Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 16, 1961
NUMBER 28, PAGE 8-9,13

What Is Causing Division?

Tommy McClure, El Dorado, Arkansas

In Psalms 133:1 the psalmist said, 'Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." In His prayer to the Father, Jesus said, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." (Jno. 17:20, 21) To the Corinthians, Paul said in 1 Cor. 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." Jesus said, in Matt. 12:25, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand." Solomon said, in Prov. 6:19, that "a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren," is an abomination to God. And, Paul said to the Romans, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. 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." (Rom. 16:17, 18)

From these passages at least three things are evident: (1) Unity is good and pleasant; it is desired by Christ; and is demanded by inspiration. (2) Division produces infidelity and weakens the church. (3) Those who are responsible for division among the people of God are an abomination to God and are to be marked and avoided.

Division in the Lord's church is not a new problem. It existed more than nineteen hundred years ago in the church of God which was at Corinth. Paul said, "For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ." (1 Cor. 1:11, 12) Because of their divided state, the apostle further said, "For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (1 Cor. 3:3) In addition to the division at Corinth, the Lord's church was divided about one hundred years ago over the societies and instrumental music. Then, through the years there have been divisions over cups, baptistries, classes and so forth. Also, about twenty-five or thirty years ago many congregations were divided over the speculative theories of premillennialists. And now, many congregations are being rent asunder over the matters of benevolence and congregational cooperation. So, the problem of division is not new, yet it is a serious one. This will be seen when the following question is answered.

Many reasons could be given in answer to that question, but in the following list only a few are given for your careful consideration.

(1) Division is a great sin because it is contrary to the will of God and Christ God's will concerning his church is plainly set down by the apostle Paul in I Cor. 12:25. He said, "That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another." From Prov. 6:19 and Jno. 17:20, 21 we have already seen that the man who sows discord among brethren is an abomination unto God and that division is contrary to the prayer of Christ. Anything that is against the will of God, that is an abomination to God, and that is contrary to the prayer of God's Son is bound to be a great sin!

(2) Division is a great sin because it is a work of the flesh. In Paul's list of the works of the flesh) given in Gal. 5:19-21 (ASV), division is listed along with such things as fornication, adultery, idolatry and "such like." In Rom. 8:6, 13 the same apostle said, "For to be carnally minded ('the minding of the flesh,' marginal reading) is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace," and "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Those responsible for division among God's people, therefore, are headed for eternal destruction and ruin.

(3) Division is a great sin because it produces infidelity. This is implied by the Lord himself in the latter part of Jno. 17:21. He prayed that his followers be one "that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." That implies that if they are not one, many in the world will not believe that God sent him — will not believe that he is divine. Through the years the strongest argument infidels have made in their efforts to produce mote infidels has been based on denominational division. Their argument is stated something like this: "The Baptist preacher gets his doctrine from the Bible. The same is true with the Holiness preacher, the Methodist preacher, the Presbyterian preacher and the Catholic priest. But, even though these doctrines all come from the Bible, they contradict each other. Therefore the Bible is a contradictory book!" Many people never stop to question the idea of all these doctrines being authorized by the word of God, and, therefore, accept the infidel's conclusion. If denominational division aids in the production of infidelity, will not division in the true church do the same thing? If not, why not?

(4) Division is a great sin because it retards the proclamation of the truth and the salvation of souls. This fact is so evident to all that discussion is unnecessary.

(5) Furthermore, division among God's people gives the devil, with his false teachers and theories, greater opportunities for damning the souls of men. Yet, Paul said in Eph. 4:27, "Neither give place to the devil."

(6) And, the great sin of division is seen in the fact that it offends many babes in Christ. Many such people, because they had not been members of the church long enough to be thoroughly grounded in the faith, became discouraged when confronted with the ugly state of a divided church and turned again to the ways of the world. If you think this is not a serious matter consider these words: "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" (Matt. 18:6, 7)

Only One Thing Worse Than Division

Thus, division is bad, very bad! There is only one thing that I know of worse than division and that is unity in error!

