The “Enigma” of Division

By Ron Halbrook

Sir Winston Churchill referred to Communism as “a riddle wrapped in an enigma.” Brethren who discuss division among God’s people are often bewildered. “How does it really happen? What is the real cause?”

The disciples of Christ during His personal ministry were sometimes baffled by certain realities stated by Jesus. “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it? . . . Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it . . .” (John 6:60-61). He explained Himself further for the sake of those who truly desired the truth (“For whoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance” Matt. 13:12). And he knew that many things would be made plainer as certain events transpired in the passing of time (cf. John 2:19-22). Furthermore, in the case of the apostles, Christ found it necessary to withhold fully explaining some things until “the Spirit of truth is come” (John 16:12-13).

Jesus Unravels The Enigma of Judas

But in spite of every explanation, in spite of the eventual clarity and fulness of completed revelation, Christ said on one occasion, “But there are some of you that believe not,” having particular reference to Judas (John 6:64). There stands the truth like the rock of Gibraltar, but Judas did not obey it. Why? Well, we can do a lot of “interesting” things with that question. We can start by saying Judas was a complex individual. We can dissect, bisect, and intersect him-analyze, mesmerize, and computerize him. Then put him under the scientist’s microscope (maybe he had a tumor or gland trouble). next on the couch surrounded by a team of psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts. Speculate as to whether his “sex drives” made him egocentric, geo-centric, or helio-centric. He was a man of many lusts, temptations, and loyalties. And what about the fact that he hung himself, which suggests all his actions stemmed from a “guilt complex.” Which “hangup” finally hung him (suggested thesis topic for degree in pastoral counseling)? Judas had many misunderstandings, he could not be expected to “get it all right,” so maybe he is not such a bad fellow after all! Suffice it to say Judas’ fall can be examined and explained from many angles.

Wading through all that, we might stumble on an occasional truth or gain some interesting insight into his character. But when it is all said and done unbelief, not a rumor, unbelief, not a misunderstanding, unbelief, no a “sex drive,” led Judas off. “There are some of you that believe not.” No doubt Judas admired many things Jesus taught, and had a loyalty of sorts to Jesus. But Jesus did and taught some things which Judas could not bring himself to accept. He just did not believe some of the claims and teachings of Jesus-whether about the person of Jesus, the nation of Israel, or the role of a disciple. He did not see how such things could be true or necessary; in that way, he “misunderstood” the truth. But we do not have to know all the inner workings of his mind, will, or emotions to know the root cause of his fall: “there are some of you that believe not.”

Jesus put his finger on the cause of Judas’ inability to serve God faithfully. That should be sufficient for us. That is what we need to know (Deut. 29:29). There may be some interesting discussions of why Judas fell, but the most interesting and most accurate explanation is that given by the Lord himself. The riddle wrapped in an enigma is unwrapped by the Lord when he says, “But there are some of you that believe not.”

Plenty of Approaches to the Enigma of Division

What is the root cause of division among God’s people? Historians have looked at division in what we call the Restoration Movement from many angles. Different writers have different viewpoints, even different purposes in writing. Looking at all the explanations to division offered, one could get the impression that division is a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Without trying to give a “scholarly review” of these explanations, we would like to notice some of them. Elements of truth or valid observations may be found in all of them. Overlapping of explanations occurs and some writers draw on more than one of these ideas. Still it is possible to identify the main point of emphasis in differing approaches to the problem of division.

1. A secular, American history approach. This American history approach talks a lot about the “frontier experience.” Historians point out an emphasis on individualism and independence, an antagonism toward centralization. This explains the desire to break away from established government and religion. It also helps explain an inclination toward congregational autonomy. Then, belligerence on the frontier (man vs. nature and Indians, east vs. west, later north vs. south, etc.) explains the desire of early Restoration figures to debate their beliefs. Things like independence and belligerence create division.

