Plough My Account Sign Out
My Account
    View Cart

    Subtotal: $

    a church with the Limerick Nuclear Generating Station in the background

    Fusion in a World of Fission

    Our church recently conducted an experiment in the power of spiritual fusion, merging with two nearby churches.

    By D. Jay Martin

    February 5, 2024
    • DeVonna Allison

      What an insightful and refreshing article. I thank God for the leadership in these churches that allows for this unity. Sometimes we can be so set in our traditions that we are closed to change; even growth is change.

    • Rona Obert

      This idea should be promoted in all demoninations

    • Shannon Vining

      Great article! Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Ruth Sill

      D Jay, so blessed to open my mail to this article today! I am also blessed to be a part of this fusion...what joy it brings to share this ongoing story of a beautiful God-fused energy right here in our community.

    On October 1, 1529, Martin Luther, representing German Lutherans, and Ulrich Zwingli, on behalf of the Swiss Reformed churches, met with the intent of brokering an alliance between their two movements. This series of conversations subsequently became known as the Colloquy of Marburg, after the German town in which the summit was held. Across four days of debate, the two reformers came to agreement on fourteen points but found consensus impossible to reach on a fifteenth disputed issue: the nature of the Eucharist. Discussions broke down, and despite later attempts to find common ground, the disagreements aired at Marburg have continued to divide the Lutheran and Reformed movements in the five centuries since.

    Church history is full of similar moments. From the very beginning, disagreements have threatened to divide the church: we only have to look to the Book of Acts to find Christians quarrelling over whether gentile converts should follow the Mosaic law, or whether believers should consume food offered to idols. In the millennia since, the number of divisions within the church has only grown. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that there are over 45,000 denominations worldwide. Had early Protestant leaders like Luther and Zwingli found unity, while still allowing for healthy theological diversity, the situation might be very different today.

    Yet disagreement isn’t always simply destructive. The Reformation period shows how division can be a source of spiritual energy, sparking significant cultural change. After Marburg, both Lutheran and Reformed churches brought about spiritual transformation where their ideas spread. And without the Protestants’ initial break from the Catholic Church, many of the positive changes in both may never have occurred.

    An illustration of the power that can be generated by division is the process of nuclear fission. When a neutron collides with a larger atom, causing it to split, tremendous amounts of energy are released. All modern nuclear technologies, from power plants to nuclear warheads, harness this principle of power created by division.  

    The results of fission are both wonderful and terrifying. Many experts agree that, amid climate change and resource shortages, fission offers a viable solution to meet the world’s current energy demands. But the power of fission doesn’t come without cost. The process produces hazardous nuclear waste, and even when used for peaceful purposes, it poses a perennial risk of terrible accidents. Harnessed for war, the effects of nuclear fission, as seen in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are horrific.

    Like nuclear fission, church splits often produce huge amounts of energy – but at a high cost. Sometimes this energy has been harnessed to drive fresh missionary activity and promote spiritual reform; it can also have toxic biproducts. Countless people have been wounded by painful church splits, and the divisiveness and sectarianism within the church has contributed to people leaving the faith.

    The local church I help pastor is located just a few miles from the Limerick Generating Station, a nuclear power plant that provides electricity to the equivalent of 1.7 million homes. Several employees and engineers who work at the station are part of our congregation. The two towering smokestacks of the plant can be easily viewed from our church property.

    Yet despite the fact that nuclear fission helps powers our lights, our church aspires to resemble a different kind of atomic reaction – not nuclear fission but nuclear fusion. Scientifically speaking, fusion occurs when two atoms collide with such great force that they merge into one larger atom. A fusion reaction creates even more energy than fission – without the resultant radioactive waste.

    a church with the Limerick Nuclear Generating Station in the background

    Parker Ford Church, Photograph by D. Jay Martin.

    Although the research is still at its experimental stage, scientists are excited by the possibility of using nuclear fusion as a clean energy technology. In 2022, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory fused two atoms, producing, for the first time in history, a net energy gain from a fusion experiment. The experiment was successfully repeated in July of 2023. If scientists can learn to harness the power of fusion at a larger scale, it has the potential to transform the energy industry.