The only unity pleasing to God is that unity which is based in truth, and Jesus said that God's word is truth. (Jno. 17:17) According to Paul, we are to endeavor to keep THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1-3) The unity of the Spirit is the unity authorized and demanded by the Spirit. There may be, and usually is, a great difference between the unity of the Spirit and that advocated by man. But we don't have to guess about what the unity of the Spirit is, for Paul records it for us in Eph. 4:4-6. According to the apostle, there is:

(1) One God — unity in worship. See Ex. 34:16; Matt. 4:10.

(2) One Lord — unity in authority. See Matt. 28:18; 1 Tim. 6:15.

(3) One faith — unity in doctrine. See Gal. 1:7, 8; 2 Jno. 10, 11.

(4) One baptism — unity in practice. See Matt 28:20; 1 Con 4:17.

(5) One body — unity in organization. See I Cor. 12:14-20.

(6) One hope — unity in desire. See Phil. 3:13-15.

(7) One Spirit — unity in revelation. See Jno, 16:13; Eph. 3:3-5.

This is the unity of the Spirit, the unity with which God is pleased. If all were to agree that there are many Gods, many Lords, many faiths, etc., that would be unity, BUT IT WOULD NOT BE THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT.

The fact that peace and unity are not to be had at the expense of truth and righteousness will be seen in the following Biblical facts:

(1) Christ came to bring a sword. In Matt. 10:34-36 the Lord said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came 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." In what way or in what sense does the Lord set men at variance? In that he offers to men TRUTH, but while some accept it others reject it, hence men are set at variance against each other. The Lord's statement plainly shows that those who accept the truth are not expected to give it up for the sake of peace and unity with those who reject it.

(2) Those whose doctrine is contrary to that of Christ are not to be fellowshipped but marked and avoided. John said "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." (2 Jno. 10, 11) We have already seen that Paul commands to "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them." (Rom. 16:17)

(3) The Bible also teaches that we are to dispute with and withstand even brethren who are in error. According to Acts 15:1, 2, when "certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved .... Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them ...." Concerning Judaizing teachers in the church, Paul said, "To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you." (Gal. 2:5) And of a fellow-apostle, the same writer said, "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed." (Gal. 2:11) Paul certainly did not believe in peace and unity at the expense of truth and righteousness.

(4) Furthermore, the Bible teaches that we are to withdraw from those who are incorrigibly wicked in order to save them and maintain the purity of the church. Paul commanded, regarding the Corinthian fornicator, "To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus," and "therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." (1 Cor. 5:5, 13) In 2 Thess. 3:6 he said, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." Again, he declared, "A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject." (Titus 3:10) Thus, it is abundantly proved that truth and righteousness are not to be set aside in order to have peace and unity.

At this point, I lay down two propositions for your careful consideration: (1) We are not divided over what the Bible says, but over ideas outside the realm of divine revelation. (2) Before unity can be possible, the ground upon which we seek to unite must be common and scriptural. In view of these statements, let's consider the following matters about which division exists among religious people:

(1) Rule of faith and practice. Most all religious people agree that the Bible is the infallible rule of faith and practice. There are only two or three exceptions to this among all the churches which claim to accept the religion of Christ. In the Methodist Discipline, 1952, page 26, is contained the statement: "The Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary to- salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." The Baptist Manual, by Hiscox, page 58, says, "We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that it had God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter; that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us; and therefore, is and shall remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried." The same statement, word for word, is contained in the Baptist Manuals by McConnell, page 29, and by Pendleton, page 43. Likewise, the Presbyterian Confession of Faith, page 13, says, "The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men." Thus, the idea that the Bible is the infallible rule of faith and practice is common ground. But, is it scriptural ground? The apostle Paul, in 2 Tim. 3:16, 17, shows that it is. He said, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." You ask, "If the idea that the Bible is the infallible rule of faith and practice is both common and scriptural ground, why is there division on this matter?" The division, debate and strife is over creeds and manuals of men — that which is outside the realm of divine revelation!

(2) Name. We are agreed that the name Christian is proper and right. Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, and all who claim to accept the religion of Christ claim to be Christians. So, the name Christian is common ground. Likewise, it is scriptural ground, for "the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." (Acts 11:26) Peter said, "If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf." (1 Pet. 4:16) The American Standard Version says, "in this name," that is, the name Christian. As the name Christian is common and scriptural ground, what is the division about? About human names — names outside the realm of divine revelation!

