the weblog of Alan Knox

A Parable about a Divided Family

Posted by on Nov 17, 2009 in unity | 17 comments

A man had several children. He loved his children and provided for them as any loving father would. And, like most children, they often disagreed and fought. But, the father would bring the children together and make them deal with their disagreements.

One by one, as the children grew up, they moved out of the father’s house. However, they all stayed close by. One son moved into a house a block away. A daughter moved into the house next door. Another son moved across town. Each child moved into his or her own house, married, and began to start their own family.

Also, one by one, the children stopped talking to one another. Their disagreement and fights became more serious and divisive. And, since they no longer lived with their father, they no longer came together to work out their differences.

Whenever they saw one another at the store, or on the sidewalk, or at the park, they would point out their differences and disagreements. Often, the arguments would become loud and heated, such that people walking by would notice. Eventually, the people in town knew the family as “the divided family.”

The name “divided family” grieved the father, so he invited his children to come together to work out their differences. They all agreed. But, one by one, the children declined the invitation when they heard that the other children were invited as well. Each one refused to get together with their father as long as the other children were invited.

The father continued to spend time with his children one-on-one, but he could not convince the children to come together. Whenever he attempted to invite more than one of his children to his house, the children would refuse and point out their disagreements and differences with the other children.

As the grandchildren grew older and moved out of their parents’ houses, they also began to disagree with one another. They would often argue with their parents as well. While each of the children and grandchildren and (eventually) great grandchildren loved to spend time with the father, they refused to get together with one another.

Whenever the father tried to bring them together, the children and grandchildren and great grandchildren would complain to the father about the others, and tell him that their family was right and the other families were wrong. They explained passionately to their father why they could not get together with those other families.

One day, in his grief, the father wrote a letter. In the letter, the father acknowledged the hurt, disagreements, and arguments that had split his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. He acknowledged that it would take great efforts on all their parts to bring them all back together again.

“However,” he concluded, “in all of your arguments and disagreements and divisions, you have forgotten one thing: In my perspective, as long as you live as separate families, you are living a lie. You are one family – my family – and I will never see you nor treat you as multiple families.”


17 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-17-2009

    Wow…what a messed up family, man, we would never live that that…oh, wait a minute…never mind.

    Great point about the fractured body of Christ.

  2. 11-17-2009

    Of course we often recognize how divided we are but we also assume that it is “their” fault, not ours.

  3. 11-17-2009

    I promised I posted before reading this. I am currently struggling with the same thing, this is very moving and convicting. 1 Corinthians is wearing me out.

  4. 11-17-2009

    Hutch,

    Yeah, I recognize myself in that parable.

    Arthur,

    Of course it’s their fault!

    Lionel,

    Keep posting. Thinking through the type of unity that we have in Christ but we fail to live in continually reminds me of my individual and our corporate need for Christ to reign in our lives.

    -Alan

  5. 11-17-2009

    Great story… I hope you don’t mind if I share it on my blog with link back to here. This issue of church unity is what got met started on my journey of questions. I agree with your story in that I believe our Father views us as one family, but it must sadden Him when we don’t recognize it.

    Thanks,
    God Bless

  6. 11-17-2009

    Jon,

    Yes, you can use this story, or anything else on my blog. Enjoy!

    -Alan

  7. 11-18-2009

    This is a difficult matter. How does one stand strong on matters of import and not unintentionally push others away, for example? Messiah Baptist is aligned with Southern Baptist. I know that doesn’t create a division in anyone’s mind for those at Messiah, but the very alignment could be perceived by non-denominationalists and anti-establishment types as being divisive.

