For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?" Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, and later commented: "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?" (1 Cor. 3:3 and 6:7; all quotations taken from the NIV).

"Worldly." "Completely defeated." Would the apostle Paul use similar words to describe the vital, innovative, quarreling church in America today?

I was startled recently when I went through the news columns of Christianity Today for 1996 and found over a dozen good-sized fights reported among American Christians. (No doubt hundreds of other fights were too local to make national news.) They included the full gamut of quarrels over property, doctrine, money, leadership. Even though I had read all these stories as they appeared, I had not taken in their cumulative effect. The frequency of our fighting left me numb.

Fighting among Christians is nothing new, of course; it dates from New Testament times. It's hard to say whether we fight more than Christians in previous periods. I suspect more, but I can't prove it. I do know that we fight differently.

Let me tell you what I know about a very public fight in a well-known evangelical Christian organization, which I will leave unnamed since it could serve no purpose for me to republicize these wounds. Plus, the unfolding of the controversy is so frustratingly common that any of a large number of groups could be substituted for this one.

I stumbled into the beginning of this fight several years ago while researching an article. The founding figure of the organization—I'll call it ACA, for A Christian Agency—had recently ...

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