Preventing a Church Split

From the Book: Preventing a Church Split by Gene Edwards
Summarized by John David Hicks, Evangelist

This is a scenario; a textbook case form Gene Edwards on how achurch split is started. This is not directed toward any person and any similarity is coincidental.

The saints are so sweet and innocent that when you say “Church Split,” everyone, I repeat, EVERYONE thinks you are over-reacting! Most people do not start out to cause one. It just ends up that way. The first extreme is the refusal to admit that Christians can and do have conflicts. At the other end of the scale is the tendency to label all conflict as arising from sin on the part of the individuals involved. No doubt most conflict does have its roots in sin. However, some conflict is inevitable, and is not inherently sinful. But nothing compares to its power to cause Christians to stop following the Lord and the pain suffered by mistreatment of other Christians.

WHY tell you this? The reason is simple. The day will come, if you live long enough, when you will be in a church fight. Other than a death of a love one or a divorce, this will be the most devastating experience you will ever know. That is why this hidden tragedy must be brought out in the open and addressed. I hope this is preventive maintenance, because in the middle of a fight when sides are taken, people do not want to address the issue.

Everyone knows “splits never happen to nice people.” My conclusion then is there must not be any nice people on earth. I cannot name one devout Christian who has been one for thirty years who has not witnessed at least one split. Doctrines do not father splits. Doctrinal differences arise after the split, to make sure Christian friends who are in the opposing camps, don’t stay friends any longer! You cannot cause a split until you first drive a wedge between your people and His people. Only after a man succeeds in convincing others to follow him can he form a new work! If he fails to drive a wedge between Christians, he fails in the split. He must attack the other’s teachings to accomplish the ending of friendships between believers. He must do this loud enough and long enough in an atmosphere of criticism, rumor, charge and countercharge, until people believe him. Remember, all this is done to defend God.

Over the years I have gleaned a few points that seem to be common to church splits and raids. A raid is when a person comes into a church and leads a handful of people away to his cause. His style is very important. He is not rude, pushy or insistent. Polls show, that all who listen agree that this brother who raised these issues was doing it out of a pure heart. But the division still took place.


The one who is leading the raid or split if stopped at any point before he leaves with his stolen sheep will declare that he is innocent and is falsely accused.


Just about everyone will believe him; even those who do not follow. He is seen as innocent and mistreated by the church’s leadership and they look like the villain.


The one leading the raid or split plays himself as simply too spiritual to criticize his persecutors, even while criticizing them. Either way, the church’s leaders, if they dare try to stop him, get hung out to dry.
4. His followers vow that they are in no way being influenced by him. I have never met a Christian who would admit that he was following a person in a raid or split. This statement help lead the people out: “We Christians should not have leaders. Only the Lord should lead us.”
5. After the split the ones departing will continue their friendships with Christians in the church which they split! This creates a great problem of leaders in the church that has been raided or split. The exception is when the membership is committed to leadership. Then they can have fellowship with Christians of other churches.
6. The leader of the split declares that God told him that, we are right and they are wrong, that the church he is splitting was a cult (or wrong doctrine) and not worthy to exist. (With God on your side, anything is ethical, is it not?)
7. The Church responds like they did in Church history. They will brand them as “heretics.” Both sides have no idea how deeply this division is going to hurt, discourage and destroy people. Nothing is going to stop some people from causing splits and raids. And never will they admit they are causing that split.

Before you leave, write down the reasons you are leaving. Then bring them to the Lord. Ask yourself, are you a person who gets his feelings hurt easily? Have you picked up another’s offense? Write down how you are leaving. Quietly? With a group? Full of hurt? Reconciled? Un-reconciled? If you say, “I feel led of God to leave.” Then leave. But I doubt that God also told you to criticize as you depart, or get angry, or take others with you. It is my studied judgment that God has never lead any man to split a local gartering of God’s people. My counsel to you is: Guard your words and your conduct. Take no sides. Keep your mouth closed. Do nothing, say nothing. Wait until the whole episode is over. Wait. And then what? Then do more of the same! If you feel you must leave, do so. And wait on your God.

One of the best things a church can do to prevent division is to have lots of fun! There is one way to prevent a church split. Never become involved in one. The reason 80% of reconciliations fall apart is because of pride. Any group started by a split has in it the seeds for its own destruction.

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