By Jessica Brodie
Have you ever been teaching something to another and all of a sudden the lesson hit you in the face?
My daughter, Avery, switched from the large public school system she’d attended her whole life to a small, private Christian school. She has major anxiety, and the smaller class sizes and extra attention have been phenomenal for her. Recently, her Bible teacher had them studying the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), and she asked me to quiz her with flashcards.
“Envy: Feeling ill will or desiring something another person has,” she recited. “Sorcery: Using things forbidden by God to predict or influence the future, like magic.”
But when we got to “factioning,” she paused, and we looked at the definition: organizing into separate groups for the spirit of breaking down unity.
“Like … cults?” she asked.
I frowned. “It’s more like political groups, or groups in the church that are breaking off.”
Immediately, my mind jumped to all the various groups and subgroups within The United Methodist Church today—and how some of these groups have been blatantly obvious about their intention to split from the denomination and start their own group.
Now, I’m not necessarily branding today’s groups within the UMC “factioning.” The actual word used in Galatians 5:20 for factions is “aireseis,” from the root word “haireo,” which has to do with a self-chosen opinion, such as choosing to be part of a religious sect. Here, Paul was probably meaning groups like Pharisees or Sadducees, or other, newer Christian groups teaching false or divisive gospels.
In the UMC today, groups can be very good and helpful. Many help bring about understanding or advocacy for things within the church. I don’t mean exclusionary groups or groups that promote hate, but rather groups that come together in covenant and love around a particular interest.
But taking a deeper look at “factioning” and its place among Paul’s works of the flesh gave me pause. What would Jesus think about intentionally gathering with others for the purpose of splitting up the unity of God’s church? Is there good to be had from intentionally fostering division and difference instead of intentionally working together to foster a spirit of common bond in Christ? For some, our differences in theology are such that we choose to seek a different denomination or start our own. But for most, I think we’re more alike than different.
I believe we can all find common ground together in our belief in Christ, Christ’s deep love for all people, and the authority of God’s word in the lives of Christian disciples. I believe Methodists and Baptists and Presbyterians and non-denominational evangelicals are far more alike than we are different, and in my heart of hearts, I don’t think we’re advancing the cause of Christ in today’s already-divisive world by putting so much energy into splitting up. I think we serve him better by coming together, being tolerant of each other’s differences of opinions, and devoting our energies to heeding Christ’s command just before his ascension to heaven: Go. Be my witnesses. Make disciples. Share the Gospel.
I urge you to pray on this, and do your best to understand your brother or sister whose opinions are different from your own.
Are we really, truly so different after all? Or is our greater unity in Jesus Christ?
By Jessica Brodie