Jun 2, 2015

Reconciliation: That Essential Ingredient For Church Planting & Revitalization

by Jeanne Yurke,

Raritan Valley SDB Church, Bridgewater, NJ

Seventh Day Baptists are beginning to understand that revitalization of established churches can go hand-in-hand with church planting. For too long it seemed that we were excited over a new group of five, while wringing our hands over an established church that had dwindled to five. Now, perhaps, we can use church planting techniques with an established church that will produce a new set of ministries with deep roots — a new church with history, so to speak. I, for one, am thrilled by such possibilities, as long as we include the essential ingredient of reconciliation.


Verse ingredients


Unlike other denominations with multiple churches in a given town or city, Seventh Day Baptists usually have one church and many miles before encountering another church. There are some places in which clusters of Seventh Day Baptist churches have emerged, allowing members from one church to become part of another. I will consider that scenario in a moment. First, however, let’s consider the “few and far between” model that typically describes our congregations. When conflicts arise, whether small differences of opinion or major doctrinal challenges, the tendency is for members to do their best to hold things together. Those who most strongly disagree have these four basic options: (1) join a church of another denomination; (2) leave the established Church altogether; (3) consider the conflict not worth splintering the church over and give up one’s differently-held ideas to remain a member in good standing; or (4) start a new Seventh Day Baptist church that incorporates the differently-held ideas — if shared by some others (but not the majority of members) of the previous church. Seventh Day Baptists who are related within kinship groups typically have a built-in reason to stay together, despite conflicts, and this may prove to be a powerful people-glue. In the case where clusters of our churches exist, whether originally church plants or church splinters, there is likely to develop over the years more fluidity between congregations. For example, newlyweds might join a different church to establish themselves as a new family unit in their own church.

Some churches start out healthy and manage conflicts in ways that retain spiritual health and vitality. Unfortunately, not all conflicts are managed well, so that even in previously healthy churches some toxicity can enter and grow. For some Seventh Day Baptists “church discipline” might seem to be a thing of the past. Indeed our older church records reveal that such discipline was more common as a way of dealing with conflicts while they were yet small differences. The desired outcome for such action was to restore individual members to healthy fellowship with their spiritual siblings and to keep the church as a whole healthy and vibrant. Sadly, if small differences are allowed to fester and become major conflicts within a congregation, it becomes increasingly difficult to cleanse a church of its toxicity. This is precisely when reconciliation is needed the most.

What does reconciliation look like?

Is it a matter of glossing over problems in order to move forward with the least amount of discomfort? Is it one person’s quickly stated, “I’m sorry,” without any attempt to change the behavior that initially created problems for the church?

Authentic reconciliation involves intentionally, prayerfully, and lovingly carrying out the church covenant which in some form or fashion usually includes something about “watching over each other for good.”

There are many Scripture verses about reconciliation and the importance of having God’s people reconciled to one another, as well as to their Creator God through Christ Jesus. Four of these verses rise to the top in terms of their wisdom and practicality. Let’s keep in mind that any mandate is not for human effort to be applied, but rather for the Holy Spirit to be invited to work within us to bring about God’s good purpose.

First on the short list of Scripture verses is Hebrews 12:14 (NCV): Try to live in peace with all people, and try to live free from sin. Anyone whose life is not holy will never see the Lord.

The next verse, Ephesians 4:32 (NCV), adds a powerful motivator: Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ.

The third verse, Luke 17:3 (NCV), includes a cautionary note as Jesus says: “So be careful! If another follower sins, warn him, and if he is sorry and stops sinning, forgive him.”

The final verse on this list is 1 Peter 4:8 (NCV): Most importantly, love each other deeply, because love will cause people to forgive each other for many sins.

How does reconciliation take place?

Just as salvation is an intensely personal experience, so reconciliation is a one-on-one process. It begins with having the individual become reconciled with God, and then it continues as that person is reconciled with others in the church who have been in any way hurt while the person was not walking uprightly with God.

Does reconciliation mean having 100% agreement on all matters of faith?

We should allow a certain amount of latitude in our doctrinal positions, since, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we members can reach slightly different understandings of how we are supposed to live out what we believe. It is only when our differences become disruptive that drastic measures must be taken, and we need to be intentional about seeking true reconciliation within the congregation.

What future can we anticipate if we fail to do the work of reconciliation?

Tragically, many of our churches are like houses that are built on top of toxic waste dumps. The sinful behavior patterns of earlier members (including pastors) have never been addressed; they have merely been covered over as another generation has built on top of previous generations. We cannot grow healthy congregations from such unhealthy debris, nor can we start something new that will not be tainted by the old unless the rotten parts are first dug out and removed.

Granted, there is no perfect church or denomination, because each is made up of imperfect people. Someday, at the return of our triumphant Lord, the old will give way to a glorious new gathering in Christ Jesus! In the meantime, however, with the help of the Holy Spirit we must keep on loving, keep on forgiving, keep on warning one another to stay on the narrow path set forth by our God and Savior.

Scripture quotations are from New Century Version (NCV), The Holy Bible, New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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