Are you looking for a perfect congregation? Take a number and stand in line. The perfect congregation is elusive because they are composed of imperfect people.
Yes, problems happen. If anything should tip our hand to this fact it ought to be the apostolic letters to the churches found in the New Testament.
Problems emerged, emerge, and will continue to emerge within the church, and within a congregation.
However, we have been given biblical teaching as to how to respond to disruptions caused by Christian misconduct. The answers are found in the apostolic word.
Certain members of the congregation in Thessalonica would not work in order to be self sufficient (2 Thess. 3.11-12), but instead were burdens upon the church receiving dietary support. Such was described as living in “idleness”.
Such were described as “busybodies” (Grk. periergazomenous), which is a play on words contrasting the appropriate Christian ethic of being “busy at work” (Grk. ergazomenous).
The point being that some members of the Lord’s church in Thessalonica refrained from being productive in the work force, and had become guilty of lifestyles which were unproductive, intrusive, and disruptive to the lives about them.
The apostle Paul sets forth an apostolic injunction to prohibit those who willfully reject the divine ideal to “earn their own living” to receive benevolent sustenance from the church: “if one is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3.10).
The church was suffering at the hands their disruptive behavior (i.e. “busybodies”). Since they were subsidized by the church, Paul aptly responds: “stop subsidizing their sinful behavior!”
Too many times, matters which affect the congregation (gossip, opinions, hypocrisy, etc.) are allowed to thrive due to lack of solidarity to follow God’s teaching.
Here Paul makes it clear that the congregation must make a stand together placing sanctions on those Christians who live contrary to the divine tradition (2 Thess. 3.6ff).
Only with a unified front, will there be sufficient godly pressure to make the defectors return to the “ranks”.
Paul and Barnabas
Sometimes problems develop within very successful ministry teams, particularly in matters of expediency.
In Acts 13.1-4, the setting for Paul’s ministry to evangelize the world narrated. In fact, the Holy Spirit is quoted as saying, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (13.2).
This Diving call to action belongs to Barnabas as much as it does Paul. Still, throughout the reports in Acts of the various evangelistic labors it appears that Paul (Saul) begins to gain special consideration (cf. Acts 13-14).
An interesting footnote is placed at Barnabas and Paul’s transition from the Cyprus Island to the southern Asia Minor Roman province of Pamphylia (Acts 13.13).
Luke writes that “John” (= John-Mark 15.37) was with them in their evangelistic campaign functioning as an “assistant” (Acts 13.5); however, for reasons unknown he left Barnabas and Paul and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13.13).
After some time had elapsed, Barnabas and Paul were anxious to return to the “mission field” to see the well being of the congregations which they planted in Asia Minor. At this point, Barnabas and Paul entered a “sharp disagreement” over the inclusion of John-Mark (14.36-41).
John-Mark who had served as an “assistant” (Grk. huperetes), a term which suggests the responsibility to care, guard, and manage the things of others (Moulton and Milligan 654-55), had “defected” (= ESV “had withdrawn”) from the evangelistic team. Why is anyone’s guess.
While Mark broke his commitment to the evangelistic team, Barnabas wanted to give John-Mark a second chance; but Paul felt him to be undependable – an evaluation he publically reverses over a decade later (2 Tim. 4.11).
Still, Luke does not append any evaluation upon who made the right choice for Barnabas and Paul part ways here, never to be found together again on the pages of Scripture; and yet, never disparaged for their differences on this issue.
It is unfortunate that such a successful evangelistic team should part ways, but the most significant point is that neither party refrained from evangelism. Paul continues to fulfill his ministry, as does Barnabas.
At various times brethren due to opinions – even strong opinions – must part ways for the common good of sharing the gospel to the world.
There is enough room for different expedient methodologies (provided they are biblical) to thrive side by side without any sense of competition of faithfulness to intrude our works.
Paul continues his work with the prophet Silas, and along the way picks up Luke and Timothy. Barnabas takes with him John-Mark to the island of Cyprus. One dynamic team turns into two evangelistic teams with capable leaders.
Sometimes we need to step back and realize, like Abraham, we are brethren we should not quarrel with each other over expedients (Gen. 13.8). Disagreements can be worked through if the parties involved reflect heavenly dispositions to make peace (Jas. 3.13-18). Faithful children of God must strive to “agree in the Lord” (Phil. 4.2-3).
Diotrephes and Gaius (3 John)
Sometimes a church setting can be so thrown off its balance by a strong vocal minority. They typically are aggressive, carnally minded, and self-absorbed.
Such was the case with a man by the name of Diotrephes. In brief, the apostle John sent a few preachers to the church acquainted with this man in order to be welcomed and financially supported.
However, pumped with his own arrogance, he rejected the apostolic request, suppressed the request, attacked those like Gaius who provided for men like these, and imposed his own will upon them by ill treating the preachers and casts their supports “out of the church” (9-10).
Such “church gangsters”, the apostle John says, must have their nefarious operations exposed (“I will bring up what he is doing”). The church must stand up against those who are intoxicated with pride, and manipulate behind the scenes in order to get their way.
Problems come, but the church has, can, does, and will overcome them if we are faithful to God.
J.H. Moulton and G. Milligan, 1914-1929, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton).