Church divisions and splits are, unfortunately, all too common in our day. In addressing the issue of church splits, GotQuestions?org states, “Church splits distress and dismay mature believers, disillusion new believers, cause havoc in the lives of pastors and their families, and bring reproach upon the name of Christ.” (Read entire article at this link.) Near the end of the article is this statement: “The causes of divisions in the church are many, but ultimately the main reason for a church split is that someone has taken his focus off of Jesus Christ and begun to use the church organization for his own ends.”
One of the definitions of “unity” from Dictionary.com is “oneness of mind, feeling, etc., as among a number of persons; concord, harmony, or agreement; absence of diversity; unvaried or uniform character.” The Bible states the importance of unity within the fellowship of believers, and Ephesians 4:11-14 speaks to the issue of unity:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
Unfortunately, too often today unity is stressed for the sake of unity in and of itself. In an article titled, “Preaching Unity for Unity’s Sake,” the author, Anthony Wade, Minister with the Assemblies of God and Owner/Founder of 828 Ministries, addresses this very issue in the following statement:
It has become in vogue in the modern church to preach unity for unity’s sake. Scripture does clearly indicate that it is God’s desire for there to be unity within the body of Christ. Unfortunately what is often overlooked is what we are to be unified by and for.
Today’s verse [Ephesians 4:13 NLT] makes the point very clear. Our unity is supposed to be in our faith and the knowledge of God’s Son. Not about a religion. Not about a denomination. Not about a church. Our agreement is to be firmly rooted in our faith in God not man. It is to be firmly rooted in the Word of God, not the latest fads. Today’s verse also makes it clear that there is a goal for the unity. It is so that we can all become mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. That may sound like a tall order but that is the point about unity. Together we can strive more effectively towards the goal of becoming more Christlike. If we are unified by striving to be more Christlike then we avoid the politics of man and the religiosity of this age. By doing so, those walking in darkness will want the light they see in us. That is the point of being unified.
If someone I care about is driving off of a cliff, it is not my responsibility to hold their hand on the way down and tell them everything is going to be ok. It is my responsibility to help them avoid going off the cliff to begin with. Unity rooted in agreement of personality is not unity at all. Unity rooted in agreement of doctrine is what strengthens faith and knowledge of God’s Son. It is what matures us. I possess no absolute truth on my own — only through the Word of God. Let us celebrate that today. Let us unify behind that. (Quote source here.)
The secret to unity begins with how we view ourselves within the body and how we view others. The key verse that addresses this is Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” All disunity in a church can be traced back to the simple truth that too often we act selfishly and consider ourselves better than others. Paul goes on to explain further in the following verse: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Sadly, churches that experience disunity and are in conflict and turmoil are generally filled with people looking to their own needs, their own desires, and their own ambitions. Such behavior is characteristic of unbelievers, not those with the mind of Christ. Worldliness, not godliness, is the hallmark of the disunified church, as Paul reminded the Corinthians: “For you are yet carnal. For in that there is among you envyings and strife and divisions, are you not carnal, and do you not walk according to men?” (1 Corinthians 3:3).
But Paul tells us that we are to consider others’ needs before our own. In all modesty, humility and lowliness of mind, we are to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). A church filled with such people cannot help but have peace, unity and harmony. The truly humble person sees his own faults in light of the perfections of Christ; he does not seek to see the faults of others, but when he does, he speaks the truth in love and desires their sanctification so they will be built up in the image of Christ. He sees his own heart and the corruption that lies hidden there, along with impure motives and evil ambitions. But he does not seek to notice the errors, defects, and follies of others. He sees the depravity of his own heart and hopes charitably in the goodness of others and believes their hearts are more pure than his.
Dr. A.W. Tozer, (1897-1963), also addressed this same topic regarding the issues surrounding division and unity and when it is appropriate to unite and when to divide in a chapter titled, “Divisions Are Not Always Bad,” (Chapter 9), in his book, “God Tells The Man Who Cares,” The chapter is available online from Apologetics Index at this link and is stated below:
Divisions Are Not Always Bad
by A.W. Tozer
When to unite and when to divide, that is the question, and a right answer requires the wisdom of a Solomon.
Some settle the problem by rule of thumb: All union is good and all division bad. It’s that easy. But obviously this effortless way of dealing with the matter ignores the lessons of history and overlooks some of the deep spiritual laws by which men live.
