Serving an international
Vol. 9 No.
5 May 2007 Page 2
The theme of this article we owe to the words of our Lord in Matthew 12:25, when he said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (KJV). In this writing, we purpose to examine historical division among people of God in the Bible, to note God’s perspective on division among the people of God and to ascertain if God ever approves of division among the people of God.
Religious division involving the people of God is a sad historical fact dating back to mankind’s very debut on planet earth. Regrettably, religious division among the people of God continues to the present. Furthermore, there is no indication that religious division will not continue to occur from time to time among the people of God. Sadly, in addition, sometimes religious division will come between the people of God and God himself.
We emphasize, though, that God has always disapproved of religious division involving the people of God. Sin is involved in every religious division among the people of God! Though God hates all sin, division among brethren is an abomination to God (or more hated by God).
Since God hates religious division involving the people of God, does God ever approve or even require religious division? Some tender souls may assume that God never approves or even requires religious division among the people of God, but they would be incorrect in that assumption. Today, it is popular to assign degrees of guilt to all parties in every confrontation or division (e.g., degrees of fault in an auto accident). It is true that all persons involved in religious division may be sinning. However, the thoughtful soul realizes in some instances not all of the disputants are not guilty of sin. Rather, God would hold them accountable for sin for not pursuing a course of action that results in religious division. Let’s look at the anatomy of religious division from a biblical perspective.
Sadly, the people of God have been involved in religious division from mankind’s first appearance on earth through the present. The very first occasion of religious division involving the people of God was in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Adam and Eve were the people of God. Religious division arose between the first pair and God because of sin. Sin always separates between God and sinners (Isaiah 59:1-2). What could God have done more to avoid being a party to this religious division, or was God partly responsible for the religious division between himself and the first pair?
The second occasion of religious division on earth between the people of God involved Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). Cain and Abel each offered worship to God. God accepted Abel’s worship and rejected Cain’s worship (Genesis 4:4-5; Hebrews 11:4). Consequently, Cain and Abel were religiously divided, to the extent that Cain murdered his brother, Abel (Genesis 4:8). What should Abel have done to appease his brother, Cain, to avoid religious division and prevent his death?
The next occasion of religious division among God’s people was between God and Noah on one hand versus almost all humanity on the other hand (Genesis 6-8). The biblical account of the flood in Noah’s day occurred under the family-type religion known as Patriarchy. The father of each family was responsible for guiding his family religiously in accordance with what God had revealed or continued to reveal from time to time about his will. Whatever the population of earth was in Noah’s day, only eight righteous souls boarded the ark and the rest of the population on the planet died in the universal flood (1 Peter 3:20). What could God and Noah have done more without compromising with sin to not appear holier-than-thou or sanctimonious and be a part of religious division? To ask is to answer; the question is rhetorical—nothing more could have been done.
Another among many Old Testament divisions between the people of God occurred between Korah and his followers opposed to Aaron and Moses (Numbers 16). Korah and over 250 renown Israelites made baseless accusations against Moses and Aaron and demanded to be priests. Religious division was widespread among the Israelites. God caused the earth to swallow Korah and is coconspirators as well as fire to burn up 250 Israelites who presumptuously offered incense. Should Aaron and Moses have gone along to get along so there would be no religious division? Was God rash in killing Korah and his cohorts, their families, the 250 Israelite princes who offered incense and sending a plague among the rest of the people?
One very notable division among the people of God was the split between the ten northern tribes and the two southern tribes that resulted in the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 12). The harshness of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, was the catalyst (or last straw) for the division. However, the ten northern tribes immediately went headlong, full-speed-ahead into idolatry (i.e., erecting golden calves and high places). God evidently foresaw the wickedness of the ten northern tribes that had the split not occurred would have sooner carried away the southern tribes also into idolatry (i.e., “this thing is from me,” 1 Kings 12:24). God required this religious division to continue, evidently for the good of the people who did not desert the dynasty of David.
Both testaments of the Bible are filled with accounts of religious division among the people of God. While God does not desire religious division, sometimes God views religious division as necessary to preserve faithful souls. In other instances, religious division among the people of God occurs solely because of the forwardness of some of the children of God toward their brethren. In addition, doubtless there were some scenarios where various parties to division shared degrees of guilt.
