I) What Does It Mean to be Unified as the Body of Christ?
There is much talk of achieving a unity in the church today that would span over denominational barriers and would tear down what divides Christian from Christian. This talk in my assessment has the faulty presupposition that division is inherently not the will of God. Christ's own prayer "That they may be one" seems to give credence to this view of divisions within the church. Therefore the problem is never unity but always divisions. Now, without question scripture teaches a catholic view of the church (there is one body), so at least in God's perspective and the inspired apostles there is one church; although, there may be multiple churches, in multiple locations, in multiple languages and cultures there is still one body of Christ. So, it would seem unity is not so much achieved as it is realized, but what does that mean?
The realization of unity seems to be what the scriptures are referring to in unity exhortations. Speaking in reference to God's sovereign bestowement of spiritual gifts and the need in the body for the gifts Paul states: "that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. " (1 Cor 12:25-27)
Here we see individuals are to not see others in the body as unimportant but understand that Christ has set apart different gifts for different members, thus the unity spoken of is to be of one mind (common phrase) and not to show preferences but weep with those who weep we are to be so united that their pain and trials are our pain and trials. So in this context bad division is a division that results in a kind of apathy, a body in which the members value their own personal peace with little to no regard for the welfare of the other members. This is BAD division.
Again Paul in a preamble to a description of spiritual gifts states:
"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. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--"(Eph 4:1-4)
Likewise a bad division would seem to stem from NOT "Bearing with one another in love", not realizing that there is in fact one body, these people really are my brothers and sisters. To bear with is to lay down your life to aid another, this requires love. This being the case I argue that this unity is not achieved through merely our desire to create it (although that is part of it we are to be "eager to maintain the unity" but where does this affection stem from?) rather, this is a supernatural unity for it requires a selfless love, it is only possible, "because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Rom 5:5)
Christ alone is our unifier, so in all things He may have the preeminence.
Realizing our unity is natural as is weeping with those who weep and bearing the burdens of others become very practical when we think of the persecuted church. In North Korea believers are getting their tongues cut out for preaching the gospel, and bibles are scarce. My heart aches and though I don't know them personally though we don't share the same culture and location I want to help. This is what happened in the bible as well, "For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem." (Rom 15:26) This is the unity the bible speaks of, a unity that transcends all sharing the same denominational names, in short it transcends all forms of ecumenicalism for this is unity created by the blood of Christ.
II) When is division Good?
Already when we realize that the unity of the church spoken of in the NT is a spiritual unity and to be realized more so than achieved, we see problems with much of the anti-denominational barrier talk. Naturally we equate outward unity with genuine unity, for example when two teams take the field to play baseball they both wear different uniforms to distinguish what side they are on. Basically, we would think that if we all wore the same uniform as Christians we are officially unified (by wearing the same uniform this means take off denominational badges and just be Christians). Well that's all fine and dandy until a guy in a Christian uniform starts to sound like the guys in the non-Christian uniform and given time more people who he associates with start to talk similarly. This may come in many forms such as the liberal: "We think the bible is not to be taken objectively as inspired but more like it becomes the word of God as it inspires the reader...kinda like reading Dickinson."
Or there may be some with more "pragmatic" concerns saying: "We believe we are saved by faith in Jesus but we think that you also must be abptised, circumcised and chastised to truly be saved." The point is that when people rise up within our own ranks there is a point where leaders can be either a good shepherd or a hireling. A hireling in the face of false doctrine may love an outward peace at the expense of truth, whereas a good shepherd will be valiant for truth. (Jer 9:3)
Leaders are exhorted to divide: "As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him," (Titus 3:10)
"As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear." (1 Tim 5:20)
Leaders are exhorted to watch the doctrines in the church: ""Keep a close watch on yourself and on the doctrine. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Tim 4:16)
"O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called "knowledge," (1 Tim 6:20)
Based upon these exhortations from Paul to Timothy, there was a deposit, a truth once for all delivered to the saints that is to be guarded from falsehood. This is for the health of the souls of the body of Christ. In guarding the deposit a shepherd is guarding the flock, for the deposit is the very food on which the church feeds and false teachers will come and try to give the sheep unwholesome food. Eventually when false teachers persist (after rebukes) there is to be a division. This is what has happened throughout church history. There were monastic movements in response to Romes love of affluence, later of course there was the reformation sparked by Luther. The doctrines of the Catholic church had become so unscriptural that Luther no longer could with a good conscience (with scripture in mind) continue with the Catholic church because of the false teaching (ex: penance, the mass, indulgences, purgatory, and Mary worship are but a few). This was a good division.
Likewise in the more modern period of the church we have the rise of Liberalism. Liberalism has divided nearly all the mainline denominations. Liberals wanted to reduce the gospel to a mere ethical code of "Just be good and God accepts you as you are, just follow the beatitudes." and a focus on humanitarian works became the primary work of the church NOT gospel preaching (because they have no gospel...just law). Again we have good division.
Divisions are good because truth is good, if we love the truth of the bible we will see to it that the church will be fed that truth and not a mixture of bitter and sweet waters, thus false teaching must cause divisions. Charles Spurgeon was a man of controversy and has a bit to say about church divisions. What he has to say fits well because in his day like our own men were telling him to "just mellow out and preach the gospel, stop causing division" and "You're gonna hurt church growth". Yet Spurgeon would not back off, particularly in the last fight he was in, The Downgrade Controversy in England. The Down Grade was basically a rise of liberalism in the Baptist churches in England toward the end of Spurgeon's life Spurgeon writes:
"For Christians to be linked in association with ministers who do not preach the gospel of Christ is to incur guilt. A Union which can continue irrespective of whether its member churches belong to a common faith is not fulfilling any scriptural function."
"The preservation of a denominational association when it is powerless to discipline heretics cannot be justified on the grounds of the preservation of Christian unity.
It is error which breaks the unity of churches, and to remain in a denominational alignment which condones error is to support schism.
And again to address the NEED to divide in love for the truth and flock Spurgeon writes:
"It now becomes a serious question how far those who abide by the faith once delivered to the saints should fraternize with those who have turned aside to another gospel. Christian love has its claims, and divisions are to be shunned as grievous evils; but how far are we justified in being in confederacy with those who are departing from the truth? It is a difficult question to answer so as to keep the balance of the duties. For the present it behooves believers to be cautious, lest they lend their support and countenance to the betrayers of the Lord.
It is one thing to overleap all boundaries of denominational restriction for the truth's sake: this we hope all godly men will do more and more. It is quite another policy which would urge us to subordinate the maintenance of truth to denominational prosperity and unity. Numbers of easy-minded people wink at error so long as it is committed by a clever man and a good-natured brother, who has so many fine points about him. Let each believer judge for himself; but, for our part, we have put on a few fresh bolts to our door, and we have given orders to keep the chain up; for, under colour of begging the friendship of the servant, there are those about who aim at robbing the Master."