By Roland W. Keith
Jesus once said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:25-26). According to our Lord no kingdom, good or bad, can stand for long if it becomes divided. Others through history have echoed this observation. Bao ?ai, the last reigning emperor of Vietnam said, “In this decisive hour of our national history, union means life and division means death.” President Abraham Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” For a society, a nation, a civilization division carries a destructive power greater than any hurricane or other force of nature.
It was Jesus’ prayer that all those who believed in Him would become one with Father and Son (John 17:20-21). And, since we are all united in His body, this also means one with one another, as Paul explained: “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--
one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6). We are to be one— united in understanding and action. To the Corinthians the apostle penned these words: “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” (I Corinthians 1:10). To behave otherwise is to act according to human standards, not in the ways of God (I Corinthians 3:3).
Solomon wrote of six things the Lord hated, and seven that were an abomination, among them “one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19). Paul warned us to avoid those who create conflict among the Christian brotherhood noting that such people do so to deceive those they are able to, to feed their own desires (Romans 16:17-18). Such deceptive individuals often do so to gain power over others, money, even fame. In a more imminent warning Paul told the Ephesian elders, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30).
Today this warning is as relevant and concerning as it was when Paul put pen to parchment. From both outside and inside the church is being attacked by those who seek to reform it according to either secular sensibilities or through the assertions of false teachers seeking to gratify their own hungers. Only diligent study of scripture and a right understanding of God’s commands stand between the apostasy these individuals and groups seek to achieve with their efforts and the spiritual welfare of God's children.
One might ask, however, is there ever a time when one might stand in opposition to those who claim religious authority? Are there any “exceptions to the rule”? After being arrested and subsequently found teaching in the temple the apostles were brought before the senate where this exchange occurred: “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27-29). Whether in the assembly of believers or before secular authorities our one and only loyalty is to God and His divine word. We must seek the approval of God, not man in such a situation (Galatians 1:9-10). It is important, however, to use a reasoned, properly informed defense in standing for the truth (Colossians 4:5-6; I Peter 3:14-16; II Timothy 3:14-17), nonetheless, stand we must if we want to please the Lord.
In speaking about division within God’s kingdom and how to prevent it we must understand how such division can be introduced into the church to begin with. One way is due to the immaturity of a particular congregation. Remember all of Paul’s missionary journeys? How often did he return to fledgling churches to check on their spiritual growth and welfare? How often did he write to various groups to address issues that had popped up? A lack of growth can be deadly (I Corinthians 3:1-3), and therefore should be a prime concern for church leadership.
Another concern can be the undue influence of a single member or a small group stirring things up in a church. Paul advised Titus to warn such people twice, then have nothing more to do with them if they persisted, writing that such individuals are “self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). The apostle John also mentioned such a person, Diotrephes, in his third letter noting that he did not acknowledge the apostle’s authority and liked to “put himself first” (III John 1:9-10).
A third concern are those who willfully twist the word of God and find an easy audience. Paul was amazed that the Galatians were so easily manipulated by such a false teacher and informed them that any gospel contrary to the one he had taught them was false and any one espousing such a gospel was accursed (Galatians 1:6-9). The apostle wrote the Romans in a similar vein declaring that wrath and fury awaited these purveyors of falsehood (Romans 2:1). Peter also warned his readers of false teachers who would come among them introducing heresies that would cause the truth to be blasphemed, leading to their own destruction (II Peter 2:1-2).
In his second letter John instructed his readers to have nothing to do with those who sought to bring in novel teachings opposed to the word of God (II John 1:9-11). Today, in contrast to those who seek to turn us away from the truth, the assembled writings of the men inspired by God to write the holy scriptures agree with one another. As Paul wrote: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:4-6).
Concerning his gospel account John stated, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). One can add the words of Paul to John’s, when he wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
If we believe what John and Paul were telling us, then we know how to avoid and combat division within the church. Stay true to the word of God, which is truth itself.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.