One thing evangelical Christians in particular get dinged about, especially by atheists and liberal or progressive “Christians”–Big Tent advocates–is our lack of unity. If your god was real, the implication seems to be, you’d all be one big happy family, not a bunch of squabbling, self-interested nay-sayers.
There’s some truth in this accusation. Jesus told His followers that their love for one another would be the thing that would draw others to them. And still, the early church was fraught with division.
Some problems were personal. Take, for example, Paul’s rift with Barnabas. We know Paul didn’t want to take John Mark along on what would have been their second missionary journey after he deserted them during the first one. Barnabas insisted. And Paul refused, so they parted ways.
Or what about the two women in Philippi–fellow workers with Paul–who had some disagreement with each other that required the apostle to tell them to knock it off.
James wrote to all the Jewish Christians scattered beyond the borders of Judea, and he addressed the problem of “fights and quarrels among you.”
Besides personal discord, the Church also faced disunity because of personal sin. Corinth is the most obvious example. That body of believers was tolerating a man who paraded his incestuous relationships in the church. A faction apparently was patting their backs for their tolerant attitude toward him, thinking their acceptance was a demonstration of grace.
On top of this kind of personal sin, there was also false teaching. Peter said there would be false teachers who would introduce “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).
Jude referred to people who
are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. (1:12-13)
Later he said they are ones “who cause divisions,” are “worldly minded,” and “devoid of the Spirit” (v. 19).
I think it’s significant that in the first two instances, personal squabbles and personal sin, the Church was instructed to take steps to correct the situation. The fighting fellow workers were to stop, those lacking unity were admonished to be of the same mind, to look out for the interests of others, to bear with one another, forgive each other. Brethren were instructed not to judge each other or complain against one another.
At the same time, the Church received instruction not to tolerate sin. The brother living like a non-Christian was not to enjoy the fellowship of the Church, but the purpose was to draw him into repentance and restoration. The “disunity” then, was purposefully and temporary.
The situation with false teachers was different. Jesus Himself warned of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Paul went so far as to say those who were “rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers,” needed to be silenced because they were “teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:11b).
In other words, there is no plea for unity with these divisive false teachers. They, in fact, were the cause of disunity, disrupting and scattering and devouring the sheep, as wolves are wont to do.
The mistake, I believe, evangelicals have made is trying for a false peace. We are in danger of becoming like those Jeremiah spoke of:
They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.
For some reason, we have no desire to pretend unity with a hateful group like the Westboro Baptist cult, but we turn around and gloss over the blatant misuse of Scripture from any number of others. Who are we to judge? we say.
But the fact is, universalists like Paul Young (The Shack) or Rob Bell (Love Wins) can’t be right if Jesus said the things the New Testament recorded about separating sheep from goats and sending wicked slaves into outer darkness.
I don’t think we need to be unkind or snarky or offensive. I mean, the point of silencing false teachers in the church is not to come out looking superior or more knowledgeable or highly spiritual. It’s to keep their teaching from gaining traction and spreading. We’re not standing in God’s place to judge them. At best we can pray, “The Lord rebuke you.”
Nevertheless, we ought not seek unity with those who say they are Christians, but who do not believe what the Bible teaches about God, His Son Jesus, and what He did at the cross in order to make a way for humankind to be reconciled with the Father.
So why is there disunity among evangelicals? First because we are sinners–saved by grace, yes, but prone to wander, and in our wandering we do disruptive things that require discipline and forgiveness and restoration.
Second, there’s disunity because people who aren’t believers say they are. They believe something, surely, but it is a different gospel, a result of “taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18b).
Are we to pursue unity with these wolves in sheep’s clothing? Not while they are trafficking in heresy. But that judging question comes up again. Who are we to judge?
We aren’t judging when we call a spade, a spade or a rose, a rose or false teaching, false.
Discernment and judging are two different things.