What are Christians allowed to divide over?

Summary

In the past, Christians used to divide over appropriate beliefs, such as the Gospel of salvation and the nature of God. Nowadays, Christians divide over every minor doctrine and call it heresy: women pastors, speaking in tongues, prosperity, praying to Mary, etc. This is because they ignore passages about not quarreling about the law (Titus 3:9) and use the truth to discourage a brother who misunderstands (I Corinthians 8:10,12-13). The most important group of people to divide with is not the Pharisees or false teachers, but those who cause divisions by adding to the Gospel of salvation (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10-11).

Endorsements

Billy GrahamJohn Piper and C.S. LewisJonathan EdwardsWilliam SeymourPope Francis, and Martin Luther all believed in the concept of unity in essentials, freedom in uncertainty, and love in all” (Titus 3:1-11Romans 14:6) and that all 4 major church branches (350M Historical Protestants, 450M Modern Protestants, 1.3B Catholics, 280M Orthodox) should unite around the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Titus 3:3-8). Martin Luther wrote in his  Augsburg Confession in Article VII: “And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.” Allen Parr, known for calling out false teachings, made a whole video to explain why we should not call individuals false teachers if they hold to major Christian doctrine.

Reasons

We cannot divide with someone who believes Jesus is God.

Of utmost importance in Christian unity, anyone who believes that Jesus has come in the flesh as God is from God (I John 4:2-3). Some would divide with people like Joel Osteen for example, because of his preaching style. He always closes by saying to repent of your sins, accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior to be born again, and find a good Bible-based church (proof). Whether you think men like Osteen are selfish or not, because they preach Christ and the true Gospel of Salvation, we must rejoice in his ministry (Philippians 1:17-18). (We also wouldn’t recommend him as your only pastor because he focuses too much on prosperity.)

Divide with Christians who add to the Gospel.

Ironically, those Christians who are constantly saying every denomination besides their own is going to hell are the individuals we are commanded to avoid. The most important group of people to divide with is not the Pharisees or false teachers but those who cause divisions by adding to the Gospel (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10-11). Firstly, we have to define the Gospel; and unfortunately, everyone has a different definition of what should be considered core doctrine. Fortunately, the Bible gives us a list of core doctrines. See the “Gospel.”

Divide with Christians who commit specific sins on purpose.

Paul says to not associate with Christians who sin in the following ways: sexually immoral, greedy, idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler (I Corinthians 5:11,12-13). This is not referring to anyone who messes up and repents (I John 1:9). This is referring those with a faulty conscience (I Timothy 4:1-2) and sin deliberately (Hebrews 10:26-27).

Divide with Christians who refuse to be accused.

A deep sign of arrogance is when someone tries to accuse you of sin, you refuse to hear them out (Proverbs 12:15). Jesus told us that if a person won’t hear about their sin, they must not be considered to be a Christian (Matthew 18:15-17). This doesn’t mean the accused needs to agree with the accuser or even the church: they just humbly need to accept that someone doesn’t respect an aspect of their life.

Examples

Don’t follow any person or organization besides Jesus.

Paul says that real unity (I Corinthians 1:10,11) is not fully following individuals humans or organizations (I Corinthians 1:12-13) or dedicating large amounts of resources to non-Christian organizations (II Corinthians 6:14-15,16-17) because we are baptized under Jesus (I Corinthians 1:13) as our only Master (Matthew 6:24). We can mildly associate with anyone (I Corinthians 5:9-10) unless they break one of the biblical areas of division. Following humans always leads to tribalism because nonbelievers’ good intentions are always corrupted by demonic power (II Corinthians 4:4). Following Jesus always leads to life (John 14:6). Note that you can and must have Christian leaders (II Timothy 2:2), just make sure not to follow them blindly.

We must correct false teachers, not avoid them.

False teachers teach heresy (II Peter 2:1) for dishonest gain (Titus 1:11). Every place “false teacher” is listed, the only command we are given is to beware of the beliefs, warn them, but not avoid them (Matthew 24:24; I Timothy 6:3,11; Jude 1:3-4). By avoiding false teachers, we are not correcting them personally, as we are commanded (I Timothy 1:3; II Timothy 4:2-3). For example, practicing homosexuality (I Timothy 1:10) is a grievous sin, but even more grievous is trying to add this knowledge as a requirement of salvation, because no one can claim to have perfect knowledge (I Corinthians 8:1-2; see arrogance). If a preacher is preaching that homosexuality is right because that is what Jesus really wants, then we shouldn’t quarrel over opinions (Romans 14:1). If he is teaching homosexuality believing it is wrong, then he is a false teacher (Titus 1:11) but still should be molded into a true teacher (Titus 1:12-13).

We cannot call another a “false teacher” unless proven with the Holy Spirit’s power.

