About 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ came to this earth to reveal the depths of God’s love. He began to build His church, established upon His identity as the Son of God (Matthew 16:13-18). He did not speak of building many churches, but just one, “the church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:23). Since then, those who claim to follow Him have split up into many denominations. There are Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterian, Pentecostals, etc., and each of these are split into sub groups, making a multitude of different denominations. Some have claimed there are as many as 40,000 denominations, but I recently learned that this is a grossly inflated number invented to exaggerate the divisions. Regardless, there are over 1,000 separate denominations, each claiming that their denomination is the correct one.
Did Jesus ever intend for His church to be so divided? Does He approve of all the divisions and sub-divisions that exist in His church, which is “the body of Christ”? (Colossians 1:18, 24; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26). If not, what is causing all this division? I, personally, have never been a member of any denomination. I became a member of the body of Christ, which is His church, when I invited Christ to live in my heart and He transformed me from a thieving drug addict into a new person twenty-four years ago.
Very early in the Christian church there began to be divisions. John, the author of five books of the Bible, wrote, “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3 John 1:9-10). This is a very sad situation. John was a close disciple of Jesus, “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). He wrote extensively about the great love of God in giving His only begotten Son to die for our sins (John 3:16; 1 John 4:7-10). Yet, Diotrephes refused to accept John or His companions into his “church,” and if any of his members received them, they would be cast “out of the church.”
What “church” did Diotrephes cast people out of? Did he cast them out of the church of Jesus Christ? No! He cast them out of his own man-made church. He made a division in the church that excluded one of the most beloved disciples of Jesus Christ, along with anyone who would receive him. Was this division because of a problem in John, or a problem in Diotrephes?
There are only a few places found in the Bible, where divisions seem to be warranted, and you may be surprised what they are. Paul wrote, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17, 18). Here we are told to avoid certain people, the ones who “cause divisions.”
Paul further explained, “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself” (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
Here again, we are told to avoid certain people, and these are the ones who cause division by “doting about questions and strifes of words.” The Greek word translated “doting” in this verse means “to be sick,… to be taken with such an interest in a thing as amounts to a disease” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Sometimes people can get so caught up with unimportant questions and divisions over words that they become sick mentally, and they suppose that “gain is godliness.” If they can get you to accept their own twisted or unimportant explanation of a word, they think that you have become more godly. They have a distorted view of what godliness really is. They have become caught up in unimportant details to the neglect of what is really important. They start majoring in minors. This is the primary reason for all the divisions in the body of Christ today. The Bible instructs us to withdraw from these people. The biblical reason for dividing is to divide from people who are divisive.
Paul also wrote, “Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness” (2 Timothy 2:14-16). We have often heard or read verse fifteen, which tells us the importance of studying the Bible, but notice the immediate context before and after. We are told not to strive “about words to no profit.” Many of the divisions in the body of Christ are over unimportant issues that do not make people more godly, but rather “increase unto more ungodliness.”
When a person gets caught up in making minor issues into major ones, it does not help anyone; instead it hurts many people, causing a division where none should be and making people more unlike Christ. Such people begin to look down their noses at others who do not see things in the same exclusive way they do. God spoke of these people: “Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day” (Isaiah 65:5).
Many doctrines that people quibble over do not make anyone more holy, but rather only make them think they are more holy, which then actually makes them less holy and more detestable. God tells us to avoid people who cause such divisions.
A few verses after we are told to study the Bible for ourselves, Paul instructed: “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes” (2 Timothy 2:23). We are not to get embroiled in debates that are unprofitable to forming godly characters.
This is the immediate context of the following verses: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2_Timothy 3:1-5). Here we are told to withdraw ourselves from certain types of people—those who have a form of godliness but do not have the power that transforms their lives. They may have cunning words and the ability to explain deep things in the Bible, but their personal lives are a wreck.
Up until the end of this list, it seems that Paul is talking about non-Christians, but then he says they have a form of godliness without the power. Paul is talking about people in the church. He goes on to say, “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). The truth is a person, Jesus Christ, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Without Him, knowledge is useless and can actually be damaging because it is often relied upon to the exclusion of Christ. Jesus said, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:39, 40).
The gospel is simple enough for children to understand. Nobody has to go to college to get a theological degree to understand the gospel. It is simple, but man has made it complicated. Paul cautioned, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Don’t worry if you cannot understand Greek or Hebrew, or you cannot recite many verses of the Bible. If you have Christ, and He has made you free and transformed your life so that you are kind and loving, then you have more of what is really important than many who have college degrees in theology.
The highly trained church leaders of Christ’s day were called “scribes and Pharisees.” Jesus said to them, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith [and the love of God – Luke 11:42]: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23).
Jesus “…spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14). A simple person with humility and a transformed heart is far better off than an intellectual man who trusts in himself that he is righteous and despises others.
The Bible says, “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:14-20).
The Laodicean church is the last of the seven churches spoken of in the book of Revelation, and their condition is more descriptive of today than at any other time in history. The members of this church have a huge problem because Jesus is outside knocking instead of inside living. There are three conditions mentioned here, hot, cold, and lukewarm. The worst of these three is lukewarm. Being hot is to be on fire for the Lord, excited and thankful for His love and for what He is doing in the lives of His people. Being cold is being indifferent to God, living without considering eternal issues. Both of these conditions are preferable to being lukewarm. Being lukewarm is a condition of complacency, where one believes they already have all they need to have and knows all they need to know, when in reality they are full of nothing but corruption. This is hypocrisy, and was the condition of many church leaders of Christ’s day. Sadly, it is even more true today.
