Church division is never good. It follows discord, discontent, poor fellowship and sin. While it may be necessary to remove the disorderly from fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:1-2; Romans 16:17; Matthew 18:17 ) the roots which caused that removal are sad. Like surgery, division may be necessary but it is never good.
Paul addressed church division as the first issue in his first letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 1:10 ff). There, people were beginning to group themselves together based upon favorite teachers or leaders within the church. There is no indication that the leaders themselves were involved; one was Jesus himself ( 1 Corinthians 1:12). However Paul disapproved of the brethren separating themselves into groups. Paul asked the rhetorical question, “Is Christ divided” (1 Corinthians 1:13)? The obvious answer is “no.” While the apostle does not give many details about the division in Corinth, we can distill several reasons for division today and then seek to avoid those problems in the church that Jesus died for.
Sin Causes Church Division
Division erupts over sin. We mentioned three passages above in which sinful actions caused a person to be marked out or identified (1 Corinthians 5:1-2; Romans 16:17; Matthew 18:17 ). A Christian persisting in ongoing, public sin may be removed from fellowship. Removal or prevents the spread and acceptance of the sin ( 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 5:6, 9). It protects the reputation of the church towards those on the outside and it tries to draw the erring one back into the faithfulness (1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 2:6-11). To remove fellowship is strong action which requires extensive prayer, study, patience and interaction with the sinner. It is done with the awareness of our own weaknesses (Galatians 6:1-5; Matthew 7:3) and with love toward the sinner.
Doctrine Causes Church Division
Why are there so many different churches and religious bodies in the world? It is because they all teach differing doctrines. While two denominations may be tolerant of their differences they are still divided and that does not please the Lord. Paul rebuked the church for divisions based upon favored leaders ( 1 Corinthians 1:10 ff) and for a myriad of worship issues which created divisions (I Corinthians 12:21-27; 1 Corinthians 11:17-22; 1 Corinthians 14:33).
The issues in Corinth were public issues. Sometimes a brother or sister may hold some errant teaching privately and does not promote it. New Christians may still carry denominational baggage when they enter the body of Christ. These people are to be taught and division should not come from their private thoughts.
Division is not good. In our next lesson on church division we will see some personal traits that divide the body of Christ. If you have not done so already, please subscribe to the Preacher’s Study Blog so that you won’t miss a single article