If good men were all for union and bad men for division, or vice versa, that would simplify things for us. Or if it could be shown that God always unites and the devil always divides it would be easy to find our way around in this confused and confusing world. But that is not how things are.
To divide what should be divided and unite what should be united is the part of wisdom. Unions of dissimilar elements is never good even where it is possible, nor is the arbitrary division of elements that are alike; and this is as certainly true of things moral and religious as of things political or scientific.
The First Divider
The first divider was God who at the creation divided the light from the darkness. This division set the direction for all God’s dealings in nature and in grace. Light and darkness are incompatible; to try to have both in the same place at once is to try the impossible and end by having neither the one nor the other, but dimness rather, and obscurity.
In the world of men there are at present scarcely any sharp outlines. The race is fallen. Sin has brought confusion. The wheat grows with the tares, the sheep and the goats coexist, the farms of the just and the unjust lie side by side in the landscape, the mission is next door to the saloon.
But things will not always be so. The hour is coming when the sheep with be divided from the goats and the tares separated from the wheat. God will again divide the light from the darkness and all things will run to their kind. Tares will go into the fire with tares and wheat into the garner with wheat. The dimness will lift like a fog and all outlines will appear. Hell will be seen to be hell all the way through, and heaven revealed as the one home of all who bear the nature of the one God.
For that time we with patience wait. In the meanwhile for each of us, and for the church wherever she appears in human society, the constantly recurring question must be: What shall we unite with and from what shall we separate? The question of coexistence does not enter here, but the question of union and fellowship does. The wheat grows in the same field with the tares, but shall the two cross-pollinate? The sheep graze near the goats, but shall they seek to interbreed? The unjust and the just enjoy the same rain and sunshine, but shall they forget their deep moral differences and intermarry?
To these questions the popular answer is yes. Union for union’s sake, and men shall be brothers be for a’ that. Unity is so devoutly to be desired that no price is too high to pay for it and nothing is important enough to keep us apart. Truth is slain to provide a feast to celebrate the marriage of heaven and hell, and all to support a concept of unity which has no basis in the Word of God.
The Spirit-illuminated Church
The Spirit-illuminated church will have none of this. In a fallen world like ours unity is no treasure to be purchased at the price of compromise. Loyalty to God, faithfulness and truth and the preservation of a good conscience are jewels more precious than gold of Ophir or diamonds from the mine. For these jewels men have suffered the loss of property, imprisonment and even death; for them, even in recent times, behind the various curtains, followers of Christ have paid the last full measure of devotion and quietly died, unknown to and unsung by the great world, but known to God and dear to His Father heart. In the day that shall declare the secrets of all souls these shall come forth to receive the deeds done in the body. Surely such as these are wiser philosophers than the religious camp followers of meaningless unity who have not the courage to stand against the vogues and who bleat for brotherhood only because it happens to be for the time popular.
“Divide and conquer” is the cynical slogan of Machiavellian political leaders, but Satan knows how to unite and conquer. To bring a nation to its knees the aspiring dictator must unite it. By repeated appeals to national pride or to the need to avenge some past or present wrong the demagogue succeeds in uniting the populace behind him. It is easy after that to take control of the military and to beat the legislature into submission. Then follows almost perfect unity indeed, but it is the unity of the stockyards and the concentration camp. We have seen this happen several times in this century, and the world will see it at least once more when the nations of the earth are united under Antichrist.
When confused sheep start over a cliff the individual sheep can save himself only be separating from the flock. Perfect unity at such a time can only mean total destruction for all. The wise sheep to save his own hide disaffiliates.
Power lies in the union of things similar and the division of things dissimilar. Maybe what we need in religious circles today is not more union but some wise and courageous division. Everyone desires peace but it could be that revival will follow the sword. (Quote source here.)
“Unity is no treasure to be purchased at the price of compromise . . .” And peace gained at any price is no peace at all. As Tozer stated above, “The wheat grows in the same field with the tares, but shall the two cross-pollinate? The sheep graze near the goats, but shall they seek to interbreed?”
“Power lies in the union of things similar and the division of things dissimilar.” “Loyalty to God, faithfulness and truth and the preservation of a good conscience are jewels more precious than gold of Ophir or diamonds from the mine.” Our loyalty is to God, first and foremost . . . .
And our unity is not found in the things of this world . . .
Our unity is found in Jesus Christ. . . .
YouTube Video: “United We Stand” by Hillsong: