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Divisions - Part of God's Plan?


Other groups disagree with us, and some have hurt us in various ways. They are "wrong" and need to change. Yet, sometimes people who do not agree with us could be right and wrong at the same time. Let's start with an imaginary division that is not based on a deep moral issue:

Let's say we have a number of members who cannot seem to stop letting off really offensive-smelling farts in the middle of group meetings. It finally gets to the place where it is causing a serious disruption to meetings, and we try taking grievances against them without results. They either can't change or they won't change. So we decide to put all the people who let off offensive farts in the same community and send them off on their own someplace.

The natural feeling from those of us who are offended by the farts is that they will all teach one another a lesson; they'll see what it's like to have someone do that to them when they are the ones trying to conduct serious business. But it could turn out that all of these people will not be offended at all by each other's farts. They could end up happily farting together. Would the experiment have been a flop if that happened?

If we felt the important thing was to get them to stop farting, then the experiment would have been a flop. But if we felt the important thing was to get them (and ourselves) working more effectively for God, then the mere fact that all of the grievances over farts had ceased would be a breakthrough as far as the kingdom of heaven was concerned... for them as well as for ourselves.

The farters, of course, would be a bit restricted with regard to winning disciples, because only people who could stand the farts would be able to join them. Still, if they continued to preach, some people would be reached, and that's better than nothing. If they stayed in fellowship with us, their converts would eventually learn that there are such things as non-fart communities, and our converts would have the option of joining the farters. Rather than having a serious division over farts, we could have diversity.

No one would need to actually teach that farting in meetings was good or right; nor would the other community need to teach that it is right to be intolerant of farters. People would just have a choice between the two approaches.

Consider a different issue, where some members don't have a strong vision or burden for the whole world. Suppose they were content to work for God in one little suburb, doing what they could to show love. To the rest of us, it would seem a shame. They could be so much more effective and efficient if they could work in closer unity with the rest of us. They could travel the world, get hundreds of thousands of tracts out, help a Third World country, etc. We could easily assume that these members were being held back by pride, or fear, or selfishness.

But we would not have to teach that such things were right, to still support them in principle... based on the things we both do have in common. As long as they are not officially fighting us, there is no need for us to officially fight them. They would probably appeal to some people that the rest of us would not appeal to at all. People touched by them may not get a vision of what they could do in India, for example, but at least they would hear something about Christ.

If there were friendly supportive links between them and us, the same principle could apply that we mentioned with the smelly farters, where we could round off what is missing in their message and sample, and they could do the same with ours.

But what if the division between the two groups really was caused by pride? Shouldn't we confront that pride? Perhaps we should first ask ourselves which one of us is without sin. How often have we been blind to our own faults? How often have we tried to change and failed? What if the others sincerely feel that we are the ones who are wrong and who need to change? What "unites" us with the other group already, whether we like it or not, may, in God's eyes be more important than what divides us. Only God can say how much divergence could exist between us and other groups or individuals before he would rule one or the other to be heretics.

If we could at least consider that from God's perspective there may be some common ground between us and others outside our fellowship, then certainly there must be room for something other than a total alienation between us. Even those who oppose us could possibly be won over if we just kept refusing to hit back.

In God's eyes, the differences that divide sincere believers may be something like the tensions that exist in a family when young people are going through adolescence. They move from child-like dependency on others, to become independent adults. God may want us all to move from organisational dependency into a deeper understanding of his universal, invisible church. Division may actually be a step in the overall development.

God may tell people, for example, to branch out on their own. And older Christians like ourselves may sincerely express our natural love for them (like parents) by giving them all the arguments that we know for not branching out on their own. There are so many benefits from working in a bigger group, being part of a bigger plan, etc. So when they finally make the break we chase after them, in order to give them some "support". Finally, they just blow up at us in the way teens so often do with parents, saying that they never want to be a part of what we are doing again. This is more or less what all adolescents go through. Some very mature young people (especially those with very mature parents) are able to be more patient with their parents' natural concern for their welfare; but when you look up close, all of them go through at least a few rough patches where they try to leave and the parents hang on. The anger and hurt feelings that result from adolescence can separate the two generations for many years; but at least the primary objective (i.e. independence) is achieved through it.

Maybe in God's way of looking at it, he can actually overlook (or even play a hand in engineering) a little "hate" for the parents in an effort to get the children to become adults. Certainly that is what Jesus taught, and it is what we have taught with regard to young people leaving their earthly parents to obey Jesus. He said, "If anyone wants to follow me and is not willing to hate his mother and father and wife and children for me, he is not worthy to be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)

Cherry had a vision of a beautiful huge cedar tree. Yet, when she looked at it up close, she saw that it had heaps of flaws and scars on the various branches. God (and the general public) may not be all that interested in the little flaws and scars that loom so large to those of us who have experienced them. He may have a bigger picture of the overall tree, while we are obsessed with individual branches. God may want us to see it more as he sees it, if we are to be effective in building his "tree" instead of our "branch". The hurts and differences that exist between the various branches may be pretty insignificant by comparison.

