Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. Galatians 4:17 (NIV).
Divide and conquer is the oldest tactic anywhere. Study battles fought by ancient peoples and you’d find that they were won by one side overcoming the other by dividing and conquering in some way. Divide the people, split their unity and power, render them weaker because of this, then overcome them. The idea is neither new nor complex.
We are divided now more than any time I’ve ever seen, perhaps more than at any time since World War II. Just this week, the largest Methodist denomination in America, the United Methodist Church, formally split in two. The split was caused by division over opinions on LGBT issues (that I won’t discuss). Consequently, the UMC will continue with its recent/current practices, and a new Global Methodist Church will preach a more traditional, conservative teaching. It remains to be seen how the formerly undivided church will split properties and assets.
No matter how they got there, the end-result is that human issues divided the Methodist church. They’re dividing more than the Methodists. ELCA Lutherans, PCUSA Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ, and more denominations have been tackling similar issues for over a decade. The result? Division. Whether some sought to purposefully divide or not doesn’t change the divided outcome.
In Paul’s day, Judaizers in the nascent churches of Galatia were trying to marry the new Christian church to ancient Jewish practices. It was an issue that divided the church, spurring Paul to bring his friends up short. He reminded them that many of those who seek to divide do so for their own purposes, not Christ’s. Even giving ‘the benefit of the doubt’ to the motives of the dividers, it’s hard to see ways in which human divisions bring glory to the Lord.
Which is also a caution about trying to assume Jesus is too small for our fights. Methodists split in two? May Jesus be preached twice as much. Hot-button issues dividing our society? God is still God even when we don’t treat Him like God. Church in Galatia threatened by factions who want to still be Jewish? Jesus is bigger than that. Mind you, Paul reminded his friends that, while Christ is still Himself, they weren’t. Their human divisions threatened good order and discipline. That’s why he encouraged them to constantly seek Jesus and, in doing so, stand against those who would divide and conquer for human purposes.
It’s the same for us. When we are caught up in the issues of the day, what would Christ have us do? To paraphrase Lincoln, even as we’re divided, the Almighty is at work in the land.
For further reading: Galatians 4:18
Father, forgive our human divisions and sins, and heal the breaches we cause.
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