A Case against Division in the Church
Many are those who presume to go out and “build a church.” They say God is telling them to do this, but I often wonder about that.
Why would I wonder about a concept that is widely accepted in Christendom today? One reason is that it is widely accepted in Christendom today. So much has been done to alter the simplicity of the Church Jesus established.
Another reason I wonder about the concept of a human establishing a church is that the Bible really only speaks of “THE Church.”
“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47)
From Acts through Revelations the term “the Church” occurs 44 times referring to Christ’s Church which consists of ALL born again people.
The term “the church” is used another 15 times to address members of God’s ONE Church who live in specific geographical areas, such as in greetings found in Paul’s letters to Corinth and Thessalonica (“To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia…” – 1 Corinthians 1:1).
It is also found in John’s book of Revelations in which he rebukes the gathered members of the ONE CHURCH who happen to live in Ephesus (Revelations 2:1), Smyrna (2:8), Pergamos (2:12), Thyatira (2:18), Sardis (3:1), Philadelphia (3:7) and Laodicea (3:14).
So, when Paul and the other original apostles (and, later, evangelists) set out to new towns to spread the gospel, what were they doing? Were they establishing new churches? No.
They were spreading THE Church by leading people to Jesus who would then be ADDED to THE church (Acts 2:46) by the Holy Spirit of God.
“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
Reading those two short verses, it seems significant to me that Holy Spirit inspired Paul to emphasize the singularity of ALL Christians since he referred to it as being ONE four different times in a passage that highlights the union of separate groups of people (Jews and Greeks as well as slaves or free men.)
Why is this important for us to see?
God has purposefully arranged for us to be in specific places on the earth and at specific times in history.
“God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands (God does NOT live in buildings proclaimed by mere humans to be special – He lives in Christians). Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17:24-28a) Think about that.
Look around at the people in your life – the ones who are easy to be around and the ones that are difficult….the lovely ones and the not so lovely ones….the fellow Christians and the lost people.
God CHOSE for you to be where you are on the earth AND He chose when in history you would be there. That means He also chose for all those other people to be there and be there at that time in history. He causes these all, in HIS sovereignty, to coincide.
There is purpose in EVERYTHING He does.
It would be good for us to spend some times trying to discern WHY He connects us like He does. What is He trying to accomplish IN us as individuals and what is He trying to accomplish THROUGH us?
This is important because God has eternally CHOSEN to spread His Kingdom on the earth in this manner. The people we meet don’t just happen to be there, even if they think it’s random. God’s hand IS in it.
In Acts 16 we see a woman named Lydia doing business in Philippi. She’s from another place, the city of Thyatira. In Acts 16:14-15 we see that she and everyone in her entire household receive Jesus as their Lord and they are saved. The ONE Church has now spread to Thyatira!
Over time, it is sure that others met those original believers in Thyatira and they, too, were added to that ONE Church. This is all intentional on the part of God who purposefully arranges that they meet.
It didn’t just happen to those new Christians in Thyatira – it happened to you and me too! God intentionally connected us with EVERY Christian in any given geographical area. God assembles HIS Church as HE sees fit.
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Hear the passion of Moses as he cries out: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The term “the LORD is one” means that He is UNIFIED.
In other words, God does not need to be split up so He can divide Himself into millions of functionally separated human organizational entities. HIS plan was to unite the divided people in Christ to form ONE body and for Him to “live” in that one dwelling place in the Spirit, THE Church.
If we are to accomplish all God intends for us as His one Church, we MUST see ourselves, first and foremost, as members of Him and NOT in terms of any man-made subset of the Body of Christ. It is imperative that we LIVE unified in Christ, no matter how or where we customarily gather and/or worship.
Imagine if Lydia….or one of the other people unified BY GOD in that group in Thyatira, took offense at something a brother or sister said and withdrew from that person. Someone would suffer.
The DIVISION that results whenever that happens MUST harm God’s plans for His Kingdom – both in the individual people initially involved AND in the others God has determined they would meet.
