What harm can possibly come from a disgruntled sidebar conversation in the church? After all, it’s just a couple of us needing to vent our frustrations over a few issues in the church. We understand one another and agree with one another.
It’s astounding how blinded we can become to the tsunami that is created by the smallest seeds of divisiveness. Perhaps that is why the Apostle Paul told Titus to “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned” (Titus 3:10–11).
What’s at stake resulting from unholy secrecy in the church? A lot! The name of Christ is subject to disdain, the standing of the church in the community tarnishes, and the witness of the local congregation breaks trust with the community in which it hopes to minister. Church fighting and splits are not harmless.
Here are four dangerous, long-lasting, destructive things that happen to both individuals, and the local churches to which they belong, when we engage unholy, divisive discourse.
We open the door to “crouching sin.”
God told Cain, as his heart seethed against Abel over their offerings, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).
Sin likes to crouch at your door, and it wants to have you. Engage self-awareness before you indulge unholy talk. Take your complaints before the Lord and ask Him in prayer, “Lord, is this worthy of conversation with others, or is sin crouching at my door?”
We form divisive alliances.
Absalom, the son of King David, engages a conspiracy against his own father. In 2 Samuel 14 and 15, the Scriptures record quite a story involving Absalom’s abolishment from Jerusalem, only to return and eventually be reunited with his father. How does Absalom repay his father’s kiss? Through a plot to destroy him. Every day Absalom would park himself at the city gate and intercept people who were going to seek justice from the king. Here’s how it ended: “Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel” (2 Samuel 15:6).
When we engage in unholy discourse, we divide loyalty, and form “camps” — divisive alliances. Before we do such things, we should pray, “Lord, am I unifying people around loyalty to you, or to me?”
We disobey Scripture.
Jesus commands us in this way: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15–17).
Far too often, I have asked people who came and presented their complaint to me about another, “Have you gone to that person and asked them about this?” The usual response is “No, they’re unapproachable,” or “I couldn’t. They wouldn’t understand.” Or “I just wanted your opinion.” Jesus does not offer any of these three statements as “outs” from obedience to His command. Before you talk about someone to a third party, pray, “Lord, I’m hesitant to talk to this person, but I want to obey You. Help me.”
We will inevitably infect others.
We are created for community. What you do has far-reaching implications that affect every community in which you have influence. When we participate in unholy secrecy or divisive discourse, we align ourselves with the works and ways of the devil rather than the works and ways of God. What’s at stake? A lot! Who might become disillusioned by your doublemindedness? Who might join you and fall into the same pit you’re destined for? Who disengages quietly and leaves because they want to avoid the coming conflict? If you are unsure if your actions are infectious in the negative or not, pray, “Lord, am I infecting others through agreement with your enemy, or am I acting in agreement with You, helping to form bonds of unity?”
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalms 133:1–3).
And that’s God’s viewpoint of the blessing that comes from living Above Board.
Brett Heintzman is the publisher of LIGHT + LIFE through his role as the communications director of the Free Methodist Church – USA, which he also serves as the co-director of the National Prayer Ministry. Visit freemethodistbooks.com to order his books “Becoming a Person of Prayer,” “Holy People” (Volume 1 of the “Vital” series), “Jericho: Your Journey to Deliverance and Freedom” and “The Crossroads: Asking for the Ancient Paths.”