Is Division Sinful?

by Tim Rumsey December 19, 2017

Is Division Sinful?

Is division sinful?  Is division preventing God from acting?  Is it preventing God from bringing revival and new life on a withering and dying Christianity?    

On February 6, 2017, a delegation of German Protestant leaders extended a historic invitation to Pope Francis by inviting the pope to visit Germany, the nation where the Reformation began.  Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chairperson of the German Council of the Evangelical Church, told the pope, “It is sometimes a painful reality in families [that] couples who share children, grandchildren and friends are divided at the Lord’s table.”[1] The Protestant delegation made it clear that “our churches feel a special responsibility to develop ecumenism further, since the divisions started with us in Germany.”[2]

The invitation is part of a worldwide celebration throughout the year 2017 to celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  In 2016 Pope Francis participated in a joint Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of the Reformation in Lund, Sweden, but many people see this invitation from the German Council of the Evangelical Church as even more significant, since it comes from the birthplace of the Reformation.

The February 6 invitation from Germany occurred just days after the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at the Vatican.  This year’s ecumenical event, which concluded on January 25, included churches from the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, and Mennonite traditions, among others. Introductory statements made in the summit’s handbook made it clear that this year’s week of prayer was focused on ending the division within Christianity brought by the Protestant Reformation. The handbook stated, “the Reformation was marked by painful division, …[and] after centuries of mutual condemnations and vilification, in 2017 Lutheran and Catholic Christians will for the first time commemorate together the beginning of the Reformation.”[3] The conference materials went on to state that “division [is] due to our sin.”[4]

This idea--that it is sinful not to participate in the movement for visible unity--is being repeated a lot.  In 2014 Pope Francis and his friend Bishop Anthony Palmer produced a video that suggested it is sinful not to participate in the push for visible unity among all Christians.  In that video Palmer said,

Our sin, common to all, is that we do not allow our unity in Christ to be visible to those around us…When we prohibit the unity of Christians, we are rejecting the work of the cross…We need not to continue in the sins of our fathers.  If we want, we can stop any time we want. And I’m asking, I’m challenging by the Spirit of God, that we as non-Roman Catholics, we stop continuing in the sin of separation. (

Shortly before this video was produced, Palmer and the pope had appeared in another video that went viral on the internet.  In this video, Palmer was speaking to a large gathering of evangelical leaders in the United States, and stated bluntly that the Protestant Reformation is over.

I’ve come to understand that diversity is divine; it’s division that’s diabolic…Division destroys our credibility…Brothers and sisters, Luther’s protest is over—is yours? …If there is no more protest, how can there be a Protestant church? (

Immediately after Palmer made these comments he played an iPhone video, recorded at the Vatican, in which the pope urged evangelicals to come back home and unite with the Roman Catholic Church.

An underlying premise in the push for visible unity across all of Christendom is that God will not and cannot bless the Christian church with revival until it achieves this unity.  According to the argument, any group refusing to participate in this visible unity fosters division, and this division prevents the revival that Christianity needs. 

And revival within Christianity is desperately needed, especially in the western world.  Church attendance in nearly all churches in North America and western Europe has been slowly and steadily eroding for decades.  Several recent studies conducted in North America illustrate the seriousness of the church’s decline. A study released in November 2015 by the Pew Research Center reported that in the seven years between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of Americans that said they “believe in God with absolute certainty” slipped from 71 to 63 percent.  That is an eight percent drop in only seven years! The same study also reported that during the same time period, those that say they don’t believe in God rose from five to nine percent of the adult population.[5] A September 2015 study by the Barna Group suggests that less than one-third of U.S. adults are “practicing Christians,” and that as many as forty-eight percent are “post-Christian.”[6] 

The argument is simple: Christianity needs a revival, and the reason God has not sent a revival is because division has prevented so far prevented the visible unity of churches.  According to an article from the Catholic News Agency on August 27, 2014, Pope Francis said, “Division is one of the most serious sins, because it does not allow God to act…Sins against unity are not only schisms, but also the most common weeds of our communities.”[7]  It’s hard to miss the allusion to a gardener plucking up weeds that prevent growth, and health, and life.

So, is division sinful?  Is division preventing God from acting?  Is it preventing God from bringing revival and new life on a withering and dying Christianity?  To find the answer, we are going to look at a picture of the end from Genesis, the first book in the Bible. 

The first two chapters of Genesis record how God created life on this world, and we will see that how He created life in the physical realm reveals exactly how He creates life in the spiritual realm.  Romans 1:20 expresses this principle this way: “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” According to this verse, God’s invisible work of creating new spiritual life within a person, or a church, is revealed through the visible things of nature.  To state it differently, the visible things of creation, and the written record we have of that event, reveal how God creates new life in the invisible spiritual realm.

According to Genesis, before God began His work of creation, the earth was “without form, and void” (Genesis 1:2), and covered in darkness. The ancient Hebrew translators used the Greek word abyssos in this verse, which means a desert, or a wasteland, a place with no life.  In many ways this word could describe the current state of Christianity.  How does God create new life and bring a revival out of this kind of wasteland?

