Does Exercising Discernment Cause Division?

Why What We Believe About God Matters

A.W. Tozer said “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” What you believe about God will undoubtedly affect the way you think, act, and even feel. True knowledge about God comes from one source- the word of God applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

When we know truth about God, who He is and what He has done for us in Christ, we will find freedom. Jesus said “If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31).” God’s truth also brings Christians to a place of unity. In Christ’s prayer that all believers would be one He said “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth (John 17:17).”

Lies about God, including lies about His teachings (such as the nature of man, creation, the church, marriage, salvation etc), will lead to bondage, confusion, division, and even sin. Believing lies about God, which may be in the form of partial truths, or having an over exaggerated/exclusive view of a truth- will in some way, affect your life and your relationship with God and others negatively. An example is, if I believe that God is in complete control of everything in my life, including trials, but I forget the truth that God never takes pleasure in our suffering, and that He has compassion and comfort for us, I may begin to view God as cruel, which is going to crush and rob me as I go through the trial. It has been my experience, that whenever I realize I have believed something which the bible does not teach, upon discovering that falsehood I experience freedom in some avenue of my life.

More importantly, what we believe about God really matters, because God is a person. What I mean, is that God is not a set of ideas, or a philosophy, or a thing to debate or pick and choose what we like to believe. You wouldn’t treat your friend that way, and you wouldn’t want to be treated that way. How much more important is it to care that we embrace the truth about who God says He is and how He tells us to live in this world? It really doesn’t matter how a particular truth makes us feel, or whether our favorite teacher believes it, or whether it seems to have “worked” in the past- what matters is if God’s word says it is true. If not, we repent and surrender.

A Big Problem

I believe the biggest problem in the church today is that we are sacrificing our right, and thereby losing our ability, to be discerning individuals. In the world’s spirit of “love” and “tolerance”, we have come to believe that unity in the church means we should be quiet when we disagree with each other. We have become soft, and I think due to pride, so easily offended by brothers and sisters who attempt to point out error in our lives and teaching, or in the lives and teachings of people we admire.

Given the scriptures repetitive warnings about false teachers who “secretly bring in destructive heresies (2Peter 2:1),” our weakness, and for some refusal to practice discernment, leaves many sheep fearfully vulnerable. Paul warned the Ephesian elders that after his departure “fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:29-30).” In the next verse he states “Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears (v31).”

Pastors and elders have a very serious responsibility to guard the flock of God, and be alert. I would also suggest that we all, as believers, need to be alert.

I find so often we are sleepy Christians. We embrace new ideas because they are popular. We accept doctrinal positions because they seem to fit our theological system, or appease our reasoning skills. If a statement makes us feel good, or a song brings us to an emotional response, we close our heads and embrace it blindly. We have placed certain teachers and so-called men of God on such a high pedestal that they have become above criticism, and it seems as if anyone questions them, God himself will strike them with lightening. I am not only talking about Charismatics. I think this problem sweeps much wider than that.

A Helpful Acknowledgement

Perhaps the most simple thing to recognize is that no one is above scrutiny. What I mean is that there is no teacher who has earned the right not to be questioned. The word of man, on its own, is just that- the word of man. And what is man? Imperfect, flawed, and prone to biases- each and every one of us. Prone to major on the minors and minor on the majors. Prone to put our own meaning into the text. Prone to forget, prone to pride, prone to go beyond what is written, prone to extremes, prone to unbalanced views, prone to being swayed by emotions, and the list goes on. And guess what? So am I, and so are you.

So are you. Perhaps that is the most important thing to recognize.

There are two things we really need if we are going to grasp God’s truth- one, is God’s word, and the other, is God’s spirit. We must heavily rely on these. We must recognize our falleness and call on Him for understanding. Please understand, I am in no way, demeaning the importance of pastors and teachers- we need them! We need them desperately. They are a wonderful help in guarding and feeding the flock. This moves us to my next point.

A Commitment Every Believer Must Make

First off, every believer should be part of a local church and should commit themselves to hearing the word of God being preached. Today, most Christians also receive teaching through books, the internet, and television. So, here is the commitment every listener should make:

“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11).”

Naivety is not commendable, but careful examination of all things by the word of God is noble. Particularly, when we are hearing something new, we should not take another’s word for it until we see it ourselves and are convinced by scripture.

Why Should We Bother to Expose Error in Others?

