10 Indicators You Are Dealing With A Divisive Person (and what to do about it)

What The Bible Has To Say About Division And The Importance Of Unity

Scripture has a lot to say about the importance of pursuing unity with other brothers and sisters. The following verses are just the tip of the iceberg.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” -Proverbs 18:2

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” -Matthew 5:9

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” -Romans 12:18

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”  -1 Corinthians 1:10

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” -Ephesians 4:1-3

“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” -Philippians 2:2

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” -Colossians 3:14

Ten Indicators You Are Dealing With A Divisive Person

What does a divisive person look like? You may think that this is a rather easy question to answer, but it’s not.

  1. The divisive person is usually some who knows a lot about the bible and they probably have been a Christian for many years. So you would think that they know better, but they don’t. They know a lot about the bible but there seems to be a disconnect between their knowledge and the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self, control).
  2. The divisive person has a hard time maintaining friendships (even within their own family) because they usually find something they disagree with and refuse to associate with others when this happens.
  3. The divisive person seems to be more motivated by being right than being loving.
  4. The divisive person sabotages their own spiritual growth because they tend to stiff arm deep, messy, meaningful community where discipleship flourishes.
  5. The divisive person is highly dogmatic.
  6. The divisive person likes to build coalitions with others who agree with their point of view.
  7. The divisive person frequently finds themselves in quarrels but they believe the issue is with other people.
  8. The divisive person most likely has created an echo chamber where they only hear from people (teachers, authors, articles, social media, friends) that reinforces their own narrow views. The don’t listen, or they filter out, anything that would force them to think outside of the box.
  9. The divisive person ends distracting the church from the mission of making disciples because time and energy is used up in endless squabbles.
  10. The divisive person keeps people from experiencing the joy of unity and fellowship with others in the church.

What The Divisive Person Needs To Know

The first thing the divisive person needs to know is related to all the verses that are listed above, the Bible highly values unity in the the church. Jesus showed us how important unity is when he said this in John 17:20-21,“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” When we are unified as brothers and sisters we reflect the unity of the Trinity to a watching world.

The second thing a divisive person needs to know is that it is a sign of being spiritually mature to disagree with someone theologically and still being able to experience unity. Do you think Jesus’ disciples agreed about everything? Do you think the Christians at Rome, Corinth, or Philippi agreed about everything? The obvious answer to these questions is no.

“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity.”

At this point we should probably mention the difference between essential and non-essential beliefs. For example, I am willing to fight for the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the grave. This is an essential belief to our Christian faith. I am not willing to fight about pre/mid/post tribulation. I have my opinion, but I believe this is a non-essential issue. We can agree to disagree and still experience unity.

The other thing I would want to communicate to the divisive person is that each church has a Statement of Faith, or at least they should. The Statement of Faith does a pretty good job of explaining to all who will pay attention what is important to that particular church.

In my own personal experience a divisive person, all too often, fails to make the distinction between essential and non-essential beliefs. Or they are up in arms over issues that have very little to do with the church’s Statement of Faith. What ends up happening is that every disagreement feels like a hill that they are willing to die on. I think we should stop and consider these wise words from Francis Schaeffer:

“It is in the midst of a difference that we have our golden opportunity. When everything is going well and we are all standing around in a nice little circle, there is not much to be seen by the world. But when we come to the place where there is a real difference, and we exhibit uncompromised principles but at the same time observable love, then there is something that the world can see, something they can use to judge that these really are Christians, and that Jesus has indeed been sent by the Father.”

So, Where Do We Go From Here?

If you are reading this and you have a nagging suspicion that you are a divisive person then you need to know that it is OK to disagree with other brothers and sisters regarding non-essential beliefs. It truly is possible to disagree and still experience unity. As I already stated, the apostles disagreed and experienced fellowship and unity. The early churches disagreed (a lot!) and still worshipped and did life together.

If you are reading this and you are involved with a divisive person I would encourage you to love them, and if the opportunity presents itself, explain to them the difference between essential and non-essentials beliefs. Or, talk to them about the church’s Statement of Faith. Help them to understand that the Statement of Faith contains the teachings that the church believes they need to be in agreement about and that it is OK (and healthy) to allow for disagreement regarding issues outside of the Statement of Faith.

If you tend to be a people-pleaser like me it is extremely difficult because you want everyone to be happy and to get along. I have learned through many years of ministry that there is only so much you can do when it comes to dealing with a divisive person. The strange irony is that we can end up making ourselves miserable if we think we can make everyone else happy.

Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas for dealing with divisive people.

Arguing About Non-Essential Beliefs

“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity. In all things, Jesus Christ.” -Augustine

I still remember my conversation with the young adult in Chicago. He was upset, again, about an issue at the church where I was serving as an Associate Pastor. This is a true story but for the sake of anonymity we will call this guy “Mark.” Mark never seemed to be happy with the church regarding what they were doing or teaching.

I explained to Mark that the there are core doctrines that we need to be unified on and then there are going to be tons of doctrine that we can disagree on and that is totally OK.

Al Mohler defines defines essential doctrinal beliefs like this, “First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.”

I now realize, sadly, that there are people like Mark who are going to bounce around from church to church because they are elevating their pet doctrines to a place of importance that they do not belong.

Dan Delzell defines pet doctrines like this, “A “pet doctrine” is a doctrine in this gray area that is being pushed, and driven, and promoted to such an extent that it starts to dominate the discussion. It also has a way of dividing believers. If nothing else, it creates a niche where some Christians decide to “rally the troops” around their pet doctrines. Oh they would probably say they are “Gospel-driven” rather than “pet-doctrine driven,” but their actions regularly belie their declared intent.”

I hope I was led by the Spirit when I asked Mark this, “Do you realize that you are probably going to have to find a group of 20 people who believe exactly like you do and that is about as big as your fellowship will ever get?” It makes me wonder, how much damage has been done by Christians who take secondary doctrinal beliefs and shun others who disagree with them?

John Walton was my professor when I was at Moody Bible Institute and I still remember him saying that we always need to be ready to learn something new every time we open up God’s Word. This kind of attitude means we are open, humble, teachable and recognize that we don’t have all the answers. I pray to God that this describes the kind of man I am.

Let’s focus on the essentials. Extend grace on the non-essentials. And let’s get busy making disciples of Jesus Christ.

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