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Why does Christian doctrine cause so much division?

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Doctrine has often been divisive throughout the history of the Church. Many of today's denominations are the result of one or more doctrinal differences causing a group to split. Now there are thousands of denominations worldwide. Why does Christian doctrine cause so much division?

First, it must be noted that the truth of God is not intended to divide believers. God's desire is for unity. Jesus prayed, "That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21).

Second, there are often legitimate reasons for divisions. Second Timothy 4:3-4 warns that a time will come when those in churches will not tolerate sound teaching but will instead select leaders who teach what they want to hear. This is already taking place in many churches, and when it does, only two options remain—return to biblical doctrine or separate from the false doctrine. Those who remain true to God's Word, to whom truth matters, leave and join another congregation or start a new one.

Third, some divisions take place for non-doctrinal reasons. Music styles, clothing styles, and building projects are often sources of church divisions. Such issues may reflect a particular view of the Bible but are not essential to church doctrine.

Fourth, there is also a wide variety of what is considered essential doctrine. Throughout church history, certain absolutes have stood as vital to all Christians, such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, the sinfulness of humanity, the inerrancy of the Bible, and the return of Christ. Other differences, from end-times chronology to spiritual gifts, have led to divisions among those who see such issues as essential.

Truth must separate from error, but as a wise theologian once said, "In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, diversity; in all things, charity." If this attitude guides believers, they can be known for their unity (John 17:21) as well as their love for one another (John 13:35).

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