When to Divide for the Sake of Unity and Purity in the Church

Doctrine is one of the most divisive things in the church. What we believe Scripture teaches determines our understanding of God, the gospel, salvation, ourselves, others, life, and much more. Have you ever heard the saying, "There is no doctrine a fundamentalist won't fight over and no doctrine a liberal will fight for." You may not consider yourself a fundamentalist or a liberal when it comes to doctrine but if you are honest, you still lean one way or the other when it comes to doctrinal differences. Are you one that leans towards sniffing out bad doctrine and fighting over it for the sake of purity or are you one that leans towards unity at all costs and so allows any doctrine and practice into the church? In Romans 16:17-20, Paul makes it clear that there are occasions when we as a church are to divide from someone based on doctrinal error, but how.

Quite simply, Paul says that we should “avoid anyone who causes division or creates obstacles with doctrines that are contrary to what he has taught in his letter to the Romans” (Rom. 16:17). That is a bold statement. Paul is not talking about what he has already discussed in Romans 14:1, “quarreling over opinions.” Paul has made it clear that issues which God has neither commanded nor forbidden are matters of individual conscience and we are to give grace to those who have a difference in matters of opinions. But now in Romans 16, Paul says, "avoid those who teach doctrines contrary to what he has taught." Paul is referring here to primary doctrines that are absolute and essential to the gospel itself.

We can get secondary and tertiary doctrines wrong and still have a God-glorifying church and relationships, but the denial of primary, absolute doctrines will lead to complete disaster. Primary doctrines are essential so that we get the gospel right unto salvation and proclaim it accurately. They are also essential because they are necessary to the character of God and have great effect on many other doctrines in the life of the church.

Sometimes, if we are not careful our doctrinal stances can lead us to sinful behavior within the body of christ. If we ever confront someone on essential doctrines or look to “avoid" those who are teaching contrary to biblical doctrine, let us consider the puritan reformer, Richard Baxter, on avoiding a critical, harsh spirit. Baxter writes:
"You think when a wrathful envious heat is kindled in you against men for their doctrinal faults, that is certainly zeal of God’s exciting: But mark whether it have not more wrath than love in it: and whether it end not more to disgrace your brother than to cure him, or to make parties and divisions, than to heal them: if it be so, you are deceived as to the author of your zeal and it has a worse origin than you think (James 3:15-16)."

Here is a sample of seven essential doctrines that Paul has covered in Romans:
1- We are by nature fallen and sinful and entirely dependent on God’s mercy and grace for salvation
2- Jesus is both fully divine and human, one with the Father and the Spirit in the Trinity
3- Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father
4- Justification is by faith alone in Christ alone not on our good works
5- The Holy Spirit progressively shapes us into the moral image of Jesus
6- Jesus’ death was a penal substitutionary sacrifice that completely satisfied the wrath of the Father
7- Godly living and commitment to holiness are an essential response to God’s grace

See you Sunday, united in the Gospel: Steve

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