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So many bad ideas and theology come into the church because some people find the message of the word of God rejected by some and as a result think this message should be changed. The thinking is—if people don’t like the message, we need to find a different one.

In Acts 14:1-7 you’ll see that the Gospel message preached by Paul and Barnabas caused division in Iconium. Paul and Barnabas should be considered a pretty good preaching team. They were so well taught in the Bible that they wrote some of it. And not only are Paul and Barnabas preaching, there are also miracles. God attends and bears witness to the word of his grace with signs and wonders. People are being healed. There are amazing things happening. And still some people hated it.

The prince of this world can blind the minds of unbelievers. God can harden their hearts too.

We need to understand this so we don’t make it one of our ministry non-negotiables–that we cannot upset anyone or ever be the source of controversy. We should not presume that the effect of our ministry will naturally be for everyone to hold hands and sing songs together.

The Holy Spirit had Luke record all of these examples in his gospel and the book of Acts so that we would not be surprised when the gospel causes division.

It’s not wrong that followers of Christ should desire to live quietly and at peace with all men, but this good must be always be in submission to the greater goods of love, truth, and faithfulness to the gospel.

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11 thoughts on “A People Divided”

  1. ATB says:

    Thanks much, Kevin! How many times have we heard the refrain, “Doctrine divides!” as if an aspersion.

  2. Bill says:

    This is a great reminder to be faithful to the message given to us by the Holy Spirit in Scripture.
    I find this though to be an odd sentence: “[Paul and Barnabbas] were so well taught in the Bible that they wrote some of it.”

  3. a. says:

    with Jon Nielson blog this AM, thoughts and prayer – may the Lord continue to teach, empower, and work in us.. for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it… such a great mystery – Christ and His church- His great desire that we may be one, JUST AS He is one ( John 17.22).

    -Christ Himself, the Savior of the body and the Father having given Him as head over all things to the church-members of His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
    – His body is one,yet has many members;though many members-one body, which is being supplied, fitted, and held together by what every joint and ligament supplies according to the proper working of each individual part to the building up of the body; growing with a growth from God into all aspects into Him until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, presenting each complete in Christ, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ
    -body members made ministers according to the stewardship from God bestowed for benefit for the common good; to each one, grace given according to the measure of Christ’s gift; different gifts, a variety of ministries and effects, according to the grace given, to be exercised accordingly; the same Spirit working all things, distributing to each one just as He wills; and the same Lord; and the same God who works all things in all persons.
    (Col, Eph, 1 Cor, Romans verses)

  4. Ray Paget says:

    Do you mean something like the biblical teaching of creation versus evolution (theistic or otherwise)? There appears to be a growing number of well-respected and popular pastors who are moving away from a literal view of creation (which would include the historical/soteriological importance of Adam and Eve/sin and death). It gets pretty messy when one attempts to explain these critical teachings using the theological gymnastics practiced by these adherents (Tim Keller being the most popular promoter on the evangelical front).

  5. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    “We need to understand this so we don’t make it one of our ministry non-negotiables–that we cannot upset anyone or ever be the source of controversy.

    Are there Christians, even pastors who criticize other Christians, sometimes even pastors for having upset someone or having been told that they were the source of controversy?

    Are there really such folks like that, who sit on the sidelines and criticize others for upsetting or offending someone else?

    What’s the alternative? Make peace with false teaching and error? For the sake of surface unity?

  6. anaquaduck says:

    True enough but this argument is only one of many in the spiritual equation. Paul rebukes Peter for his ungodly example as he subtracts the gentiles from his circle. Gal 2:1. Moses goes up the mountain for a while & Aaron substitutes a festival & a golden calf for obedience, reverence & awe. Ex 32.

    Nothing wrong with doctrine says Christ through His Word, he himself was also subject to much controversy. Somewhere C. H. Spurgeon wrote you would be crazy to go looking for lions but if one crosses your path there is not much you can do about it except defend your position. That’s the difference for me, we are called to be faithful in word & deed.

    It’s not easy to put it all together at times, I remember being in tears as a teenager as I struggled with frustration, trigonometry & missing out on free time, but once I understood it through the patience of a tutor it became an enjoyment as I matured in my understanding of things.

  7. Aaron Schroeder-Tabah says:

    @anaquaduck. Not trying to be picky, but your use of Gal 2:11 isn’t quite right. Paul is rebuking Peter for bad doctrine. Peter is accepting bad doctrine by trying to evade controversy with the people from Jerusalem. Paul calls Peter out on his faulty conduct that was “was not in step with the truth of the gospel”. Gal 2:14. Paul then goes on to explain the doctrine or truth of the gospel.

    I really like your Spurgeon quote… Peace

  8. Charlie says:

    Pastors should not shy away from hard sayings such as “Whomever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me” John 6:56. Not much room for a lukewarm memorialism. But I doubt any TGC pastors would ever preach the Real Presence since it would definitely upset some people.

  9. Curt Day says:

    I would like to raise two points. Though unity is important, the position of the Church in society is far more complicated now than it was during the days of the apostles. And by complicated, It is more complicated because past domination of the society by the Church means that it isn’t just what the Church does that reflects on the Gospel, it is also what society does as well. Therefore, unlike the times of the apostles, in order to protect the integrity of the Gospel, the Church needs to speak out more on the abuses practiced by society. But this will invite disagreement and partial division depending on how each Christian has merged cultural identity with their Christian identity.

    Second, how the above applies to the Church also applies to individuals and thus leading quiet lives, which translates into a mind your business lifestyle, can hurt the reputation of the Gospel.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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