Our culture has been described as a post-truth society. At first glance, you might think that in such conditions the church would glow with brightness within this dark climate. However, sadly, that’s not the case. Today, we see many evangelicals who are dividing over issues, positions, and beliefs. This has caused many within evangelical churches to reconsider their church membership, their denominational affiliations, and even personal friendships.
Some people who are more committed to unity than truth are willing to compromise the truth in order to achieve unity. Others who are more committed to truth are willing to compromise relationships and unity in order to defend the truth. What road should we travel? Is there another option?
The Dividing Line
Seasons come and go in the life of the church where people are tempted to divide over non-essential issues. Such distractions cause local churches and evangelical denominations to become weaker and less impactful for the glory of God. We must be careful to guard our hearts and minds and to be capable of proper discernment in order to see the dividing line. Far too many local churches have fractured over silly schisms that could’ve been avoided with a few ounces of biblical maturity. In such cases, it’s often true that the immature believers are swept away by disgruntled members who are not walking closely with the Lord.
On the other hand, we must take seriously the command of Paul who writes to the church at Rome and says, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom 16:17). There is a real dividing line that will impact real relationships within local churches and that line must not be crossed. The point is, when someone makes a decisive choice to cross the line and abandon truth in order to align with positions that are contrary to the truth—they must be avoided.
Paul addresses the church at Rome and references the “doctrine they have been taught.” This body of truth centers upon the gospel of Jesus. Unlike what Paul addressed earlier in his letter when he fought valiantly against division over unnecessary issues, here he is passionate about the reality that there is a time for division. That line is drawn on the basis of the gospel and the essential truths of the faith. The key is found in the full title, “The Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Church as the Pillar and Buttress of Truth
Christians are to be known as “people of the Book.” We are to be people of truth and we are to passionately defend the truth of the gospel (Jude 3). Paul describes the church as the pillar and buttress of truth in 1 Timothy 3:15. Any teaching that blows along the broken road of history that seeks to divide Christians from the truth must be opposed.
Throughout history we have witnessed such teachings. In AD 325, when Arius perverted the truth and led astray people who embraced his heresy that taught “there was a time when the Son of God was not”—the church responded. They condemned such teaching and embraced the high Christology of Scripture that the Son is homoousious (of the same essence) with the Father—very God of very God. Leading the charge was Athanasius who refused to give in to the heretics of his day. Even in our present day, we recognize the phrase Athanasius contra mundum, or “Athanaisus against the world.”
When we look to modern examples, during the Downgrade Controversy, Charles Spurgeon stood passionately against the liberals who had a low view of Scripture and sought to lead the Baptist Union in a downward spiral away from the truth. When Charles Spurgeon was addressing the compromise among Baptists in England, he penned “The Downgrade in the Churches” where he wrote the following:
A chasm is opening between the men who believe their Bibles and those who are prepared for an advance upon the Scripture. . .The house is being robbed, its very walls are being digged down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth. . .to go downstairs to meet the burglars.
Will you be prepared to stand for the truth in your day? Will you capitulate? Will you speak up or remain silent? We must not be oblivious to the lions who are roaming and the devils who are deceiving.
When we take this road less traveled, it will cost us friendships. While we must make sure we aren’t fracturing friendships over some overzealous polemics blogger who is prepared to press the nuke button for the slightest difference that may exist within evangelicalism between various groups of people—we must not avoid the reality that there is a real dividing line.
When we divide from those who are unwilling to defend the truth and who prove themselves to be divisive and unable to be trusted—it should break our hearts. We should not find great joy in such fractures. But we must be more committed to Christ than we are to lower level relationships—even if it results in tearful separation. Jesus made this abundantly clear in Matthew 10:34-39 when he stated that he “came not to bring peace, but a sword.” In Romans 16:17, Paul says, “Avoid them.” When Paul writes to the church at Philippi, he talks about his own approach to division and how at times it’s necessary. Let us be faithful and truly committed to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:18-21).