Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 16, 1961

Scriptural And Unscriptural Division

Wm. E. Shamblin, Port Hueneme, Calif.

Most people think of division as a separation or open split, but "division" has a further connotation. One of Webster's definitions of division is: "a difference of opinion or disagreement." In this sense inner division often exists long before open division. Jesus said, "....every city or house divided against itself shall not stand." He was speaking of a house full of disagreement, dissention, and discord, which is inner division.

Let us think of it in terms of unity and union. Disagreement and discord within a group is division of unity. A breach of fellowship or an open split is division of union.

Disrupted unity or inner division in a congregation is a serious and critical condition which must not be ignored. If allowed to persist, the congregation is destined to fall. (Matt. 12:25) When inner division comes, every effort should be made toward reconciliation through study and teaching; but when these efforts are fully exhausted to no avail, a breach of fellowship (open division) is imperative. Otherwise, the congregation inevitably falls in one of two directions. It will either fall into digression through compromise of principles, or it will erode away, like two stones rubbing together, until diminished into oblivion or reduced to a pitiful, paltry thing of shame.

Where there is division, there is always an erroneous element (notwithstanding the possibility that both sides may be wrong, one side is inevitably wrong). When error is taught, regardless of how pious and peaceful it may be presented, it is at variance with the truth and must be resisted. James says, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (Jas. 4:7)

Resistance is primarily defensive, but the defender of the Faith must often take the initiative and is, therefore, often blamed for the division. But regardless of who takes the initiative in a religious struggle, error and its advocates are always and altogether responsible and must bear all the blame. Then, in placing the blame for division, it must first be decided who is in error. When this is decided, the blame obviously falls on the guilty, and the matter is automatically resolved.

We are aware, of course, that without resistance, error would not cause division. It would carry away its audience like dust before a broom; hence, if a whole congregation unanimously accepts error, they may enjoy the ultimate in unity, but it would be unscriptural, sinful unity. Such unity was enjoyed at Pergamos (Rev. 2:14, 15), and many congregations are boasting the same kind of unity today. If they should ever oppose the error among them, they would have division a plenty. While the Bible stresses with great emphasis the importance of unity, it condemns unity in error (unscriptural unity).

Just as there is scriptural and unscriptural unity, there is, of course, scriptural and unscriptural division. Unscriptural division is terribly wrong and sinful, and the instigator of such is to be marked, avoided, and withdrawn from. (Rom. 16:17; 2 Thess. 3:6) But in these very passages which condemn those who cause division by teaching false doctrine and sowing discord, another type of division is actually authorized in the command to withdraw or separate from such a one; but this, of course, is scriptural division. Hence when unscriptural division occurs scriptural division is authorized.

Christ said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I come not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household." Christ came to expose error and separate the righteous into a united body; hence, the righteousness of the body depends upon the separation from error. Scriptural division, then, is in order to eliminate error and assure scriptural unity. As ironical as It may seem, scriptural division is often the price we have to pay for scriptural unity; just as war is often the price we have to pay for peace.