Much of the stigmatization against discernment comes in the name of unity. Those who do not go along with the “flow” are considered to be divisive. One of the more popular quotes is from Augustine but was picked up again by the Moravian brethren a couple of hundred years ago:
“In essentials unity, in nonessentials tolerance, and in all things love.”
In the right context, this can be a beautiful sentiment. However, it is often used to minimize and reduce the emphasis on doctrine. It is taught in churches that doctrine divides, and what we need is tolerance and love for the sake of the unity. We are taught that there are “essential” and “non-essential” doctrines. The essentials have been reduced to basic questions about the identity of Jesus Christ – His humanity and His divinity, His death and resurrection. Almost everything else is up for grabs as “non-essential”.
We are told that our unity is based on the agreeing on the essentials, and showing tolerance in the non-essentials. Stop and think, though. Have you heard many messages on the essentials of the Christian faith? If the essentials are what we agree upon and are the factor for unity, one would think they would be the subject of our Christian conversation. However, have you recently heard messages on the following topics:
- The identity of Christ, proving from the Old Testament that He is the one that was promised
- The Mystery of the Incarnation
- The Diety of Christ as the Son of God
- The Humanity of Christ as the Son of Man
- The substitutionary atonement
- The believer’s identification with Christ in His death and Resurrection
- The riches of Christ as the inheritance of the believer
- Works versus Grace for justification
- Works versus Grace in sanctification
- The High Priesthood of Christ and His present heavenly Ministry
- The Coming of Christ and the Rewards for His Saints
- The glorification of the saints as the hope of our calling
- The future salvation of Israel, the judgement and destiny of the nations
- The Millennial Kingdom
These are some of the major themes of the Bible and all of them deal with “essentials.” Many pastors will say that most of these subjects are “non essential”. There is some variance in understanding, but these topics are typically not presented at all in the institutional churches. While the sheep are taught to not quibble about the “non-essentials” the leadership actually operates almost entirely in real “non-essentials.” They are free to present aberrant eschatologies, allegorized interpretations of literal passages, confusion of works and grace, humanistic agendas and philosophies and pop psychology in the place of sound doctrine. They are free to pursue whatever agendas they wish while teaching the sheep to be open minded and tolerant. So, unity in this sense becomes a control mechanism to stifle dissent. Anyone who would question or contradict is branded as divisive.
Who Are The Divisive Ones?
Consider how Paul spoke about those who cause division:
Rom 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
Paul told us that we are to mark and avoid those who cause divisions. These divisions are based on good words and fair speeches through which the hearts of the “simple” are deceived. The good words and fair speeches produce the divisions because they are contrary to the doctrine of the apostles. It is not the sheep in this case who are being “divisive” by not going along with these fair speeches. It is the speakers – the teachers – the leaders – the ones that everyone is listening to and is told that they must obey. The division they are producing is based on contrary doctrine.
It is not divisive to mark and avoid such teachers! To cling to truth is to remain in the unity, and to deviate from it is to be in division. The entire paradigm has been turned upside down so that today it is those who have deviated from the truth who are demanding unity while those who cling to it are considered divisive. In these verses, those that are deceived are called “simple” – the Greek word indicates that they go along and do not question – they are “unsuspecting”. It does not occur to them to compare what is being spoken in these good words and fair speeches with the doctrine of the Apostles. Again, this is a sharp contrast to the Bereans in Acts 17:11 who searched the scriptures daily to see whether the things Paul said were so.
The Doctrine Produces the Fellowship
The early church in Acts 2 “continued steadfastly in the apostles” doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and prayers.” The apostle’s doctrine produces the fellowship. Their doctrine is the message. Believing this message and responding correctly to it gives us a share in the fellowship that they enjoy with the Father and with the Son. It is the teaching that reveals God in Christ in His person and Work. By believing and responding to this truth we are brought into fellowship with God and with one another.
Today’s use of the word fellowship has been reduced to simply keeping the peace, “hanging out”, having fun and caring for practical needs. These things have their place but they are not the fellowship, and it is the fellowship that is the basis of any expression of unity. Unity is manifested at times where that fellowship is strong and rich. Practically, this can happen among a few believers who are gathered into His name. The unity that is being promoted today is something of a large-scale movement. Supposedly the whole world will eventually see this unity as all the Christian organizations around the world come together in a great celebration of diversity, toleration and inclusiveness. This unity is supposedly arrived at by dropping what we know and broadening our tolerance to embrace many things that are unscriptural and in error in the name of “getting along.” They don’t come out and say we’re embracing unscriptural things. They say that we are embracing “other ways of doing things.” In contrast, Biblical unity is perfected as the believers are sanctified and growing together in the truth and in the knowledge of the Son of God – this unity is found upon the narrow road the leads to life. The two kinds of unity are at odds with each other.
It Is True That Doctrine Divides
It is true that doctrine divides. based on doctrine we are commanded to divide! Jesus said “think not that I came to bring peace, but a sword.” He said households would even be divided over the truth of the word of God. Paul said, “there must be divisions among you, that those who are approved may be manifested.”
John, again the Apostle of Love, commanded:
2Jn 1:9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
John tells us that not abiding in the doctrine of Christ is a sin – it is transgression, and it is an evil deed. John told us not to receive them into our house or even bid them “God speed” or “God bless you”, because we partake of the evil deeds ourselves. So we are to be very careful to separate ourselves when we see that false doctrine is at play, or when many Bible verses are used to support an agenda or message that is not the doctrine of Christ.
This is not an excuse to separate from every believer that we disagree with over every minor point. This is talking about separating from people and teachers who clearly bear the traits that the Apostles described in their epistles, and who consistently resist, pervert or twist the truth. I also am not saying we should not interact with, enjoy the company of and love fellow believers who have a wide range of views on various issues as they grow in their knowledge of the Lord. Many believers have not had the chance to delve into these things and it is not necessarily their fault that the “key of knowledge” has been withheld from them. We are to receive all believers who call upon the Lord from out of a pure heart and seek companionship and peace with them. We’re also not talking about hearing someone mis-speak or get some facts or a minor interpretation wrong in a message and calling this “apostasy”. The ones we are to mark and to avoid are those who set themselves over the sheep, actively promote false agendas and demand to be obeyed.
If a situation gets to a point where fellowship can simply not be had, the conscience cannot be satisfied, God’s truth is continually contradicted, error is institutionalized, and a believer does not have the freedom to expose error, it’s likely time to separate.