Certain pockets of the visible church stridently warn that doctrine divides. The implication, of course, is that Christians should minimize doctrine for the sake of preserving unity. Coming from a non-denominational church with predominantly Charismatic leanings, I understand this philosophy. It sounds so loving and Christlike to overlook differences in the interest of worshiping the Lord.
The New Testament, however, makes it clear that Christians must separate from false teachers and their followers. Commitment to truth demands that we refrain from fellowship with anyone who distorts Biblical teaching.
8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. ~~2 John 8-11 (ESV)
There are several other Scriptures along this line, but time forbids me from even listing all of them today. I strongly encourage each of you to open your Bibles and study the passages that advocate separation from false brothers. Doctrinal purity demands it!
Interestingly, when Christians divide from those who distort the Word of God, we add credibility to our testimony. We show the world that truth cannot subject itself to negotiation, even when negotiation would appease others and maintain relationships. Walking away demonstrates that we value truth above our own comfort. God may even use our willingness to divide over truth as a means of bringing others to repentance.
I praise God that He is giving His people the fortitude to separate from those who dilute or mutilate the Gospel. Taking stands against popular evangelical teachers, movements and trends is costly, sometimes resulting in severe backlash. But the reward of upholding truth far outweighs the pain of losing human relationships.
At the same time, I see an overreaction on the part of many genuine Christians who promote Biblical discernment. I include myself in this group. In our passion to pursue truth, we can fall into the ditch of dividing from anyone who doesn’t agree lockstep with every minute article of our theology.
The same Bible that commands separation from false teachers and their followers also condemns unnecessary factions among believers. Paul identified division as the first of many serious problems in the Corinthian church. The believers there gravitated to various personalities, snobbishly rejecting brothers and sisters outside of their chosen party.
10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? ~~1 Corinthians 1:10-13 (ESV)
Admittedly, I feel cautious about a few popular teachers even within Reformed circles. Generally, I prefer not to quote or link to them, even when they say things that support a point I want to make. At the same time, people I respect and admire have no qualms about sharing platforms with them, leaving me to question whether or not I use the cloak of discernment to justify the sin of divisiveness.
My personal feelings about a Christian teacher shouldn’t necessarily compel me to write off solid teachers who have no problem with that teacher. If the teacher with whom I disagree is in serious error, the Lord will make that evident in His time.
Meanwhile, I want to be careful about attributing guilt by association to solid Christians simply because they disagree with my assessment of someone. Perhaps I’m mistaken in my discernment. Perhaps the solid Christian has a blind spot requiring my patience and understanding. And more likely than not, God wants me to have enough humility to admit that I can’t discern perfectly.
Sometimes true discernment knows when to divide and when to unite.