On division in the church

Discussion question: Do you think it is possible for churches to put aside their doctrinal differences and focus rather on what they share in common? Why or why not? Please add your thoughts in the comment section below.

DivisionIt appears that some churches feel the need to distinguish themselves from other churches, as if they are competing for members. I was once involved in a denomination that publishes a list of what they call distinctives to quantify how they are different. Yet I read in 1 Timothy:

“As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:3-5 NASB)

The point I take from these verses is that we need to exercise caution when deciding to make ourselves distinct from the churches around us. If we are to be distinct, it is to be in our commitment to preaching and living out the gospel, a distinction that we should be happy to observe in the other churches around us. Any other distinction brings division rather than unity.

Notice that Paul warns against myths and endless genealogies that give rise to speculation rather than building up the believers. Be careful of churches that have pet doctrines, especially if those doctrines have not been universally embraced by the church through the centuries. We do not need additional energy around bringing division in the church.

For example, 1 Thessalonians speaks of believers being caught up with Christ when he returns. Based on this verse, some churches have developed elaborate prophetic timelines to indicate how the events of the last days are going to play out.

It is one thing to have a personal opinion as to how all the prophecies fit together. It is entirely another thing to build a whole doctrinal platform on these types of speculations. Paul warns us about doing so. Rather than building elaborate theologies over which good men have disagreed, it would be so much more profitable to build on the fundamental truths of the Gospel.

When Scripture is vague about something, it is intentionally so. We believe that God has superintended the writing of Scripture and stands as the voice behind the prophecies. It then stands to reason that if is important to have a definitive understanding of a particular prophecy, God would have made it clear to us. If it is unclear, we must hold our interpretation of that prophecy loosely; we may find that we are wrong about it.

There is no doubt that Scripture predicts that Jesus Christ will return and set things right. Upon this all that consider themselves orthodox would agree. But, it is not clear as to how or when this will take place.

Can we stop dividing over speculative interpretations of Scripture? Can we agree that God has not clearly spelled out a timeline for the end? Can we focus upon what is clearly presented in Scripture and allow freedom on what is not?

This is one example. There are other issues such as Bible translation, women wearing pants, clothing styles and music that can bring out emotions bordering on hatred.

There are too many people who are put off by the denominational squabbles over non-essential doctrines. Efforts toward market differentiation should have no place in the Church.

Discussion question: Do you think it is possible for churches to put aside their doctrinal differences and focus rather on what they share in common? Why or why not? Please add your thoughts in the comment section below.
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Mark McIntyre

A follower of Jesus Christ who shares observations about how Scripture should impact the church and the world. Mark is the original author and editor of Attempts at Honesty.
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About Mark McIntyre

A follower of Jesus Christ who shares observations about how Scripture should impact the church and the world. Mark is the original author and editor of Attempts at Honesty.


  1. 387trott Thanks for your response. I agree that separation must occur when issues like the Trinity, Deity of Christ and other foundational issues are at stake. 
    We can also exercise preference with regard to style of worship etc. But I see that too often churches look down on one another over non-essential issues such as eschatology or the gifts of the Spirit. 
    Even though I am not charismatic, I can have fellowship with charismatics. There is much more on which we agree than disagree.

  2. It is rather simple – James makes the point that a fountain can not produce sweet and bitter water at the same time, therefore where we establish truth we must reject falsehood.

    On that basis the religious denominations have to break away from one another.

    The Bibles message is clear that to achieve salvation we need to do God’s will. It isn’t easy and Jesus said there would be many false teachers, Paul mentions those who tickle the ears of the congregation.

    We must expect there chasm – think of Jesus parable linked to the evil one over sowing the wheat with weeds, they grow in the same soil. The only way to distinguish them is to look at the fruits at the time of the harvest.

    Here are three things I expect from an International Church:

    – Unity
    – Common Teachings
    – Love 

    Most churches can’t achieve that in their own local congregation let alone internationally and they are critical of anyone who does calling them brain washed.

    If you don’t accept the Trinity then you can’t associate with anyone who does because you are not worshiping the same God.

    If you don’t believe that the soul is immortal but it is a 3rd century BC Grecian theological point then again you can’t accept anyone.

    this separation from false doctrines really began in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s with men like Henry Grew, George Storrs and Joseph Priestley in Publications Like “An History of the Corruptions of Christianity”.

    Once you have found a polluted water source would you return to the area and associate with those who regularly drink from it? Many choose not too viewing mixing pure truth with even a microscopic amount of polluted faith makes the whole thing polluted.

  3. John Myer I would be happy if the gospel in all its richness was taught in every church. 

    As you indicate, we can allow for freedom for others to exercise style preferences in the worship but still recognize the core of the gospel thier tradition. 

    One day we will be unified.

  4. MarkMcIntyre John Myer That is to say, the gospel was too unsensational for them, too broadly shared. As “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude), the historic/biblical gospel of Christ as Lord and Savior effecting justification-sanctification-glorification belongs to Christians everywhere, and not just a church or group of churches.  

    For a congregation to announce their stand on this gospel doesn’t sound like a recipe for anything unique.  And uniqueness is what a sect thrives upon, whether their claim is to have a mystical practice of some sort, or a special liturgy, special eschatological beliefs, or just newfangled doctrinal semantics.  Take away the special ingredients, and  the group would…well, just look like any other church preaching, teaching, and bringing people into the kingdom of God.     

    Of course this is not to say congregations can’t have differing congregational visions–they must in order to carry out the New Testament mission in their particular context.

  5. John Myer Interesting thoughts, thanks for sharing them. I’m curious about your comment “they couldn’t survive with just the gospel.” Can you build on this? I may have an idea of what you’re saying, but it would be good to hear it from you.

  6. That’s a tough one.  It begs the question of what a particular congregation was built upon to start with.  Take away the distinctives from some groups and they would lose the reason for their existence.  They couldn’t survive with just the gospel.  I was part of a church network like that. We talked a lot about unity, but always lamented how other groups wouldn’t drop their distinctives and join us.  It was a weird kind of blindness. Many of us finally came to terms with the problem, but it took years of elevating the gospel to its proper place.



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