Dr. Thom Rainer has famously said:
“When the preferences of the church members are greater than their passion for the gospel, the church is dying.”
Let’s be real: What would a local church look like if we didn’t hold our personal expectations and preferences over each other “in Jesus’ name”? What if we just decided that we were more-than-okay and very-down with how God made our brothers and sisters in Christ? What would be the difference?
And, truthfully, preferences often become an idle by which a person becomes or continues to be divisive.
Jesus certainly experienced such people and situations–and it is a topic we don’t often delve into in our day for fear of “stepping on toes.” So, on this Theology Tuesday, as I have reflected on various aspects of Hebrews 2:18 (“he himself has suffered”), I’d like to look to look at what the Bible says about a divisive person, a brief look at what the Bible says on unity, and then try to apply all this.
In short, the bottom-line is this: If we worship a Savior who laid down his preferences, of course we’ll lay down our preferences to see other people embraced in and reached for the gospel—inside and outside the local church.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT THE DIVISIVE PERSON?
First, it is true: The gospel message, all by itself, whoever the messenger is, draws a response, and it's divisive (1 Corinthians 1:18). And, secondly, it is also true: Jesus was divisive by holding to the truth (Matthew 10:34; Luke 7:43, 9:60, 9:62, 12:51, 14:26,; John 2:15, 6:66, 10:19, 10:31).
YET....Divisiveness in the church is a grievous sin because...
1. Divisiveness works against the unity Jesus himself prayed for prior to his death (John 17:20-21).
2. Divisiveness reconstructs the wall Jesus died to tear down (Eph. 2:14).
3. Divisiveness works against the unity the Holy Spirit gives us in Christ (Eph. 4:3).
4. Divisiveness erases the evidence of love that shows and proves we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34-35).
5. Divisiveness tears down the witness of the Trinity reflecting unity intended to help non-Christians see God’s beauty (John 17:6).
6. Divisiveness turns the unified voices of the saints meant to glorify God into divided attacks often about our own glory (Rom. 15:5-7).
7. Divisiveness sours the unity God celebrates and works against His eternal purpose of having a unified people praise Him for His salvation forever and ever (Rev. 7:9-12).
8. Divisiveness about the right things is still divisive (Read Titus 3:10-11 - Take Paul's warning about divisive personalities in the church very seriously & don't let this be you!).
WHAT DOES DIVISIVENESS LOOK LIKE PRACTICALLY?
You are being a sinfully divisive person if AT LEAST 1 or more of these apply to you (and this not an exhaustive, complete list):
1. You spend more time talking ABOUT people than talking TO them.
2. You spend a lot of time trying to gather support for your defense and position against people from other people.
3. Your concerns have no real direct impact or connection to or on the gospel or biblical doctrine—and are more about personalities or preferences.
4. Your Sunday school Bible study, weekly small group, Wednesday class, friendship circle, or other church-related get-togethers amount to little more than grumbling sessions.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT UNITY?
(We have written more about unity here: https://towerviewkc.com/6-marks-of-gospel-centered-unity )
“I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of your calling...with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3).
Unity doesn't mean uniformity. Our different perspectives and preferences are what manifest the strength of our united confession in Christ.
Some biblical highlights:
Jesus prayed for our unity in the garden (John 17:11), paid for our unity on the cross (Eph. 2:14), was raised for our unity on the third day (Rom 5:10), and now intercedes for our unity in heaven (Heb. 7:25).
If Jesus cares so much about the unity of His church, why don't we?
May we pray: “Lord, humble us and help us pursue the unity that pleases You.”
SOME FAITH LESSONS TO CONSIDER...
1. If your passion for theology and biblical truth makes you quarrelsome, belligerent, rash, or divisive, you're doing it wrong (1 Peter 3:15 – “gentleness and respect” | 2 Tim. 2:25 – “correcting his opponents with gentleness” – etc. ).
A divisive person divisive about the right things is still divisive. It's possible to contend for the truth of Christ in the spirit of Satan. Christian, let’s commit to have biblical truths buried in every crevice of our being and convictional opinions. Yet, at the same time, ones that are shared with grace, a commitment to truth, and love for those we disagree with. So, don't take your judgmental, divisive, gossipy spirit to church—take it to Jesus.
2. Calling out divisive people is biblical….And so is having nothing more to do with them.
It's not being divisive to point out unrepentant sin, heresy, or other departure from the faith. It's the departed who's divisive (Matt. 18; 1 Cor. 5, etc.). Churches that don't practice church discipline because they think it's unloving are in fact not loving churches, nor are they real churches. And, of course, the aim of church discipline is repentance, restoration, purity, peace, and glory to God, not gloating, vengeance, or ultimate destruction.
(We have written about church discipline more here: https://towerviewkc.com/why-church-discipline)
3. If your commitment to church is contingent on all your preferences, “should-be’s,” wants, or needs being met, remember: it’s probably not God you want to go there to worship, but yourself.
"I don't belong here" is the temptation of the church members who see themselves as marginal...AND..."I don't need you" is the temptation of those members who see themselves as king or queen of the roost (1 Cor. 12). Both are divisive -- and crazy. Christ has, in reality, made us one. Let's get after it.
4. Debate earthly preferences or decisions in moderation. But fight like a dog for things that eternally matter.
Paul wrote: "Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7-8.)
In other words: The completion of this great change—this great inversion of preferences—is what we pursue. We should NOT want a church that serves our preferences. We should earnestly desire and want a church that gives us Jesus and makes us want to serve His kingdom.
5. Don't treat church like some sort of disposable product. Christ’s church local and his universal one is a family—not a club, a program, or a style preference.
If you've committed to a church as a member, the list of things that rise to the level of things to leave over should be reasonably small. Nobody agrees or has to agree with every decision their church ever makes. But breaking fellowship over mere preferences or wants suggests more consumerism than covenant to the local church coming from your heart of motivations.
Again, to be sure, there’re some really valid reasons to leave a church. But they mostly amount to issues of unrepentant sin, false teaching, core ministry philosophy, and the like.
Biblical convictions > Preferences
(H.B. Charles has a great article on this: https://hbcharlesjr.com/resource-library/articles/when-its-time-to-leave-a-church/ )
6. There comes a time when every church has to decide whether they're actually a church or just a place where people go to get their preferences coddled.
It is the lukewarm Christian or church who thinks of the world only in terms of his or her own preferences, comforts, and “rights.” Even worse, it is idolatrous believer in the risen Jesus who expects his or her leaders to simply be an echo chamber for his or her own values or preferences—and never challenge them. This is why the gospel needs to be above all (1 Cor. 15 – “first importance)—above our programs, above our preferences, and above our petty differences.
In short, what if we hope and believe all things, give people the benefit of the doubt, advocate for people in our own minds, and just generally gave everyone the everyday grace we expect for ourselves? What would a church committed to that corporate disposition feel like?