When a church splits, who is right?


I am a Catholic. I understand that my religion is kind of looked down on by the church of Christ. I am wondering how many churches of Christ are doing what is being asked for in the Bible? Recently a church in my town split up over an issue and I can't help but ask, "Is one more right or wrong than the other?"


I puzzled a while over how to answer your question. My main difficulty is our backgrounds are so different that I fear our becoming bogged down in terminology. For example, I don't think "looked down on" is a correct way to put my view of the Roman Catholic Church. "Looked down on" implies an arrogance on my part that I do not feel. I do believe that the Catholic is wrong in many of its teachings, that it has built up so many traditions that it no longer cares whether its practices accurately match the teachings found in the Scriptures. I guess I'm more sorry for them than anything else because their elevation of man's traditions over God's Word cannot be pleasing to God. "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man" (Galatians 1:6-11).

Most denominations have a governing body which determines the official position of its member churches. The Roman Catholic Churches have the Vatican, headed and represented by the Pope. The Greek Orthodox Catholic Churches and the Episcopalians have their regional archbishops. The various Methodists and Baptists have governing councils and conferences. However, those you know as the churches of Christ have no higher earthly organization than each independent congregation. We are organized in this fashion because it is how the early church was organized as recorded in the New Testament. What unites us is our love for the Scriptures and our desire to please God by only acting as He authorized. "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians 1:10).

The unfortunate reality is that men have a hard time leaving God's beautiful design alone. Such was warned in the New Testament. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). Paul warned the elders of Ephesus that members of their own body would lead them astray. "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:28-30). It happened to the early church, as the New Testament records (see Revelation 2 and 3 for examples), and we sadly understand that the churches today are not immune from these dangers either. "For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (I Corinthians 11:19). The divisions are not right, but so long as Satan walks in this world, the factions will continue.

Even those already divided (after all, that is what "denomination" means), there is a continuing process of further divisions. The UniteFebruary 4, 2005 The Episcopal Church is in the process of dividing over the same issue. The Roman Catholic Church's divisions have spawned the foundations of the Protestant denominations. The Roman Catholic Church continues to constantly deal with internal turmoil over many issues. It appears that no one is immune from the sin of division, but then we were warned by God that such would be the case.

The biblical organization of associated independent churches has some benefits in such an environment. When erroneous beliefs creep into the church, it will take one or more congregations down into error, but it isn't able to take all. Compare this to the denominations. An error introduced into the central headquarters rapidly spreads to all member churches. Their weakness is found in having a single point to be attacked. Since the churches of Christ seek to imitate the first-century church (I Corinthians 11:1), there is a constant drive to correct our course back to the teachings in the Bible. We have a fixed guideline (the New Testament). Hence, over time, erroneous teaching is weeded out so long as those involved constantly go back to the Bible for their justification.

In the short run, however, splits occur as people who want their way will not come to discuss their ideas in light of the Scriptures. A split in a congregation means that one or both parties have strayed from the truth of God. How can you or I determine who is in the right? We have to apply the only standard that God gave us, as John said, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). God's way is always right. As I examine an issue, I might make a mistake, but I know that God didn't make a mistake in what He gave us. "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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17).

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