Why Do Christians Divide Over Doctrine?

Why Do Christians Divide Over Doctrine? September 5, 2018


It happens all the time. Christians who disagree over a particular doctrine decide that they can’t continue to be friends with another Christian simply because they hold another perspective.

It can be a different view of hell, or of the end times, or of the atonement, or of baptism or election.

Or, in my case, it can be a different view about homosexuality. That’s why my friend – who I’ve known for over 30 years – called me on the phone last night to let me know he wouldn’t share a stage with me; because I was leading people astray with my false teaching.

To his credit, he and I had a very civil and polite conversation. We both shared our views on this issue and listened to one another’s differing perspectives on Romans and 1 Corinthians, and the meanings of “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai”, and when it was all done we were both in the exact same spot.

Which, for me, was totally fine. But for my friend, it was definitely not fine. He let me know that he wouldn’t have a problem sharing a meal with me and my wife, but he couldn’t share a stage with me because that would “send a message” – something I felt was very odd since, in Jesus’s day, it was the exact opposite: the idea of sitting down with someone and sharing a meal with them was a potentially scandalous act that sent a much bigger message than sharing a podium with them.

Why is it that Christians today feel the need to distance themselves from other Christians – even dear brothers and sisters they’ve known for decades – whose hearts they know to be sincere and true – simply because of a difference in doctrines?

Here’s my theory: Because Christianity in America has become more about being right than about being Christ-like. The Gospel has been reduced to having all the right information about God, and therefore to have the wrong information about God is the greatest sin of all.

But, is that true? Is the Gospel about having the right information about God?

I don’t think so. It took the Christian church several hundred years to work out the theology that many Christians take for granted today. Were all those Christians who lived and died prior to those theologies getting figured out condemned to eternal torment? [Not that I believe in such a thing, but you get my point].

No. Of course, they were not.

The Gospel is not about having all the right information about God.

The Gospel is not about information. The Gospel is about transformation.

And transformation is about our relationship with God, through Christ.

In other words: It is not about what we know. It’s about who we know.

So, to make our personal theology some sort of standard by which we measure the faith of all other Christians is kinda strange.  As if to say: “My theology is completely correct. I’m not wrong about anything. Therefore, anyone who disagrees with me is a heretic and a false teacher.”

I don’t think we should make ourselves the standard for all truth and expect everyone else to line up to our personal theology, or face complete rejection and condemnation.

See, everyone’s theology changes over time. [Or nearly everyone’s theology changes over time. If it doesn’t, you are probably not really thinking very hard about your theological beliefs.]

For example, there are things I believe today that I didn’t believe five years ago, and I there are things I believe now that hopefully will continue to change as I grow in my faith.

But over the years I’ve learned something about my beliefs: No matter how many times they change, I’m always right.

[Thanks to my friend Joshua Lawson for pointing that out to me recently]

Being right isn’t the goal of our faith. Having all the right information about God isn’t what the Gospel is all about.

The Gospel is about transformation, and that involves a sincere connection to Christ.

I will never divide with anyone over differences of theology. I recognize that everyone is a work in progress, including me.

Our theology may change, but our love for one another should never change.

In fact, to quote the Apostle Paul: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” [Gal. 5:6]

Without love, we are nothing. All the theology and correct doctrine in the world won’t change that.

For the record: My friend and I ended our call last night by praying for one another. Even though he still won’t share a stage with me, he will share a meal with me and my wife, and whether he knows it or not, that sends an even stronger message than he might realize.



Keith Giles new book Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.

He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”.

Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.

BONUS: Unlock exclusive content including blog articles, short stories, music, podcasts, videos and more on my Patreon page.



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  • Matthew

    Thanks so much for this Keith.

  • I think the dividing started rather early in the church. When “faith” came to mean belief in statements rather than simply faith in the person of Jesus Christ. Following the Reformation, as the Bible became center stage, adherence to doctrinal statements became further entrenched as a means of deciding faith and orthodoxy. But among Protestants, I think the clincher was in the 19th century when inerrancy of scripture became the litmus test for true Christian faith. It is the bellwether leading almost every conservative response in the culture wars. Most recently we have seen this in the Nashville Statement and now, just yesterday, in the “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.” (https://statementonsocialjustice.com) It is oddly ironic, that a movement founded on fundamentalism, that, in turn, was founded on racist principals, feels it can criticize “social justice.” Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
    Just one more example of Pharisees using scripture to avoid social and moral responsibilities. Thanks for the article. Excellent!

  • The Mouse Avenger

    Thank you for this lovely, wonderful post! ^_^

  • Widuran

    Because there is the truth in Christ Jesus and the lies of Satan.

  • Markus R

    Schism and division are not to be desired in the Church. But doctrinal division has rightly and unrightly affected Christ’s Bride for over 1900 years. While we are certainly subject to pride that leads to skits that are not proper, there are issues that don’t have to do with being right, but what is right.

    The essential doctrines of the Christian faith as espoused in scripture are not changeable. These are those that effect the Gospel. There can be no compromise on these. Yes, we can disagree with each other over issues of Christian liberty.

    As Christians we cannot share fellowship with a person who is unrepentant in their sins, be it homosexuality or gossip. I did not say we cannot have fellowship with sinners or we would have no fellowship at all. Telling a person who is willfully engaging in sin that he is not sinning is not a loving act.

    I regret that you and your friend have divided on this issue but I admire your desire to better understand his motivations. Be thankful that he is sincerely trying to be obedient to the Bible. Best wishes

  • Zuko Mbewu

    We should never compromise on truth for the sake of unity and for the sake of bing nice. The issue of homosexuality is easy, God hates the sin and loves the sinner, but if the sinner not repent, then Romans one states very clear what the fate of the homosexual is. Also, remember that there are two types of sins mentioned in the Bible, the transgression of God’s Law and abominations. God call homosexuality and abomination. Using the argument of sitting at meat with sinners is lame because a perpertual communion with those who commit abominations leads to corruption. The Bible says that by beholding we become changed. Lot’s wife had a soft spot for Sodom in her heart, and she perished with the city. With regards to homosexuals, God wants us to befriend them for the sake of letting God’s will known to them, and not so we can have perpertual communion with them. Christians must be careful not to appear clapping and cheering homosexuality on, approving of the lifestyle. We are to call the world to repentence and not compromise. Those with gay children are especially changed by this dilema, but even they need to choose God and hi Law and principle over the choices of their children. Pray for them, yes, but to embrace the sin is sending them to hell. God’s upon you commentators and upon the Christian Church!

  • billwald

    People argue about the Bible for the same reason that they argue about the Constitution: There is no agreement as to the meaning of the words.

    Doctrine: Communion . . . what does “is” mean? I suggest that Christians study Aristotle.