Dealing with Divisions
By: Scott Morton
In the Body of Christ there are disagreements over doctrinal issues. While it is okay these exist at times, the way these are handled can be problematic. Many times individuals do not follow what the Word of God says about this issue and decide they are going to handle it in their own manner.
2 Timothy 2:24-26
And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,  In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;  And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
This passage comes from the Apostle Paul's last epistle and deals with an individual who has fallen into bad doctrine. We know this is the case based on the context of the chapter where Paul is discussing how to study the Word of God, along with how Satan truly operates (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Paul also mentions there are seducing spirits and doctrines of devils (1 Timothy 4:1) that people will follow during the last days. These passages show this is a real issue Paul is trying to address and needs to give some practical information to the Body of Christ on how to deal with these situations.
The servant of the Lord is a statement which can be used to describe every member of the Body of Christ. Many people in the world would not like to use that term of them in any context. This is because of the way the world has twisted this concept. However, we are servants of the lord and are being given instructions on how to function.
All of the terms in this passage show an attitude that does not fit with many people when they are dealing with these issues. There must not be a striving, which is defined as to quarrel or fight with an individual. This writer has seen many people approach these disagreements as a fight, where one (or both) people end up yelling at each other and letting their emotions take over. We are not to be fighting with the members of the Body of Christ.
An objection is made by some that the Apostle Paul is giving instructions on this which differ in a different epistle and use the following passage to justify their behavior:
This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith;
The statement given by those who want to fight is that we need to rebuke them, which they are taking as the license to scream at the individual, as it says sharply. However, the definition of one of the words of this passage shows their interpretation of this passage is not correct:
1. To chide; to reprove; to reprehend for a fault; to check by reproof.
The proud he tam'd, the penitent he cheer'd, not to rebuke the rich offender fear'd.
Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor. Lev 19.
2. To check or restrain.
The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan. Zec 3. Isa 17.
3. To chasten; to punish; to afflict for correction.
O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger. Psa 6.
4. To check; to silence.
Master, rebuke thy disciples. Luke 19.
5. To check; to heal.
And he stood over her and rebuked the fever. Luke 4.
6. To restrain; to calm.
He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea. Mat 8.
Of uncertain affinity; to confute, admonish: - convict, convince, tell a fault, rebuke, reprove.
Starting with the word rebuke, the above definitions come from the Webster's 1828 Dictionary and Strong's Concordance. Both of these sources show how to rebuke someone means there is a reproving going on. There is one source of reproof for a member of the Body of Christ.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
It is only the Word of God which can give reproof to an individual. It has nothing to do with the person and how convincing they can be. Man's wisdom is not to be a part of any of this. This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than men (1 Corinthians 1:25) and man is a liar (Romans 3:4). It is only God who has the wisdom which is needed for a member of the Body of Christ to function in their daily life.
Any doctrinal issue can be, and should be, solved with a discussion of the Word of God, as this is what will solve any disagreement. Yelling and screaming at someone is not going to solve the issue, as this will cause one of two things to happen. The other individual will start yelling as well, which will then cause both sides to stop using the Word of God and will become a complete emotional argument. The other is the person being yelled at stops listening completely due to how they are being spoken to. Even if some of the things which are being said line up completely with the Word of God, this is not the way God would have us deal with fellow members of the Body of Christ.
The Word of God is what will actually work in the individual to affect change. This can be seen in the following passage:
1 Corinthians 2:6-16
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:  But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:  Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.  But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.  For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.  Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.  But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.  For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
This lengthy passage from the book of Corinthians shows how the Word of God works in an individual. It is the Holy Ghost who is doing the work inside of us, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. This is why the Word of God can only work on someone who already is saved, as the unsaved do not have the Holy Ghost in them. The first thing which needs to be done in a discussion with them is to preach the gospel to them (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) in order to make sure they are saved. If they have not accepted the gospel, there can be no further discussion, as the Word of God will not be able to work in them and they will not be able to see any errors they have in their doctrine. This is why the Apostle Paul is not speaking about discussions with the unbelievers in passages such as these, as there is no hope for them to be convinced in any area of doctrine without being saved.
After a person has accepted the gospel, then the Word can start working in their life. This is where the ministry of the Spirit can actually start. The Spirit is who actually teaches the individual and communicates with the spirit inside of a person. The Word of God is used to communicate the necessary information so the individual can actually learn.
In some ways this is the equivalent of the old cartoons where a character would have an idea and a light bulb would appear over its head. I am sure every member of the Body of Christ has had the situation come up where they have struggled with what a verse in the Bible means. It seems for a while that no matter how many times you look at it and study the verse, you still can't figure out what is meant. Then one day, another verse 'pops into your mind' that is connected to the one you have been struggling with, giving you the insight you have been looking for. This is the Spirit communicating with you spirit to give you the information you needed to be able to understand the passage.
This is why the discussions over these disagreements need to involve the Word of God. It is only through these discussions that this can actually be accomplished, as the insight into what is being taught by the verse can only be gained in that manner.
While this is the case, there are a few more passages which individuals use to justify the behavior they have towards other members of the Body of Christ. The first one of these comes from the book of Titus:
But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.  A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;  Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.
