So where do we draw the line?
When do we say that this is not acceptable and we cannot coalesce with it?
How do we go about separating ourselves from that with which we cannot cooperate?
How do we decide when the division is healthy and necessary?
How do we determine that this is what God would want and is not our fallen pride that is doing the driving?
How do we manage to maintain some modicum of unity amongst the existing division?
For the first thousand years or so, there was only the Church. There was only Christianity. Yes, I am sure the historians could fill us in on all the corruption and undercurrents of division and small separatist groups which existed throughout that time period, but formally and officially, the Church was one. Then came along the East-West split which resulted in Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Several hundred years later, we have the Protestant Reformation breaking off from the Catholic church. And of course, we now have hundreds, no probably thousands (tens of thousands?), of different groups and sects and denominations within Protestantism. Within Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the number of splits and divisions have been significantly lesser than Protestantism, but the divides exist, nevertheless.
Having come to mind the thoughts of splits and division within the church is of no surprise right now.
Around this blog, we have been following the current outworking of a separation within a certain non-denomination denomination. Now, this current split within Calvary Chapel is not anywhere near the magnitude of some of the divides in church history, but it is still meaningful. Meaningful because it affects many people, even if a lot of those people don’t yet realize it. Some of the effects and potential effects have already been discussed on these pages. And meaningful because a bunch of men who represent God in their calling and vocation are essentially communicating that this is necessary before God to happen.
So the questions from the opening come to mind. There has been so much division in the history of the church. Each side often, if not always, claiming righteousness and God’s honor. How much of it has been necessary? How much of it has been truly honoring to God?
One of the unique things about this blog is the degree of theological diversity we have in our community. Certainly among our commenters and who knows how much more with our readers. Collectively, we have quite a range of opinion and disagreement on many different theological subjects, some of greater importance than others. And in whatever discussion we would have here on this thread, those differences likely will manifest. Yet we are able to maintain some level of respect and unity with each other, most of the time, anyway. At the same time, of course, we’re not trying to form a church here.
Each and every one of us probably has a list of non-negotiables that a church must meet for us to be a part of it. If a church fails to meet one or more of these items, we feel as if we cannot be a part of it, and in the case where it happens to be our current fellowship, that we must separate. At the core, we would probably share some of these items (belief in the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, etc.) and would share less and less as we work out from the core. What might be a non-negotiable for me may be an item of little concern for some others, and vice versa. Furthermore, we might share the same non-negotiable but fall on opposite sides as to what is the correct belief/method/behavior of that particular item. Then we have the tradition from whence we come, where some will give more credence to individual freedom to separate over many more issues and circumstances while others will more defer to central church leadership with a greater emphasis on unification.
So how do we handle all these differences within the church? Some division may very well be necessary and honoring to God. When a group within the church starts espousing heretical beliefs and is not open to correction, the decision to separate would likely be proper. When a church splits over the color of the carpet in the church, as we have all heard the like-stories, likely not so much. And then we’ve got everything in between.
The line of standing for truth and God’s honor can also often get blurred with our own stubbornness and pride. Something may be worth dividing over, but the manner in which we go about it is not God honoring. Other times, the issue may not even be worthy of separation, yet our carnality really gets the best of us.
When we do decide that separation is necessary, how can we manage to do this graciously? How do we avoid fleshly arrogance and condescension? How do we divide without calling into question the salvation of our brothers and sisters in Christ. How do we remain respectful of those with whom we disagree? How do we refrain from, what’s that term….. oh yeah, “Spiritual McCarthyism”? How can we appreciate our differences? How do we stay united in Christ?
I don’t have the answers to all of these questions I have asked throughout this writing. And if I did decree answers, I am sure there would be much disagreement. Each and every circumstance is unique and probably takes some nuance to fully understand and discern. I leave you with these thoughts, which are thoroughly greater than my own:
10 “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” – I Corinthians 1:10-13
9 “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” – Titus 3:9-11
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:1-6
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[a] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” – II Timothy 4:1-5
34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35