I wonder today if those of us who try to follow Jesus remember that some verses are really in the Bible. Let me suggest a few that I’m suspicious have fallen out of some folks copy of Scripture. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall all be called the sons of God.” “I pray, Father that they may all be one, even as I am in you and you are in me that they may be one in us so the world may believe that you have sent me.” “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples because you love one another.” “Pursue the things that make for peace and by which we may build up one another.” “Let there be no division among you but be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment.” People in Corinth were going after different preachers and some were saying, “I’m for Paul, others, I’m for Apollos, others were saying, “I’m for Cephas” and others, “I am of Christ.” Paul’s charge to them was, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” He even went on to warn the Romans to “Take notice of those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the teaching of Christ and have nothing to do with them.”
It just seems to me that everywhere you turn today you are either hearing of a church giving up and closing their doors or of a church-dividing and two groups of people that have worked together, loved each other, eaten together and worshiped together suddenly don’t want to have anything to do with each other and most of the time end up at least implying that the other group aren’t really following Christ at all because of some minor difference that they have decided they can’t live with. If we treated friendship or marriage like we do church there wouldn’t be any friendships that last long unless one of them is willing to let the other one do all the thinking for them. Marriages are already in deep trouble where divorces take place for every conceivable thing, but if we treated marriage like church the truth is that just about all of them would fail because I’ve never known of a marriage in which there wasn’t ever any disagreements.
You may say, well people have divided and gone their separate ways all along even in the Book of Acts. That’s true. Paul and Barnabas were tremendous partners that were of very different personalities and were very supportive and helpful to each other. I’m not sure Paul would ever have been accepted among the Jewish churches if it hadn’t been for Barnabas. But after their first missionary journey and they’re dealing with the problem of brethren coming from the church in Jerusalem causing problems, telling the new Gentile Christians that unless they were circumcised and kept the Old Law they couldn’t really be saved. Paul and Barnabas worked together like hand in glove in Jerusalem to stand up for the Gentiles and to show God was accepting them without their obeying the Jewish law. But when they returned to Antioch and had been with the church for a while Paul began to get the itch to go back and check on the Gentile churches they had established on their first missionary journey. Barnabas was setting on ready. He just had one request. “Let’s take Mark with us again.” Mark had started on their first journey but got discouraged along the way and returned home to his mother. Barnabas was related to him and saw the change and growth in him and wanted to give him another chance. Paul could only see that he turned back the last time and how could they trust him now? The disagreement became so sharp they parted ways and Paul took Silas as his partner and Barnabas took Mark and each went on their way preaching the gospel of Jesus. But there is a huge lesson here. They separated, but they remained friends and respectful of one another even though they disagreed. They didn’t go out and try to convince the ones converted by Paul to leave that church to form one more fitting to Barnabas and Paul didn’t go out to tear down Barnabas, instead he continued to speak of him as his beloved brother Barnabas.
Disagreements are normal. Sometimes separation is good for a right reason. The division is sinful and tears down the body of Christ. One of the prime reasons given today by those, especially young people who have lost their faith or call themselves “nones” is the division that goes on between those who claim to follow Christ and if we can’t even get along among ourselves why would they want to be part of such a thing. They see a massive difference between what they see in the world today and what is written about in the New Testament.
It is past time we take a long hard look at the things that have led to division in the body and see if we can’t reverse a trend that has gone crazy. In a recent Barna study on why believers in Christ and churches of all sorts are losing members every year, the number one reason given by those who had no interest was the immense amount of division among those who call themselves Christians. The Restoration Movement launched by early leaders in our fellowship was primarily a unity movement trying to call people back to the Bible with the plea, “let’s just be Christians, not some brand of Christian.” The plea was right and good, the follow-up on the plea has been a disaster.
Strangely, today when we plead for unity in the body and working together to reach the lost in the world, someone will shout “compromise” and it won’t be long before someone else begins to apply the word “liberal.” I wish somewhere down the line all the people who tend to refer to others as “liberal” would actually take the time to look up the word and realize what it means and the way we tend to throw it around has not one thing on earth to do with its meaning. Being liberal when it comes to Scripture means that one understands what the Bible says or teaches but intentionally determines they are not going to follow the teaching of God and will do things their own way. It isn’t liberal to think a Scripture has a different meaning or application than the one you have always heard or believed. Calling someone liberal who just disagrees with you on how a passage of Scripture is to be interpreted or applied only demonstrates ignorance or meaness and neither of those are useful. I’m liberal in my giving, conservative in how I see Scripture but have no desire to be seen as either. I simply want to be known as a Christian in whom the world can see Christ everyday.