One of the most pressing issues of our day is the growing divide in both society and the church. If you’ve been a reader here for any length of time, you’ve seen a number of articles about the importance of unity and proposing ways to maintain that unity.

However, the pursuit of unity by nature implies setting boundaries and borders. If we are to have an “us,” there will by necessity be a “them.”

Drawing the line between us and the world

There will always be a line that separates the saved and the unsaved. We, of course, want as many people as possible to cross over into the ranks of the saved, but we can’t do that by pretending the line doesn’t exist. In fact, one of the first things we have to show in order to help them cross over is the fact that they are indeed not among the saved in Christ.

This does not mean we look down on them, withdraw from them, or treat them poorly. It just means we accept the truth about their spiritual state. In our attempts to not come across as rude or holier-than-thou, it’s tempting to go too far in the other direction to try to “nice” people into the church. But to soft-pedal the truth and worry about hurting their feelings to the degree that we blur God’s clear lines is the most unloving thing we could do for such people.

The Bible says that when we were unsaved, we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10), dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), walking according to the prince of the power of the air (2:2), and children of wrath (2:3). No matter how nice a person may be, anyone who denies Christ fits those descriptions.

It is not contradictory to view “the world” as “the world,” realize “the world” will hate you (John 15:18), yet also proclaim that Jesus dies because God so loved “the world” (John 3:16). Have we forgotten that Jesus said “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34b), or that “friendship with the world is enmity toward God” (James 4:3b)?

Kindness and gentleness are Biblical virtues, but when we become so kind and so gentle we leave the word “repent” out of our vocabulary, we’ve gone too far. Until we acknowledge the dividing barrier of sin standing between a person and Christ, we cannot call them to repentance. If they are not called to repentance, they can not be saved, period.

Maintaining this line of division is critical for our evangelistic efforts and for developing assurance in those within Christ’s church. We can know what it means to be saved, and we should teach such things.

Protecting those within the circle

We don’t only acknowledge the dividing line between Christian and unchristian, but we are also called to maintain standards within the fence. Part of protecting those inside the circle means expecting certain behaviors from them. Read through the epistles to Timothy and Titus especially and you’ll see repeated rejoinders to church leadership to set firm lines on what will and will not be tolerated. We cannot tolerate unrepentant sin. We cannot tolerate those who would teach falsely. And, ironically but sensibly, we cannot tolerate those who would create division.

  • Those who would go on in sin must be confronted, given opportunities to repent, and eventually cast out if they refuse to repent. The case in 1 Corinthians 5 teaches us how to handle such situations. How often do we confront sin? Do we know each other well enough to know what’s going on in each other’s lives and when there’s a need for correctives?
    It’s not about going on witch hunts or constantly picking at each other, but seeing departures when they happen and helping guide people back to safety in Christ.
  • Those who would lead the flock astray by false teaching must be rebuked, and then removed if they won’t repent. Paul calls out by name false teachers like Philetus and Hymenaeus. He tells Titus to appoint elders so they could silence those who taught things they shouldn’t.
    False teaching has been a threat from the church’s earliest days (see Acts 20), and it always will be. Today many teach tolerance of sin and cheap grace. Others teach legalism and works salvation. These must not be allowed.
  • The Bible pulls no punches in revealing how God feels about those who would tear the fabric of unity. Those who would cause division among brothers are guilty of one of the things God hates and considers an abomination (Proverbs 6:19), and are to be rejected by the church. “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). Those who would turn Christians against each other or draw dividing lines God hasn’t drawn stand condemned.
    Sadly, the increasing division in our world is affecting the church greatly. It is time for strong stands against those who would divide. We’re going to have to learn how to love each other and serve God together despite wildly differing opinions on the day’s hot button issues like covid and race. We can think each other wrong, but those who immediately cast any who disagree as stupid and/or evil must be rebuked.

These acts of division are not just recommended, they are commanded. Yes, we should strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3), but maintaining unity includes keeping up well-defined, God-given fences.

This is how we develop an identity as the people of God. We teach Biblical truths on what it means to be saved and live as part of God’s kingdom, and we maintain those standards. They are not to be lowered to spare anyone’s feelings or to inflate our numbers. They are not to be ignored because we are ashamed of them. All are welcome in God’s family, but we all are subject to the standards of what it means to be added to the church and to remain a part of it.