Why is Christian doctrine so divisive?Question: "Why is Christian doctrine so divisive?"
Answer: Some Christians view the word “doctrine” as almost a curse word. The thought process is essentially “doctrine is to be avoided because doctrine causes division among Christians, and God desires Christians to be united as it says in John 17:21.” While it is true that doctrine does cause division, if the division is due to a disagreement over an important biblical teaching, division is not necessarily a bad thing. Paul declares, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). Titus 1:9–2:1 proclaims, “He 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…But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.”
The Christian faith, more than any other, is based on doctrine. The doctrines of the deity of Christ (John 1:1, 14), the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), the resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:17), and salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) are absolutely essential and non-negotiable. If any of these doctrines is removed, the faith is empty and void. There are other doctrines in the Christian faith that are very important, such as the Trinity, the inspiration of Scripture, and the reality of the eternal state. If Christian doctrine is causing division on any of these points, so be it, as those who deny these doctrines need to be separated from.
However, there has also been a tremendous amount of division in the Body of Christ due to doctrines that do not, or at least should not, have “crucial” status. Examples include the timing of the rapture, young-earth vs. old-earth creationism, charismatic vs. non-charismatic, premillennialism vs. amillennialism, etc. These Christian doctrines are important. Every Christian doctrine carries some importance. But these doctrines are perhaps not ones worth dividing/separating over. There are dedicated, Christ-loving believers on both sides of these issues. We should not divide over non-essential issues, at least not to the extent of questioning the validity of another person’s faith.
There are degrees of division, however, that are appropriate even in regards to non-essential Christian doctrine. A church is to be united and like-minded in regards to focus, priorities, and ministry. If there is a doctrinal issue that prevents a united ministry focus, it is better for a person to find a different church rather than cause conflict and division within a church. These sorts of divisions have been the cause of many of the divisions/denominations within the Christian faith. Some joke that church splits are the easiest way to plant a new church. But if division due to a non-essential doctrine is necessary to prevent disunity and conflict, then division is what needs to occur.
If everyone would throw aside preconceptions, biases, and presuppositions and just accept the Christian doctrines the Bible teaches, division would not be a problem. But we are all fallen and sin-infected beings (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23). Sin prevents us from perfectly understanding and applying God’s Word. Not understanding and submitting to Christian doctrine is what causes division, not doctrine itself. We absolutely should divide over disagreements regarding the core doctrines of the Christian faith. Sometimes, division over non-essential matters is necessary as well (although division to a lesser degree). But, the blame for division should never be placed on doctrine. Christian doctrine, in reality, is the only way to true, full, and biblical unity within the Body of Christ.
Recommended Resource: The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns
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