Divisions in the Church: Who’s Really to Blame?

“These are the one who cause divisions, worldly minded, devoid of the Spirit” – Jude 19

As I struggled to complete this week’s post I had to generate multiple versions of what is now the final product.  There are so many issues needing the attention of those who desire to remain faithful to the truth that one man could spend twenty-four hours a day attempting to address them all.  However, one subject has been demanding my attention for some time and it is one that hits close to home – division in the church.  Being a pastor I dread the doctrinal divisions that can develop in a church.  Yet it is a necessary battle that anyone holding to the Truth must face.

Allow me to address the topic in the following manner.  Here is the scenario: A pastor discovers that there is a class in his church that is using material that has some objectionable doctrine in it.  Having made these discoveries he lovingly and gently discusses these doctrinal issues with the one leading the class.  As part of our example let us assume that the pastor correctly identified the errors in the teaching material using sound biblical exegesis and reasoning.  The proper outcome of such a scenario would be seen in the humble submission of the teacher and members of the class to the pastor’s gentle correction as well as the careful study of the identified theological issues.  However, as I have seen first hand the usual response is just the opposite.  Those whom the pastor is attempting to shepherd bow their backs, become angry, form a coalition against the pastor and accuse him of being divisive, uncaring, unfeeling, and lording over the congregation.  This is where the question of blame comes into play; who is to blame for the divisiveness in this scenario?

Far too often, almost always, the blame for the division is laid at the feet of the pastor who is simply trying to stand firm on sound biblical/doctrinal teaching.  Yet Scripture clearly identifies the ones who are to blame.  As the above passage describes, in the last days “‘there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’  These are the ones who cause divisions” (Jude 19).  Paul wrote to Timothy with similar instruction: “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, . . . he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, . . . and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (2 Tim. 6:3-5).

One such teacher has caused so much division within churches because of her teaching that if she were truly concerned about the health of the body she would heed the calls to correct her teaching and/or stop teaching.  I cannot see her heart or know her motives.  On the surface she seems to be sincere and holding good intentions.  However, good intentions do not make up for bad teaching.  There is a reason for the warning in 3:1, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren.”  And that reason is given in the verse, “knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”

Sadly the pastors, elders, and church leaders who would stand against teachings of people such as her are called divisive and various other sundry epithets.  In truth she and the thousands of other teachers (some whom are even further off base than she) are the ones who should wear the title of divisive.

Brothers and sisters, it is time that we wake up and heed Paul’s call to “retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13). The word standard refers to that which is the prototype or pattern and words (logos) referring to what he taught.  The late Dr. Kenneth Wuest explained that Paul was tellingTimothy that there were certain words that needed to be retained “and used so that the doctrinal statements of the truth may remain accurate and a norm for future teachers and preachers” (Wuest, Kenneth S. Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament : For the English Reader. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.)  The idea is that Timothy, and we are to “guard, . . . the treasure which has been entrusted to (us)” (v. 14).

I pray that we do not find ourselves hearing the same words that our Lord directed towards the church of Laodicea, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” (Rev. 3:20).

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