Differences and Divisions

Bryan Vinson, Sr.
Longview, Texas

In any society, political or religious, where differences arise there may result division or a separation of the differing grounds with in that body. I say there may result division; it by no means follows that it is inevitable. There are several factors that may be present, or courses emerge, that will work to bring about a satisfactory resolving of the differences and thus avert an open cleavage.

First, the nature of the difference is vital in its bearing on the effect to be produced upon the parties involved. There are three distinct, and therefore distinguishable, causes or kinds of differences that may arise between even brethren in the Lord. These are: first, those arising from the undue personal attachments, as noted in Paul's letter to the Corinthians; second, those of the nature of difference in judgment in matters wholly of human judgment, as instanced in the difference between Paul and Barnabas; and, third, those involving matters of faith and doctrine. Of each of these we wish to speak.

With respect to the first, Paul, in the third chapter of First Corinthians, identifies the condition thus expressed by an attachment for men as that of being carnal; that is, fleshly. In the kingdom of Christ, a spiritual kingdom, one not established on a fleshly relationship or conditions, such a state and attitude was althogether reprehensible. As a matter of fact ,iwe are to know no man after the flesh," not even Jesus, who, though we have know him after the flesh henceforth know we him no more, so says Paul, 2 Cor. 5:16. If, then, we are to know no nian after the flesh it follows that if we exercise a respect for, a partiality toward, persons we are acting upon a principle subversive of the very character and design of the kingdom of heaven. Within a congregation, for personal rivalries to develop and personal attachments and following be formed, great and lasting harm can result. This sort of difference, however, can he resolved without too much difficulty. It is a case where individuals need to see the absurdity of contending about persons and petty ambitions that have no place in the thinking and behavior of the church anyway, and thus repent of their involvement in such matters. In Corinth the situation likely resulted without any encouragement from those men whom they sought to unduly honor. Certainly, in the case of Paul he definitely chose the form of presentation and his whole demeaner n preaching the gospel, with the intent that the faith of those converted should stand in the power of God rather than in the wisdom of men. Gospel preachers, and others in positions of leading influence in the church, should always endeavor most sincerely and energetically to woo and win people to the Lord rather than to themselves.

The second sort of differences mentioned are those wherein brethren may, and often do, differ in matters of judgment. The fact that we have the case of Paul and Barnabas on record is not without purpose and advantage. Please read Acts 15:36-41. Here we find a sharp difference between Paul and Barnabas over the point of Mark accompanying them on a proposed visit to the brethren in every city where they had preached. Barnabas was determined to take Mark with them; Paul thought it not good to take him with them, he having departed from them at Pamphylia, not going to the work with them. It was a matter of difference in judgment as to the worthiness of Mark to accompany them. They, Paul and Barnabas, parted, Mark going with Barnabas and Silas accompanying Paul. Did this create a rupture in their esteem for each other, and their recognition of one another as brethren? There is no indication of such, and, too, they were recommended to the grace of God by the brethren.

This is the kind of difference that may arise without any necessity of a division between brethren occurring. True, Paul and Barnabas separated, but not. in the sense that each reproved and rejected the other; they simply found it more congenial to work separately, physically, that is, though in harmony as touching the work of each and the design of their labors. We find Paul mentioning Mark in a commendable fashion in two instances -- Col. 4:10, and 2 Tim. 4:11.

The lesson, therefore, we need to learn in this account is that brethren should never magnify the importance of their own judgment to the point where they regard others as unfaithful to the Lord who do not follow their decisions of human judgment. In the realm of any given undertaking as pertains to the circumstances of its accomplishment, and where we are left to the recourse to our own judgment each one should be agreeable to acceding to the judgment of the other rather than cause a break in the affections and fraternal relations of brethren; and should, as in the case of Paul and Barnabas, the difference be so sharp as to render working separately advisable it should not create any breach between them as brethren in the Lord.

In these current issues the estimate of the opposing groups as to the merits of the case is very different. Those favoring the things being done regard them as matters of human judgment, as being authorized as mere expedient methods of doing the work of the church. Those opposing them do so not as a difference of judgment in matters of expedience and therefore being on the plane of human opinion of the best way to do that which may be done acceptably otherwise. They regard the issues as resting on the principle of faith. Now, with this different concept anyone can readily see that those favoring the present form of church cooperation and human benevolent organizations should on their premise, recognize the impropriety and wrong of breaking fellowship over questions of a difference in human judgment. When they do so they must bear the odium of having elevated their judgment to the plane of divine law as a. standard that is to govern the action of God's children. In theory, this they deny, whereas in practice they exemplify this attitude.

This being the widespread and currently prevailing condition, division is inevitable. No God-fearing, Christ-serving saint can submit to such human authority in religion. The duped followers of the Papacy and the benighted adherence of Protestant creeds may follow that which in effect has supplanted the Word of God, but the children of the Most High must stand fast in that liberty wherewith Christ has made them free and not become entangled in any yoke of bondage. When brethren, because of impressive numbers and resources, set in operation great and imposing programs of operation requiring a departure from the Divine standard to execute it, then we must decline to go along. There is no alternative other than to refuse except to stultify one's conscience.

But viewing these differences as matters of faith there still Is no necessity that division, clean and complete, result therefrom. A course which the scriptures dictate, brotherly love impels and common sense sanctions is that of study and discussion, reasoning together on the scriptures to see whether these things be true. A refusal on the part of either person in a difference to meet, to discuss and endeavor to resolve the difference renders impossible its removal and the restoration of the former peace and harmony. Hence it is the responsibility of both parties to put forth every effort toward the harmonizing of their differences by the only possible way in which it can be accomplished. Where either refuses then the responsibility is his for the division wrought.

In conclusion, then, we are led to view the responsibility for the present state of division, as resting on those who have pressed their human judgments and programs to the rupturing of fraternal relations; and their unwillingness to submit the issues to a candid and fraternal appeal to the scriptures as brethren, makes the outlook far from favorable as touching an), healing of the breach. Their responsibility and guilt are established on both counts. It should be the fervent prayer of every Christian that this condition be corrected and this blame be removed for their good and the good of generations yet unborn.

Truth Magazine IV:10, pp. 235-236
July 1960