God hates religious division, especially among the people of God. Old Testament references show that God hates division. God hates sins, but considers some sins so distasteful that they are abominations to him (Proverbs 6:16-19). One of the abominable sins is to sow discord among brethren (Proverbs 6:19).
New Testament references show that God hates religious division within the Lord’s church. Jesus Christ stated a principle about division that is applicable as well to the Lord’s church (Matthew 12:25). The apostle Paul repeatedly and thoroughly rebuked the church at Corinth for unnecessary religious division (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:3; 11:18; 12:25; 2 Corinthians 12:20). Religious division in the first century was widespread and destructive to Christians and the church, affecting churches of Christ through the Roman sub-province of Galatia (Galatians 5:14-15). Religious division in the first century commonly affected many within the church and hindered prayers, as evidence by the general epistle of our Lord’s half-brother (James 3:14-16; 4:1-3).
However, is religious division, even among God’s people, sometimes necessary and expected by God? Popular thought today demands that guilt for any confrontation between parties be attributed to all disputants. However, who could or would dare to assign guilt to God for the religious division in the Garden of Eden between God and the first pair? No right thinking person would have had Abel offer fruits and vegetables instead of what God specified so that religious division between his brother, Cain, and him would not have occurred. Noah was obligated to participate in religious division in his day by being righteous whereas the world was wicked, and by getting on the ark.
Yet, there is an unsavory, sinful sectarianism within the Lord’s church today. One might well refer to sectarianism within the churches of Christ as “politics” or “networking.” Essentially, sectarianism within the church involves failure to exercise impartiality (i.e., not to be a respecter of persons, Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; 1 Peter 1:17). Biased or prejudicial treatment of brethren toward other brethren was a big problem in the first century church, as it is today, too (James 2:1, 9; Jude 16). A preacher has a friend, who has a friend, who has a friend—a network of friends—any one of whom if offended garners the displeasure of them all. Sectarianism within the church also involves rallying around schools, Gospel journals and programs to the exclusion of all perceived competitors, even if disagreement over biblical doctrine is not central to the grievance. Some brethren’s circles of fellowship have been self-drawn so tightly that they scarcely place both of their own feet within them. While neither favorable toward liberal liberties with the Word of God nor favorable toward anti-biblical strictures respecting the Word of God, Brethren, the type of Christianity practiced by too many members of the churches of Christ is gut-wrenching and ulcerating for no good reason. True Christianity, while neither leaning to one extreme or another, is balanced and a blessing to embrace.
Nevertheless, there is also necessary division within the Lord’s church today. Religious division is necessary when ungodly Christians teach or do things contrary to the Gospel and refuse to repent (Galatians 1:6-9). Religious division is necessary when some require fellow Christians to capitulate to them in matters that are not a matter of biblical doctrine (e.g. antism, seeking preeminence, Matthew 15:9; 3 John 9-10). Religious division is necessary when unruly brethren will not cease and desist their “factious” (ASV) or “divisive” (NKJV) ways (Titus 3:10-11).
Refusing to practice religious fellowship with people in error is a form of necessary, religious division. Denominationalism is division by definition, division from God-authorized religion (Christianity) and division from other denominations. Church discipline is a form of division intended not only to rescue sinners but to preserve the church from corruption (1 Corinthians 5:5-6). Identifying or marking false teachers is a form of religious division for the purpose of preventing religious division within the Lord’s church (Romans 16:17-18). Disassociating with factious Christians is a form of religious division (Titus 3:10-11).
Biblical fact: The people of God have been involved in religious division from mankind’s first appearance on earth through the present. Biblical fact: God hates religious division, especially among the people of God. Biblical fact: Religious division, even among God’s people, is sometimes necessary and required by God. We must do our best not to be responsible for unnecessary religious division, especially among the people of God. However, faithful children of God must not knuckle under to anyone who proposes to corrupt the Gospel. Faithful Christians must not surrender to divisive and overbearing fellow Christians who evidence a purpose to rule or ruin the Lord’s church. Faithful Christians must not compromise with weak or ungodly brethren merely to get along (i.e., let them have their own way, or the mentality of “If I don’t get my way, I’ll take my football and go home!”).