“Be very, very careful, my friend, when you take somebody who agrees with all of the major tenets of the Christian faith, and you label them as a false teacher; because, you very well may be hindering somebody else from receiving a blessing.” (source) Speaking negatively about an individual is slander (Leviticus 19:16). Excommunicated members were never actually labeled as “false teachers” (I Corinthians 5:5; I Timothy 1:19-20). Paul once called a non-church member a “false prophet” (Acts 13:6), but he’s allowed to for the same reason Jesus was allowed to condemn (Matthew 23:15). Because Jesus is the judge of the law, He alone has the right to condemn individuals (James 4:11,12). Paul took on the right of condemnation because he proved his belief that Bar-Jesus was a false prophet by enacting the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:9,11). 

Listen to Pharisees, but don’t follow them.

Jesus strongly disliked the Pharisees (Matthew 23:33) because of their hypocritical desire to preach but not do good works (Matthew 23:3). Although we shouldn’t be a part of their churches (Matthew 23:15) or follow them as spiritual guides (Matthew 23:16), we must listen to them because their theology descends from Moses’ original 10 Commandments (Matthew 23:2-3). Note that not everyone who acts like a Pharisee is condemned (Matthew 23:15), for Jesus spoke positively with Nicodemus (John 3:1-15) and actually converted the worst of Pharisees to be the main writer of the Bible (Acts 23:6; I Timothy 1:15).

Counterclaims

We must divide over the sufficiency of Scripture.

Although we at Answering Problems believe the Bible is the only authoritative, sufficient and infallible Scripture, dividing over the definition of Scripture is not allowed for in the Bible. Quite the opposite, Paul warns us to not “quarrel about the law” (Titus 3:9), and most Christians like the Catholics do share the exact same definition of the Gospel of salvation (Titus 3:3-8).

We must divide over interpretations of the Trinity.

Although we at Answering Problems believe in the co-eternal and co-equal nature of one God as 3 persons, we are not allowed to divide over the intricacies of this because the Bible never tells us to. It’s a very complex topic that no one should be claiming to fully understand. We do, however, divide over the divine nature of each person of the Trinity because the Bible mentions how each is God (Matthew 28:19): the Father (John 6:27), the Son (John 1:1,14,17), and the Holy Spirit (II Corinthians 3:17; Mark 12:29).

We must divide over false jesus’ and false gospels (II Corinthians 11:4).

We agree (II Corinthians 11:13), but you still need a definition of true Jesus and the true Gospel. The Bible says that anyone who believes in Titus 3:3-8 is following the true Jesus, and anyone who divides with these people is following a false Gospel (Titus 3:9-10,11).

We must divide with those who don’t teach the Gospel (II John 1:10-11).

John says to not greet a teacher who denies love, obeying the commandments of Christ (II John 1:6), or that Jesus was God who took on an earthly body (II John 1:7). John is talking about avoiding anyone who doesn’t have a love for obeying Christ (Romans 10:13), not anyone who disagrees with you on the interpretation (I Corinthians 8:1-2). Logically, if you must avoid everyone who disagrees with you on your interpretation, you shouldn’t unify with anyone in the world. Paul directly said that eating meat offered to idols is not a sin (I Corinthians 10:25), yet Paul said you are not allowed to divide with someone who disagrees (Romans 14:3), because God welcomes the weak in knowledge (Romans 14:1). If someone disagrees with you on the interpretation of Jesus’ commands outside of the above core doctrine, you are not allowed to judge his salvation, because he calls himself a servant of the master (Romans 14:4).

Can we vote for Christians who we would kick out of the church (I Corinthians 5:11)?

Yes, but the only reason you should vote for someone who has unrepentant sin is if the alternative is worse. Although association is about tying one’s name to another and voting does that in writing, ignoring voting ties your name equally to both evils. For example, Jesus didn’t “want” the Curse on Humanity, but He did “vote for” it because it was the lesser of 2 evils. We should judge which is “lesser” based on I Corinthians 5:11, not our personal opinions about which rights and values are more important. This is because certain sins are more infectious than others (I Corinthians 5:6-7).

What about people who secretly show us their true nature?

The Bible commands us not to speculate (I Timothy 1:4) because this leads to “evil suspicions” (I Timothy 6:4). Signs such as the devil’s horn in America has always meant “rock-and-roll,” not, “I worship Satan.”  If a person really was demonic, he would not openly accept Jesus as God (I John 4:2; Matthew 12:24-26). The Bible also says to reject teachers who devote themselves to these myths instead of godliness (I Timothy 4:7; II Timothy 4:3-4).

Some Christians speak in tongues or pray to Mary, which are not allowed.

Whether they are encouraged or not, dividing over minor doctrine is not allowed (Titus 3:9-10,11; Romans 14:3-4).