If we, the Church, share the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, and we share the same mind of Christ, why do we still have division in the church and between believers (1 Cor. 2:16; Rom. 8:11; Eph. 4:13)? I see three primary reasons.
Cause #1 — Selfish Motivations
The apostle Paul instructed Titus, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11 ESV) And yet, Jesus said that He Himself came to bring division.
Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. Luke 12:51 ESV
Why? Because His presence, His works, and His words polarized people to choose between following God for His glory or pursuing their own way, usually for selfish gain (John 7:43; 9:16; 10:19).
There are two types of christians: those who’s steps are being ordered based on what God reveals, and those who are ordering their steps despite what God reveals.
There will always be a clash between people who are attending church but are not actively walking by the Spirit and those who are. I believe that’s why Paul felt it was necessary to tell us, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 NASB) As believers, we have all stepped into eternal life by the Spirit, but we must learn to walk by the Spirit also.
We each have the privilege to continue to follow God actively, or like Adam and Eve, to turn and pursue a way which seems right in an attempt to fulfill our own selfish desires and ambitions (Pro. 14:12; 16:25). The devil needs to do little more than encourage us to take our selfish desires and ambitions, our greed and pride, or our demands for power and wrap them up into a nice “christian” package that we can feel justified in maintaining.
Division will come to a church when influential people, whose underlying motivations are actually selfish ambitions, produce the fruit of that pursuit and that fruit becomes evident, causing those who are motivated by the leading of the Spirit to stand out in contrast.
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 ESV
Division is caused because the fruit of selfishness is becoming evident and there is no repentance. But, God turns the situation around for some good by causing those who are genuine in their motives to be recognized. These are believers who are not living for recognition or any ambition other than to fulfill God’s purpose or calling on their lives. Yet, those with selfish motives will often accuse those who are genuine of being the cause for the division that comes. However, the Bible clearly states that it is those living out the desires and passions of the flesh that are at fault.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? James 4:1 ESV
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other… Galatians 5:17 ESV
There will always be opposition between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit. Therefore, division between those who live out of each is inevitable—even when division is not the intended result of those involved.
Cause #2 — Divisive Actions
Division will come to a church when people are permitted to intentionally promote that which is contrary to the doctrines of the New Covenant or the established culture of that church.
Sometimes division is not just the fruit of selfish motives becoming evident—it is intentional. This happens when people are allowed to drastically and suddenly change the doctrine or culture within a church. This may include worship, teachings, and ministry, among many other things. Deliberate division will most often be blamed on God by those causing it and it will somehow be in their own best interest.
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. Romans 16:17-18
This scripture makes it clear that the underlying motivations of such people is their selfish ambition. Further, it reveals how they cause divisions and create obstacles: “by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” The implication is that there are others who are not deceived, and they are sternly instructed to watch out for and avoid those who are the source of such division.
Smooth talking people employ manipulative methods to make it appear that those who distrust them, avoid them, or separate from them are the divisive ones. They will even appear to have the best in mind for others and act as if they are genuinely concerned for those who stand opposed to them, often using self-pity to invoke concern from others. In reality, they are serving their own appetite and ego, creating cause for opposition, and taking the naive hostage in the process.
They employ flattery to gain and maintain a following of people that they view as important or special. At the same time, they are often in “damage-control” mode, working to keep up appearances, attempting to bring back those who are straying away from their influence, and manipulating or discrediting those who are questioning or opposing them. They distrust anyone who doesn’t respond to flattery or won’t take on the obligations and loyalty that they seek in exchange for the special attention being given.
Since they are limited to the number of people that they can actively flatter, they may be limited in their effectiveness—unless they can recruit a team that will replicate their efforts. Since there are always others that they feel the need to flatter or control, they will quickly divert their focus away from those who seem to be under control. Concerning those people who respond well to flattery, it is typically only a matter of time before they “act out” in some way due to the lack of attention and treatment they have become accustomed to receiving. Thus, a cycle of co-dependency is created between the divisive person and the naive.
Cause #3 — Restrictive Control
Division in a church already exists when there is no honor for the variety of people God leads to it and when there is a restriction on the differing gifts and callings that those people carry.
…But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 1 Corinthians 12:24-25 ESV
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? 1 Corinthians 12:18-19 ESV
As someone once said, I believe we should “get in where we fit in.” However, it’s also true that God sends people to be planted at certain places for specific times and seasons. Either way, as 1 Corinthians 12 says, God deliberately made us different and then composed and arranged the Church so that there would be no division. This is not only true of the body of Christ in general, it is true for individual churches as well.
The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. Matthew 10:41 ESV
Our churches only benefit from the grace of God on the lives of those He brings alongside us to the degree that we receive them for who they are. Unfortunately, it is far too common for believers to find themselves in a situation where they are pressured to conform to a mold that does not fit or they are restricted from ministering or contributing to that church out of the particular grace of God that is on their life.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; Romans 12:6 ESV
Clearly we have gifts and callings that differ according to the particular grace of God toward us. We are not all the same because we are not meant to be the same. The purpose in this is so there may be no division in the Church. But, division is already present in the spirit in any place where believers, who, because they are gifted differently, are controlled or restricted from living or ministering according to the grace of God which empowers them.
Those believers who do not fit into the permissible mold dictated to them will eventually lose their passion for the purposes of God on their life as they try to conform or they will eventually move on to follow God freely as they mature in Christ and in the confidence of whom God created them to be.
Jeremy Caris is the founder and president of Caris Ministries. Since he is called as a prophet and gifted as a teacher, much of his focus involves equipping believers to hear, know, and follow God in their own daily experience. He teaches the foundational truth of the Word with simple clarity, while revealing deep things of the spirit in practical ways. He has the unique ability to demystify the supernatural side of real relationship with a living God and make it an embraceable and accessible reality for all believers. Jeremy has been married to his best friend, Mandy Caris, for twenty years, and is the proud father of two boys.