Loving people in the midst of a disagreement can be a super-human feat. It’s even harder when the other person is mean, obnoxious, or just plain wrong. Love is most difficult when we have absolutely nothing to gain and quite a bit to lose. Love is costly and demands much of us. And that is why division has been the ticket for so many in the church today.
Yes it is far more simple to divide than to work through conflict, express feelings, and heal wounds. I find it far easier to believe that attempting to heal a wound will hurt more than leaving it to fester. Of course there are a variety of reasons for being divisive and critical of views other than our own:
– We think less of the other person and his/her manner.
– We think we know the truth
– We think the issue is too important
– Our own views are threatened by well-reasoned counter-arguments.
– We lose our focus on Christ and make other things the key issue.
Division is the easy way out, love is the high road over the mountain pass, bringing us to the end of ourselves. Division is often for cowards, love is for the committed.
During a theology class at seminary we discussed several key concepts of salvation and got down to a disucssion of when we may withdraw from fellowship with another Christian regarding doctrinal differences. Though I had some criteria of my own, a man from India insisted that division was not an option. Fellowship must be maintained with the goal of bringing that person over to the truth. Some Christians refuse to divide no matter what. I find that hard to comprehend and even more difficult to apply.
Homosexual ministers? We stay together. Low view of Biblical historicity? We stay together. Overly inclusive view of salvation? Yep, together. In the midst of the discussion he pointed out that division will only leave many to wallow in their errors, never to return to the truths of historic and Biblical Christianity.
The church is the body of Christ, and division is not possible. We often hear about the body having many parts and that it needs all of them. We laught at the thought of ears or a nose rebelling against the greater body, but perhaps we have overlooked something. While we can understand the analogy of the body as a reference to the variety of giftings within a local congregation, perhaps it can also apply to the diversity in the world-wide church. We need the diversity of the various Christians to inform our own views, challenge us to examine our own views critically, and to inform us of things that we may have otherwise missed. Even the spread of heresy is an opportunity that we can seize for the strengthening of our faith and that of others. Of course there may come points where people simply walk away from the church and are in error. In such cases rebuke and even exclusion are necessary. Discernment is surely needed when determining how stern or tolerant we must be when confronting diverse views within the church. Yet, even if we should find it necessary to divide, the true heart of Christ’s body is reconciliation.
A man may leave his wife, commit adultery, etc., but his wife can still live as if they are united, never severing herself from him. Her own reputation may be tainted, but that’s not the point.
Division is also the exact opposite of our goal: multiplication. Without sacrificing the truth of the Gospel on the altar of unity, I find it hard to think in terms of multiplication. Multiplying implies rapid numeric growth through relationship. Division implies a breakdown in relationships, thereby crippling the church in its ability to network in spreading the Gospel.