[The following is excerpted from the book, Gather: Getting to the Heart of Going to Church, Copyright © 2021 by M. Hopson Boutot. Click here to download the entire book for free.]
Sinners welcome. Statements like these are quite popular taglines for the modern church. And there’s certainly loads of truth there. I don’t know who first said it, but the church is a hospital for sinners not a museum for saints. One of the reasons the weekly gatherings at my church include prayers of confession every Sunday is our belief that even Christians are sinners in need of grace and forgiveness.
But there is a sin that is incredibly dangerous to the health and wellbeing of every local church: the sin of divisiveness. Matthew 18 outlines the normal process of church discipline. But there are exceptions to this normal process that, due to the seriousness of the sin, move significantly faster. One such exception is the sin of divisiveness.
Paul says in Titus 3:9-11, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” It appears the divisive people Paul condemns here are regular attenders in Titus’ church. After all, there would be little need to avoid and warn those who never show up.
Another example of this type of division occurs in Philippians 4:2-3. Near the end of his letter, Paul addresses a case of division within the church’s membership: “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
You must remember the way the Apostolic letters were generally handled in the early church. Most scholars believe these letters would be read in the middle of a church worship service. Which means Euodia and Syntyche would likely be worshiping along with all the other members in Philippi when, suddenly, they hear their names dropped by the preacher reading Paul’s letter. It reminds me of the time my sister and I were loudly goofing off in the front row during one of my pastor dad’s sermons and he stopped his sermon mid-sentence to stare in our direction and say, “Julia and Hopson, STOP.” Our behavior was so distracting, it was worth interrupting the gathering to stop it. So too with Euodia and Syntyche’s squabble.
Division in the church is a serious issue that must be dealt with. If you’re such an attender don’t think you’re safe just because you’re regularly present. The truth is, if you’re causing division in your church your attendance may be doing more harm than good. No, that doesn’t mean you should call it quits on your church attendance. Instead, call it quits on your sin and strive to unify instead of divide. Choosing rightly about gathering means choosing to gather as a uniter, not a divider.