First, thank you so much for all that you've offered me with your advice and your use of God's word. As a result, I have a long list of questions in response to your advice.
- Since I Corinthians 1:10 asks us to have no divisions among the church, and usually there are divisions and differences among members in each church, what happens in the end during the Judgment of God when there are those that were divided and were following unbiblical doctrines though on most other areas they were biblically sound? For example, in your case the head covering issue?
It is the final Judgment that causes me to seek unity and seek truth. I don’t want to be the person on the wrong end of doctrine and neither do I want others to be, and in my case, people in my congregation.
- Does I Corinthians 11:18-19 allow divisions to be in the church? Does God allow people to be divided on certain issues, and still allow them to get to Heaven?
- With the call for unity and the differences that are apparent in congregations, how do I worship without worrying about the fact that there are people in my congregation with different views on certain doctrines? It really bothers me mentally and spiritually because I am constantly thinking about the fact that there are some, and even among the leaders that are accepting adulterous marriages. I find myself feeling as if I’m worshiping in vain with the people.
- For the church in Sardis, how were they spiritually almost dead? If they were struggling, did I Corinthians 5:9-11 apply to the faithful members of that congregation? Because if the church was accepting adulterous marriages then the faithful members would have had to leave right? Or am I misunderstanding the message here?
- For I Corinthians 5:9-11, does this mean since my church is accepting adulterous marriages and erroneous teachings on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, that I and others that believe the same must leave the church and find another congregation? Or is it talking about disfellowshiping certain people?
What if only a few in the church actually believe in an erroneous teaching on marriage and the rest believe what the Bible actually teaches? Am I still called to leave?
- Is it biblical to leave a church because of erroneous doctrines preached and accepted?
You need to understand that unity is commanded from God's people. "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3). But notice that it is something we strive for, we endeavor to keep the unity. Paul did not word it in an absolute that any disunity is not tolerated even for a moment.
The reason is simple, disunity means someone is wrong. Most likely because someone has sinned.
"What then? Are we better than they? No, in no way. For we previously charged both Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin. As it is written,
"There is no one righteous; no, not one. There is no one who understands. There is no one who seeks after God. They have all turned aside. They have together become unprofitable. There is no one who does good, no, not, so much as one."
"Their throat is an open tomb. With their tongues they have used deceit."
"The poison of vipers is under their lips;"
"Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness."
"Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways. The way of peace, they haven't known."
"There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Now we know that whatever things the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God. Because by the works of the law, no flesh will be justified in his sight. For through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the law, a righteousness of God has been revealed, being testified by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all those who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:9-24).
Because sin is universal, we cannot always expect absolute unity 100% all the time because people sin and while in sin they will not be united. No, we work to get people out of sin and back into harmony with God, but until that time there is going to be disharmony.
"Brothers, even if a man is caught in some fault, you who are spiritual must restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourself so that you also aren't tempted." (Galatians 6:1).
"But refuse foolish and ignorant questionings, knowing that they generate strife. The Lord's servant must not quarrel, but be gentle towards all, able to teach, patient, in gentleness correcting those who oppose him: perhaps God may give them repentance leading to a full knowledge of the truth, and they may recover themselves out of the devil's snare, having been taken captive by him to his will" (II Timothy 2:23-26).
Notice in these verses and in Ephesians 4 the emphasis on gentleness, patience, and longsuffering. If we are going to persuade people out of sin or sinful teachings, it takes time and effort. What are we to do in the meantime? Work hard in gentleness and patience.
When people are new to the faith, they do not enter the church knowing everything about all issues. "Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (I Peter 2:1-2). What do you do while people are still growing? You exercise patience and teach every chance you can to persuade people to get closer to the truth. It takes time, but it is well worth the effort.
That is why Paul said, "For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (I Corinthians 11:18-19). It is not that it is acceptable. Just before, in verse 17, Paul called it the worse. However, it is something that is bound to happen. What would be wrong is to say, "Well, if it is bound to happen, we must accept a diversity of views." The answer to that is disunity is not acceptable. It indicates ignorance or sin in the church. It shows us where we must work and study so that eventually we might gain the unity that we need. It might not happen next week or next year, but hopefully, we continue to get closer as time marches on.
