It is self-evident that the religious world is filled with division.
While some mock Christianity for the division that plagues believers in the gospel of Christ, division is scarcely unique to the Christian faith. It is a thing that also plagues Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism. Even smaller religious faiths, such as Shinto, experience the phenomena.
The causes of division are not a great mystery.
Sometimes it is caused by human personality; when various proud men desire to have others follow after them rather than after another. The inspired apostle Paul warned that this would be one cause of division in the Lord’s church, saying to the Ephesian Elders, “Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:30) Christians are called to be disciples of the Christ for whom we are named, but there will always be those who seek disciples for themselves rather than Christ. Religious confusion ensues when those who follow a different teacher continue to consider themselves Christians, though in truth, they have left following Christ.
Relatedly, religious division occurs when two people begin teaching or believing different things. If one group believes God wants them to worship Him on the first day of the week, and another devoutly believes God wants them to worship Him on the seventh day of the week, then it is obvious that these two groups will divide and not worship together. Multiply such differences by a thousand times and you subsequently have a thousand different divisions, or denominations.
In Christianity, Jesus wants no division. He prayed for His followers, on the night He was betrayed, desiring, “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:21) In planning for His church, Jesus anticipated having but a single group of followers. He said, “I will build my church,” with church being singular (Matthew 16:18). Jesus did not intend for a multitude of churches. Thus His apostles, following their master’s desires, preached but a single church. “There is but one body,” they repeatedly taught (cf. Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Ephesians 4:4), that body being the church of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Colossians 1:18, 24).
Division in the church is thus a phenomena that goes against the very doctrine of Christ, and threatens to separate us from Christ. “Is Christ divided,” the scriptures ask rhetorically, and the answer is a resounding no. But the one who divides and destroys the body of Christ is in danger of judgment (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13; 3:17).
Some, seeing that division is caused by doctrine, think the solution must be to eliminate doctrine altogether. “It does not matter what you believe,” they will say, “God will accept all of us.” But those who follow such a solution are only contributing the the problem, for that was not the teaching of Christ nor His apostles, and a doctrine of no doctrines becomes a doctrine in and of itself.
Rather the solution is to seek for a unity of doctrine and to make sure that doctrine is what Christ Himself taught. “Teach men to obey all things I have commanded you,” said Christ (Matthew 18:20). Years later, Paul would write to the divided Corinthian Christians, saying, “I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10; NKJV) As religious division plagues us, these holy words should speak to us also, reminding us that we should seek to mature past division, not by agreeing to disagree, but rather by seeking a unity of knowledge and understanding in what Christ actually taught and desired.
Thus also, the preacher Timothy was urged, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:16; NKJV) Sound doctrine is the key to religious unity in the Lord’s church and each of us should seek to promulgate no other doctrine (cf Titus 2:1).
The church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.