“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” Acts 15.36-41
It’s not often that we celebrate a church split. Back in 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention split to create the Baptist Generation Convention of Texas. And currently, the United Methodist Church is splitting and forming a myriad of denominations including the largest among these — the Global Methodist Church. Even on paper this split it not pretty. What split is pleasant? With every divide, whether right or wrong, human emotion is involved and damage to the churches mission occurs. (And I haven’t even mentioned the first Great Schism of 1054 AD, dividing the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.)
Paul and Barnabas were friends and brothers in Christ, however, they differed greatly on whether or not to bring John Mark with them on their continued journey. The text tells us Barnabas wanted to bring him but Paul did not, because Mark had “deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.” The argument was so severe, that the two split and “they parted company.” Barnabas took Mark with him to Cyprus and Paul chose Silas. And Paul, “commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord, went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
This split brings up several points. First, rarely do Christians always get along. Second, divisions are often used by God to propagate the Gospel in ways that might not have been possible before. Third, one side seemed to gain more favor (Paul and Silas) from the believers as they commented him (and not Barnabas) in furthering his mission to the infant churches. Fourth, God can take our brokenness and use it to redeem humanity.
We know from history that both Paul and Barnabas were effective in preaching the Gospel but Paul had the greater impact. Conducting up to four missionary journeys and writing over half of the New Testament, God seemed to use Paul in greater ways.
In todays society, with too many denominational expressions of the faith to count, let’s trust God when divisions and splits happen. Only the Lord sees the whole picture. When I left conference youth ministry and didn’t land my dream job at another ministry, I wondered what God had in store. I thought that perhaps the masterpiece of ministry was painted. But God has more in store. More waiting for this sinner saved by grace.
I am thankful for the leading of his Spirit and in his ability to redeem and restore what was broken and make it whole. By his grace and for his glory.
“O Lord God, I know first hand what happens from a church split. It’s not pleasant or pleasing to the eyes. But you, O Lord, work though it, in it and around it. You took that which was ugly and you make it beautiful. You restore what was lost. Come now, Holy Spirit, create your home within my heart. Help me follow the lead of your voice and the steps of your feet. Use me for your glory and Kingdom. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen