A War in Heaven
Lucifer's terrible crime was not simply that he rebelled against God, as evil as that was. Worse, through slander and deception, he stole away a third of the angels with him. Though banished to hell, Lucifer's war against the Almighty continues: every time he divides another church over incidental issues, he strikes again against the heart of God.
If you have ever been through a church split, you are all too familiar with the terrible churning of emotions and the inconsolable distress that accompanies this descent into hell. If you are unfamiliar with the experience, expect that large factions of otherwise nice Christians will be pitted against one another. They will participate in slander, anger, deception, fear, bitterness, hatred, gossip, unforgiveness, strife, rebellion and pride.
Any of these attitudes isolated in a single individual would be recognized and exposed as sin. However, when they occur en masse in a church split, they somehow are considered righteous. Anger is redefined as “fighting for a principle.” Slander and gossip now enlist as allies “in search of the truth.”
The epicenter of the split may have been localized in a single church, but the shockwaves are felt across the area-wide body of Christ. News of the conflict is communicated in whispered tones, as when hearing of a family member who has a serious cancer. And a split is a cancer – a malignant life system, a false growth that is empowered by anger, pride and ambition instead of the meekness and patience of Christ.
Citywide church leaders shake their heads and sigh. Even if they barely knew the troubled church, they suffer sympathy pains. They are concerned. Those who have experienced the heartache of their own split also shudder, as they remember the still unresolved conflict they carry regarding those who divided their church. Still other pastors become restless and more guarded over their flocks, wary lest the spirit of strife infiltrate their churches as well.
Additionally, the evangelists of the city know that, at least for a season, it will be harder to win the lost. Indeed, as rumors of the split spread, the pettiness and politics of those embittered in the conflict reach the ears of the unsaved, reminding them of why they keep their distance from church.
I have traveled throughout much of the Christian world speaking to pastors and church leaders. It is my experience that, while divisions are found everywhere, splits are more frequent and often more mean-spirited in America. Is it our fierce love of independence and freedom? Or is it because of our more aggressive cultural nature? Regardless, American splits tend to have the least civility.
The reasons for church splits are many. Divisions may originate from confusion concerning church governments. To whom has God really given final authority in any given congregation? Sometimes, the root of conflict is simply misguided ambition in one or more associate leaders. And of course, there is always the issue of spiritual warfare. Often, just as a church begins an upward swing in attendance or spiritual growth, demonically manipulated strife emerges. So when we see a serious division in a church, we must ask ourselves: Is this the work of the same kind of spirit that manipulated Absalom, Korah or Jezebel?
Some splits involve some combination of all of the above. But regardless of the unique source of each division, Jesus warned that when our house is divided, it “will not stand” (Matt. 12:25). Clearly, when a division strikes a church, its impact is felt throughout the community. It is a war in which the devil is the only one who wins.
Heartache in Heaven
We may think the Lord is personally unfamiliar with the pain of a church split. He is not. In fact, pastors can take some comfort that God Himself, even in all His perfections, suffered a type of split. You may recall that, before the creation of man, Heaven itself endured a time of great rebellion – a “split,” if you will. Heaven itself could not fulfill the desires of Satan.
In those days Satan was known as Lucifer or Hillel Ben Shahar in the Hebrew language. The name Hillel came from the root word, Hallel, which means “to praise, worship, adore.” Ben Shahar meant “son of the dawn.” The implication is that Lucifer was the chief worship leader at the dawn of creation. Endowed with the gifts of leadership and creativity in music, his position was not enough for him. Fueled by jealousy and ambition, Lucifer led a third of the angels to rebel against the authority of God (see Revelation 12). We cannot verify it, but we can imagine that the angels who fell were those who, in the authority structure of Heaven, were under the influence of Lucifer.
Consider the cunning of Lucifer, our ancient foe. He was actually able to convince angels, who were gazing upon the resplendent glory of God, that they could win a war against their Creator! In privileged awe they had seen galaxies emerge from the mouth of God. Yet somehow they came to believe that under Lucifer's leadership they could defeat the Almighty.
They knew the Most High was fully cognizant of their every thought, yet they believed they could outsmart Him. Through stealth, slander and seduction, Lucifer spun intoxicating lies to engender discontentment among the angels until the very pleasures of Heaven could not satisfy them. He then lured them from the unimaginable splendor of God's presence, convincing them the unfathomable outer darkness was more suited for their cause. Yes, consider the deceptive powers of our ancient foe and wonder not that he could separate good friends in a church split here on earth.
How long the rebellion in Heaven lasted we do not know. Nor is it written what deception Lucifer spun. The Bible only grants fleeting reflections into that horrible, cataclysmic divide. Still one wonders: Did the Lord remain unaffected by the strife? Was the Heavenly Father perfectly aloof from the pain of separation, or did He suffer heartache when those to whom He gave the gift of life rebelled against Him? Remember: the omniscience of God watched the great lie spread, infecting one angel after another, until a full third joined in the insurrection. Was this division the first great pain in the heart of God?
Beloved, consider also with trembling fear: Until this ancient split, to our knowledge hell did not exist. Hell became a reality as a consequence to division born of ambition, jealousy and pride.
It is time for the church to put off the garments of strife and clothe ourselves in the oneness of Christ. Let us therefore repent for the sin of division. Let us position ourselves in intercession until we see divisions among born-again Christians removed from the house of the Lord.
Lord, forgive us for tolerating this terrible sin. Master, we know that our division is a blight upon Your people. Cleanse us of the effects of division, and empower each of us with grace to bring unity to Your church. In Jesus' name. Amen.