This is a question that has cropped up in my recent studies and readings on the topic of unity vs. uniformity and the larger question of why the church is in such bad shape today.
What causes faction, fracturing, splintering, denominations, etc. in the body of Christ gathered (normally thought of as the local church building and those who gather there)? I can answer this question with one word: immaturity. So many of my brothers and sisters in the organized church, for lack of better terms, are so wrapped up into being right (right doctrine, theology, church practice, etc.) that their identity and security has become their opinion of what the Bible says. Their opinion is based on what they have grown up with, or what those they look up to (oh, let’s say, Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or Christ! 1 Cor 1 sound familiar?) say they should believe. Most often it is a belief built off of tradition and, in many cases, a faulty understanding of scripture text.
But, nonetheless, all of the segmenting, fracturing, divisions, strifes, etc. are because true believers in the church are too immature or they are not believers at all. Keeping this simple and to the point, though, most problems found in the church are due to immaturity. Think about it. We separate from other professing believers because they don’t believe exactly the way we do. Let me paint a typical picture (based off of how I grew up in the faith).
I was saved, meaning I came to believe in Jesus and redemption in Him alone. My whole life changed. I became associated with a Southern Baptist church because my best friend was one and his wife invited my wife and so off we went. We were accepted and made one of the family by being baptized and becoming a “formal” member of that local church. We were taught many things such as tithing, attendance, participation, sacrifice, along with what the Bible and Southern Baptists said about these things. We came to find out that the Southern Baptists even had a confession called the Baptist Faith and Message. Eventually we were told that we should believe these things, or in this manner, to be “united” with all other Southern Baptists. As time went by, and I became a teacher and pastor, I saw what happened to those people who came and did not believe the way we did. They were told they would be welcome to attend and participate in worship with us, give money to support us, and more. But, unless they became a member and believed the confession of faith, they would never be trusted to teach in the church, hold church sanctioned bible studies, become a leader, and the like. Why? The reason always given was because without membership and believing the same way, a person could go off the rails and teach something heretical and not be accountable to the church for it. I could draw this out in more detail, but I think you get the picture. If you need clarification, either comment below or email me and I will give you all the clarification you need.
So, can you see how division would occur in these types of situations? People with different beliefs coming in to the local church and being pushed away or turned away simply because they do not believe in someone’s opinion of biblical things. And the people doing the pushing away find their identity in those specific traditions and beliefs espoused by that one church and their security is cemented the longer they attend and the more involved they get. Can you guess what happens when that belief held by those in that particular local Southern Baptist church (following the example above) is challenged by an outsider from another denomination or faith tradition in Christianity? A separation occurs. Immaturity rears its head and estranges one group from the next. Those with tightly held like beliefs herd together and keep all others out. Is this what Christ came to instill? Is this what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians or Ephesians? NO!
To make this short, let me close with this. Once we stop making every point of our intricate doctrine (where typically our identity and security is wrapped up) the test for whether someone is “in Christ” or “of Christ” then we have a chance of being mature and acting in love towards not only our brothers and sister in Christ, but also exercising love for our neighbors as ourselves. The world will see our unity and our love for each other as they should see it (See 1 John) I challenge all my readers and anyone they may speak to about this issue to begin to ask the question, “Am I the one that is acting out of immaturity in my church and thereby being a cause or a sustainer of division, or am I willing to change and help others change so we can be united in Christ?” Make sure your identity and security is in Christ alone, not in traditions or other peoples’ beliefs about what the scriptures say.
As always, since I am very prone to not being completely understood in what I write, feel free to ask me questions about what I mean here or ask me to clarify what I am saying. Let’s communicate on this important issue. Send me your comments and let us be as iron sharpening iron!
Blessings to you!