The Awful Division of Christians, pt. 1: Truth, Love, and Repentance

Posted on July 24, 2012

5


In Nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, amen. Suscipe, Sancte Pater.

Love

One of the last prayers that the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father for us was this: let them be one as you and I are one, so that the world may know that thou didst send me.[1] Likewise an early Christian writer exhorted Christians to “love unity; avoid divisions; be the followers of Jesus Christ, even as He is of His Father.”[2]

How is this possible? It is only possible if we follow the Lord Jesus. If we follow Him, we know that what is impossible with man is possible with God.[3] God strengthens us to follow Christ through the power of the Spirit.[4] St. Paul commands us to walk by the Spirit.[5] If we walk by the Spirit, we follow Jesus Christ in showing the Spirit’s fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.[6]When we allow the Holy Spirit to produce these fruits in our lives, we are able to fulfill the new command which the Lord Jesus gave us: love one another, as I have loved you.[7] So the first part of unity is Christian love through the power of the Spirit. This is a fundamental obligation for every Christian—especially among other Christian brothers and sisters.

When Christians fail to follow Christ, the Spirit will not produce His fruit, and that’s when divisions occur. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christian in Corinth that I cannot speak to you as spiritual, but carnal…since there is envying, strife, and divisions among you.[8]And so we should not be surprised that Christians divide against one another at the moment when they become hateful, bitter, violent, impatient, abrasive, distrustful, disloyal, and lose control. If you read the writings of Christians at the time of the great divisions in the Church (for example, the schism of 1054 or the Reformation), you will see that many of our Christian forefathers were falling into these sins against one another. And so they divided the Church. How awful.

We must adhere faithfully to our Lord’s admonition when He says out of the heart the mouth speaks…by your words you will be condemned or exonerated…by their fruits you shall know them.[9] We should reject as unchristian those of our brothers and sisters who fall into this most tragic behavior envying, strife, and division. This is division because there is no love. Love doesn’t divide, it brings together. St. Paul exhorted the Church in Corinth with these words:

As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.[10]

When Christians are following Christ, walking by the Spirit, they will love and be at peace with one another. Division comes from failing to love and thus failing to be Christians. Therefore division among Christians is not only sinful, it destroys Christianity itself.

Truth 

On the other hand, however, it is also clear that division must be maintained by all Christians on behalf of truth—for truth and falsehood can never mix; it must be divided from falsehood. This is the meaning of the words of our Lord when He says I come not to bring peace but a sword.[11]When our Christian forefathers lacked love and were dividing against one another as described above, other Christians opposed them with the power of the Holy Spirit. This is especially when the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit become clear: fear of the Lord, strength, piety, counsel, knowledge, understanding and wisdom.[12] These other Christian forefathers showed these gifts by their adherence to the truth without ever forsaking the Spirit’s fruits of love. They knew that the truth must be distinguished from falsehood without unity being destroyed. Even though their brothers divided the Church because of their lack of love, many of our Christian forefathers stood up for truth, without ceasing to love those who were falling into falsehood. Therefore they kept the unity of the Church through love and truth, while others, through a lack of love, were straying from the truth.

And so we have these two vital elements for unity: truth and love. It is necessary that truth mustdivide from falsehood, just as love must bind together. If truth is not the basis for unity, what unity is it? And if love is not unified with truth, what love is it? A true Christian will walk the narrow road which leads to life[13]—the balance of truth and love. St. Paul sums this up when he writes to the Ephesians that God has given each member of the body of Christ a job to do

for the building up of the Body of Christ, until we all come in to the unity of faith…that we, professing the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things which is the head—Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.[14]

Repentance

So we have this framework within which to judge Christian division: professing truth in love.[15] How do we do this? It can only come by the Spirit, since it is His gifts and His fruits which will make us follow Christ. Do you know what the first public preaching of the Lord Jesus was, when called everyone to follow him? One word: repent.[16]This means to change your mind and change your direction of living. It means to confess to God your sins and failings, asking for the strength of His Spirit to follow Christ. This is the whole basis for Christian unity: repentance.

As Bl. John Paul II wrote,

Even after the many sins which have contributed to our historical divisions, Christian unity is possible, provided that we are humbly conscious of having sinned against unity and are convinced of our need for repentance.[17]

Our whole life as Christians, then, should be centered on repentance. Martin Luther wrote the first of his historic 95 theses as this: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said ‘Repent,’ willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
” With repentance comes, as John the Baptist exhorted, the worthy fruits of repentance.[18] What are these except the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit described above?

Therefore in the Church of Christ, our whole worship centers around repentance, through which we may follow Christ, walk by the Spirit, professing the truth in love. If we follow this ancient, narrow path,[19] we believe we will reach the unity of the faith. However, our hope should never be in our own wisdom or righteousness, but in the mercy of God. For the final prayer of our Lord to the Father was in fact not that they may be one but Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.
            Forgive us, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty and Everlasting God, for we are divided against love and do not know the truth. Grant us the grace of Thy wisdom and the strength to live lives of repentance, so that we may walk by the Spirit and follow Christ. Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end, amen.

Placeat tibi, Sancta Trinitas.

 


[1] John 17:21

[2] St. Ignatius of Antioch; Letter to the Philadelphians, 7

[3] Luke 18:27

[4] Ephesians 3:16

[5] Galatians 5:16

[6] Galatians 5:22

[7] John 13:34

[8] 1 Corinthians 3:1, 3

[9] Luke 6:45; Matthew 12:37; 7:16

[10] Collosians 3:12-15

[11] Matthew 10:34

[12] Isaiah. 11:2-3

[13] Matthew 7:14

[14] Ephesians 4:11-12, 15-16

[15] In the original language the phrase is literally “truthing in love.” (ἀληθεύοντες δὲ ἐν ἀγάπῃ)

[16] Mark 1:15

[17] John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, 1995; ch. 34 – the English translation reads “Repentance” for the Latin conversionem, which is a Catholic term meaning repentance. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1431-1440

[18] Luke 7:8

[19] Jeremiah 6:16