According to the creation account, He began a work of division. On the first day, He “divided the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4). On the second day, He “divide[d] the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament” (verse 7).  On the third day He divided the land from the water and then created an abundance of plant life that was divided “according to its kind” (verse 11). On the fourth day God created the sun, moon, and stars to “divide the day from the night” (verse 14) and to “divide the light from the darkness” (verse 18).  On the fifth day the fish and the birds were created and divided “according to their kind” (verse 21), and on the sixth day every species of land animal was likewise divided “according to its kind” (verse 24).

As the end of the sixth day of creation approached, God performed another work of division.  He knelt down and “formed man of the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7), and divided Adam from the dust When Adam realized that he had no mate, God “caused a deep sleep to fall on [him], and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place” (verse 21).  Eve, too, was created through division. 

During the first six days of creation, all God did was to divide! The emergence of life occurred only through God’s work of division.  Prior to creation week, all the building blocks of life and all the elements of nature were unified in a chaotic sea of darkness that was “without form, and void” of life. The spiritual application is critically important to understand: God creates spiritual life in the same way, by dividing people from a world swimming in the chaos of sin. He creates spiritual life by dividing people from spiritual darkness and bringing them into the light of His truth.

What was it that God used to divide nature during creation week? His word!  Every day begins with, “And God said…” God’s word was the active agent in the work of division that created life.  His word performs the same function in the creation of new spiritual life. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).  The Christian world today is looking for a badly needed revival.  It is looking for badly needed unity.  But if it sets aside God’s word, the Bible, and ignores truths that sometimes do bring division, then it is casting aside the one thing, the only thing, that can create new life and revival.

There is one final thing that God divided during Creation.  On the seventh day He divided time itself, “and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Genesis 2:2).  God blessed and sanctified this 24-hour unit of time divided from the other six days. At the foundation of the world He established the seventh day as a memorial of His work of division.  And just like the first six days of creation, it was God’s word that divided and established the seventh day as holy. Unlike the year, month, and day, there is no astronomical explanation for the seven-day weekly cycle.  The seventh day Sabbath exists only on the authority of God’s word.

God did perform one work of unification during creation week.  Late on the sixth day, after life had been created through a continual and repeated process of division, God united Adam and Eve in marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (verse 24). The unity happened, but only after six days of division!

In John 17 Jesus prayed for the unity of all believers.  As Judas and the mob from Jerusalem made their way slowly toward the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus poured out a prayer for the unity of His disciples, and for all Christians until the end of time.

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one (John 17:20-23).

This prayer is quoted frequently by many that desire to see a visible unity among all Christians, and even between Christians and those of other faiths.  But notice what Jesus prayed for first, before He prayed for unity.  He prayed that God’s word would sanctify and divide the disciples from the world.  Look at the verses that immediately precede Christ’s prayer for unity.

I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:14-17).

Jesus prayed that God would separate His disciples from the world!  And He said that this must be accomplished through the power of God’s Word!  Christ’s message was first and foremost a message of division.  He knew that His straight testimony would cause division, and He warned His disciples that to follow Him would inevitably cause division. Jesus said to His disciples, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).  Christ’s prayer for unity will be answered, but God’s people must first separate and divide themselves from anything that is not in agreement with the Bible.

A second picture of the end today is found in the book of Matthew chapter 26.  In this chapter Jesus Christ is about to be crucified, and we are going to pick up the story after His last supper with the disciples. Jesus enters into the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples, and a great cloud of darkness begins to descend on Him. In verse 38 Jesus says, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matthew 26:38).  Jesus was quoting from a prophecy in Isaiah chapter 53, verses 11 and 12: “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” 

This is a prophecy predicting the moment that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would have the sins of the world placed upon Him.  This would be a terrible moment for Him, because the Bible says that the Messiah would be sinless.  Imagine living your entire life with perfect vision, perfect hearing, and a perfect sense of smell.  Then suddenly, one morning you wake up blind, deaf, and without the ability to smell anything.  You would be completely cut off, or divided, from the life you had known before.  This is what happened to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, only to a much greater degree, because He took on Himself the sins and guilt of the entire world that night.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.”

The prophecy in Isaiah 53 continues in verse 12:

Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

This prophecy reveals that at the moment Jesus took the guilt of our sins onto Himself, He would be numbered with the transgressors and pour out His soul unto death.  More than that, He would be divided from the life He had known before.  The lesson is powerful—according to the Bible, salvation and redemption and new life in Jesus is possible only because He separated and divided Himself from the life He had known before.

And the life that Jesus had known up until this moment was perfect unity with the Heavenly Father.  Jesus had said earlier in His ministry that He did nothing and said nothing except as God commanded Him to.  Now there was division between them.  As Jesus took on the sins of the world, the guilt of those sins separated Him from the Father.  Isaiah 59:2 says,

[Y]our iniquities have separated you from your God;And your sins have hidden His face from you,So that He will not hear.

This is precisely what Jesus was referring to when He cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).

There’s an insightful passage in the book Desire of Ages that describes the division that Christ experienced in Gethsemane.