(3) Justification. There is almost universal agreement on the idea that justification is by faith. For example, Hiscox's Baptist Manual, page 62, says, "We believe the Scriptures teach that the great gospel blessing which Christ secures to such as believe in him is justification; that justification includes the pardon of sin, and the gift of eternal life on principles of righteousness; that it is bestowed, not in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done but solely through faith in Christ ...." The Methodist Discipline, page 28, says, "We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort." So, even though the Baptists believe that justification is "solely through faith" and the Methodists believe that it is "by faith only," they DO believe that justification is by faith. So do all other religious groups in Christendom. Justification by faith is common ground, therefore. Not only is it common, it is scriptural. Paul said, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 5:1) Again, "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:26) And again, "For by grace are ye saved through faith ...." (Eph. 2:8) If justification by faith is common and scriptural ground, why are religious people divided on the subject? Because men added the word "only," making it justification by faith only. There is no division on what the Bible says! The division is produced by an idea outside the realm of divine revelation!

(4) Evangelism. All whom I know of agree that it is right and proper for a congregation of God's people to sound out the word. There never has been a debate on this matter. It is common ground! The fact that it is scriptural ground is seen in Paul's statement in 1 Thess. 1:8. He commanded the church at Thessalonica by saying, "For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing." On this common and scriptural ground there is no debate, no strife, no division at all. But, on the subject of evangelism there is division. What is it about? About human missionary societies — organizations outside the realm of divine revelation.

.(5) Benevolence. Even though division is rampant in churches of Christ on the subject of benevolence, all agree that it is right for a congregation of God's people, acting in its congregational capacity, to care for its needy members. Have you ever heard of a debate on this. No! There hasn't been one! This is common ground! The action on the part of the church in Jerusalem, Acts 6, shows that it is scriptural ground. The church, acting in its congregational capacity, cared for its needy widows without sending them or its money to some human benevolent organization. You say, "If that is common and scriptural ground, what is the division about; why are churches of Christ divided?" We are divided over human benevolent organizations — the idea that churches of Christ can turn their work, their funds, and the oversight of their work and funds over to human benevolent organizations — an idea outside the realm of divine revelation.

(6) Cooperation. In spite of the disagreement on congregational cooperation, we all agree that it is right for one church to send money to another church that is in need. If congregation A is reduced to want by a famine, tornado or something of the kind, nobody denies that it would be right and proper for churches B, C, D, and E, providing they have ability to do so, to send money to congregation A to relieve its want. In all the debates about cooperation that has never been debated. It is common ground! The scripturalness of it is seen in Rom. 16:26 and 2 Cor. 8:9. The Jerusalem church was in need. Macedonia and Achaia sent to this needy church in order to relieve that need. If this is common and scriptural ground, and it is, what is the division about? It is about the sponsoring church type of cooperation — the idea that churches can send to a church NOT in need so as to enable that church to become the central agent through which the other congregations can do a national or world-wide work — an idea outside the realm of divine revelation.

From what has been said, we can not only see what is causing division but who is causing it. However, this will be more evident, as far as benevolence is concerned, by a further consideration of Eph. 4:4-6. Paul tells us that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God. Suppose I enter a congregation and begin teaching that it is all right to have a plurality of Gods, Lords, faiths, baptisms, etc. Suppose faithful Christians oppose that idea and the church divides. Who would be to blame for the division? Surely, you know the answer.

Now, look at the application: Christ set up one divine body, the church. But men have established other bodies — human benevolent organizations — and contend that it is right for the church to do its work through these organizations by contributing to them. Faithful Christians oppose this idea, contending that the divine body, the church, is sufficient for doing the work God requires the church to do, and that we don't need another body any more than we need another God, Lord or Spirit. But churches are being divided. Who is to blame for the division? Those who contend that the divine body is sufficient and that we don't need any other, OR those who contend that it is right to have other bodies — human benevolent societies??? Surely, you know the answer!

I verily believe that it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for the man who pierced the Lord's physical body with the spear than it will be for the man who is guilty of dividing his Spiritual body, the church. Let's therefore, discard everything that is human for that which is divine in religious matters, "endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.