Dealing with Church Division

As of tomorrow, a new friend and I will kick off a “podcast reboot” if you wish to call it that. We will be connecting over a video chat to stream and record our discussion in order to publish to our podcasting channels.

Not knowing where we would like to start the show, we narrowed it down to a couple of favorite books, and a few books we felt we have a limited understanding. Thanks to a “Coin toss” it was decided that we would begin our discussion over Paul’s letters to the church of Corinth.

Upon opening up 1 Corinthians I noticed the first topic we will be discussing is none other than Church Division. Divisions within any church community are inevitable. A church community is comprised of old and young believers, Christian leaders, and students. Those who God has given life, and those who are spiritually dead.

In his letter to Corinth, Paul recognizes the need for a certain level of church division.

“For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe in part, for there must be factions among you in order hat those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” – 1 Corinthians 11:18-19

This should be the only kind of division we have. The obvious separation from true and false believers. In fact back in chapter five, as I shared in a previous article Paul instructs the believers the separate from one who calls themselves a Christian yet have a lifestyle that is contrary to such a righteous living.

“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”
– 1 Corinthians 5:11

This address the false believer, but what about the true Christian? What about those in which we have theological disagreements with that we can’t seem to get past?

In the USA alone, there are over 200 Christian denominations today. Most denominations may have begun with some sort of theological disagreement, the idea that “we can be better than that”. Full submersion baptism or a sprinkle? Tradition plus scripture or scripture alone? Once saved always saved or can we lose it? Can women wear pants or are they required to be in a dress? I am sure you get the point but these are the sort of arguments that cause divisions in churches. Some issues are more of a problem than others.

When it comes down to these divides, we must be careful to place our personal opinions over theological truths. As a Reformed Calvinist, one of my struggles to deal with is the doctrine of election. I by no means agree with the concept of “accepting Jesus as your savior” and preach that it is al by grace alone, through faith alone. If the choice was left up to me, in my fallen sin nature I would rebel and reject God and His offer. But by His grace, while I was a wretched sinner, out of all the people that will ever exist, Jesus Christ found it within His divine plan to redeem me.

As an ex-Arminian, I have come to understand that most, if not all Arminians have an understanding of salvation, yet their own pride gets in the way on this issue. So I try not to be too hard on the issue, knowing that while many Arminians are true believers, some of them will take time to come to a better understanding of the doctrine of Grace. It is just a matter of being patient on the issue.

When Paul begins his letter to the church of Corinth, the first issue he brings up is the divisions within the church. Some say they follow the teachings of Paul, others Apollos, Peter, and the most pious of all claim to be “Red Letter Christians” and just listen to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

These were people who were guilty of putting certain men in a high position of honor. It wasn’t enough that they follow the teachings of Christ, what they wanted was to identify their faith with the teachings of a specific church leader. However, this is completely against that of what Jesus taught these leaders in Matthew 23:8-10

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.

Paul, knowing this teaching (probably through his own learning by Jesus in Arabia) would have had this come to his mind as he rebukes the Corinthian congregation. This is a big deal within the church because it is happening when the believers come together (1 Corinthians 11:18). Even so, possibly extending out into their normal weekly social experience. Within Paul’s reprimand, he makes it clear how thankful is it that he has not baptized a single one of them outside of a small family. (1 Corinthians 1:16).

Within this argument, Paul is making the point that he was not charged by God to baptize and form cults in the name of God, but that his responsibility is to preach the word of God and help the Lord bring His flock into unity.

I remember seeing a picture quote just the other day. The first half was quoting Andy Stanley saying “We should not let our theology get in the way of unity”. The idea Andy Stanley is trying to wrongfully address is that if our beliefs get in the way of our unity as believers, its best to leave that at home.

However, another quote attributed to John MacArthur argues that unity in the Christian faith is rooted in theology, in a right understanding of the scripture and of the character and nature of the Triune God. This I would confess to whole heartedly agree with.

If theology is the study of God, then we can’t have a right relationship with God, without a right theological understanding of who He is. Most of the divisions we have within the church would come from some variation of errored theology.

When we face a conflict that might bring division within the church, many of us would want to remain quite, walk away and sometimes convince a group to pack their bible up an go somewhere else. I have found the best way to tackle dividing issues is really to call it what it is. Depending on the issue at hand, it may be necessary to proclaim heresy. Though before we do make such an affirmation, w must be sure it is true. In some cases it might just be someone who is young in the faith or have an accidentally flawed understanding.

Our first priority when we face these divisions should be to confront the issue in love to resolve the dispute and help each other come to a better understanding and find out if it is person A in error, or if it is person B who would be at fault.

Jesus taught us in Matthew 12, a house that is divided against itself can not and will not stand. This is something we as a church should recognize. If the church is divided in theology, work to correct it before it infiltrates deeper into the community causing a division so devastating that the church itself crumbles.