In other words, a life together under the Word will stay healthy only when it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietatis, but instead understands itself as being part of the one, holy, universal, Christian church, sharing through its deeds and suffering in the hardships and struggles and promise of the whole church. Every principle of selection, and every division connected with it that is not necessitated quite objectively by common work, local conditions, or family connections is of the greatest danger to a Christian community. Self-centeredness always insinuates itself in any process of intellectual or spiritual selectivity, destroying the spiritual power of the community and robbing the community of its effectiveness for the church, thus driving it into sectarianism.
(p. 45). Bonhoeffer connects sectarianism — the division of the church — with self-centered love. Rather than pretending that we’re dividing over doctrine and truth, Bonhoeffer gets to the heart of the matter: division is all about selfishness.
Now, of course, division is often driven by genuine disagreement about doctrine. But the decision that this doctrine makes us the true church and you not the true church — in a religion that rejects works salvation and insists repeatedly on salvation by faith in Jesus — is not driven by doctrine but by emotion, that is, the desire to prove our superior standing before God, that is, selfishness.
The Churches of Christ are a classic but not unique example. When we divide, our culture, our way, our tradition is to declare those we leave damned in their sins. This justifies the pain of the separation, but it reveals an unspeakable ignorance of God’s word and the heart of Jesus.
We may very honorably and very legitimately disagree about whether the Bible requires the Lord’s Supper be celebrated with one cup. It’s a legitimate point of contention. The Anglicans and Catholics are one cuppers, too, you know.
But to insist that those who disagree with me are damned, well, there is simply no basis for that at all other than a desire to justify separation. To win our arguments — and we’re all about the winning — we need to score as many rhetorical points as possible. And the best arguments, we think, all end with “and you’ll go to hell if you disagree.” To win the fight, we raise the stakes to the ultimate level, and this forces separation and justifies the vitriol and viciousness that fill our rhetoric. The doctrine of separation thus is created to fill the needs to win the argument at any cost.
But why win at any cost? Why is winning the most important thing? Why aren’t unity and love and grace and tolerance and acceptance more important? Why winning? Why must I insist on placing the souls of my brothers and sisters who dare disagree with me on the altar? Why is the sacrifice to be made theirs and not mine?
Well, because of the personalities of those who push the arguments. Rather than pay the hard, high price of finding common ground, of looking for ways to stay together, we’d rather prove our genius, and justify the price of subscribing to our periodicals and attending our lectureships. We need a party spirit to justify having parties so we can have party institutions — that we get to head and for which we get paid.
If partyism were to go away, so would the best seats and the profits and the honors. Separation creates hundreds of little-kingdoms rather than the Kingdom, and a host of little-kingdoms creates a host of little-kingdom chiefs who receive little-kingdom honors for creating and maintaining their little-kingdoms.
But our God is a God of just one Kingdom, and it’s a big one. It has but one Chief, who receives all the honor. But we’ll not see the Kingdom in its fullness so long as we have little-chiefs who insist on division to preserve the honors that come from separation.