The Glorious Squabbling of True Brothers

Yesterday, I posted in an extremely rambling fashion about the value of struggle in our walk with God. Now I want to talk about the value of dis-unity.

Unity in the Body of the Messiah has all too often been a siren’s call to the perversion of truth. How often have we heard Yeshua’s prayer, "that they may be one," cited by someone attempting to get you and I to submit to compromise what we believe to be right, or to join some ecumenical organization. Indeed, Ecumenism–not just cooperation between brothers in Messiah, but between the alleged followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and outright pagan religions–is the coming world religion. The love of the truth is being trampled on by those crying out for "Unity"!

Division in the service of the love of the truth is no vice, and unity at the expense of the pursuit of truth no virtue.

"Tolerance" is the watchword of 21st Century American culture, and "intolerant" its worst insult. This would all be well and good if "tolerant" still had it’s original meaning: A person who can be polite to and even love someone he disagrees with. Now it means that we’re not supposed to voice a moral opinion that dessents from the zeitgeist. That might make someone uncomfortable or even hurt their feelings, don’t you know.

Besides, is it really a virtue to be tolerant of everything, even using the original definition? Should we be tolerant of murder? Of abuse? Of theft?

What about of blasphemy? Of heresy? Of false prophets? Of hypocricy?

What about simple error? Should it be given a lukewarm tolerance, or should it be challenged?

I’m not saying that we should be jerks about our disagreements. I’m not saying that every disagreement needs to be divisive. I am saying that the disagreements, even the ones that divide us into separate denominations and groups or which spark vehement arguments, actually work within the plan of the Holy One.

When people talk about unity, they forget that it’s been tried before. All humanity was united . . . in the defiance of God, in the refusal to spread out and differentiate, and in the attempt to build its own tower to the heavens. Therefore, the Holy One divided their languages and forced them to scatter into many nations for the specific purpose that each nation might seek Him in their own way (Acts 17:27).

Therefore, we have to wonder just what was Christianity’s sin, Christianity’s Babel, that made the Holy One divide it into hundreds of denominations and tens of thousands of independent churches?

And if indeed the Holy One has divided the Body in response to some sin, we need to be very careful about how we come back together lest we find ourselves back to work on the ziggurat.

Let me look at the Messianic movement as a microcosm of the issue for a moment. The truth is, there is no Messianic movement. There is a whole spectrum if mini-movements that gather under the big tent of "Messianic," spanning from Hebrew Roots Christianity to Messianic Orthodox Judaism (yes, they do exist). In that mix you have your Two-House/Ephramites, your Sacred Namers, your Pentecostals who like using a few Hebrew words, and your outright wacked-out cults.

And because of that, we’ve packed several centuries of theological development into a few decades. Yes, there are errors and even heresies that must ultimately be dealt with, and there are in fact cultic groups in the movement(s), but nevertheless the Spirit has moved in an amazing way in such a short time that we can clearly see the hand of God at work.

As I said in yesterday’s post, I think there is value in the wrestling with God’s Word, and that calls to unity have a tendency to supress that wrestling in favor of not rocking the boat.

So the issue of the true Body’s division into numerous sub-groups really doesn’t bother me all that much. It’s not important that my name is Michael, my brother’s name is Jonathan, and my other brother’s name is Joshua. It’s not divisive that we have different personalities, interests, and habits. Sometimes those differences will lead to knock-down-drag-out fights. That doesn’t divide the family. What matters is whether we are all Buggs, and whether we are all brothers.

What matters is not an outward facade of unity in the Body, or whether we sometimes argue, but whether we are really, truly and in our hearts brethren. And that status of brotherhood cannot be imposed by ecumenical councils from without, but can only be grown by the Spirit within.



6 Replies to “The Glorious Squabbling of True Brothers”

  1. However, when all is said and done, Jesus still calls for unity in John 17:23 “23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

    The unavoidable fact is that the world will be pushed in the direction of believing Jesus was sent by the Father when it sees our unity.

    This is one of those verses that gets tons of excuses dropped on it. It’s quite clear, but it isn’t easy, and that’s why the opposition toward it.


    1. Hi Steve!

      What do you mean by unity? Whose unity? Whose interpretation of Scripture? Do you think that we should all go back to being Roman Catholic in order to have this unity? Do you think there is value in being unified around an error, or worse yet, a heresy?

      Do you think it was a good thing that when the Church unified around acceptance by the Roman state, the Donatists and Nazarenes were persecuted for being “divisive” elements? Why does Yeshua praise Antipas (“Against All”)?



  2. I still find it fascinating that this verse, John 17:23, is so strenuously opposed.

    However, it is part of scripture; it is Christ’s own words, and I think it’s clear. Not only that, but it comes with a promise: others believing that the Son was divinely sent.

    If, as your article suggests, the Lord has scattered us into legitimate houses of faith, as with languages at Babel, then the suggestion is that all of those houses contain true Christians. There is a similar suggestion in the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation that the churches each contain true Christians. So, whether by original design (7 churches), or whether by some babel-like decree, we acknowledge Christian brothers and sisters in many houses of Christian faith.

    My take would be that we should rid ourselves of roadblocks to unity with them, but should instead focus on means of facilitating that unity.

    There were probably a number of gentile Christians that might have seen reasons for being recalcitrant regarding “judaizers” in the Jerusalem church, but there’s no hint of it in Paul’s encouragement that they all help those Jerusalem Christians during a time of famine with a great love offering.

    That recorded act of unity has resounded through the Christian centuries, and similar acts will do so in our day.

    All that said, Michael, I do believe there is a time when a denomination has become so wayward that it should be abandoned by real believers in Jesus.


    1. It’s not John 17:23 I oppose, Steve. It’s the misuse of it, the quotation if it in isolation to the rest of the Scriptures.

      “So, whether by original design (7 churches), or whether by some babel-like decree, we acknowledge Christian brothers and sisters in many houses of Christian faith.”

      I agree, and I’ve never said otherwise. What I said is that in the debates we have even with our true brethren, no matter how vociferous and passionate they may become, do not need to be suppressed in order to create the outward facade of “unity.” In fact, doing so in the 4th Century was one of the worst things that ever happened to Christianity, and resulted in Christians persecuting Jewish believers, as I’ve already pointed out.

      The Gentile question is a good example of true unity. There was a serious question before the Nazarenes: “What do we do with all of these Gentiles?” It was debated quite hotly in the Assembly, with different factions forming around the issue. You’ll note that Paul’s letter dealing with the issue, Galatians, isn’t exactly the model of quiet dissent: It is impassioned and almost brutal against Paul’s adversaries. Nevertheless, they continued to support each other materially (i.e., collecting money for the Jerusalem Assembly), and eventually called the first ecumenical council in Jerusalem. What was that council’s answer? Not to make everyone practice exactly alike, nor to deal with the sectarian issues that had come up heads-on, but to set minimum rules of conduct for the Gentiles and to assure the Jewish faction that they were not telling Jews to stop practicing as Jews.

      Unity in diversity, with some rather broad boundary markers set around the whole Assembly. And that is the model that I am advocating.



  3. “Unity in diversity, with some rather broad boundary markers set around the whole Assembly. And that is the model that I am advocating.”

    I have no problem with that as a summary position regarding differences.

    However, my point all along is that no one is facilitating unity, not even with those guidelines.

    At some point, there is actual boots on the ground, spade in the earth, hands to the plow, DOING of unity among Christians of different houses of faith.

    Billy Graham succeeded somewhat at getting that kind of cooperation for his short-lived crusades, but who is actively pursuing such cooperation now?


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