This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for January 26, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
When you have major divisions in the Nation, or major divisions in the Church, is the problem fixable? Being a totally non-political person, I don’t have answers to the first question, and even as a fully ordained theologian, I’m not sure I have any answers to the second question, but certainly Holy Scripture has a lot to say about divisions in the Church.
Two days after the Inauguration of our new U.S. President, the Lectionary for the Church included the Apostle Paul’s admonition about divisions in the church. Paul’s admonition for the Church reminded me of Abraham Lincoln’s famous “House Divided” Speech, when Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.”
President Trump was elected after a very bitter election battle between two candidates who were (I think it’s safe to say) both unpopular. The polls fluctuated back and forth, showing this one or that one having more support than the other. Toward the end, there were two polls that were somewhat illogical if viewed together. One of them showed that 56 percent of Americans did not think Donald Trump would make a good President, and the other poll showed that 56 percent did not believe Hilary Clinton would make a good President. Together that’s 112 percent, but it did seem to indicate that Americans were divided on the issue of selecting a President.
Some movie stars and other celebrities said they would move to Canada if Trump were elected. Clinton supporters felt that she would win; those on the opposite side hoped and prayed she wouldn’t. When Mr. Trump did win, there were protests and angry speeches, so the division continued. These responses carried over into Inauguration Day, when sixty-nine congressmen did not attend the Inauguration. On the Big Day, anti-Trump protestors went to the Capitol to protest, and the Bikers arrived with the intention of “protecting” the President-Elect. Recognizing the division in our country, newly sworn-in President Trump said in his Inauguration speech, “When America is united, America will be unstoppable.”
As far as I can tell, God’s Word does not speak directly to a Nation divided, but it does speak directly and explicitly to a Church divided, as the Lectionary for January 22 showed. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Paul discusses the division in the Church at Corinth, and he calls for unity among Christians, as Christ cannot be divided. Staying true to the Gospel of the Cross, which is the power of the Cross, will heal the divisions and achieve unity.
As I read this section of the Paul’s Second Letter to the congregation at Corinth, I couldn’t help but think of the division which occurred in my ancestors’ Church, -- the old Wendish Lutheran Church in Serbin. Until the first division occurred, it was simply known as the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Serbin. Apparently there was a division in the Church over whether the hymns should be sung the Wendish style or the German style, and the division was so great it led to a split. They split into two churches, one was named St. Paul and the other was named St. Peter.
Some years later, they came back together and became one church again. Then another division occurred, resulting in another split, thus they once again became two churches. I don’t remember what the issue was the second time. That didn’t end the story, however, because some more years later, they reunited and became one again. They have remained one ever since.
I keep asking myself, does such an example of dividing and reuniting (twice) prove Lincoln’s point that a House divided cannot stand, and ultimately to survive and to thrive it comes together in the end? Of course, there are many examples I know of whereupon churches divided and remained separate.
No doubt, it’s much more problematic for a Nation to remain divided than for a church to split. In the examples of the churches that split and did not come back together, I know that each one is now happy, but is God happy, since God calls for reconciliation? As a Nation, how do we come together? Something to think about.
Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.