The Bible defines the church as “no longer strangers and aliens” but “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19–21)
This description speaks of unity and solidarity, not factions and division. However, Paul wrote to another New Testament church rebuking them for just that: “In the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” (1 Corinthians 11:17–19)
Along with the rebuke, he told them there is only one legitimate disagreement in the Body of Christ. This would be the division between true believers and those who are not. This they could expect and use to recognize true from false. Otherwise, they were to get along.
This is important for many reasons. Perhaps at the top of the list is the mission God gave us. We are to take the good news of salvation to those who have never heard it. We won’t do that if we are fighting with one another, and even if we did, those who hear us would not be interested in our message. Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19), not “follow me and I will make you the only one who can tell everyone else what they should be doing.”
We are God’s ambassadors, a kingdom of priests who take the needs of others to Him and take His Gospel message to them. Proverbs 11:30 says, “Whoever captures souls is wise” but those who scrap over personal preferences are selfish and undisciplined children.
Paul’s focus was on winning others to Christ. That should be my focus too. He gave up all that might make himself prominent or important that others could hear and believe the Gospel . . .
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19–23)
I’ve learned that this is called contextualization. It means sharing the Gospel and even the whole counsel of God in such a way that it is relevant to those who listen. If the Bible is carefully read, it is easy to see how the people of God did that. Paul spoke differently to Jews than Gentiles. Jesus spoke differently to Pharisees than to publicans and sinners. The message was the same, but the words and the focus were always suitable for the hearers.
The Gospel is multifaceted so this can be done. Those facets of the same message were given by God, not so His people could fight over them (or anything else), but so I might have choices for presenting the good news to a variety of souls who are lost.
In the mission fields of the world, the need to learn the culture is obvious. It is not so obvious in our homes and communities, but upon reflection, I have grandchildren whose ‘culture’ is far different from mine. I need to observe and listen to learn how they think and what would be the best way to tell them about Jesus so they are interested, even receptive.
Church in-fighting is missing the point. We have a job to do and by allowing personal agendas and preferences to distract us, we are neglecting to discipline ourselves. As 1 Corinthians 9:24–27 says our Christian life is like a race. We can lose sight of the goal by fighting the wrong battle or running on the wrong track. Even if we share the good news with others along the way, any infighting with those who race with us puts all of us in danger of becoming unfit and disqualified.