The spirit of division that causes people to separate over non-essential doctrines is the cause of the lukewarm condition. It makes people more dependent upon their head knowledge than their heart condition. They lose sight of genuine godliness and think that their increased knowledge is what is important. They think of themselves as righteous and despise others.
When God tells us to avoid and separate from people it is to avoid this deplorable condition. We are to withdraw ourselves from those who want to divide from others because of their own supposed valuable knowledge. All true doctrines are only useful in so far as they transform one’s character into the image of Christ. If a doctrine (teaching) does not do that, then it is actually detrimental, and you would be better off without it.
Don’t get me wrong, knowing true, essential doctrines is very important. The lack of these can actually cause one to be lost (Hosea 4:6). Yet, it is extremely important to have a balanced perspective of what is essential knowledge. The first lie Satan told to mankind related to God’s character of love (Genesis3:1-6). Satan portrayed God as selfish and unkind. The most important knowledge you can have is to know that God is good, loving, merciful, etc. (Jeremiah 9:23, 24). Knowing that God loves you with all His heart, so much so that He gave His only begotten Son to die for your sins, is vital knowledge. Doctrines that directly relate to that are essential.
The Prodigal Son’s Brother
Jesus gave an amazing parable of a prodigal son that illustrates God’s unfathomable love for us even when we go astray. Yet, there is an often over-looked portion of the story that needs our attention. Notice who Jesus was addressing in this parable: “Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying…” (Luke 15:1-3).
The people in His audience were a multitude of publicans and sinners, the rejected of society. Also in His audience were scribes and Pharisees, complaining about Jesus receiving and eating with sinners. There were two classes of people that needed attention. The prodigal son represented the publicans and sinners who recognized their need and came to the Father seeking help. The older brother represented the church leaders who looked down their noses at the sinners, thinking they were not valuable enough to be regarded as brothers and sisters.
After the prodigal son returned home, his father threw a party for him, rejoicing that he had returned. “Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:25-32).
The older brother was not happy that his younger brother had come home. He even knew that his brother had spent all of his money, and probably knew about the famine, but did nothing to try to help him. Instead he would rather that his younger brother had not returned—and even died. He felt himself righteous and despised those whom he thought were not, including his own brother. His pride prevented him from entering into the joy of his father for the return of his son.
“Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10). If there is contention, division and strife in your church fellowship, you can be 100% certain that it is caused by pride. Mankind has the tendency of wanting to feel superior to those around us to give us a sense of self-worth. The sad thing is that to do this we must ignore that we are already valued at the price of the only begotten Son of God, who was given for us, so we don’t need any further confirmation of our worth.
Pride is one of the greatest abominations spoken of in the Bible. According to the Bible, a proud look is an abomination to God and listed among the seven great abominations that He hates. “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19).
First on the list of detestable things that God hates is a proud look, and the last is “he that soweth discord among brethren.” This abomination is practiced far too often by those who have a form of godliness but deny the power of God. Sowing discord among brethren is doing things that would cause brethren to fight each other. This is such a grievous abomination to God that He tells us to avoid people who do this. God hates it when His people fight each other. This is the work of Satan to divide and conquer, and we must not allow him to succeed. If we are to divide from anyone, the biblical admonition is to divide from people who cause division.
I ran across a hypothetical story that illustrates the sadness of people using doctrines as an excuse to mistreat others. The story goes like this:
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, “Stop! Don’t do it!” “Why shouldn’t I?” he said. I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!” He said, “Like what?” I said, “Well, are you religious or atheist?” He said, “Religious.” I said, “Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?” He said, “Christian.” I said, “Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?” He said, “Baptist!” I said, “Wow! Me too! Are you from Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord? He said, “Baptist Church of God!” I said, “Me too! Are you from Original Baptist Church of God or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?” He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God!” I said, “Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?” He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!” I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.
This story could be rewritten using any denomination to illustrate it in your own experience. Few people would take the last step of this story, but many are willing to put up barriers to keep from communicating or mingling with those who see things differently. Are these separations healthy, or biblical?
A few years ago I smashed a finger on my left hand with a hammer that my right hand was carelessly wielding. Fortunately, my left hand did not retaliate against my right hand for hurting it. Imagine if it had the ability to say, “Just you wait until I get the hammer and I will show you what it feels like to get smashed.” Unfortunately, members of the body of Christ treat each other as ridiculously as that.
When my left hand was hurt, I had to be careful with it. Sometimes my right hand put a Band-aid on it to keep the nail from catching on something and being pulled off. I was careful to protect this part of my body that was hurting. I had to watch over it, and that is the way we should be as a church; as part of the body of Christ. If we see some part that is hurting, or struggling, we should take extra care to help strengthen that part, to protect it. God says that we should care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25).
In fact, Jesus spoke about how we treat others and said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). He also said, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” (Matthew 25:45). However we treat other parts of the body of Christ, we are doing it to Jesus Himself. Remember this the next time you communicate with people.
Whenever you are tempted to separate from others, please consider what is driving this decision. Are you part of the problem or part of the solution? There is a time for divisions, biblically speaking, but these are rarely the type of divisions that exist in the body of Christ. If you are going to divide, divide from those who are divisive.
I am not advocating that all denominations unite together by compromising essential truths, but I am advocating that all Christians put down their petty differences and stop fighting one another over things that do not help to produce godly characters. This is doing much more harm than good. We should unite with as many people as we can without compromising principle. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). May God bless us to help heal His hurting body, is my prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen!