Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 9, 1955

Making Division Impossible


In all the long, sad history of religious divisions two basic factors have always been present: (1) a rejection of the authority of the Bible, or (2) a denial of the clarity of the Bible. Many a division has come about when there was perfect agreement between the dividing parties as to what the Bible actually says about the point of controversy; but one party rejects that saying as being authoritative and denies that submission to it is necessary.

A case in point here might well be baptism. There is little (almost no) disagreement between and among scholars as to what the Bible actually teaches concerning the mode or action of baptism. From time immemorial competent scholars have agreed that immersion is the proper action contemplated in the Greek word "bapto" and the various forms thereof. Whether it be Wesley, Barnes, Luther, Adam Clark, or the scores of other translators and commentators, regardless of religious background and affiliation, almost unbroken unanimity prevails on this subject. Why, then, do not all religious bodies immerse? And why did so many of the very men who comment that "bapto" means immersion continue their life-long affiliation with churches which sprinkle?

The answer is found in one short word: authority. They did not consider the authority of the Bible to be such as to compel a strict adherence to its teachings. They regarded it as a more or less loose, generalized setting forth of precepts, maxims, and good "advice"; but not as a strict, binding, absolutely authoritative declaration of what man must do to be well-pleasing to God. Hence, they taught that "so long as the heart is right," the outward form of obedience is a matter of insignificance or little concern.

On the other hand, there have been thousands of those who believe in the authority of the Bible, but who deny its clarity; that is, they say "we can't all see it alike." They feel that the Bible is truly "the word of God"; but that it has been couched in such vague, obscure, and difficult phraseology that we can never be absolutely certain as to exactly what it means. Divisions here arise not over any denial of the authority of the Bible, but rather over an inability to agree as to what it actually says.

A case in point here might be found in the difficulties that have arisen among certain groups over whether the "one cup" of the Lord's Supper refers to the container or the contents. Some insist that the "one cup" refers to the container in which the fruit of the vine is held; others declare that the "one cup" is the element itself, the fruit of the vine, and that the matter of one container or many containers is not a question of revelation — God has not legislated either by precept, example, or necessary inference as to how many containers shall be used. Therefore, it is a matter of indifference. If it had not been a matter of indifference with God, He would have declared himself on the subject. All parties involved in the dispute accept the authority of the Bible — once its voice is clearly understood.

These two factors (one or both of which can be found back of almost every division that exists) give wonderful encouragement to the Churches of Christ today. For they practically assure us that no division can take place among faithful Christians. None ever has "taken place among faithful Christians. For when division occurs, one party (or both, perhaps) has become "unfaithful" to Christ. When the tragic division occurred among the followers of Christ in the last century, it came about because one large segment of the body began to reject the authority of the Bible. When instrumental music in Christian worship was shown to be "without authority," those who advocated and promoted its use said, in effect, "We like it, and we are going to have it anyway!" Division was inevitable.

In all matters of controversy which may exist within the Lord's church in our day, it is a wonderfully consoling thought to know that with very few exceptions, all those taking part in the discussions are basically, fundamentally, and we hope unalterably committed to two simple truths:

1. The Bible is authoritative.

2. The Bible can be understood.

That makes all discussion resolve itself simply into a question of what the Bible teaches. And when men believe with all their hearts that "the Bible CAN be understood," they are certain to continue their discussion of it, their mutual study and investigation, until its truth lays open and clear before them. That discussion may go on for years or even decades; but the final termination is predictable and inescapable — agreement on Bible truth. There can be no division among those who retain their faith in the authority of the Bible, and their conviction that it can be understood. Division comes only when one or the other group surrenders one or the other of these two positions.

God gave His word that men might understand it, and obey it. He expects them to understand and obey. Man, therefore, is obligated to study, to investigate, to "search the scriptures daily" to determine what is, and what is not, the truth of God. Once having found what is truth, he must obey it without delay.

— F. Y. T.