This passage is dealing with someone who is teaching some things which are contrary to sound doctrine. The Apostle Paul identifies the person as committing a sin, which needs to be defined before looking at the rest of the passage. The issue of sin which is brought up here is not the transgression of the law, which would lead to hell. This sin was taken care of at the cross and it is impossible for a member of the Body of Christ to commit this sin, as the law has also been removed. The sin which is referred to here is the one which is defined in Romans 14:23 as whatsoever is not of faith is sin. This sin would lead to a loss of rewards when a member of the Body of Christ is standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Paul is telling us that we are to reject the person here who is a heretic. The definition of the word is as follows (definition comes from Webster�s 1828 dictionary and does show the modern spelling of the word):
1. A person under any religion, but particularly the christian, who holds and teaches opinions repugnant to the established faith, or that which is made the standard of orthodoxy. In strictness, among christians, a person who holds and avows religious opinions contrary to the doctrines of Scripture, the only rule of faith and practice.
2. Any one who maintains erroneous opinions.
This definition shows the one who is a heretic is teaching things which are contrary to sound doctrine. During this dispensation, it would be anything which does not line up with the teachings of the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 1:13-14), which is what is warned about many times in his epistles. The Body of Christ is going to go farther away from sound doctrine as we get closer to the time of the Rapture.
The first problem which needs to be looked at is what would constitute something which would cause this to happen. Is it any disagreement two members of the Body of Christ would have, or would it only be the 'major doctrines' of this dispensation? An example would be should the admonitions happen over the gospel which is being taught today, or whether the church begins in Acts 9 or Acts 13. Obviously in this scenario the first one would be the problem to address, as it would affect the salvation being offered today. The second issue does not have any bearing on the doctrine in this dispensation and should not be used to create divisions.
The second problem is how the labeling of a person as a heretic is to happen. In order to be able to label someone in this manner and finally get to the result of rejecting the person, there would need to be at least three separate conversations with the person about the issue. This can only occur as the issue is discussed multiple times, with some time being given for the individual to study out for themselves (2 Timothy 2:15) what is taught. The admonitions cannot be given in the same discussion along with the rejection, as there needs to be time to actually make a change in thinking.
Individuals also have to have conversations with each other in order to label someone as a heretic. Believers have a tendency to either read something a person has written, hear a message which has been preached, or hear another's interpretation of what is being taught and then label the person as a heretic. This is done despite the fact that there has not been any form of communication with the person they have labeled in this manner. Having spoken to individuals who have done this, the feeling is they will not listen, or it is too dangerous to even talk to them about it, as other people might hear any be swayed by the bad doctrine. The Apostle Paul clearly states there has to be admonitions occurring and if these have not happened, yet a person is being labeled, the one who has done the labeling is not following the doctrine which is being laid out for today. They need to make sure they are having these conversations, no matter how difficult they might be, as this is what the Apostle Paul has laid out as doctrine for today.
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.  For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
This passage is also used by individuals to justify going away from people. The common feeling with this passage is those who are teaching things contrary to sound doctrine are causing divisions and should be marked in this manner. Therefore, anyone who is not agreeing with them is to actually be marked and avoided, even if they have not even studied the issue out on their own.
A problem with the idea of marking everyone who there is a disagreement with is the believer could eventually end up on their own. If they are marking and avoiding each individual they disagree with, it will eventually end up this way, as no two believers agree on 100% of the things in the Bible. There has to be some care taken in how this is actually handled.
There are some things which are important issues which there does need to be agreement on. An example of this would be which gospel saves an individual today. If there is no agreement on this, there can be no functioning together. We are to function as ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21), which would be impacted by this. We cannot make all men see the fellowship of the mystery (Ephesians 3:9) if there are two different gospels which are being taught. Three is a major impact on the will of God (1 Timothy 2:4), as only one gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) will actually produce salvation during this dispensation.
There are some things which do not have the same impact as what is listed above. As example of this would be when does the church start, using the Acts 9 and Acts 13 answers (Acts 2 and Acts 28 are not considered in the same context, as those answers do have a major impact on things and would cause some problems with groups working together). If someone is answering the question with either of these answers, how big is the difference. Is it affecting any doctrine that would cause the ability to function together to be diminished? The answer to this is no, which is why those who have differing answers to this question have been able to function together without any problems. If someone was following the Romans 16 passage in a very strict sense, they would include this disagreement as well and would mark the person who disagreed with them.
An individual can only truly mark someone if they have gone through the process which has been outlined through this article. They have to be willing to actually study the issue out, being willing to consider the fact they may have been wrong about the issue. There has to be a willingness to calmly discuss the issue with the person they have the disagreement with, as the individual is a member of the Body of Christ and there are passages in the Pauline epistles which lay out how we are to interact with one another. The issue also has to be discussed multiple times, with some time being given to allow both sides to continue to study. This way someone might change their mind and allow the Body of Christ to function properly. If there is no change during this process, this is where the marking does start.
One final comment is on the idea of restoration of fellowship. If the person who has been marked as a heretic did change their mind on things, they should be received back immediately into fellowship. There should not be any 'bad feelings' or resistance to doing so. The Body of Christ is intended to function together and this would allow the Body to continue.