Division in the Church

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, March 23, 2018 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

One of my favorite moments I had during my time with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship while I was at college was Holy Week. The week before Easter weekend, the Christian organizations on campus would come together in a joint effort to reach the campus. We were united over one thing: the Gospel. But halfway through my time there, I became the leader of the IVCF chapter. I tried to keep that unity going and it was dropped. Each organization said they would do their own thing but nothing unified. It was tragic. This motion perpetuated a question many skeptics have about Christianity: Why are there so many denominations?

Skeptics have often pointed to the ‘fact’ that there are 33,000 denominations out there. Which one is right? I kept hearing that claim and I could not picture that many out there. Wikipedia here has a list of the Christian denominations in the world and yes I counted them. Not even 400. Even with the cults and “weird” groups like Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc., you won’t get 33,000 denominations.

I never really understood all the denominations issues and Paul never stood for them either. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, Paul heard about those who followed Paul, those who followed Peter (Cephas), and those who followed Apollos. He reminded the Corinthian church that their focus should be on Christ, not an individual. I take a similar stance. I don’t see Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, or whatever. I often don’t know the differences between the groups. What I know and what I focus on is “Bible-believer” or “not.” I do not separate on the basis of a given set of doctrines but more on how they get there. There are some crazy cults out there under the name of a mainline denominational group, and there are many churches (including the one I go to) who do not affiliate with any denominational group. My church is one my pastor describes as “Bapticostal.” We have flavors of both groups which can tend to seem to be at dire opposites, especially in how Baptists and Pentecostals handle miracles and tongues.

Most of the divisions took place over mere preferences of worship, gatherings, mere location, and other things. The Seventh Day Adventists split off over whether you worship on Saturday or Sunday. The Southern Baptists broke off at the time of the Civil War because they wanted the right to hold slaves. (The denomination has long since repented of that.) The Anglicans broke off from Roman Catholicism simply because Henry VIII wanted a divorce so he could sleep with whoever he wanted. Some of the divisions are so silly, yet there are others which were necessary. A prominent Presbyterian church in Boulder, Colorado, broke off from the main denomination due to the moral decline of the main group, particularly regarding homosexual ‘marriage.’

When it comes to core doctrines, political correctness, or even with worldly factors, there are times where a Christian is called to draw a line, because Jesus draws a line. Cults and heretical teachers have been around since the Garden of Eden and they all have the same voice as that serpent: “Has God indeed said…?” Here are some factors to look for.

A false teaching will always diminish God, Christ, and the work of the cross. Often it will not be direct; it is often indirect. A major front the enemy is using to sneak false teachers in is through the origins debate. Often seen by many as a “secondary” doctrinal issue, I have had to beg to differ that it is a secondary issue. Why? Because every Old Earth model promoting deep time, no matter if they go by Theistic Evolution, Progressive Creation, Gap Theory, or a new one to me, Young Biosphere Creation, they all tend to make God subservient to the laws of nature (which he created), and elevate man to the ultimate authority position.

Now, I can have a relationship with old earthers, despite disagreeing on origins, but those I can do that with do not promote such positions. I listen to them, and while they are wrong on that topic, they frequently talk about Christ and the authority of Scripture and are demonstrating a seeking after God. They do not elevate man nor pull down God. They are just wrong on this issue, likely because they have not thought it through, or that was simply how they were raised and it hasn’t been uprooted yet. They tend to intellectually agree with old earth, but when they preach the Gospel, any reference to Genesis sounds a lot like the young earth account more than the old earth account they hold. But these people really don’t run in great herds.

That said, the old earth crowd loves to accuse the young earth crowd of causing divisions because we are drawing a line between the clean and the unclean, the holy and the unholy. They are in the churches, so when YEC spots them promoting false teachings and calls them out, they cry foul. My question is this: why were they let in and given a platform to being with? The answer: back in the mid-1800s, the church leaders were asleep at the watch and instead of standing for truth, they instead tried to incorporate these new “scientific” findings into the Bible. It is not those who stand for truth who causes the division. It is those bringing in false teachings. The evidence is in Romans 16:17-18. The false teachers are causing the division because they are not united on Christ (despite their claims to follow him) but serve their own bellies, their own reputations, and their own egos, and with smooth words, they deceive the hearts of the simple. What they teach is offensive to the true doctrine. This has been allowed in because the priests, the pastors, and the church leaders (not all) have conspired against the Lord. That’s not my claim, it’s Ezekiel's. When these false teachings are allowed through and sin is not addressed, Ezekiel said one cause of this was a conspiracy of the prophets to promote their own gain and to claim to speak for the Lord when he had not spoken.

But there is another cause of division which needs to be considered: Jesus himself. There is a great push for unity, but Jesus never actually said he would bring unity between men. He said he would bring unity between men and God via reconciliation which requires the death of self. Between men, however, he promised not to bring peace, but a sword. Any division in the church should be a result of drawing a line upon Christ and any doctrine which reveals him. I draw a line with origins because one model glorifies God as he should be glorified, and the other diminishes the spotlight upon God and in actuality diminishes the work of the cross. Christ is going to cause division because he forces everyone to make a decision: to be for him or against him. Jesus did not complain when another man performed miracles and cast out demons in his name, despite not being among his group. Yet he constantly chided his own disciples for their lack of faith, including just prior to this incident when they could not drive out a demon.

Yet there are times where the greatest opposition we will face is from within. Don’t believe me? Just try actually walking the walk in today’s modern churches, living in true Biblical holiness, praying through until the answers are done, and speaking only that which God has told you to speak. Just try that and watch some of the most “Christian” people you know start turning against you because they gave up on their walk and your success is convicting them. This is what Jesus was talking about in how you must love him more than you love your closest friends and family.

Divisions are going to happen, and yet while the skeptic insists this refutes Christianity, it actually proves it, because the Bible predicts that such divisions will take place. God is going to sort it all out in the end. In the meantime, he has given us a Book through which we can determine truth from falsehood, where we should draw the line and divide to keep out the false, and where we should not, being unified with Christ despite negligible differences. I can get along with many different people because I am united with them over Christ. I will not, however, have unity with those who diminish his name and his work. I cannot. As oil has no relation to water, neither does the Godly have anything to do with the pagan. As Tozer said, "The blessing of God is promised to the peacemaker, but the religious negotiator had better watch his step. Darkness and light can never be brought together by talk. Some things are not negotiable." ~A.W. Tozer, Gems From Tozer, page 48

Do not generate your own standard for division, but let Christ do it for you. Be wise as serpents but innocent as doves. And there comes a time where you must divide because God is calling you somewhere and your circles will not or cannot come with you. Follow Christ at all costs, even if it means doing so alone.

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.