1 Corinithians 1:10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
This is the Biblical ideal of unity. Perfect unity (“no divisions among you”) _through_ perfect agreement (“speak the same thing … same mind … same judgment”).
This is not a suggestion. Paul urges it _”by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”_. There is no stronger authority to appeal to. The only way it could be stronger would be if Paul said “I command” instead of “I beseech”. This is serious stuff.
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty” may sound nice, but it falls far short of the Biblical ideal.
So what do we do when we _don’t_ agree? May we separate? Should we separate? Must we separate?
1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
Divisions among Christians will generally be caused by interpersonal conflicts (including politics), or by spiritual matters (questions of orthodoxy and orthopraxy). God gives us a very simple solution for complex problems.
First, watch your spirit. You should be marked by lowliness, meekness, forebearance, and longsuffering. When it comes to interpersonal conflicts, there’s even more emphasis on your spirit (see v 31-32), but in all conflict, we should be patient and humble.
Second, we recognize that there is a “unity of the Spirit” and we should endeavor to maintain it. Peace and unity should be worked for. We should work hard to keep divisions out, either by keeping the differences out, or by keeping the differences from turning into divisions (if we can do that without compromising our loyalty to Christ). Our first reaction to a difference ought to be “how can we resolve this”, not “time to leave”.
And third, we must recognize just how unified we are. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, we are members of one body. Those things are just true. They are not goals, they are reality. Whatever differences and divisions may exist between other true believers and myself, there is one Lord, one faith, we are part of one Body.
These points don’t just make for an introduction. They provide the context for the particulars of how to heal or prevent divisions.
I’m only going to deal with the divisions caused by matters of faith and practice here. Interpersonal conflicts should be dealt with by a Biblical model of conflict resolution, hopefully terminating in repentance and forgiveness and restoration, or else in the church disfellowshipping / excommunicating the offender.
When it comes to divisions based on matters of faith and practice, we should recognize that _someone is wrong_. These differences are not matters to simply accomodate or “agree to disagree” about. They are to be _resolved_.
And this is why God graciously gives His church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers: to build up the saints, to bring us to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God. To get us to the point where we won’t be like children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. Instead of being so susceptible to deceit, trickery, and fine-sounding speeches, all of which are designed to lead us astray, we will speak the truth. And instead of pride and bitterness, we will sepak the truth in love.
Spiritual immaturity is the root of much division over matters of faith and practice. There are some questions, such as eschatology, where the Bible just isn’t all that clear. But those are not the issues that divide us. We are dividing today over simple matters – Can you trust the Bible? All of it? Are we sola scriptura? Is the Bible authoritative? Even when it says things we don’t like?
The SBC recently had problems with division because it dared to include a paraphrase of Eph 5:22-33 in its confession of faith. The Bible clearly teaches a wife to submit to her husband. If you refuse that teaching, it’s an indication that you don’t take the plain reading of the Bible to be authoritative over your life. The issue is not wives submitting to their husbands. The issue is the rejection of the plain reading of the Bible as authoritative.
The SBC also faced some criticism because the BFM now states that Christ’s death was a propitiation, an atonement for our sins. One Baptist Standard editor said that the BFM was ignoring “other understandings” of Christ’s death. If Christ’s death was not to atone for sins, we aren’t saved. These are not small issues.
The United Methodist Church recently had to decide whether or not to remove from the pastorate an open lesbian who “married” her partner. Now first of all, women are not qualified by God to be pastors. And unrepentant homosexuals are not saved. But because the UMC didn’t deal Biblically with those issues, it had to deal with this one. And the church jury _acquitted_ her. In clear defiance of church law. In clear defiance of the Bible. They acquitted her.
There was a recent division in some other group (don’t recall the name right now) over whether or not God actually _knows_, let alone _controls_, the future. The group refused to remove two heretical teachers.
The solution is for pastors and teachers to correct the beliefs of those who have gone astray. It is not for those who hold a Biblical view to compromise or agree to disagree. The church is not unified because the pastors and teachers are not doing their job according to Ephesians 4:11-15. This includes teaching right theology, but also teaching the right application of right theology. Such as the importance of disciplining false teachers or wayward Christians.
So what do we do when the appropriate pastors and teachers don’t fulfill their biblical responsibilities? When a church or denomination goes astray?
17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
9 But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.
10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;
11 Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.
The thing to note is that “them which cause divisions” are the ones who are pushing false teachings. They are delving into “foolish questions” and “contentions”. _They_ are the divisive men. We are not being divisive when we mark, avoid, and reject heretics. We are being obedient. _They_ are being divisive.
Our responsibility is to work to heal divisions over matters of faith and practice by searching the Scriptures. In the things that divide us today, most times the Bible is pretty clear, it’s just a question of whether we will accept it or not. If the erring party will not accept Biblical correction, _they_ are being divisive. Our responsibility is to mark, avoid, and reject them. This is not our first option, but our last, much like disfellowshipping / excommunicating a wayward brother is our last option. With all the errors at Corinth, Paul only commanded 1 man to be expelled, and did not encourage anyone to form a new church in Corinth. Fortunately, his first letter to Corinth seems to have straightened them out fairly well (he was fulfilling the commands of Ephesians 4:11-15, doing his duty as an apostle). So even Paul, the one who wrote all this stuff about being separate, was not quick to do so, and neither should we.
We do have a responsibility to separate from error, but we do not have a hard and fast rule on when to do so. “Not right off” is the only indication we have. And here is where it really comes down to spiritual maturity and judgment. Some people will leave. Others will stay and continue to work to correct the errors and bring back the unity. It’s important that neither group should criticize the other. What right do we have? You think the cause is lost, I think there is still hope. As long as you are not simply eager to divide, I cannot judge you. And as long as I am truly working for reformation and restoration, and not simply compromising and neglecting my duty, you cannot judge me. _Provided we both agree about the underlying error_, it’s just a difference of opinion on when we must separate. We are on the same side, fighting the same battle, against the same enemy, just from two different positions on the field.