This is all much bigger than just us as individuals. Jesus knew this. That is why He said things like this:
“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
In Christianity, many of us think that what God really wants from us is our sacrifice. In the verses above the word “gift” means “present” or “sacrifice”. While Jesus DOES value our sacrifice, He is much more interested in our unity than He is in our sacrifices.
Why would He tell us to set down our sacrifice and reconcile? He tells us this because when we go to our brother to reconcile we make a more meaningful sacrifice. It always costs us something to do the right thing and spending our pride or our sense of being right IS a sacrifice.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1 - NASB)
We can go back later and present our original sacrifice (Matthew 5:24).
Jesus also said this: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY WORD MAY BE ESTABLISHED.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-16)
Our enemy, the devil, knows all too well how much our Father enjoys harmony in HIS Church. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that satan loves to disrupt that harmony in any way he can. It is the devil who sends temptations to us to both sin against our brothers and sisters AND to live in bitterness toward those who have offended us.
Jesus tells us how to handle those times when a brother or sister takes the bait from the enemy and hurts us by sinning against us.
“Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22)
I’m told that what Jesus said in reply was a saying that didn’t just mean 490 times. It meant “over and over and over (to infinity).”
While there is much that can be written here on forgiveness, my point for bringing it up here is to demonstrate that Jesus put in place principles that would countermand the division satan hopes to achieve by tempting us to sin against our brothers and sisters.
Satan watched and listened as Jesus prayed to His Father while He was still on the earth. He knew our Savior’s heart for His Body as He would form it after His death and resurrection.
“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” (John 17:11)
"I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:20-23)
ALL division in the Body of Christ originates with a temptation that is dispatched by satan and carried by a demon. This includes division that starts with actual sin against a brother, perceived sin and the resultant offense left unaddressed AND division between groups in the Body of Christ over a million trivial disagreements.
Some have divided over the color of new carpet in a sanctuary.
How this must grieve our King.
Paul could see division happening in members of THE Church in the geographical area of Corinth and it grieved him enough to address it:
“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
Someone had reported to Paul that there were “contentions (quarrels and strife) among” the Christians in Corinth (1Corinthians 1:11). Some members of the Body of Christ were pledging their allegiance to Jesus, which is how we are to live as Christians. Others, though, saw themselves identified with Paul or Apollos or Cephas.
If we were to replace Paul, Apollos and Cephas with denomination names or styles (charismatic, non-charismatic, house church, institutional church, liturgical, etc.) or loyalty to earthly leaders or a “brand”….we’ll see the current state of the Body of Christ for what it is.
In 1 Corinthians 1:13 Paul asks this sad question to make his point (and I use it here for the same reason: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
ALL division in the Body of Christ originates with the devil. It doesn’t matter to him with whom or what we identify, just as long as it isn’t Jesus the Christ….and identifying with Jesus PLUS anything….isn’t identifying with Jesus.
Jesus needs no supplementation. He IS enough.
Paul knowing that it would delight the devil for the unity achieved by the cross of Christ to be nullified, wrote these words:
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” (1 Corinthians 1:7)
Brothers and sisters, it is not the FORM of how we meet or worship or proclaim our love for the Lord that matters so much as functional BELIEFS that harm the cause of Christ. If we believe that whatever group with which we do these things is autonomous and, therefore, separated from the rest of the Body of Christ THAT hurts the advancement of God’s Kingdom on the earth. It is harmful because it is essentially a lie.
In other words, if we see ourselves, first and foremost as any group separate from ALL other Christians….we ARE functionally divided and WILL NOT function as the ONE Jesus prayed we would be.
The deeds of the Kingdom of God are intended by the King to be done in unity. The growth of His Kingdom on the earth will be impeded, insulated as it is by the walls of separation re-erected (see Ephesians 2:14) by well-meaning men. WE can see it happening in the world now. Many who are lost go unreached; many go unhealed; many remain without hope as the fragmented Church fights to remain divided.
Jesus is building HIS Kingdom and HIS house and HE had this to say about division:
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:24-25) Do you believe at all that Jesus will tolerate this?
I do not.