Chapters, such as Romans 14, I Corinthians 8, and I Corinthians 10 deal with how to relate with one another while those differences are being resolved.
Of course, there are going to be times when a person insists on staying in his sin or insists on teaching false doctrine. At this point it no longer becomes a matter of helping others grow, it is plain false teaching. "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18). When a person refuses to learn or insists that others follow after doctrine that isn't supported by God, then we must take quick action. "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11).
In some ways, it is a judgment call on our part as to the attitude of the ones we are trying to teach. It is hard to know the hearts of people, so we must often look at their actions. (Matthew 7:15-20).
So, in this case, you have to talk to the people involved. Find out why they believe as they do. Is there something that they missed in the Scriptures and need better understanding? Or have they made up their mind and it doesn't matter what passage you bring up, they are going to believe what they believe anyway? You won't know until you talk and learn.
Another question you must ask yourself is will their incorrect understanding of the Scriptures impacts me and my service to God. For example, suppose we were in Corinth where there was a man living with his father's wife (his step-mother). If the congregation refused to remove the sin, once they were made aware of the problem, I could not in good conscience continue to worship there. Their inaction would tell me that they tolerate sin, something that I cannot be a part of.
But if I was in a group where someone might accept certain sinful situations in theory, then there is an opportunity to teach and persuade to a better understanding of the Scriptures. But if the wrong belief is widespread, what you usually find is that you won't be able to persuade them otherwise and you will be the one asked to leave. In such cases, I can go in good conscience knowing that I gave it a shot. "It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!" (Matthew 10:25).
You never tolerate false beliefs, you teach people the truth. And then they choose. You cannot make the choice for them, much as we might like to do so. "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1). Paul said that if it were possible, he would be willing to take their place, "For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:3). But none of us can. So we do what we can -- persuade -- "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (II Corinthians 5:10-11).
In any dealing with sin and false beliefs, there is a danger of being pulled in. While we are striving to persuade men of the truth, they will also be putting forth their best arguments. That is why you need to know your subject well and be confident that your understand is sufficient enough to persuade others to the truth. "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1). If I'm in a situation where I believe a congregation, in general, is teaching falsely and that I am not likely to be able to teach the truth, then I look for better work. If it is just a few, then I bring the matter up before the congregation so that the congregation can make a stand against the false teachers (Matthew 18:15-17). But notice that the matter is never ignored or swept under the rug.
Ultimately, it is each individual who is judged -- not the congregation. We are judged by what we do and why we do it. But we don't have to second guess what God accepts. He has told us that upfront. It is written in His word. "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him--the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). None of us will appear before God to learn that we kept His teachings perfectly. We all sin. But if we take the attitude that it doesn't matter if there is sin in my life, God will take care of it, then we have failed. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2).
So we do the best we can. When we stumble, we don't wallow in the sin. We pick ourselves up, pray to God for forgiveness (I John 1:8-10), and then work to get back on track. "For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Hebrews 6:10-12). God understands our hardships. What He wants from us is our best effort. Even though our best effort will never be good enough, we have faith in God that He will forgive us and welcome us home.
"This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (I John 1:5-10).
Therein is the key: How much faith do you have in God's promise? Will you keep going, constantly striving to improve yourself and trust that God will take care of your inadequacies? Or are you going to give up and say it is too hard and God would never really forgive you even if you tried? "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:2-3).
I cannot tell you to go or stay because I don't know the people or what is being taught. You have a responsibility not to show acceptance to people who are living in adultery (I Corinthians 5:9-11). If remaining where you are would force you into doing so, then you are better off leaving than to sin. If it is a matter of false beliefs, but not actual practice, and you think you can help people gain a better understanding of the truth, then for their souls' sake you should give it a shot. If it is apparent that they are not interested in the truth, then you look for a better situation; though there may be times that you can't find something better for the moment and you do the best you can, so long as you yourself do not sin. God does not want us sinning. There is no requirement to stay where staying would cause you to sin.
Unity for unity sake alone is not acceptable. Unity can only exist when everyone is living according to the one and only standard -- God's word. Disunity happens because we don't always live up to the standard, but while people are trying their best to mold their lives to conform to God's will, then harmony and fellowship results.