When someone believes something that is directly opposed to God’s word, even if it is non-essential (or not salvific), I think it loving to try and help them see their error (Please do a double take and see that I have said “directly opposed to God’s word,” not opposed to your opinion, see Romans 14:1). This is an important part of fellowship with one another. Paul prayed for the Colossians that they would be “filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10).” It should be viewed as a wonderful thing, to try and help each other grow in spiritual understanding so that we might please God and know Him more. That’s the goal of approaching a brother or sister who is in error. As mentioned above, we know that truth brings freedom, and ultimately, more glory to God, while error brings bondage and dishonor to His name.

What Causes Division in the Body of Christ?

If you really care about truth, it’s likely you’ve been warned about being divisive. Don’t get me wrong- there is a real danger here in being unnecessarily or uncharitably divisive, even if you are right. But I think this is an area of much confusion for Christians. Even when you come lovingly, humbly, and with an open bible, you may be accused of this most dreaded quality- divisiveness.

Pointing a fellow believer to a biblical truth that they have missed, confused, or gotten wrong all together, is not being “divisive” as many think. In fact, it has more to do with unity than it does divisiveness.

Jesus said “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No I tell you, but rather division (Luke 12:51).” He continued by talking about people being divided against each other within their own families. It is important to understand the distinction here; Jesus is talking about unbelievers dividing themselves by hostility against those who have become believing family members. This is not a verse teaching that Jesus Christ came to divide up his church- that is absurd and contrary to scripture (See Matthew 10:34-39 & Luke 12:51-53).

Truth divides from error. It divides unbelievers from believers because unbelievers (unless God is working in their hearts) hate the truth. We don’t forsake unbelievers, but they might forsake us when we tell them the truth about God. In that sense, truth divides.

Sometimes, truth does divide genuine believers from each other- but it shouldn’t. I think, if it does, it is only on account of spiritual confusion, pride, and/or sin. The common ground between all believers rests on the cross of Jesus Christ and on His word. Remember that “His word is truth,” as stated in Christ’s prayer in John 17. Only a few verses later we hear Christ’s heart on unity between believers. He prays that “They may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:21).” Unity in the body of Christ, is incredibly important to Him. We are His bride, how can we be torn apart by factions? Unity is a noble goal, and one that comes with submission to the truth of God’s word.

The best definition of biblical unity I have found comes from 1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

Unity implies uniformity, something our generation scoffs at. We all want to be unique, with special revelations, and individual ideas. I can’t count how many Christian books I have seen that claim to “shake classic Christian beliefs” or something like that. Whenever you see that, you’ve like found a book of heresy. Don’t get me wrong, God made us uniquely different from each other, but when it comes to matters of the faith, He wants us to “agree” and “be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” It’s time we stop believing that unity means turning a blind eye to areas of disunity, and instead point ourselves and others to God’s word, asking Him to help us see the truth and truly unite our hearts in Christ. We might not see that goal reached on this side of Heaven, but nevertheless, it is a noble goal, and one we should strive for, praying that Christ would help us with our blind spots and brings us to a united understanding. Philippians 3:15 says “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”

So what really causes division in the body of Christ? I think it is best to say that truth serves to unite, while sin, pride, spiritual confusion and false teaching is at the root of division.

Romans 16:17-18 “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.”

Jude 17 “’In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passion.’ It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.”

Titus 1:9-11 “He (an overseer) must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.”

False teaching can confuse true believers who hold fast to the gospel but go off on strange tangents. May I also add, that false teaching does often serve to separate false converts from true believers. 1Corinthians 11:19 says “For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine may be recognized.”

Concluding Thoughts

If Christ’s church is to be unified we need to be diligent to be discerning and examining all things in light of God’s truth. We need humility, prayer, and open bibles between believers. And may I add, patience with each other.

I want to be clear that within God’s church are charismatics and cessationists, infant baptists and believer-only baptists, Calvinists and Arminians, etc. Believers cannot embrace heresies or gross fallacies about the nature of God- but we sure can get confused. It is very important to remember that we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, who shed his blood to pay the penalty for our sins. Therefore, even when we do disagree on some issues, we are still brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yet I am beginning to see that a “head in the sand” approach to unity is not biblical. God wants His people to be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2:2).” There is a very real sense in which we are already one in Christ- yet, we should strive to be growing in that oneness. I’ll conclude with this scripture:

Ephesians 4:13-15 “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.”



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