George Booker
Biblical Fellowship

17. Causing Divisions (Romans 16:17,18)

“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”

The first thing we learn from this passage is that “divisions” are not always good! Perhaps this is a point not worth laboring for most, but it is a sad fact that some brethren look upon divisions as desirable courses of action in almost every circumstance. Their cries of ‘first pure, then peaceable’ are heard far and wide as they proceed, time after time, to tear apart the flock of God. Division and subdivision reaches its ultimate in families meeting in homes, or even fragments of families in separate rooms of the same house.

In Romans 16:17 divisions (the word can also signify dissensions and party spirits, without official excommunication) are grouped with other offences against the apostolic doctrine. How ironic that, in misdirected zeal for ‘pure doctrine’, so many have overstepped the bounds of Christ’s doctrine in the opposite direction!

Another point worth mentioning is that Paul advises the brethren to “mark out” and “avoid” those who cause divisions (1 John 2:19 again), not those who would follow them. The reason for taking special notice of the causers is that they may deceive the “simple” (v. 18). This is a distinction comparable to that between the wolves and the sheep in Christ’s parable of John 10. The wolves must be marked out, branded for what they are, for their own possible reclamation if for no other reason. They are the ones to be wary of! The simple sheep must be protected, not lumped together with the wolves and all alike avoided. To avoid the sheep because they might be guilty, and because we might be guilty by association with them, is to go further than the apostle ever intended.

Robert Roberts was not the exponent of wholesale divisions that some latter-day Christadelphians would insist. He recognized that some divisions were inevitable and necessary, but his view was far from one-sided:

“There are divisions that are uncalled for, and therefore sinful. Paul refers to such when he says: ‘Mark them that cause divisions among you contrary to the doctrine (the teaching on unity) that ye have learnt.’ He was referring, no doubt, to the factions arising out of personal preferences, but the warning applies to all divisions that ought not to be made. There is division enough, in all conscience — division that is inevitable — division that must be, unless we are to ignore divine obligations altogether; but there are divisions that ought not to be. It is possible to go too far in our demands of fellow-believers. How far we ought to go and where to stop, is at one time or other a perplexing problem to most ear-nest minds” (“True Principles and Uncertain Details”, The Christadelphian, Vol. 35, No. 407 — May 1898 — p. 182).

Pity the poor brethren — for they are “poor” indeed — who have never once really paused to consider whether or not they have gone too far! It would be well for them to remember that confidence is a virtue only when it rests upon God.

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