Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.Romans 16:17-20
There is a very helpful passage here on what to do about problems within the church: Here is a group of people who are professing Christians, but who, to judge by the apostle's language, are not truly believers. The danger, as Paul outlines it, is that they create factions within a church — that is, little dissident groups that gather about and emphasize one particular point of doctrine or teaching, to the exclusion of everything else. That is always a problem within the church when people think one particular thing is most important. We have people today who emphasize tongues, or prophecy, or some phase of teaching that they think is the mark of a true believer, to the exclusion of everything else. Paul warns about this.
The second thing they do is introduce practices or ceremonies that Paul calls
obstacles to faith, certain rituals or practices that these groups insist are the marks of true Christianity. They build a sense of superiority. They say,
If you have this mark, then you really are a Christian. Their motives, Paul says, are not to serve Christ, even though they say they do. These factions are really out to advance themselves, to get a following, to gain prestige. You can tell by the way they act that is what they want. Their methods are to come on with smooth and plausible talk. They always use scriptural language. They always appear to be the most dedicated and devoted of believers. Have you noticed how many of the cults today are trying to go back to the Scriptures, arguing from them a groundwork for their faith? Another method is flattery. They make Christians feel important. They lift them up above the rest and give them a peculiar mark of distinction, and flatter their egos as being members of the true church. These factions always cause division.
When some group like this appears, many of us tend to want to rush in and excommunicate them, read them out from the pulpit, or violently attack them. Paul does not say to do any of those things. His advice is to keep away from them. Ignore them.
You Christians in Rome have a reputation for obedience. You have a spirit of wanting to obey what the Lord says. Now here is your word from the Lord: Do not follow them; do not get involved with these separatist groups. When you obey this, God will work. The God of peace, who will preserve the peace of the church, will also crush Satan under your feet. Something will happen to open the eyes of people to the unscriptural position of these groups, and they will lose their following. The peace will be preserved without warfare and dissension.
Father, thank you for these men and women who long ago preceded me in the pilgrimage of life. Help me to be a peacemaker among your people even when those around me might try to cause dissension.
Have we discovered the useless folly of endless debates? How can we better fulfill our calling to the ministry of reconciliation? Do we see the wisdom of letting God deal with unruly dissidents?