    There are those matters of essentials, where we should divide. We are supposed to guard sound doctrine. So we should never allow anyone to attempt to convince us that salvation is based on works, for example (let those who preach such be condemned, according to Paul). We should never allow anyone to attempt to preach modalism – a heresy against the nature of the trinity. Nor should we embrace the doctrines of Roman Catholic soteriology, Mormonism, or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    I personally have a strong conviction about predestination – not so that I would personally place it as a division between myself and others – but as I debate or discuss it with others, there are many that would divide from me in anger and fear when such discussions arise. A healthy body will allow such discussions – as “iron sharpens iron” so do we all as Christians sharpen our knowledge of God through constant healthy debate and discussion. The trick is to not relegate one’s self to dirision, anger, or fear in the midst of any of these situations. That is at the root of division in the body of Christ – the fear of a different opinion, possibly the inability of many to deal with a hard truth, and the inability to deliver that truth in love.

  8. 11-18-2009

    Alan and Jermiah,

    The question I am asking is what happens when these things effect our funtioning together? Here is where I struggle the most. I don’t want to be divisive but I have yet to experience a place where such doctrines are not effecting funtion. They may not be vocal, but they are present and actively working. For example Alan to be a member of certain churches or to even serve they would like to know about your giving, but if I say “my giving is in private” or I give outside of the congregation that causes huge problems. Or what about a group which have differing views on women and their function in the church or marriage/divorce, or membership, or Lord Day’s or even baptism (not just infant baptism but what about those who feel that certain people do not have the right to baptize) I am really wrestling through these things. Can I take a lost on these things? I don’t know.

  9. 11-18-2009

    Jeremiah and Lionel,

    I don’t know the answers to the questions that you’re asking or the problems and issues that you’re raising. Like you, I’m just beginning to attempt to understand what it means for us to be united in Christ. From what I’ve experienced and read about, denominations and systems of belief are usually used as excuses for dividing the body of Christ. But, I do believe they are just that – excuses. And, I don’t think that God looks at us that we that we look at ourselves when it comes to divisions for whatever reason.

    -Alan

  10. 11-19-2009

    Here’s what I guess I was arguing…

    1. We all have convictions about the scriptures. If we don’t, we likely don’t care very much about what we’re reading.

    2. These convictions are likely to clash with others’ convictions on the very same scriptures. Examples: Arminian vs. Reformed Soteriology, covenantalism vs dispensationalism, wine vs. grape juice.

    3. Whether or not to continue to stay together in one fellowship when you are not of one mind on these “debatable” matters is an ongoing internal struggle.

    4. Denominations are not necessarily an excuse to divide nearly as much as they are shorthand for the convictions that you have as a group – a label to help others determine whether or not your church is a good fit for their convictions. Example – Baptist vs. Presbyterian, Free Will vs. Reformed, etc.

    5. Even non-denominational churches have a tendency to divide, pointing at denominations and saying, “we’re not like them – we refuse to divide over such silly things as doctrine!”. At that point, they’ve created a divide within itself – a sort of denomination of the anti-denominations.

    I’m not so sure that denominations are an wrongful thing, in light of the convictions that we all have. We’re all fallen, and we have no idea who’s right and who’s not. There’s certainly nothing wrong with someone having a conviction to the point that they say that the current church can’t provide for their family’s needs. A paedobaptist won’t feel very comfortable at a baptist church, especially each time he has a child born.

    I think that it’s easy to look at the utopian ideal and say that we should not divide over any matter whatsoever, because we are all one body. The reality, however, is that we are fallen – we’ll not know who is right or wrong until we see God face to face. The one place that I will agree with this frame of thinking, however, is where churches remain divided from even fellowshipping with each other – that is in itself heinous. Dis-fellowshipping based on a debatable matter is anti-scriptural.

    We then just have to figure out what all the non-debatable matters are. Ugh.

  11. 11-19-2009

    Lionel,

    I hope that I partially addressed what you’re talking about, but I think RUPERTUS MELDENIUS (often misquoted as being Augustine)had it right:

    “IN ESSENTIALS UNITY, IN NON-ESSENTIALS LIBERTY, IN ALL THINGS CHARITY”
    http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/augustine/quote.html

    Just my 2 cents:

    When our debating degrades into useless posturing and scholastic gaming, when someone is really in need of charity, then doctrine has eaten its own tail.