Consider the ants. We can't help but be amazed at the social order that exists in their colonies, and the efficiency that results from so many ants working so well together. But, as we have pointed out in the past, when you look closely, even at a simple trail of ants coming to and going from a lump of sugar, you see that there is a lot of wasted movement, as they weave back and forth trying to find their way. If we could listen to what they say to each other as they touch feelers from time to time on their journey to and from the nest, you might hear them saying some really angry things, like, "Get out of my way! How many times have I told you, keep to the right!" or "Not you again! You lazy bludger. I saw you riding on top when the rest of us were all pulling ten times our weight on that giant cockroach this morning. I'm going to report you to the council!" The possibilities are endless. But despite all the spats and feuds, the job gets done. That's the vision we need to have of the kingdom of heaven. Arguments happen; but in the end, God's bigger Plan goes on!

Certainly, as any person or group gets farther away from the pure truth of Christ's teachings, it gets harder to know if our tolerance is actually condoning evil. But maybe that is the "tares and wheat" problem Jesus spoke of in the parable, where we must wait for him to do the final dividing between the good and the bad.

We should each strive to set the highest possible standards for ourselves. But part of the high standard we are trying to achieve may be to show more of God's grace toward others who have wronged us. What they have done may be entirely WRONG... sinful... even evil. But so are some of the things that we have done at one time or another in our past. Even now we may be blind to sins in our lives, or unable to change some that we are aware of. We must allow for the possibility that others are in the same predicament.

Now that I've said the soft side, there is also the hard side.

It may be, as someone got in a vision this week, that, as we move up the mountain, we will need to leave others to form circles of their own at lower points along the climb. We may have to "separate" ourselves from them, in order to keep climbing ourselves, and this can be painful too. The same kids who fight for freedom from their parents are also hurt at times when their parents actually let go. They would like to keep the protection and comforts that go with being children. When the parents more or less "leave" the kids out there in the hard, cruel world, the kids can be hurt by it. There can be no more "coming home" to like it was when they were children.

Efforts to reunite Christians in some organisational way always seem to take people away from a focus on Christ and back to a focus on their organisation. Such reunification may be a backward step spiritually... an attempt to return to the womb of infancy. Denominationalism, with all its disagreements may actually be more healthy spiritually than ecumenical conformity to a bland universal doctrine of nothingness.

For the time being, our unity with other Christians may need to be more spiritual than practical... until God opens the door to deeper unity. Isolation may be a part of God's plan.

There are two ways to look at separation. This goes with something that someone got in another vision... a vision of an Indian island. Lakshwadeep is an Indian resort island. Nicobar is an Indian convict island. Sometimes it's only our attitude that makes the island one or the other.

There are jokes about people being trapped on a desert island, but also having certain provisions, which could make the predicament into a paradise. Those of us back on the mainland may want the others to feel that they are prisoners. We can become obsessed with seeing them punished, and offended if they seem to be having a holiday.

Let's go back to the farters to make a point. Do they need to be reminded every day that they are together because they could not conform with the non-farters? If the most important thing is to change their behaviour, then, yes, that is important. Send them to Nicobar. And the rest of us will wait for them to "learn their lesson" so we can say, "We told you so!" But such condemnation is not important if they can put off dealing with their farts and get on to other more important things. Perhaps they need to just go to Lakshwadeep and enjoy their freedom.

I'm slipping back to the soft line, aren't I? The thing is, they may also find that the fault which led to their separation from us continues to haunt them there. Their fellow members may not put up with it. In that case, the "island" could act as a form of rehabilitation... or prison... forcing them to change. But we need to leave it to God to decide which sort of an island it will be for them. Do we have enough grace to actually wish for them to enjoy their independence from us, and to sympathise with them if they don't?

Painful as it is for everyone, division becomes necessary when disagreements become too intense. At some point you have to stop the grievance meetings and get back to work, even if it means kicking someone out. But there is no need to make the expulsion overly painful through our attitude toward the person being expelled. Jesus says to let the person be as a heathen to you; but he also taught us to love the heathen. Paul said that you turn such a person over to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit may be saved. But if salvation is going to happen that way, it will happen without any help from us. Let Satan do it, as Paul suggested. And it could be that God would choose not to even let Satan hurt them, because he has a higher plan for them. Can we accept that?

Parents with several children often find that their problems are most severe with the first child that leaves. It becomes less traumatic as they learn lessons from that first division. I feel that this is the case with divisions between Christians too. At first we are very shocked and hurt by them. But maybe we can learn to appreciate divisions as a genuinely positive step toward further growth in God's invisible kingdom. God wants each of us "children" who have become dependent on our visible, organisational unity to forsake our dependence on the "group" and grow into a more adult relationship with him, where you will be a prophet and apostle and priest and king in your own right, with him. Are you ready for it?

(See also The Trend Toward Tolerance.)

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