“I went to our small church since I was on the cradle role. The people there were the stuff of my earliest memories – church picnics, Sunday School contests, Christmas plays and Easter sunrise services… all of their faces flood back to my mind when someone says the word “Church”. Of all the images that stick out to me from my youth, the one that I cannot shake off – more than any of the “hymn sings” and “after glows” of my youth – was the night of an annual church meeting when our church split in two. On the one side, as I recall, was a very prominent family that seemed to be led by a large woman who favored pink dresses and big hats. I don’t recall her name – just her abrupt and shrill voice as she insisted that the Pastor leave for the vote that was called “because his presence would make people too polite and not let them say the things that were on their minds.” I remember thinking… “Should they be thinking them if they are that impolite?” But I was young, and young people don’t count among such a chorus of enlightened adults. I remember her face… it looked, well… angry. I remember it looked more like the flannel graph picture of Pontius Pilate than that of Jesus…that was the last night dad ever took us to our home church. I don’t really know what happened – but I knew it was bad….”
We have all heard the stories – churches that divide over colors of carpet, drapes or no, pews or no, organs or no, choir robes or no – lofty things… seemingly important things. We can conclude that many of these divisions are nothing short of Satan tugging the hearts of wayward people…
At the same time, there are times when believers are forced to separate because of truth. It is not an easy thing to do, and many of the separations of yesteryear were probably not for sufficient causes. As the body of Christ, this is as unnatural as cutting off a physical body part off – an amputation is something done in only the most extreme situations. At the same time, we do understand that it is – on occasion- a necessary step. In this study we will examine carefully some WRONG TIMES and WRONG REASONS to divide, in the hope that it will help us become more ready to be patient, and cautious about unity!
Not all division is wrong. Truth should be separated from falsehood, light from darkness. Are the actions we object to connected to specific violations of Scripture? If not, can we determine the actual substantive problem in a divided church? These are important questions.
The issue is: When people are dividing WITHIN the body of Christ, is there a time when you SHOULD and when you SHOULDN’T? We will look in this study at reasons why we SHOULD NOT DIVIDE, based on Paul’s pleas for unity in Corinth.
To set the stage, let’s recall what Paul saw in the division, as we mentioned in the laststudy of this book:
First, Paul knew some were following leaders like him because they had STANDING in the work. He personalized the argument as though they followed him and Apollos, but in fact they were following others that Paul did not name. The leaders of the various factions probably demonstrated a similar style of teaching to Paul’s Jewish line of plain argumentation and Apollos’ more eloquent philosophical approach. Paul stated that he is personalizing the reference and not offering a literal argument in 1 Corinthians 4:6.
Second, Paul knew some were following leaders because of their SKILL in the work. These were attracted to the wisdom and eloquence of leaders like Apollos because his argumentation drew new people to Messiah.
This is where works most often divide – people of STANDING can easily be threatened by people who offer time and SKILL to the ministry, albeit they haven’t put as many years into the body as those with STANDIING. It is very possible that we are dividing at times we should not be. Disagreement need not cause division or disharmony. Disagreement can breed innovation. Division comes when disagreement picks up power by the fuel of ego.
Key Principle: Amputation is unhealthy and dangerous – and should ONLY be a LAST RESORT when absolutely necessary!
Let’s explore some WRONG REASONS that Paul offers:
FOUR BAD REASONS WE DIVIDE THE BODY
Reason 1: We get confused about the STANDARD of truth –that God speaks primarily through, and always in harmony with, His Word. You and I are not the judges of right and wrong – the Word reveals right and wrong.
Paul asked in 1 Corinthians 1:13 “Has Christ been divided?”
Think about what Paul was saying. He wanted to know if BOTH SIDES could clearly claim that God was with them – and not with the other. At the heart of the claim was this issue: Jesus has made known where He stands on issues. When we begin to think other voices are equal to Jesus’ Word in our hearts – we are following skill or standing and not truth. The truth is that God loves people and has openly desired us to “be at peace with all men” – especially those of the household of faith. In fact, in Romans 12, Paul instructed the early believers this way:
Romans 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
If the WORD is the Standard of truth, then… our behavior toward one another will reflect these ideals:
- We will love honestly and not with a falseness that comes in surface self promotion.
- We will put away evil things and try to avoid bringing them into the lives of others.
- We will promote things that are wholesome and good.
- We will try to help, and look for ways to aid one another.
- We will let each other know (and mean it) that we WANT to be practical and helpful to them, because they are precious to God and us.
- We will view our service to the Lord as SERVING THEM. They are not a bother – they are brothers and sisters and we are privileged to serve in that way.
- We will celebrate the good things God is doing in you, cry over the pain you pass through, never cease praying, and offer any practical help to care for the needs we encounter as we watch you!
- When we are mistreated, we will be soft hearted but thick skinned.
- We will TRY to find common ground, rather than look for reasons to divide.
- We will be careful not to think too highly of our own ideas – but recall that others also have valid approaches to things.
If all this is true, we will remember that the way we say something can tarnish the truth of what we are saying. If we gossip because we are unhappy – we show ourselves to be the ones at fault in our un-surrendered heart.
Now, before we get too far, let me back up and say this: In this “tolerance without truth” day in which we live, people are used to seeing on TV and hearing from public circles a SOUND BITE BIBLE, where all judgment was summarily dismissed by Jesus.
Someone has said: “We live in a day in which everything that is not nailed down is coming loose…and the devil is pulling nails as fast as he can!” They are trained to believe that Jesus said: “Don’t ever, for any reason, in any circumstance judge anyone – that isn’t Christian.” Clearly this is not a view consistent with the Master that turned the tables over in the Temple and called the religious leaders of His day “whitened sepulchers and vipers”. Ammending this tolerance without truth position of the social Gospel of the twenty-first century American church we may hear: “Judge only those who THINK they are right!” That allows for the table turning incident – for it was against religious Pharisees.
The problems with that view are many. I am called to make judgments about what kind of people my child can be with… and what kind of adult I should be with. Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul admonished:
1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 34 Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” That kind of speech seems to fall well short of the never judge anyone because that isn’t Christian kind of rhetoric.
Add to that, many of the early epistles of the church called for staying away from people who may have professed a relationship with Jesus, but walked in ways that negated their words:
1 John 2:3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. The letters argue for discerning love. They argue for a Christian to carefully judge sin in their lives, and be careful about engaging – as brothers – people who ignore God’s Word.
The standard of truth is the Word. The Word does not endorse all of our preferences – and these we must be careful to patiently work through as a body. At the same time, when the Word is being violated, we must work to bring the body back in line with the Word.
The late, great Dr. R.G. Lee said, “The Bible is a book above and beyond all other books…as a river is beyond a rivulet, as the sun is beyond a candle in brightness, as the wings of an eagle above the wings of a sparrow in strength…it is supernatural in origin, eternal in duration, inexpressible in value, immeasurable in influence, infinite in scope, divine in authorship, human in penmanship, regenerative in power, infallible in authority, universal in interest, personal in application, and inspired in totality! The Bible is the book that has walked more paths, traveled more highways, knocked on more doors, spoken to more people in their mother tongue, than any other book has ever known, or ever will know.”
Voltaire in his day said, “in 100 years the Bible will be a forgotten book, only to be found in museums.” 100 years later, Voltaire was dead, and his house was purchased by the Geneva Bible Society for the printing and distribution of Bibles!
With the constant pounding away by a compromised message in the church of our day, many people seem so unsure of the veracity of the Bible these days. They remind me of the story: Maybe you’ve heard about the gorilla in a zoo holding a Bible in one hand & a book about evolution in the other. He was looking confused, so someone asked, “What are you doing?” The gorilla answered, “Well, I’m trying to decide if I’m my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.” (sermon central illustrations).
Reason 2: We get confused about what the CENTRAL TRUTH of the body of Christ is – that Jesus and His work is to be elevated above all. He is to be elevated in our DAILY CHOICES as well as our WORSHIP.
Paul went on in 1 Corinthians 1:13b “…Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. 16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.
Paul wanted to remind the Corinthian believers that JESUS was the One that was Crucified for them- and in the name of Jesus they were baptized. He is the center of the Christian faith.
- Our central message cannot become JUSTICE for the POOR. That is a worthy message – but it cannot be the center.
- Our central message cannot be the RESTORATION of former American morality. That is a worthy goal – but it is far from the center of what God has called us to complete.
Our central message must be that Jesus is God’s Son, sent as a substitute for each sinful man or woman that willingly accepts His death on their behalf. Our message is that one who truly has agreed with God about their sin and unrighteousness, and has surrendered to Him the remaining days and years of their life – will seek to walk with Him according to His holy Word. They do not EARN salvation – but they live to delight their Father in Heaven. We pursue HIS JOY, not our own…
Men have pursued their own joy in every avenue imaginable. Some have successfully found it while others have not. Perhaps it would be easier to describe where joy is not found:
- Not in Unbelief – The French philosopher Voltaire was an atheist thinker. He wrote: “I wish I had never been born.”
- Not in Pleasure — Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: “The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone.”
- Not in Money — Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.”
- Not in Position and Fame — Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: “Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.”
- Not in Military Glory — Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent, before he said, “There are no more worlds to conquer.”
Where then is real joy found? — the answer is simple, in Christ alone. (Adapted from The Bible Friend, Turning Point, May, 1993. http://www.eSermons.com).
Reason 3: We begin to believe that our work is based on the quality of the worker we follow, and not the transformation of Jesus by His Spirit.
Paul continued in 1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void…. 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”
We need to be careful not to elevate the WORKER above the WORK. We don’t need to denigrate them, we just need to keep perspective. I love the little story: A minister gave an unusual sermon one day, using a peanut to make several important points about the wisdom of God in nature. One of the members greeted him at the door and said, “Very interesting, Pastor. I never expected to learn so much from a nut.” (A-Z sermon illustrator).
