5 Things That Can Divide a Church

There are few things more tragic than a church divided. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Yet, too often, the church is known by their bickering and division among itself, rather than churches’ love for one another.

When a church is divided, it’s easy to fall into the temptation of placing blame on others, but the reality is that if your church is divided, you, not the person who has “all sorts of problems and issues,” may be the cause of division.

Many don’t set out to be divisive in the church. The seeds of division are small, but they can grow into a large problem. As Christians, it’s important that we prayerfully examine ourselves to see if we are or are not the cause of division.

Here are five signs to consider. Read them. Pray about them. And if you find yourself as the cause of division, then repent and make restitution with those you have offended.

1. Pride

Pride is an ugly sin, and proud people are ugly. Pride in the life of the church ultimately leads to division. If you think highly of yourself, delight in providing your opinions, expect to be consulted about your opinions, and get angry when they’re not obeyed, then you probably struggle with pride.

2. Heresy

“Heresy” is quite the buzzword in the church. Many times Christians label other Christians as heretics because they disagree with them on some minute, nonessential detail. That’s not heresy. That’s disagreement.

A heretic is someone who believes the opposite of Christian orthodoxy. A heretic is someone who doesn’t believe that there is one God in three persons, that Jesus is God’s Son, and that Jesus lived without sin, died on the cross in our place, and rose as our Savior. These, among a few others, are essential beliefs that must be adhered to if you call yourself a Christian.

The allowance of heresy will divide and even destroy the church.

3. Legalism

Legalists love to act like God by making rules. Not only do they make rules, but they also wield rules as weapons to divide the church body into separate parts. Instead of honoring Jesus in their personal convictions, legalists despise and even pass judgment on those who are not like them (Rom. 14:1–12).

4. Distrust

When there is distrust among people in the church, especially among leaders, division is certain.

On one hand, leaders have the God-ordained responsibility to be trustworthy and above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2, 10; Titus 1:6). On the other hand, church members have a God-ordained duty to honor and submit to their leaders, which requires a level of trust (1 Thess. 5:12–13; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 17).

Leaders and members must work to ensure that they are relating with each other in a trustworthy manner. The worst thing that can happen is when you distrust leaders in the church and don’t pursue resolution but instead, go behind their back and gossip about them. This creates greater distrust and division.

5. Traditionalism

Tradition in and of itself is not a bad thing (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6), but when a method is elevated above its intended function and basically worshiped, it becomes an idol that can divide churches.

If you oppose change to non-biblical tradition for no good or godly reason, then your adherence to tradition will cause division.

Pursue the Unity of the Church

As Christians we are to pursue the unity of the church, but in our pursuit, we don’t create unity. God does. There is “one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4–6). In Christ, we are created as a unified people.

To pursue unity, we must continually pursue change. We are part of a living church made up of living people. We must change in the same way that a living person grows and changes, hopefully toward maturity.

To pursue the unity, we must listen carefully to the words of the Apostle, who said we must walk together “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2–3). The key word in this passage is “humility.”

A humble person is not concerned with seeking his or her own welfare, personal gain, or opinion. A humble person’s concern is with loving God and others. These are the two greatest commandments that you can pursue (Matt. 22:37–40). And pursuing them will keep you from being divisive and used by God to bring unity to his church.

This post is adapted from Vintage Church by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Crossway Books , a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187.