"Must We Divide Over Every Issue?"
The title of this study is taken from the Fifth Annual Truth Magazine Lectures Open Forum subject (June 23 through 26, 2008). I am not sure if four or six hours will be dedicated to the answering of, "Must we divide over every issue?," but they evidently expect to arrive at an answer (see addendum 1). In Volume 52, the May, 2008 issue of Truth Magazine, the editor Mike Willis in addition to announcing their lectureship also plugs it by writing an editorial titled, "Must We Divide Over Every Issue?"
Allow me before directly treating our subject any further to say that the inferred opposite of "division" is "unity" and that unity is a vital biblical subject. Unity is in the scriptures presented as possible and even requisite (I Cor. 1: 10; Eph. 4: 3). Hence, every faithful child of God is very concerned about the unity of God’s people and will do what they can to promote the absence of sinful division. The scriptures also present the means of arriving at and maintaining unity, the word of God (I Cor. 1: 10, Eph. 4: 3-6). Unity is a product of Christians believing and practicing the same thing, it is just that simple. All of the efforts to effect unity apart from sameness of doctrinal belief and practice are absolutely sinful and ecumenical. As two or more Christians believe and practice Bible truths, they are automatically in fellowship (united) and are "walking in the light," even while geographically separated (cp. I John 1: 7-9).
Another matter that needs to be addressed in the matter of treatment preparation is the title of the open forum and editorial, "Must We Divide Over Every Issue?" Why not study the challenge of, "What Is the Truth on Every Issue?," so we can arrive at doctrinal sameness (unity)? It has been my experience that when the idea and action of "division" is injected at the inception of a study, emotion enters and many people become handicapped and hampered in seeing the truth. Mike Willis in his editorial lists fifteen "issues." While I believe there are at least four categories of these issues, ranging from the axiomatic, self-serving, and deceitful, and issues having graduated degrees of complexity, Mike lumps them all together. As to what I deem "axiomatic" or containing a self-evident truth, Mike mentions what he calls the issue of, "May a woman teach a class of women and children?" (See Titus 2: 4.) One that I think is self-serving as well as prejudicial in its wording is issue number two, "May a publishing company conduct a Bible lecture program?" (see addendum 2). Into this mix, Mike injects several issues that brethren have faced that can be, I am persuaded, situational and complex. For instance, the war issue, his number fourteen.
A pertinent question is who decides when it is time to divide and over what issue division must be forthcoming? I bring this up based on some past experience. It seems that there have been different groups of brethren who have thought that they are the official voice of the brotherhood. I recall preaching on an issue and one of the Guardian of Truth Foundation board members took me to task. "Don, you should not have preached on this issue." I was very concerned as to why he should thus rebuke me and I asked him "why not?," thinking I could have been premature in not having all the necessary facts. "We must first meet to decide if such should even be deemed an issue and if so, we must decide when to preach on it and if we classify it as an issue worthy of division." When I asked who is the "we," he said: "The Guardian of Truth Foundation." Who appointed these brethren to make such determinations, certainly not God (cp. 2 Tim. 4: 2-5, Rom. 16: 17).
By the way, if Mike Willis and the Guardian of Truth Foundation crowd are so interested in unity and the avoidance of division, why do they not desist in pushing a human institution to preach the gospel? Why are they setting forth once again the divisive institutional issues that were fought especially during the forties, fifties, and sixties? I am referring to such teaching as, "We are just individual Christians working together to preach the gospel." They are going to destroy a lot of the good teaching of the last five decades that has shown the difference between individual and collective action (cp. I Tim. 5: 16). Once again, why are they determined to persist in their foundation when they all to the man would agree that such is not required. Yet, as far as they are concerned in regards to their sometimes stated designs and goals, the Guardian of Truth Foundation is necessary and they are pushing it to the point of implosion.
One more matter is the common thinking, "The only issues that should and can result in division are issues involving the treasury of the local church." I must immediately admit that this rationale does contain an element of truth. However, when offered as absolute, it is flawed. How about an issue consisting of a female member working at a strip bar and some defending it? The treasury is not involved, but such can be a matter that could result in both spiritual and physical division (cp. I Cor. 5).
Romans 14 and I Corinthians 11: 19. Having laid the foregoing groundwork, let us now introduce into our study of, "Must We Divide Over Every Issue?" Romans 14 and I Corinthians 11: 19.
As a rule, when there is talk of unity or the antithesis, division, Romans 14 is cited. While I do believe there are applicable principles found in this text (see vs. 1, 8, 12, 13, 22, 23), the text is often seriously abused. In the first place, Paul is only dealing with matters that are immediately doctrinally and morally indifferent or, put perhaps a better way, matters that are not inherently wrong (v. 14, cp. vs. 2-6, 21). Moreover, the exact circumstances that precipitated in much of the "issues" among these brethren cannot be totally duplicated today (newness of the gospel, First Century Jew and Gentile mix, etc.). May I now draw your attention to I Corinthians 11: 19:
"For there must be also factions among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you" (ASV).
