Years ago I read a novel framed around the life of Paul. Sure, it’s purely fictional, one author’s interpretation of the events of the apostle’s life, so while I remember enjoying the book, I certainly did not (and do not) frame my theology around a novel. While much of the detail of the book is forgotten, I do remember the scene where Paul and Barnabas split. I recall crying as I read it.
It was a sharp disagreement, the Bible says, that led to their parting of ways. Irreconcilable differences to say the least. Yet, the study notes in my ESV Study Bible tell me that “In the sovereignty of God, out of this disagreement came a doubling of their labor, for Barnabas went to strengthen the churches in Cyprus and Paul went to the churches in Syria, Cilicia, and then Galatia. In addition, both of their assistants (Mark and Silas) went on to have significant ministries themselves.” The rupture of Paul and Barnabas’s ministry partnership becomes a beautiful story of God’s redemptive power. Was it His will they split? Surely the Lord desires unity and reconciliation among His children and, yet, He is able to bring beauty from ashes, joy from pain, and restoration from division.
When our church split, some sought to encourage us with this story of Paul and Barnabas, reminding us that even those great evangelists of the early church had differences that could not be overcome and ultimately it was good they parted. Though I appreciated their evident desire to grant us hope (relief? reprieve?), I could not escape the grief that accompanied leaving our church family of thirteen years. Though I trusted the Lord’s sovereignty and was fully confident that this was what was required of us, it was a sharp and painful disagreement, to be sure, that led to our parting of ways. It was hard. It hurt. I grieved. Though I do believe in the Lord’s economy reconciliation is always better than not, I also know that all things being equal we would do the same all over again.
I’ve told you before that planting a church is no easy task, no matter how firm your conviction or fervent your passion. As we drafted a church covenant, constitution, and by-laws, and brainstormed possible church names, we knew we were wholly dependent on the Lord to provide. And He has. We’ve been amazed over and over again at the Lord’s provision even for such logistical necessities as a meeting place. For instance, we prayed for a guitar player to lead worship, and the Lord in His strange and wonderful providence sends us a guitar-playing, worship-leading South African. Who could have imagined? We’ve purchased twenty acres and we only just celebrated our two year anniversary. Yes, the Lord works in mysterious ways. His arm is not too short to redeem, to bring joy from pain, beauty from ashes.
I love my church. Yesterday as we sang songs of corporate praise to the only One worthy, my heart was so full I wanted to cry. The Lord is so good to us! Yes, the split was painful. Yes, I hate that a sharp disagreement arose between us three years ago and yes, I wish that then we could have achieved reconciliation. It didn’t happen and I know now what I was trusting the Lord for then: He is able to work all things together for our good and His glory.
I love my church. I love that we are truly family, that we love each other, that we are bound by the saving grace of the Lord Jesus, that we are committed to the Word of God and the proclamation of the gospel, and that we earnestly desire to see the glory of God in all things. The Lord has blessed us indeed for our good, yes, and for His glory, yes and amen.
I do not wish ill for my old church, indeed I have not, not ever. I pray that our testimony is theirs as well: the Lord is good and we see His glory in this His church! Yes, may Paul and Barnabas’s mission be accomplished in our community: may we see the gospel spread faster and further so that the Lord Jesus may be exalted among us! For His kingdom and His glory!