Paul told the Corinthians that Jesus didn’t send him to baptize (that is, to fill the role of administrating the growth of the church, per se). He also said that God didn’t send him to work out their responses by being CLEVER about his presentation. This doesn’t mean we should somehow elevate stupidity – or try not to be well prepared for the work of the Word. We simply don’t need to persuade by becoming tricksters, for we need to be real. Let me illustrate: Ridgecrest is a large Baptist-run assembly ground, nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina. All summer long, every year, thousands of Christians come to Ridgecrest for training, inspiration, Bible study, and challenge. A few years ago, during a conference, people began to notice a man hanging around the grounds. He did not look like he had just stepped out of your typical Sunday School class. His clothes were tattered and torn; they looked like something even the Salvation Army would throw away. His face had not been visited by a razor for a long time. His shoes could best be described by the title of Hymn No. 2 in the book – “Holy, Holy, Holy”! And worst of all, there was the BO. You know about BO? Let’s just say that when you got close, you did not get a whiff of Chanel No. 5. This young man was clearly “not one of us”, not the kind of person you normally see at Christian campgrounds. What did he do? Not much, really. He did not approach anyone. He did not harass anybody. He did not ask for money. He mostly just hung around. When chapel services were held, he would walk across the front and sit down. When classes were under way, he would lie down on the grassy slopes nearby. And when meals were being served, he would stand on the dining hall porch, not far from the long lines of people clutching their meal tickets. No begging, no demands, just standing around. At the end of the week they announced that there would be a special speaker for the closing service, and that he would speak on the theme, “Inasmuch as you have not done it unto one of the least of these, you have not done it unto me.” They promised that the audience would truly remember this message. The hymns were sung, the prayers were prayed, the choir sang, and the special speaker approached the podium. Who do you think was that special speaker? Who brought that memorable message? That scruffy young man! That hang around bum with the worn-out clothing, the messy beard, and the offensive BO! It turns out that he was a young pastor who had been asked to play a part by the organizers of the conference. And his message stung as he said to the crowd, “No one tried to include me in anything. No one asked me if I needed help. No one invited me to the dining hall. No one sat down to listen to my story. A few put religious tracts into my hand. One or two pulled out a dollar bill and gave it to me. But most of you turned your eyes and pretended not to see me. My appearance offended you, and you left me out.” Appearances are deceiving. He looked like a beggar and a bum, but he was a pastor. (Please don’t anyone say that’s all the same thing!). (sermon central illustrations).
Reason 4: We begin to feel the pressure of what is popular or culturally acceptable.
Paul said also in 1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble…
There are ways to get people to respond emotionally that are persuasive, but not spiritually sound. We can work people into a frenzy with the right kind of band, lighting, and entertainment. Church isn’t supposed to be boring, but it isn’t a three ring circus either. We aren’t supposed to use it to bring our unsaved friends so the professionals can witness to them,,, The purpose of the meeting is to help believers grow in their faith, so they can reach their neighbors for Jesus the rest of the week – and be an example to their own families, communities and shops.
The breakdown occurs when God’s people lose track of their calling for their neighbor, and start to yearn for popularity over passion for the Gospel. One Pastor said it this way:
Pastor Bruce D. Weaver and his wife drove in their car to pick up their son from Vacation Bible School. The sky was growing dark and there was a storm watch in effect, but no rain was falling yet. The theme for their upcoming Vacation Bible School had to do with Noah’s ark and the flood, so he joked with some of the adult leaders about going to great lengths this year with special effects. By the time he arrived home with his wife and son, the wind was blowing fiercely and lightning bolts were coming down all around them. They hurried inside the house and began to shut windows. Within a few moments they were without electrical power. They tucked their son into bed, trying not to betray their concern regarding the severe weather conditions outside. Suddenly the telephone rang. It was their neighbor informing them that a “tornado warning” had been issued for their area. That meant a funnel cloud actually had been sighted somewhere near. Weaver asked him why the siren in their small town was not sounding. The neighbor said that the siren could not be sounded because of a power outage. He further explained that he had heard on his police scanner instructions for everyone who could hear the scanner to call their neighbors to inform them of the “tornado warning.” Weaver was thankful for his concern and he was also thankful that the funnel cloud sighted damaged neither his family nor anyone else in their area. Later that evening, Pastor Weaver thought about his neighbor’s concern for his safety and he reflected upon his own concern, or lack there of, for his neighbors. But it is all the more important to inform neighbors that a “code red” has been issued by God, because in due time Jesus Christ will return. (sermon central illustrations).
- God’s people cannot allow any other standard to regulate us – the Word alone is there.
- God’s people cannot put any other work in the center of the faith – the Cross alone is there.
- God’s people cannot any other worker in the center of the work –Jesus alone is there.
- God’s people cannot be lead by any other will – like what is popular in the culture – God’s expressed will alone is there.
If we allow any of those to happen, we will divide the body and the amputation will cause deep anguish and loss of effectiveness. Amputation is unhealthy and dangerous – and should ONLY be a LAST RESORT when absolutely necessary!