Church Discipline: Divisiveness

grace2.jpgWe’ve already considered Rom. 16:17.

(Rom 16:17) I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

This is written to many preachers in the 21st Century Churches of Christ. It’s not those who disagree on instrumental music or elder re-affirmation. It’s those who claim the power to damn over questions that have nothing to do with the gospel, like instrumental music and elder re-affirmation. Such men should be fled–not honored or catered to. They certainly shouldn’t be made ministers or elders.

(Titus 3:9-11) But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

Who is “divisive”? Plainly, anyone who works to divide brother from brother. And so, who is a brother? Any baptized, penitent believer who is still a penitent believer.

If I demand that someone who uses an instrument be disfellowshipped even though he is a baptized, penitent believer and gives every evidence of being an honest follower of Jesus, am I a purifier? or a divider? What is the church to do with me?

Does this mean I can’t teach my understanding of instrumental music? No. It only means that I can’t use that understanding to drive a wedge between brothers.

Being divisive over doctrine is just a natural outworking of legalism–of the Galatian heresy we considered earlier. Indeed, adding “salvation issues” to the gospel necessarily leads to division because the choice of which issues are truly salvation issues is purely subjective.

(1 Cor. 1:12-13) What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas “; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

In 1 Corinthians 1-4, Paul wrestles with division among the congregation. He doesn’t directly address whatever their dispute was over. We don’t know if these disputes were doctrinal or simply over personalities. For Paul, the answer is the same either way: don’t divide.

Notice that Paul also condemns those who say “I follow Christ” (literally, “I am of Christ.”) He says, “Is Christ divided?” In other words, how dare you claim to “of Christ” and yet work to divide his body! If you want to be of Christ, be like Christ, and bring forgiveness, love, and grace, not division. Peacemakers are of Christ. Wolves who scatter the flock are not.

Paul raises the stakes in chapter 3–

(1 Cor. 3:16-17) Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

The congregation is God’s temple. It’s where God lives through his Spirit. If you divide a local congregation, then you divide Christ’s body–the very house of God. If you destroy God’s house, God will destroy you.

I don’t know about you, but I think I can see a real-life application here. This just might mean that if I’m a divider of God’s Kingdom, I won’t get to live in that Kingdom when the next age arrives. It’s not a risk I care to take.

Of course, not all division is over doctrine. Division can also be caused by personalities, egos, jealousy, or any number of other sins. Regardless of the cause, fomenting division is repeatedly, strongly condemned.

I know of churches that divided over decorating choices! I know lots of churches that divided over the choice of preacher. It’s not always doctrinal.

But when it’s not doctrinal, it’s always about a lack of love. If a church truly loves each other, they’ll find a way to work through a disagreement over the preacher. If the preacher truly loves the church, he’ll resign rather than be the source of division!

When churches fall apart over carpet colors, the carpet color is simply evidence of a much deeper rift–over who has power, whom the elders listen to, or such. And if the church were truly filled with the love, the powerful–those with influence–would yield to those left out. Because Jesus would. In fact, he did.

(Phil. 2:3-4) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

But if a church is really just a social club with a baptistry, then we’ll quite naturally want to do what we enjoy–which is getting our own way.

Now, the Churches of Christ are very fortunate that many of the Christian colleges have started conflict resolution centers. Pepperdine and ACU have offices serving Churches of Christ struggling with internal conflict. Other universities have administrators or professors who are very skilled in this area and glad to help a church in need.

There are times that a church wants to stay together but they just don’t know how to resolve their problems. Sometimes an objective third-party can bring peace whereas no insider could.

Scores if not hundreds of congregations have worked in this way to work through problems that, in the past, might have led to a split.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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