Division Within the Church: An Ugly Trend to be Avoided
By Rowland Femi Gbamis | Tennessee, USA
Text: 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-NKJV).
By division, I mean disagreement between two or more groups, typically producing tension or hostility. Generally, people do not just drift into division; they are led into it when disagreement occurs. The church at Corinth was in serious problems. It was divided into various competing groups: disorder prevailed in their assemblies; there were litigation cases among the brethren; the Lord’s Supper had been corrupted into a social meal; spiritual gifts were misused; adultery tolerated, and some even denied the resurrection of the dead.
Back to our text, Paul was unwilling to give up on the Corinthian brethren because of his love for the church. Hence, he wrote to see them purged of the terrible sin of divisions plaguing them. Paul writes to them by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as an apostle of Christ and was firm in renouncing their sin and calling them to repentance. Right away, he writes to them, “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). Paul was pleading with the Christians in Corinth to speak the same thing. When Christians speak of their faith and tell people the gospel story, we describe our faith and practice and express our loyalties to God. We must be able to speak the same thing in the process. The members of the church at Corinth were divided, and that division came through in their speeches because they were saying different things (1 Corinthians 1:11-12; 15:12).
On the contrary, as God’s children, we can speak the same thing and be united when we read and believe the word of God (Ephesians 4:1-3). When we each allow the word of God to govern our speech, there is a great likelihood we will be speaking the same thing. In other words, we can always find solutions and give the same answers to our problems regardless of the problem because the Bible is sufficient to address our disagreements within the fold of Christ only if we are willing to humble ourselves and follow biblical injunctions for conflict resolution (Colossians 3: 12-14).
Our Disposition Towards Division
Of all the harrowing experiences in life, one of the most unpleasant is being in a group with envy, jealousy, immaturity and all carnalities. As Christians, we ought to be people who seek peace (Hebrews 12:14), who pursue peace (Psalm 34:14), and who love harmony and abhor division (Psalm 133:1). As Christians, many of us probably have witnessed a church divided because of issues that ordinarily could have been resolved by patience and prayer through the word of God. This writer has watched with dismay as several local Churches are torn apart into different factions led by different men seeking control within the Lord’s church. These men would not talk to each other; they acted selfishly and resentfully. Sometimes, it reaches the point described by Paul in Galatians 5:15 of brethren biting and devouring one another. Brethren, it ought not to be!
Accordingly, we all know Christ did not intend that the church should be a place where people hurt each other or kill each other spiritually. The Lord’s church should be a place of warmth, comfort and harmony. God hates division. What He wants is what Jesus prayed for in John 17:20-21. A closer look at verse 9 of our text indicates that “God is faithful by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” God wants us in the fellowship of his Son, united with Jesus Christ as our Lord. There is no virtue in the kind of division that tore the church at Corinth apart.
Instead, what God desires is what Paul described in the following words, “Perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” In every local Church, there will be different ages, different levels of experience and understanding, different cultural/ethnic backgrounds and different personalities. However, amidst all of these diversities in our faith and the expression of our faith, there can be unity, and there must be unity. Consequently, the unity I discuss is achievable when we believe, teach and practice what the Bible says.
Two Types of Division:
First, let me reiterate that there comes a time when faithful division may occur among God’s children. Hence, I am in no way advocating for unity at all costs at the expense of taking a stand against “redlines” that bother on matters of faith, such as the current trend of instrumental music into worship (Colossian 3:16-17; Ephesians 5:19; James 5:13), women eldership inclusion in the leadership structure of the Lord’s church (1 Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9), fellowshipping with homosexuals and condoning them in our assembly, even when such perverted individuals are not willing to repent (Romans 1:24, 26-28), institutional arrangements such as centralized elderships that coordinated the works of many churches under human arrangements of missionary and benevolent societies (2 John 9). Consequently, this kind of division discussed is approved by God (cf. Matthew 10:34; 2 Corinthian 6:16-18). God’s children must have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). Thus, God’s children must take a position against these vices, no seating on the fence!
The second type is a factious division that God’s children must avoid because the devil causes it. Paul condemned this kind of division in our text “…and that there be no divisions among you…” (1 Corinthians 1:10). In Romans 16:17-18 Paul writes, “17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.” When brethren get to the point that they are unwilling to renounce their divisive tendencies and continue to insist on misleading brethren in the wrong direction, then faithful brethren must draw the line.
Evil Qualities of Division
- Division diminishes our strength. Division within the Lord’s church significantly negatively impacts its strength. When the members of the church are divided, it hinders the effectiveness of their collective efforts in spreading the message of God’s love and fulfilling their mission (Matthew 28:18-20). It weakens their unity, leaving them vulnerable to external challenges. Division diminishes the church’s ability to provide spiritual support and guidance to its members, as conflicts and disagreements often consume valuable time and resources (Ephesians 4:15-16). The divided church also sends a conflicting message to the world, undermining its credibility and relevance (John 17:20-21). Unity is integral to the strength of the Lord’s church, and division hampers its ability to fulfill its purpose.
- Division displaces our loyalty. When the church is divided into groups, each group becomes loyal to a faction instead of putting their loyalty or allegiance to God. The marks of carnality in the New Testament include envying, strife and divisions (1 Corinthians 3:3). In other words, carnality is more than revelries, drinking, and other immoral activities listed in Galatian 5:19. Of critical note also is the word “dissensions” among the works of the flesh, which relate to a “state of affairs in which men are divided and feuds flourish among God’s Children.
- Division diffuses our focus. Division causes us to focus on fulfilling personal plans and goals for our factions instead of God’s will (James 3:13-4:1). It causes us to lose sight of the one true purpose that God has for the church, which is to be a testimony to the nations by preaching the gospel to the world (Mark 16:15-16).
Conclusion As I conclude this writing, God hates the destruction of unity among brethren (Proverbs 6:19). In the church, those who cause division and offenses are to be marked and withdrawn from (Romans 16:17, 18). God longs for His people to be united (1 Corinthians 1:10-13), which was what Jesus prayed for in John 17:20- 21 because love among God’s children shows the genuineness of our discipleship (John 13:35). Let us always remember what the Bible says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”! (Psalm 133:1).
1 20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 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 (John 20:20-21-NKJV).