“Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.’ Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God” (Acts 15:36–40).
Recorded for us in the book of Acts is the account of a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over Mark, which led to their subsequent separation. There are a few important points within this story that I believe are relevant to the things happening presently within the Calvary Chapel movement. First, note that there are times when good men, even God’s men, disagree, and their disagreements result in separation.
Here, Paul was insistent that Mark not be allowed to go with them on their mission, while on the other hand, Barnabas was insistent that he should go. Then we read, “The contention became so sharp that they parted from one another.” Yes, it is true; sometimes brothers disagree, sometimes sharply, and sometimes even to the point of separation.
Notice, though, we are never told who was right or wrong and the issue was never spoken of again—not in the text, not in the remainder of the book of Acts, nor in any of the epistles. I believe that this shows us something: in these types of situations, it’s not always a matter of someone being right and the other being wrong. Sometimes, it’s just a strong difference of opinion that no longer allows for working closely together. The split between these two great men had nothing to do with doctrine but was over a practical ministry issue. And the same kind of situation has arisen within Calvary Chapel’s leadership. There are some strong differences of opinion on practical and methodological issues that led to my decision to separate from the Calvary Chapel Association (CCA). The issues are somewhat irrelevant because they are not theological or doctrinal in nature. The simple reality is that we sharply disagree over certain non-essential issues and have therefore separated.
These types of incidences—like the one between Paul and Barnabas as well as the one between some on the CCA council and myself—have happened throughout the long history of the church. I think of the separation between John Wesley and George Whitefield in the 1700s. They were the founders of the Methodist movement and yet had sharp disagreements, which led to a parting of the ways. Their paths still crossed. They, in many ways, still co-labored for the kingdom. Wesley led the Methodist and Whitefield led the Calvinistic Methodist, and God used them both extraordinarily! They were both good men, they were both God’s men, but they disagreed and parted ways.
Second, the separation of these two apostles was amicable. There was no mudslinging, name-calling, finger-pointing, or side-taking. Paul and Barnabas simply went their separate ways, Barnabas taking Mark and Paul choosing Silas. There were no accusations of heresy or questioning of either man’s commitment to Christ and the Gospel. There were no letters sent out, warning people to watch out for Paul or Barnabas, no suggestions that they could no longer be trusted as ministers of the Gospel. Now, perhaps some of these kinds of things were going on. Paul and Barnabas had their enemies (every true servant of Christ does), and those enemies undoubtedly would have sought to capitalize on this strategic moment in the church’s early life. But it’s apparent from the silence of Scripture on the matter, and from Paul’s request later in life for Mark to come to him (2 Tim. 4:11), that they didn’t allow this incident to divide the church in the way that the devil and his agents had hoped for. This posture, this unwillingness to divide or engage in fleshly behavior, is exactly the posture that needs to be taken in the current situation within Calvary Chapel. It shows both maturity and a commitment to the Gospel, without a personal agenda.
Recently, I spoke to a friend on the CCA council who happens to disagree with me about both the position I’ve taken, and my resignation. We agreed to disagree agreeably, to continue to love and support one another, and to continue working together where we can for the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom. Paul and Barnabas showed us that it is possible to have an amicable separation, and I believe we need to follow their example.
Third, I think you could argue that by Paul and Barnabas separating, God’s work increased. No longer was there just one team, now there were two. Paul and Barnabas were both strong leaders, and I’m sure that as a team they were a spiritual force to be reckoned with. After all, it was Barnabas whom God used to bring Paul into the circle of the apostles. So here they were, this great team. But, in some ways as a team they were limiting their potential. Then the separation came and the work increased.
Again, as I look at the current situation within Calvary Chapel, I don’t see this separation as negative, but rather necessary for God’s work to be expanded. We are all of us, first and foremost, Christians, children of God, and brothers in Christ. We are also all members of the one and only church, the universal church of Jesus Christ. Obviously, the events transpiring within Calvary Chapel have no effect on that fact; we are all members of the same body. And to use the analogy of the body, I see that we now have two hands to work with rather than one.
As I said in my original letter, I believe we can all continue to labor together for the kingdom. Some will identify more with Calvary Chapel Global Network, some with Calvary Chapel Association, and hopefully, most with both. My prayer is that this amicable separation will lead to greater fruitfulness in the days ahead, just as it did with Paul and Barnabas.
Finally, because Paul and Barnabas didn’t allow pride, unforgiveness, bitterness, or a competitive spirit to affect them, they would join forces again in the future, along with Mark, to advance the Gospel for the glory of Christ (1 Cor. 9:6; Col. 4:10).
I sincerely pray that this will be the testimony of Calvary Chapel as well.