We have been looking at the phenomenon that confronts our world today, that there are scores and scores of separate churches within the Christian faith. We talked about what happened exactly, looking at some major events through the lens of history, and the root cause of the sinfulness of the human mind which prevents us Christians from being of one mind on things. That leaves us to consider the ultimate reason for the divisions that exist. First of all, I, as a Christian, am bound to believe that what has happened has happened strictly in accordance with the inviolable will of the sovereign God. The God of whom it is said, The lot is cast in the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD, (Proverbs 16:33) is the same God who rules and governs all of creation, working His sovereign will in whatever happens. This is especially true of what happens to the Church of Jesus Christ. And although Christians often have little but the faintest glimmer of the reason why things happen, that is, the ultimate purpose is of everything we are experiencing here and now, in this case God himself gives us a clue in the Bible. We read:
1 Corinthians 11:19
For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.
The word, heresies here is used in the pure Greek sense of schisms or divisions from the Greek word, heresis. The point is that even those divisions which occur in the Church of Jesus Christ are according to God’s ultimate purpose, in order to distinguish those which are approved by God from those which are rejected. This is a hard teaching in many ways, but it does especially help to explain those divisions which come from a serious departure from sound Christian beliefs or behavior. But what about other cases in which the differences are more subtil and Christians still embrace one another, yet different churches lack substantive fellowship because of doctrinal differences? In cases where you have two genuinely Christian Churches which must remain separate, what could be God’s purpose in it?
I would like to submit that the reason God has allowed the churches that make up Christianity to split over so many different topics is in order to keep us humble. There is a tendency in any human institution (not in this case an institution founded merely by humans, but one which is nevertheless made up of sinful human beings,) for the inertia and pride of the institution to overshadow the mission. In the case of the Church of Jesus Christ, if there were only one united Church on earth, Christians might start to think that this Church is incapable of error (infallible), and depend on it more than on God. We see pride in the decadence of the Church of Rome in the age of the Renaissance, when popes sought worldly gain with impunity, by the sword or by selling indulgences1 to poor uneducated peasants to build the majestic St. Peter’s Basilica. It is seen in the various television empires which were built in the 20th century by popular preachers who grew to love the world more than Christ and His word. If there were not any divisions, pride in our churchly institutions would grow unchecked. But since we are so weak and foolish in the eyes of the world, divided in to hundreds of tiny sects by common parlance, can there be any doubt where the strength of Christianity lies? It’s not in us, but in Him. Because we are so divided for some good reasons and many not so good reasons, we must depend on God who gave His Son to die for us.
It is my belief that God has ordained that the Christian Church be divided because God’s glorious grace is magnified in the weakness of His people, as He says,
God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:27-31
1Indulgences were sold by travelling pedlars in Europe: slips of paper signed by the pope with the promise that those who bought them would procure release from suffering in Purgatory for themselves or others on whose behalf they purchased them. The funds raised were used to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.