A few days ago, I posted a blog called “Unity in Christ…” For hundreds of years – perhaps over a thousand years – the church was (more or less) united through hierarchy and doctrine. During the reformation, something incredible happened. Though believers sought to return to Scripture, they also began dividing. Today, the institutional church looks like a jigsaw puzzle with very few matching pieces. Why?
According to Scripture, there are various reasons that believers should separate from one another. (When I say “separate”, I mean refusing to fellowship, teach, and gather together.) However, in each of those instances, one group of believers is separate from an individual believer. This separation only happens after attempts to reconcile have failed. Also, there are only a few reasons given for dividing. More importantly, though, it seems that in Scripture, when a group of believers separates from someone, they begin to treat that person as if he or she is an unbeliever. We never see an example of believers separating from one another, while continuing to treat each other as believers.
What are some reasons for separating from someone who calls himself or herself a believer? I’ve found these reasons:
- Unrepentant Sin (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:1-5)
- Disorderliness (2 Thess 3:6)
- Refusal to Work (2 Thess 3:7-10)
- False Teaching (contrary to the Gospel) (2 Thess 3:14-15; 1 Tim 1:20; 2 John 10-11)
In the last case, this always seems to be false teaching related to the gospel. In other words, believers should separate from someone who is teaching salvation through someone or something other than Jesus Christ. This kind of “false teaching” does not mean that someone teaches a different brand of eschatology from someone else. Teaching ideas contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ was considered “false teaching” – not teaching differently.
Scripture gives us one more reason for separating from another person who calls himself or herself a believer: divisiveness. Consider these passages of Scripture:
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. (Romans 16:17-18 ESV)
As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11 ESV)
In both of these passages, believers are urged to separate from someone who is attempting to divide the church. And, thinking about the other passages on discipline (i.e. Matt 18:15-20), this means that believers are to treat a divisive person as an unbeliever. This only works if there is true community/fellowship between believers. Only then will discipline affect the person being divisive. If the church has little community or fellowship, then the divisive person will not care if he or she is being disciplined. He will not care if other people are separating themselves from him, because he will not be missing anything.
When I put these thoughts together, something occurs to me. Unity is necessary if discipline is going to be a deterrent from divisiveness (or any other unrepentant sin). Think about that for a moment. In order for discipline to be effective, there must be unity. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that we rarely see discipline today: discipline doesn’t work because there is no unity to begin with. Of course, this is just one reason that the church should live in unity. There are many, many more reasons.
May we begin to live in unity with brothers and sisters in Christ, even if we disagree with them.