2. A religious, American history approach. This American church history approach tries to apply the American religious experience to the Restoration Movement. This approach may criticize the above one for not observing the impact of man’s religious instinct, separate from such things as his “frontier experience.” The spiritual yearning of man may be given more attention, i.e. the Restoration Movement is an expression of man’s spiritual yearning and its divisions evidence of a continual effort to satisfy such yearnings. Or, the proliferation of sects in the 1800’s may explain the spirit of division which wrecked the unity of the movement. Then the sect-to-denomination pattern may be used. The movement began as a religious sect; but as this sect moved toward denominational status (more organized, accepted, established) new sects spun off under the leadership of minority spokesmen.

3. An economic approach. Some historians explain all history in terms of man’s economic struggle. This approach has touched the field of church history. When the Restoration Movement started out, it was small and poorly accepted and militant; poor people easily identified with this “underdog” status. But as the movement grew, many of these poor people climbed the economic ladder; also, more middle-class and wealthy people accepted the movement and began to join it. The poor and rich have inherent antipathy toward each other, so division is inevitable as the two groups mix (or rather fail to mix). This approach can simplify issues like instrumental music: the group that could not afford an organ labeled it unscriptural simply because they could not afford one. The difference between use and nonuse is the difference between being able to afford one and not being able to! Simple economics.

4. A social approach. This explanation of division overlaps easily with the last one, but is broader. Social status involves more than mere economics. Social differences include things like urban and rural, blue collar and white collar, educated and uneducated, ethnic and racial background. Division comes along social lines and for social reasons. The uneducated preachers reject what the educated ones teach because of sociological antipathy. Political and other movements in society are studied in an effort to relate them to the Restoration Movement. In other words, the Restoration Movement is seen as just another social movement. The make-up of differing groups and the cause of their division can be specified by social identifications like WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant).

5. A psychological approach. Division occurs because men have been molded along certain psychological lines or deprived of certain psychological needs. Southerners fought so hard in the Civil War because they felt guilty about slavery and were trying to hide the guilt in the allout effort required by war, according to one theory. Further the guilt was hidden by appealing to a legalistic view of the Constitution-justification through strict construction. The psychology of the Southern mind is explained by the Civil War and guilt complexes over slavery; but, especially after the war, the militant, strictconstructionist group in the Restoration was strong’ in the South. This explains the division in terms of an overall psychological pattern.

Another instance under this head is what one scholar calls “the male menopause.” Somewhere around 45 to 50 years of age, males go through a period of change, stress, doubt, and re-assessment, related to sexual changes in the body. Psychological pressures and needs at this period may cause one to change religious identification, seek new beliefs, or otherwise realign himself. Becoming a factional leader or otherwise participating in division can satisfy his psychological urges. So goes the theory.

The Bible Approach: Truth Is the Great Divider!

Well, so much for all that. The most interesting and accurate approach of all is the Bible approach! Some truth may be found in the approaches above, but the Bible does not emphasize any of them as the basic explanation of division among God’s people. The Bible approaches the problem of division from one’s attitude toward truth in general and toward specific truth in specific issues. Truth is the great divider.

Truth divides people from people. More than that, it separates men from God. Truth is the power God chose as the means to gather unto Himself an approved people and to turn away those He will not approve (Rom. 1:16; Gal. 1:8-9). He will not have those who will not have His truth.

We do not mean truth as an abstract philosophical idol of some kind-not merely a set of useful theories about life. Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). We are speaking of the truth as revealed in, by, and through Christ. Christ said of the true shepherd, “the sheep hear his voice . . . the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers” (John 10:3-5). Then he said, “I am the good shepherd” (Joan 10:11). The fulness of “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

We do not mean Christ as a person subtracted and abstracted from the truth spoken by him personally and by him through inspired men. Christ promised to send “the Spirit of truth” to guide the apostles “into all truth” (John 16:13). He kept that promise. We have his words of truth in the Bible today. Following him means accepting his truth. Rejecting his words is rejecting him. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).

The kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of truth. When Christ, standing before Pilate, acknowledged that He was a king, He explained, “My kingdom is not of this world . . . To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:36-37). The weapons of this warfare “are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). Christians are armed with the loin girt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:10-17). Make no mistake about it, we are in a battle for truth, a battle to the finish.

And, make no mistake about it, truth is the great divider of men. Christ is the truth, has the truth, reveals the truth in all its fulness. Devotion to him requires devotion to his truth. There are but two camps. There is no neutral army betwixt and between. A line was drawn in the dirt at the Alamo, across which those who would fight to the finish were to step. Those who crossed it stood in unity. But all who would not pass over were divided or separate from those who did. Eternal truth is the line that separates and divides asunder those whom God will have and those He will not have. The truth that unifies, divides.

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matt. 10:34-36).

Men who love God will love one another, and men who love the truth of God will love one another. Devotion to Christ and his truth will overcome every obstacle. Personal preferences, opinions, and problems may arise from time to time between brethren, but constant devotion to truth will conquer all such potential barriers.

Senseless separations between brethren began occuring at Corinth; with the trumpet call of divine truth, Paul summoned them back to their senses (1 Cor. 1:10; 2:13; 4:6; 17; .11:1; 14:37). Just as Christ said, “It is impossible but that offenses will come,” Paul warned the Corinthians that their divisions over petty things could degenerate into solidified factions. Such factions are sustained not by devotion to truth, but to some selfwilled choice, some favorite opinion. “For there must also be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19). Those who shall be approved (dokimoi-opposite of adokimoi, cf. 9:27) in God’s sight, place truth above every self-willed choice and favorite opinion. Heresy is “an opinion, especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth” (Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. II, p. 217).

The Root of Division: Unbelief

Those who are not so devoted to truth as to lay aside. every personal preference, opinion, and choice are material for division. The devil is working with “all deceivableness” and finding men who receive “not the love of the truth.” Because such men love not the truth, God allows them to be deceived by “strong delusion,” “that they all might be damned who believed not the truth . . .” (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Divisive groups are “composed of those who have chosen their self-willed line and adhere to it” (Alford’s Greek Testament, Vol. III, p. 59). Such works of flesh are condemned in the severest terms: “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21).

Lack of loyalty to Christ, unbelief of divine truth-that is the cause of division. When Moses both spoke to and struck the rock, God charged him with unbelief in that matter (Num. 20:12). All the explanations of his frustration and all the analyses of the pressures brought on him by the Jews will not change the fact that God called it unbelief. The root cause of this failure was unbelief. He did not fail to believe in God’s existence, but in His words. Moses’ character was such that he repented of his failings; yet God impressed upon Moses, Israel, and all of us the great sin of not obeying God’s word even in small particulars.

When brethren become wedded to their own opinions, doctrines, creeds, and preferences, those who are sound in the faith must remember that division is imminent. Sound men must preach and plead with all the heart “for the gospel’s sake.” Yet once brethren set their minds against truth, they are abiding in unbelief. The Corinthian church allowed “others” (other than Paul and other than sound men) to “be partakers” in their financial support (1 Cor. 9:12,23). After doing all he could by appeal to the truth, Paul then warned, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2. Cor. 6:14).

“Lord, Is It I?”

Division will come. It is a sin, and will be here as long as people are here to commit sin. Why do brethren divide? The ultimate answer is not found in a study of American history, religious history, economics, sociology, or psychology alone. The answer is found in God’s Word just as plain as day. Brethren are led off from time to time by all sorts of lusts of the flesh and mind, all sorts of temptations, all sorts of loyalties. We may never know all these inner workings of their minds, but we can know the key element in division. That is no enigma at all. The key element, the root cause, is unbelief of divine truth.

Brethren, let us search our hearts, diligently, daily, remembering these words, “But there are some of you that believe not.” “Lord; is it I?” Remember, our loyalty toward. the Lord and attitude toward truth are basic to the problem of division among God’s people.

Truth Magazine XXI: 9, pp. 135-138
March 4, 1977