    If an issue is minor, then you may be straining a gnat to swallow a camel. I’m sure that there are many, many issues that overtake the more debatable and less impactful issues of doctrine.

    If you have a bona fide issue with the body you are attending, then you should lovingly present the scriptural evidence to them, and see what they say – function be damned. If they attack and brow-beat you, then you may have issues with the church or denomination with which you are currently associated.

  12. 11-19-2009

    Jeremiah,

    One of the things that’s changed in the way that I look at unity among the church concerns those convictions that you mentioned. I no longer ask myself or others which of my convictions are important enough to divide over – I think all of my convictions are important, and think I’m right about all of them, otherwise I would have different convictions. :)

    Instead, I try to start with Scripture. What does Scripture say we should separate over? I’ve found this to be a much shorter list.

    -Alan

  13. 11-20-2009

    Alan wrote: “Instead, I try to start with Scripture. What does Scripture say we should separate over? I’ve found this to be a much shorter list.”
    ____________
    Sounds so easy. Isn’t that like saying, “let’s view heaven only in the way that it’s described in scripture”, or “let’s appoint elders only in the way that it’s prescribed in scripture”?

    :-)

  14. 7-18-2011

    “In my perspective, as long as you live as separate families, you are living a lie. You are one family – my family – and I will never see you nor treat you as multiple families.”

    Awesome point that many people never figure out.

    On the Augustine/not-Augustine quote, I’ve seen credit to different places, including Irenios and Marco Antonio deDominis. DeDominis was listed as the source by someone who tweets Augustine quotes…..

    On the unity issue, I think focusing on what he have in common works best. Do we believe in Jesus, that He was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again in the fulfillment of the scriptures? If so, we’re in that family of believers.

    I’m not saying there shouldn’t be different denominations — different people get their needs met in a variety of ways, and denominations help accomplish that. I just don’t want to assume that because someone believes differently than I do on some tangential topic that they aren’t my brother or sister in Christ.

  15. 4-3-2012

    This issue is a perfect platform for my contention that “church was not God’s idea”. It is simply a man made system of controls, and contrived associations. The ekklesia (or for Alan, by any other name)is a living body. It can not be contained, isolated, denominated, restrained in any way.What we commonly call ‘church’ will always be at odds with itself because it was not God’s plan at all. Most of its structure and function is left over from Constantine. Second Jesus put the scriptures in their proper place in John chapter 5. As long as we approach knowing Jesus through the scriptures, we are eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. You can not know Jesus through a book. As to unity, we are one body… but this association is not by the flesh,it is by the Spirit. It is by the Spirit that we recognize one another, and it is by the Spirit, that we love one another, and it is by the Spirit that we unite. Forcing association will not and can not work. Once our minds and hearts are free from the imposter ‘church’ our hearts can and will begin to open up and experience new life, through the One True Head, and that is Christ. The reason the ‘church’ has been a mess for 1700 years is proof that it does not belong to Christ. This is the evidence Jesus has given to us, so we will reject the imposter and go searching for Him alone. Another proof of the disconnect is the dryness of spirit,and the lack of hearing the Bridegroom’s voice. Jesus promised “My sheep hear my voice” and “They will not follow another”.
    WE have followed another…

  16. 7-29-2012

    I’m living this right now and it pains me to see my family divided while they continue this destructive course. When I try to talk about and they tell me to “shut up” and say that they hate me. My wife keeps asking me why I’m still here but she attends daily mass. How could someone who is so devoted to Christ be so bent trying to remove me from the family. My wife tells me that she doesn’t’ love me or even like me. This behavior has carried over to the kids. My oldest daughter told my wife she hated her because she married me. I pray daily for family healing and a miracle in my marriage but my faith is severely weakened and my spirit is crushed. Pleas pray for my family.

  17. 7-30-2012

    Mark,

    I’m sorry to hear about your family situation. While this parable is a metaphor for the church, I can understand how disunity and division among your immediate family can be devastating as well. I hope that you have someone there that can talk with you, encourage you, and pray with you as you walk through this difficult time.

    -Alan