    Can comparing these two processes, fusion and fission, provide any spiritual parallels for the church? Fission generates huge amounts of power through division, but it also creates hazardous waste. Fusion, although far more difficult to accomplish, creates even more energy through unification – this time without the toxic biproducts.

    In June of 2022, just a few months prior to the first successful nuclear fusion test, our local church conducted its own experiment in the power of spiritual fusion. On Sunday, June 5, 2022, Parker Ford Church (historically a Church of the Brethren congregation) officially merged with Daybreak Community Church (a Brethren in Christ congregation) and NorthPointe Community Church (a Southern Baptist church plant). 

    Our newly fused congregation has had to navigate cultural differences and relational strains. Yet we are seeing how this fusion has released spiritual energy in our church body.

    For over a decade, these three churches, from three different denominational backgrounds, had been collaborating in joint ministry efforts, and our pastors had developed close friendships in the process. One of the initial points of contact that helped build these relationships was the local church ministry Netzer, which facilitates pastoral connections and church unity in the greater Philadelphia area. Another contributing factor to our close relationships came through a collaborative youth ministry. Ten years ago, Brandon Vining, one of the pastors at NorthPointe, launched a regional youth ministry named FUSE. All three of our churches were excited to join this ministry because we believe that the emerging generation of Jesus followers will care less about denominational affiliations and care more about simply following the way of Jesus.

    Then, in the spring of 2020, during the Covid shutdowns, our three churches began working together to create shared online worship services. None of us were technologically prepared for online ministry, so we pooled our resources and worshiped online with shared music, teaching, and discussions. When in-person worship resumed in the summer months of 2020, we began holding semi-regular joint outdoor worship services on Sunday mornings.

    When Parker Ford Church experienced numerical growth in 2021, our leaders prayed about whether to hire an additional pastor. In those times of prayer, we often also prayed for the pastors of the other churches in our community. Eventually, this ongoing prompting of the Holy Spirit led to conversations with the pastors of Daybreak and NorthPointe and their respective leadership teams about making the relationship between our churches more official and permanent.

    In 2021, I wrote and sent a proposal to both churches, inviting them into a process of spiritual fusion with Parker Ford Church. This proposal led to a nine-month period of prayer, fasting, and discernment as each congregation walked through its own decision-making process. This season of discernment culminated in the official fusion of our churches into one new spiritual family in June of 2022.

    I write now eighteen months into the life of our new family, in which there have been many beautiful moments and much joy but also some pain and discomfort. As a newly fused congregation, we have had to navigate cultural and theological differences, relational strains, and other adjustments. Yet we are already seeing how this experiment in fusion has released spiritual energy in our church body. For people living in an age of increasing polarization, to be a part of a story of unity is refreshing and invigorating. When we have faced challenges and obstacles, we have chosen the path of mutual submission and sacrificial love. Along the way, all of us have needed to compromise on negotiable issues. But we believe the importance of unity within the kingdom of God far outweighs any discomfort we may experience. Recently, a longtime member of my old congregation said, “I was concerned about the merger and what Parker Ford Church would lose. But as I prayed, I felt like it was God’s will for us. Now, I cannot imagine our church apart from the merger!”

    The energy generated by the fusion of our church families has spread beyond our threshold. An ongoing initiative of our new community is “church-to-church” worship services. Periodically, we send groups of members to worship at other churches in our area so we can experience different approaches to our shared Christian faith. Some of these churches – which include Filipino, Latino, and African American congregations – have reciprocated and sent groups to worship with us.

    Tim Doering, who has led the Netzer ministry promoting regional church unity for many years, often says that God desires to revive the church but for that to happen he first has to reform the church, bringing us into the oneness that Jesus prays for in John 17: “… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Division can be powerful, but it’s in fusion – in the unity that Christ can bring – that we see the power of God. 

    Contributed By DJayMartin D. Jay Martin

    D. Jay Martin is the Pastor of Leadership and Vision at Parker Ford Church in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

    Learn More
    You have ${x} free ${w} remaining. This is your last free article this month. We hope you've enjoyed your free articles. This article is reserved for subscribers.

      Already a subscriber? Sign in

    Try 3 months of unlimited access. Start your FREE TRIAL today. Cancel anytime.

    Start free trial now