Thank you for your consideration. As a Christian who came to Christ late in life, there has been one issue that has perplexed me. That is: Isn't unity and harmony within the Faith an important concept? It seems to me, after having read through the New Testament several times, that Christians are admonished to GET ALONG! What I can't figure out is: why can't we? I realize sin is a reason, but then we should all see divisions (including denominational) as sinful, not desirable. Likewise, shouldn't we avoid those Christian leaders who seem to encourage division within the faith? I realize there are places in Scripture where discipline is called for (one could reference 1 Cor 5., but then reasons given for problems include not just immorality, but greed and idol worship (including, I am sure, a host of modern idols in our society). In addition, when one is removed from the fellowship, it is for that individual's benefit, not to separate the faith into factions. So please, tell me: 1) if I am wrong and constant infighting and division are really part of God's plan for the church or not, and 2) if not, then what is a Christian to do when the burden of reconciliation within the church is such a weight upon the heart? Again, thanks for your time and consideration, and may the Lord be with you.
Infighting and division in the church is not God’s will. Yet, it occurs because we are in a spiritual warfare. The Holy Spirit warned us that this would occur.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (NASB) Ephesians 6:12
Satan and his army are desiring to destroy the church and its testimony. He will do this anyway he can. He will attack it from the outside using the world. He will use the media to depict Christians as stupid, fanatics, emotional and needy. He will attack the church from within using laymen, leaders and even pastors. Satan will attempt to motivate us to sin and cause us to discredit ourselves with our words, lifestyle and attitudes. But the biggest area he is at work in is false doctrine and distorting historical and biblical facts. That is why he is called the angel of light.
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (NASB) 2 Corinthians 11:14
The conflict will continue until we arrive in heaven.
The Internal Evidence
The evidence of conflict within the church is clear. Many churches have leaders who are spiritually unqualified and should not be leaders. Church splits and divisions often start with the leadership team.
The problem usually occurs because leaders were not selected according to the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 1:7-9. Often, the leaders are selected because of who they know, they are wealthy, or because of their career success, for example. We also have pastors who want to be in control and there are others who seek honor from their congregation instead of honor from God. Some churches have laymen who are seeking approval and influence in the church. For some men and women the church is a social club and the list goes on.
Was God surprised by all of this? No, Jesus predicted this would happen.
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert . . . And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (NASB) Acts 20:28-32
Notice we are warned that they will come up from within the church. What is their goal? They attempt to create a following and teach false doctrine.
In 2 Timothy, the Holy Spirit warns us that congregations will welcome false doctrine – they want to hear something that is entertaining.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. (NASB) 2 Timothy 4:3-4
As a result some churches will split as some Christians seek purity in truth, while other churches split because of anger, hatred, pride and so forth.
Unity Within The Church
How do we balance this with God’s command to live in unity with each other?
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (NASB) Ephesians 4:1-3
Colossians 3:14 also repeats this command. What the Holy Spirit is saying is, “live in peace as much as possible with people in our world.”
Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (NASB) Romans 12:16-18
Reconciliation Between Brethren
Proverbs 21:2 tells it like it is.
Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts. (NASB) Proverbs 21:2
Our world says, “You’re okay, I’m okay.” “What you do is your own business.” “What you believe is okay.” The apostles warned the early Christians that it was NOT okay to believe whatever we wanted. If we do, we are on a slippery slope to heresy. The battle ground for Christians is Truth! True reconciliation seeks to bring emotional peace and doctrinal unity. This is the message of the following verse.
And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth . . . (NASB) 2 Timothy 2:24-25
We are to seek to help others discover the truth. Some Christians are on a campaign, fighting on all fronts to establish the truth, and their behavior is the opposite of this passage. Christians need to be ready to do the following in a spirit of reconciliation.
. . . always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence . . . (NASB) 1 Peter 3:15
May I suggest that we are too preoccupied with one another and not occupied enough with seeking Jesus’ face and longing to share Him with a needy world? Our eyes need to be on Jesus (Heb. 12:2) and not on each other. When we feel burdened over the divisions in the church, we need to take that burden to God in prayer and pray for other Christians and protection against Satan. We are in a spiritual warfare! We need to confess our sins, and seek the truth that is revealed in the scriptures because then and only then can we really know the truth about our Creator. Only then can we really know Him!