trip.
All I can say is that unfortunately, the walk of two believers that I love was hurt deeply 27 years ago, by the actions of fleshly people who wanted their own way. Who didn’t love like God said to love. Who didn’t care like God said to care. Who forgot that the mission we were involved in was more important than their desires.
Galatians 5:15 says “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”
How many believers have had their walk hindered because somebody decided to start a civil war?
As a young man in the church, I saw things my family went through…my walk was hindered. My walk has been hindered. What are we going to do? We are going to make a decision today …to guard the unity of the church more than our own feelings! The Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 6 was suing one another. Going to court to fight it out.
Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 6:7 “Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?”
It is better to overlook the offense and just let it go. Proverbs 17:9 “Overlook an offense and bond a friendship; fasten on to a slight and—good-bye, friend!”
- WE LOSE OUR FORCE FOR GOOD
The church needs to walk in unity to become a force for God. Jesus knew that and so He prayed for unity in John 17.
On the posters for Captain America: Civil War are these powerful words: United we stand, Divided we fall! It’s so true in the realm of the church as well. United we stand, divided we fall.
We have to recognize that it is Satan’s plot to bring division. While they were fighting each other in the movie Captain America: Civil War, what good was accomplished? None. What good is accomplished when the church fights each other? None. Of course, that is Satan’s plan.
1 Corinthians 1:10 “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
The Avengers had forgotten how they won the victory in the movie “The Age of Ultron.” If you remember that movie, they were surrounded. And one of the leaders says, this is how we win! Together!
Let’s remember that.
- WE CAN GROW BY UNDERSTANDING THE REASONS FOR CONFLICT
THERE ARE CAUSES TO CONFLICTS IN GODS HOUSE:
- A Desire to have one’s own way
In the movie Captain America: Civil War both Captain America and Iron Man wanted their own way. The goal of this message is not to figure out who was right. The goal is that we can actually see the underlying causes
James 4:1-2 MES “Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.”
2. Loose Lips and gossip
Someone had been talking. The Superheroes war just didn’t start. Conversations happened. People chose sides.
Someone said to me one time, Bob, people talk. That is true! But the truth is that we do not have to listen. The worst thing you can do for your children is to go from ministry to ministry talking bad about everyone. The old saying is true, “Loose lips sink ships.”
James 3:5-6 MES“It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.”
3. Forgetting the God Given Mission
In everything the Avengers had been trying to do, they were saving lives, fighting off other evil superpowers. They were trying to be a force for good and save some, not everyone but as many as they could. Once the fight broke out, nobody was being saved.
In the same way, the church has a mission to perform. We are supposed to be out there saving as many as we can, rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying, making disciples and loving others.
4. Not understanding Authority
In the Age of Ultron, Iron Man was happy to say to everyone that Captain America was the boss. But when Iron Man disagreed, he thought it time to go against authority.
Hebrews 13:17 “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”
Well, I don’t agree with the decisions made by the elders or the pastor in my church. Then go talk it out. Did you speak to the people who made the decision or do you speak to everyone else? Iron man was happy to call Captain America the boss, until he took it on his own to usurp Captain America’s authority.
Did you know that there is authority in the church? Who is the head of the church? Jesus. And His authority flows down through pastors and church leaders. The problem comes when someone decides that authority doesn’t refer to them.
5. Picking Up Offenses
If you notice in the movie, at first it is just Captain America and Iron man who have the issue, but pretty soon people start picking sides.
Hebrews 12:14-15 NKJV “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;”
James 3:17-18 MES “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”
If your church or ministry is in a civil war. Be a peacemaker. Pray like never before. And most of all support your pastors and leaders. Don’t cause a church split. Don’t pick sides. Love everyone. A world awaits. What will we do and become?