Over 100 years ago Arnold Toynbee did a study of 27 different nations/civilizations and what he discovered is that every nation/civilization goes through six distinct stages:
Birth: A group of people face a crisis or challenge and leaders rise up to meet that challenge and a new nation is formed; leaders open to new ideas and new leadership.
Growth: A vision is laid out for the nation; leadership is fluid with people leading for short periods to allow new leaders and new ideas to be born; the nation is thriving and growing.
Maturity: The vision is blurred or lost; leaders grab for power/control; they do not relinquish control and see leadership as their life long profession; new ideas are stifled. Decline: Leadership wants to preserve the institution; many layered bureaucracy is created to protect the leadership from the people; favoritism runs rampant.
Disintegration: Internal power struggles; leadership creates divisions among people so they will fight each other and not leadership; vulnerable to threats from within and without.
Death: The nation/civilization ceases to exist.
This works not only for nations but institutions as well. The Church as a whole has been through such cycles. The Reformation is a good example of the six stages. Fortunately, there was a rebirth as people returned to the Word of God instead of the word of priests, bishops, cardinals and popes. We left the ELCA because among other things the ELCA decided that bishops were bishops for life and they were closer to God, than pastors, pastors were closer to God than the laity, and that the Word and sacraments belonged to the clergy, not the laity.
Individual churches can go through the same six stages if they are not careful. Individual churches can fight over programs, teachings, but more of then that, over money. Which committee deserves more money or which committee is more important. They lose sight of the vision, to baptize and teach, as Jesus told us to do.
Paul, in Galatians, is writing to a church that is turning on each other. “But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are consumed by one another.” Paul is warning us that DIVISION IS THE WORK of SATAN. Once we lose sight of the vision, once we start playing the game of who has power, SATAN IS READY TO POUNCE. Let us remember the vision and not fight for power.