Are we Exporting Church Conflicts?

by Erik Tryggestad

Some churches in Malawi sing during the Lord's Supper. Others don't. Until recently, the difference never kept congregations from fellowshiping with each other, according to Priestly Nkhonjera, a minister in the small African country. But then some-including missionaries from the United States-started teaching that singing during communion is wrong. Now some Malawian churches ask visitors about the issue and, based on their response, either welcome them or show them the exit, Nkhonjera said. The African nation's woes illustrate what can happen when churches in the United States export their divisions to the mission field, missionaries say. Young congregations in developing countries often find themselves in the middle of controversies among American churches-including divorce and remarriage, the working of the Holy Spirit and how many cups are used in communion. "These splits in the church, in most cases, originate from you people over the seas," Nkhonjera told The Christian Chronicle. The divisions also hinder church work, said Dick Stephens, who coordinates medical and relief ministries in Malawi. "All of this is going on while people are starving to death, babies are dying of malnutritionvillages are not hearing the gospel, and Muslims are trying to make deep inroads in Africa," Stephens said. The problem affects members in far-flung mission fields and members in the back pews of U.S. churches, said Ken Beckloff, an Oklahoma minister and former missionary to Kenya. "We all live in a world where divisions from long ago have been exported' to our own time," Beckloff said. "We always need to be working to overcome artificial divisions and focus on following Jesus."
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