Indeed, there were "issues" in the church at Corinth. Consider some of these: harboring a fornicating member; dragging one another before civil law to defraud; abusing spiritual gifts and effecting confusion in the assembly; and some teaching a perverted doctrine relative to the resurrection (I Cor. 5; 6; 14; 15: 12). The "issue" in the context of I Corinthians 11: 19 is how they had perverted the occasion of the Lord’s Supper and were abusing the poor (I Cor. 11: 17f.). Therefore, I know that pertaining to these issues mentioned in I Corinthians and their attendant particulars, there "…must be divisions." This presupposes that there will be some who love the truth and will offer opposition to the sin and error.
The attitudinal, circumstantial, time factor, and consequential considerations. I submit that involved attitude, circumstances, time factor, and consequences of a held teaching or practice can and do play an important role relative to division. I do not believe that the artificial and cultural covering of I Corinthians 11: 3-16 was ever meant to be a permanent and universal binding practice on "all women," issue number eight mentioned in Willis’ editorial. What do I say, then, regarding those among us who are under the impression that they should wear a covering? First, what is their attitude? Some infants in Christ (time factor) have the attitude, "I am just not sure as to whether or not I must wear a covering, what kind it should be, and when I should wear it, but since I am not sure, I must satisfy my own conscience while I continue to study this issue and wear ‘something’ on my head." I think there is a marked attitude difference in this person and the one who says, "I wear a covering because the scriptures require it!" One preacher who is now associating himself with the Guardian of Truth Foundation group told me, "The covering is binding on all women and those who do not wear it are hell bound, this is what I teach." He added, "Since you do not teach this, you are a false teacher!" (See addendum 3.) The circumstances of this scenario are conducive to all manner of serious problems that cannot help but prevent unity and the consequences are binding on others requirements of salvation that are not taught in the scriptures. Swift challenging action must follow (Acts 15: 1f., Gal. 2: 11-14). In this second example, division is inevitable, unless there is a change in attitudes and teaching.
Some issues among us are deceptively and emotionally worded. Take issue number seven mentioned by Mike, "May a woman who is suffering physical abuse in a marriage obtain a civil divorce to protect herself?" The scriptures plainly teach only one acceptable reason for divorce, fornication (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9). Editor Willis believes there are multiple reasons for acceptable divorce, one of which is what he terms "physical abuse" (Mike even includes mental and spiritual abuse). Notice Mike’s wording, "civil divorce." In view of such wording, it is no wonder we have many now teaching, "One may obtain a ‘civil divorce’ for a reason other than fornication and still be able to later ‘biblically divorce’ and marry another."
I submit, concerned reader, that when deception and deceit are injected into issues, division will be forthcoming and clear thinking will become very difficult if not impossible.
Must we divide over every issue? The question is simplistic in its essential nature and misplaces the emphasis. Time must be allowed to study differences and attempt to mutually arrive at the truth. However, it has been my experience that we really do not need to focus on division, but rather on the truth. As we have seen, unity is a product of two or more believing and practicing the truth (cp. Amos 3: 3). To the converse, division is the product of not believing and practicing the truth and even opposition to the truth, usually. Regardless of "unity" or its counterpart, "division," truth must be the focus and how we determine truth will naturally result in either "unity" or "division." (See addendum 4.) (A study of an issue that has most of the above characteristics mentioned in paragraph eleven is, "The Lord's Supper, the 'Second Serving' Controversy.") (To read more about the Guardian of Truth Foundation, click on "The Guardian of Truth Foundation and Florida College," read this article and the internally linked articles accessed at the end of the article.)
Addendum 1: As I am writing this anterior to this lectureship and I have no intention of attending, I cannot now say what the consensus shall be. However, being much conversant with the mentality of the Guardian of Truth Foundation (an entity that offers individual Christians the opportunity to perform corporal work that God has only assigned to his entity, the local church, I Timothy 3: 15), I can project some of the thinking that will come out of this "think tank."
Addendum 2: The Truth Bookstore is not simply a publishing company, having employees who happen to be Christians. The Guardian of Truth Foundation itself now exists with the mission statement of preaching the gospel to the lost and edifying the saved. Hence, the foundation has become an aberrant entity, having its own treasury, oversight, structure, and mission the same as the local church, but not the local church, the organization if you please, that God ordained, having structure, oversight, treasury, mission, etc., in which Christians are to corporally work.
Addendum 3: Such movements as seen in the privately funded missionary societies (the Guardian of Truth Foundation has become such) foster an interesting and disturbing concept of unity and fellowship. While the just mentioned preacher cannot fellowship me, he can fellowship all the other preachers within the foundation who hold the same essential view that I do on the covering issue. Furthermore, they have no trouble admitting him into their circle of fellowship. Since they are not a local church, the stated mentality is, "We can do what we want to do!"
Addendum 4: A number of us have repeatedly requested that Mike Willis openly discuss the privately funded missionary society issue so that others will have the means of clearly studying the involved truths, but Willis refuses. Instead, Willis elects to have "open forum" discussions under the auspices and control of the Guardian of Truth Foundation, further driving the wedge of alienation between brethren. The simple truth is the local church with its elders, treasury, and structure is the only entity God has authorized for the collective work of preaching the gospel and edifying the saved (I Tim. 3: 15).