Throughout His life on earth [Jesus] had walked in the light of God’s presence…But now He seemed to be shut out from the light of God’s sustaining presence. Now He was numbered with the transgressors. The guilt of fallen humanity He must bear. Upon Him who knew no sin must be laid the iniquity of us all…He felt that by sin He was being separated from His Father.[8]

Now it is true that in this experience, sin was dividing Jesus from the Father.  But that does not mean that all division is sinful.  Jesus was exactly fulfilling God’s will in taking sin upon Himself.  He was exactly fulfilling God’s will in undergoing this separation and division.  In fact, the Bible says that it was through this experience that Jesus was “made perfect.”  Hebrews 5:7-9 says,

[Jesus], in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

According to the Bible, Christ’s division from the Father made Him the perfect Sacrifice. That division is what brings us the promise of forgiveness and cleansing from sin.  It’s that division that makes revival and new life possible.

And we can’t miss why Jesus allowed Himself to be divided from the Father.  It wasn’t because He wanted to go through this painful experience.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus fell on the ground and prayed three times that if any other way could be found to save the human race, He would rather not be divided from the Father.  But Jesus had to go through this separation and division because the Word of God had declared that He must.   

We already looked at the prophecy in Isaiah 53 that said the Messiah must be “cut off” and “divided” because of sin.  Another prophecy in Zechariah 13:7 predicted the same thing.

Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd,
Against the Man who is My Companion,
Says the LORD of hosts.
Strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep will be scattered.

A sword had to be brought against Jesus Christ, the Man who was God’s Companion.  In the Bible a sword represents the Word of God. Remember what Hebrews 4:12 says: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  The word of God had predicted that the Messiah must undergo a process of separation and division, and in submission Jesus obeyed.  

God, through His word, has always called people out of the world. He has always asked them to separate and divide from the world.  He called Abraham out of a comfortable home to live in a tent for the rest of his life.  He led Moses out of a privileged life in the courts of Egypt to a rugged life as a shepherd.  He called the Jews outof Babylon after their 70 years of captivity to build a new life once again in the promised land.  The New Testament says that God has called Christians out of darkness into the light of truth.  And what is truth?  Jesus gave the answer in John 17:17.  “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”

Division based on the Word of God is God’s chosen method of separating His people from the world.  Division based on the Word of God is God’s chosen method of creating life.  And the Bible says clearly that division based on the Word of God is God’s chosen method today for reviving Christianity and bringing new life and revival to the church.  In 2 Corinthians 6:17 God says, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.”

God wants His people unified, but that unity must come after separation and after division from anything that does not conform to the Word of God. In Isaiah 8 verse 16 God predicts that His people—His church—will have unity, and He specifies what the conditions of that unity will be: “Bind up the testimony, Seal the law among my disciples” (Isaiah 8:16).  God will unite His people based on the truths of the Bible and the commandments of His holy law. A few verses later God repeats Himself, just so we don’t miss His point. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).

The church needs unity, and the church needs revival.  The Bible promises that it will happen.  In Revelation 12 God’s united people are shown in vision to John, and he gives the secret to their unity.  In verse 17 he writes, “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”  God’s united church will keep the commandments of God—it will have divided itself from the world based on the Word of God.  Revelation 14 verse 12 says the same thing: “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”

Is the push for visible unity amongst Christians good or bad?  Is it sinful or not?  That depends.  If God’s word, the plain teachings of the Bible, and the law of God are upheld by this converging Christianity, then God’s people can safely participate.  But if truth is sacrificed, ignored, brushed aside, stepped on, or substituted for the teachings of men or for doctrines that are only acceptable to everybody, then the only safe thing to do will be to separate and divide.

On July 16, 1945, several hundred people watched the world’s first nuclear explosion at a test site located 210 miles south of Los Alamos on the barren plains of the Alamogordo Bombing Range.  Hoisted atop a 150-foot tower, the plutonium device, or Gadget, detonated at precisely 5:30 a.m. over the New Mexico desert, releasing 18.6 kilotons of power, instantly vaporizing the tower, and turning the surrounding asphalt and sand into green glass. Seconds after the explosion came an enormous blast, sending searing heat across the desert and knocking observers to the ground. The success of the test meant that an atomic bomb using plutonium could be readied for use by the U.S. military.  Several weeks later the Japanese city of Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb, ending World War II in the Pacific.

What makes an atomic bomb work? When a single free neutron strikes the nucleus of an atom of radioactive material, it knocks two or three more neutrons free. Energy is released when those neutrons split off from the nucleus, and the newly released neutrons strike other nuclei, splitting them in the same way, releasing more energy and more neutrons. This chain reaction spreads almost instantaneously. The atomic bomb used the power released by the splitting of atomic nuclei.

Do you know what the American military code-named that first experimental atomic bomb?  Trinity.  Perhaps they realized that dividing the atom would release an explosion of energy and power that was super-human, even god-like.  And this is exactly what God’s church and God’s people need today.  We need an explosion of energy and power that is super-human.  We need a new life and a new experience that is fueled not by superficial unity, but by obedience to God’s Word and His law.  When this happens, God will send a revival and reformation that truly unites His people.








[7] (emphasis added)

[8] E.G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 685-6.

Tim Rumsey
Tim Rumsey


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