The Biblical Basis of Division
by James Jacob Prasch
When is Church Division Ordained of God, and When is It Not?
As we have often noted, in His high-priestly prayer in the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus prefaces His prayer for unity amongst believers, in verses 17 to 23, with a prayer that they first of all be sanctified in the truth. Biblical unity, that is the unity of the Spirit, first and foremost depends on that unity being grounded in doctrinal truth. “Sanctify them in the truth, Thy Word is truth” . Moreover, Jesus identifies Himself personally, as the literal incarnation of truth itself (John 14:6), because in the context of the Gospel of John, particularly, Jesus Himself is literally the incarnate Word (John 1:1). In short, if there is no truth, there is no Jesus and if there is no Jesus, there is no unity in Him. His teaching, in which we are to be sanctified, of which He Himself is both the eternal Logos (or “davar“ in Hebrew) and of which He is the physical incarnation, is referred to in the New Testament by the Greek term “didaskein“. Those rejecting biblical doctrine reject truth and consequently reject Christ, placing themselves under a divine curse, where the Lord Himself will send a delusion, causing them to believe what is false, which will ultimately be the Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:3-11).
Yet in today’s world, Paul Crouch, of Trinity Broadcasting Network, denounced doctrine as “excrement”. We have heard many people from charismatic backgrounds tell us that doctrine is bad because it divides and instead we need love. In actual fact, according to Hebrews 4:12, the Word of God is meant to divide, designed by Him for that very purpose. In an age where Christians would choose to believe a Chuck Colson, Nicky Gumbel, Tony Campola, Robert Schuler or some other ecumenical deceiver instead of the Word of God, biblical imperatives about discernment are rejected in the name of love as divisive. It is easily overlooked by those paying attention to such people that real love, that is the love of Jesus, can only abound where there is real knowledge of Scripture and real discernment (Philippians 1:8-9).
The Two Primary Kinds of Popular Mistakes and Misconceptions
The question becomes: When do we divide? When should a church split? When should someone leave a church? When should someone sever fellowship with another believer? At what point should we refuse to co-operate with others in the ministry?
The answers to these kind of questions are far more straightforward in Scripture and generally less complex than most Christians today recognize. In today’s church we see two kinds of pitfalls. The first category are views that confuse unity of the Spirit with a mere unity that is nothing more than the path to Babylon the Great. With the rise of a non-democratic federal Europe becoming the embryo of the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophet Daniel’s prophecies, we see a parallel trend towards ecumenical unity, inevitably leading to inter-faith unity in the church. These two trends are related and ultimately will constitute two aspects of the same deception, contrived and orchestrated in hell. The issue of Europe would be purely political and would have no place to be editorialized about in a Christian periodical ““ unless one examines the expressed ecumenical agenda of the Vatican in relation to a united Europe. This cause has been echoed by, among others, Tony Blair, who describes himself as both Europhile and ecumenical. What we see is a rebirth of the Holy Roman Empire which once more is neither “holy” nor “Roman” under Romano Prodi than it was under Otto the Great.
A time will come where not subscribing to European unity will be portrayed as not subscribing to Christian unity and, as in pre-Reformation Europe, dissident political opinions will not simply be seen as seditious but will falsely be termed heretical ““ having no relation to what the Bible means by that term. Conversely, dissident theological views on ecumenical and interfaith unity will not be merely seen as a bogus definition of heresy, but be seen as fermenting hate crimes and be labeled as an insidious criminal activity.
The second category does the opposite. It holds views born more out of paranoia, sometimes personal opinion disguised as doctrine, not infrequently personality conflict and, in the case of Northern Ireland, possibly even prejudice.
What is the biblical balance? In a nutshell, that any average Christian should be able to understand, what is the essence of the instruction in God’s Word on permissible and non-permissible division?
Let us first consider what God-ordained division is not. We must accept the fact that the most godly of men can honestly disagree, and this can result in the kind of contention that transpired between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-39). In this account, there were no doctrinal disagreements between Paul and Barnabas, but a serious difference of opinion concerning a third party, John Mark.
Today, I have often experienced the same kind of problem. At a recent church split in England, one very dear and sincere sister, who was hurt in an unfortunate episode, condemned the pastor on the basis of Hebrews 10:29 which, in context, damns him to eternal hell. Against him she quotes that he “made a mockery of the Lord Jesus and His blood”. I personally found this a premature judgment and an overreaction, which I attribute more to her personal sense of hurt than I do anything else. In both Greek and Hebrew an “elder” and an “older brother in faith” are the same term, deriving from the Hebrew word “zaken“ (which, in turn, has its etymological root in the Hebrew term for “a bearded one”) and we are told directly before being told to approach younger women as sisters, older women as mothers and younger men as brothers that we are to approach older men in church leadership as “fathers”. We are strictly commanded by the Lord not to sharply rebuke them, but to appeal to them. Invoking the text of Hebrews 10 against anyone, particularly a pastor, is probably the most serious charge we can bring against someone and every biblical principle and instruction must be exhausted before such a passage can be applied against someone.
Without judging the merits of the dispute on either side, even if she were correct, others would need to decide after this pronouncement whether or not they can be aligned with such a pastor. No pronouncements of such a serious nature should ever be made without a strict adherence to the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-20 and biblically such a pronouncement must be made by the Holy Spirit through the Body, not by an individual.
The dispute emerged from a situation where the pastor’s son owned a video shop with the tacit approval and support of the pastor and his wife. A shop assistant informed this sister that the shop would be carrying the Harry Potter video. (Moriel and Jacob Prasch dislike Harry Potter). The film was still in cinema and the video did not even exist, yet an explosion of angry opinions tore the church asunder. I was not present, but my own approach would have been, in love, to watch the video with the pastor’s son and first try to explain the potential spiritual dangers such a film could have for small children in their formative years. Church splits are the last resorts, and imprecatory pronouncements of hell-damning divine wrath should be the last resort of last resorts. I do not agree with elephant hunting, but if I did, I would say that “Elephant guns should be reserved for elephants”.
If differences can split a ministry team like Paul and Barnabas, how much more vulnerable are those of us less spiritual in stature?! Yet God put this in His Word to instruct us of this very thing. I prefer Abraham’s disposition towards Lot ““ “You have first choice of the land”. This is the procedure I followed when I could no longer be a part of certain Messianic Fellowship in the north of England, which was planted while I was evangelistic director of a Jewish Ministry and where I served in eldership. I simply left it and helped begin a new Messianic work in Leeds. I desired no personal strife, although the leader who took it over lost most of the initial membership and was cited as the source of very confidential information about Jewish missions and evangelism and about Jewish believers in Israel by a Jewish community newspaper, even containing information about their unsaved families . This kind of very sensitive information was, of course, used against Jewish evangelism and against Jewish believers and their families. This assembly went on to give platform to a speaker influenced by Bullocks notorious book setting dates for the return of Christ which I regarded as contra scriptural foolishness that I could never be party to. Things first went off when I was forced to discharge an administrator for not upholding the Moriel doctrinal position that The Lord’s Supper is for baptised believers, as baptism due its social stigma in the Jewish community is one litmus test of the authenticity of one’s faith in Jewish evangelism. A supposed new Jewish believer who claimed to become a believer in prison immediately departed from the faith (if he ever had any) after receiving financial assistance from believers. The Lord’s table was defiled due to the policy of Moriel being violated. I had no choice but to discharge the individual responsible and I left ‚ this ‚ fellowship ‚ rather than seeking any conflict. Defiling The Lord’s Table, funneling information about Jewish believers and their families to the Jewish press, and setting dates for the return of Christ are things just too wrong to have any part of. I left as peaceably as I could after replacing this administrator and joined others in pioneering a new work in among the Jewish community in Yorkshire an outstanding Messianic fellowship that continues with ‚ blessings of The Lord until this day.