The doctrines of grace are divisive. How many times have we heard that when Calvinism comes to church, people are divided? Well, “duh,” the doctrines of grace contradict the naturally synergistic mind of men, and the noetic effects of sin still abide in all of God’s children.
Historically, however, many doctrines have divided. At one time, Trinitarianism was considered “divisive.” For a short period after the Council of Nicea, the Arians had the power in the churches. Athanasius was the troublemaker.
At the time of the Reformation, “Sola Scriptura” was divisive too. How many of those who don’t want us to debate theology (specifically the doctrines of grace and issues related to providence/concurrence) will apply their logic to this issue? Aside from those sympathetic to Rome; I doubt many would do that.
Matt Slick from CARM once wrote:
There is nothing wrong with division per se. The Bible speaks about division in the church in positive and negative light.
1 Cor. 11:18-19, “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you.”
1 Cor. 1:10, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
1 Cor. 11:19 uses the Greek word “haireses” for “factions”. We get the English word heresy from this Greek word. A heresy is a false teaching, something that deviates from orthodoxy. If we see that the Scriptures declare something clearly (orthodoxy), and if someone teaches contrary to that clear teaching, then he or she is teaching heresy.
The Scriptures teach that there is a place for division and that is when opposing teachings that are contrary to sound doctrine. But division can only occur when the truth is known and those who abide with the truth should correct those who do not.
Good words. We need to be careful when we talk about division. It isn’t solely negative. It isn’t solely positive. It’s often a tool. Consider too that sometimes the goal is just to make us long for Christ to come back. The period we call the time of the Judges in Scripture (Judges & Ruth) was, in hindsight, a preparatory period for the nation of Israel. God had planned to give them a king eventually. That king, of course, was to be type of Christ, the archetype. The time of the Judges was, to say the least, more often than not, a dark time. Men did what was right in their own eyes, but God used this to prepare them for a king, and this in turn prepared for Christ. In like manner, conflict and turmoil in the church has been a place for the clarification of doctrine, often in response to error. On the other hand, this process is often cyclical, with a time of relative orthodoxy falling into a downgrade. I wrote about this awhile back when I talked about Jacob Vernet.
I'm personally of the opinion that one of the reasons there is never absolute peace in the Church in any age is to make us long for the return of the Lord. It fits the biblical model, but this isn't about eschatology. It's about what to do in the meantime.
That said, you can draw the circle so tight it becomes a noose around your own neck. Today, in the SBC specifically and in Baptistery in general, I’m seeing issues of “Baptist identity” which occupy relatively low places within the structure of a theological system elevated to controlling principles around which all else must be constructed. This is a model example. Then you have the old "I'm not a Calvinist; I'm a Baptist" statements by Ergun Caner, not to mention a few pastors I know - as if the two are mutually exclusive. I may have more to say about that whole way of thinking in the near future.
For now, however, to answer this question in greater detail, I’d like to point our readers to this text: