The 6 Things that Divide Christians

A look at the big areas where we disagree.

One of the dominant attributes of Christianity today is that its adherents can’t seem to agree on much; or at least, we fight about things more loudly and publicly than we agree about things. This is sad—but probably inevitable. Since Christ’s time on this planet, His followers have been arguing about almost everything. It’s nothing new, though certain technologies (the blogosphere, Twitterverse, etc.) seem to amplify it today. We argue about all sorts of things—small, large, petty, important. We argue about “essentials” and “nonessentials,” and even about who decides which is which. The following is a solemn reflection on the things that divide us the most these days. What can we do to have better dialogue about these things?

1. Homosexuality. This is an explosive issue and is only going to get more explosive within the Christian church in the years to come. It’s the single biggest challenge facing the Church. What to do about gay marriage? Gay ordination? Homosexuality in church congregations? Legal issues related to nonprofit status? There are Christians on all sides of the issue, and it’s not an easy one to have civil, loving discussions about. It’s an issue that has already divided countless denominations, led to splits/schism and created a sort of line-in-the-sand litmus test between conservatives and liberals.

2. Universalism. The recent blow-up over Rob Bell’s Love Wins is just the tip of the iceberg on this one. Shortly after Justin Taylor’s first “shot heard round the world” post about “Universalist?” Rob Bell, theologian Scot McKnight wrote on his blog that “Universalism, or at least the prospect of it, is the single most significant issue running through the undercurrent of evangelicalism today.” It’s an issue that gets right to the heart of the question of orthodoxy. Are Christians who believe God will eventually save all humans (Muslims, Atheists, etc.) indeed heretics? Lines have been, and will be drawn in the sand on this issue.

3. Politics. The hyper-partisan atmosphere (fueled by a media that feeds on divisiveness) of contemporary politics has already wreaked havoc within Christianity, where Christian leaders and many churches seem to be more vocal about aligning with one or the other side of the political spectrum. As the evangelical left continues to grow, and more and more Sarah Palin-type Republican “Christian” politicians scare younger evangelicals away from the GOP, the tension will only become more apparent. Generational and regional divisions will only be amplified, as will the rural/urban disconnect.

4. Evolution. This has been a divisive issue for a long time, and continues to be. If the recent Christianity Today cover story on the historical Adam is any indicator, there are going to be some serious showdowns in coming years between the theistic evolution/BioLogos camp and the more conservative anti-Darwinist camps among evangelicals. As science continues to raise questions about biblical claims (about creation accounts, floods, etc.), the classic tension between science-faith is only going to become more exacerbated.

5. Women in Ministry. Evangelical writers and students like to talk about this issue in terms of “egalitarian” vs. “complimentarian,” but essentially it’s a debate about the role of women in church. Can they be leaders? Pastors? What kind of pastors? Are there distinct roles for men and women, both in the married relationship and in the church? This issue always gets Christians riled up, and denominations have formed (more or less) around their position on this issue. The recent pseudo-debate among Christian women discussing “Christian feminism” (see posts by Rachel Held Evans and Caryn Rivadeneira) is but one recent example of how explosive questions of women’s roles in the church and society can be for Christians.

6. The Internet. This may seem like a strange thing to blame for divisiveness, but I’m more and more convinced that the Internet and its accompanying glut of niche communities, insular blog networks and an almost requisite mode of mud-slinging discourse has caused all sorts of fragmentation and dissension in the Church. The Internet has made neo-Calvinism a “thing,” given rise to theological flame wars, and contributed to the rendering-obsolete of the local church. In our RSS, follow-who-you-want world, we consume media and discourse that more often than not simply affirms our established positions, and it’s easier than ever to identify ourselves in terms of the particular beliefs that set us apart, rather than those that bind us together with the larger Christian world.

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What other things would you include on this list? How can we improve our discussions of these issues? Let us know in the comments, and besure to check back tomorrow as we take a closer look at the six key things that can unite Christianity. 

Brett McCracken is the author of Hipster Christianity (Baker, 2010) and a regular blogger. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrettMcCracken. This article is reprinted from his blog with permission.

Top Comments

Theo Philus


Theo Philus commented…

To quote Ephesians 4:1-6, "Therefore I, the prisoner of the LORD, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one LORD, one faith, one baptism, one GOD and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all."

Now, look around. We made a big mess of this, didn't we? I purposely visit as a guest to different Protestant denominations and have been a guest in a Catholic mass, even asked to pray at the end of mass for the dedication of child whose family are Catholics because the family respected the faith I had somehow conveyed to them.

Disunity within the body is an offense to the work Christ accomplished on the Cross on our behalf. It takes a labor of love in the Spirit to overcome it. Yet, I am not naiive to the fact that Scripture can be interpreted in many different ways which leads to such division. Maturity would call us to admit the differences exist yet embrace our fellow believers on all sides of the theological front. Read 1 Corinthians 2. If we are believers, then we ought to have the mind of Christ. Recall how Christ dealt with the Pharisees, and compare that with how He dealt with the adulteress, the leper, Zacchaeus, the thief on the Cross, the Samaritan woman at the well, the Roman Centurion, and so on. Division is a human thing which Christ alone can overcome. Even Peter and Paul nearly divided, but the Spirit of Christ kept them united.

If we continue to set our eyes on Jesus and let His life and teaching transform us personally, then be very careful with the application part, and read the Ephesians verses before we trounce one another. Keeping sound doctrine is important, but being patient with one another is also important. Each one's understanding is in progress. Some are new to the faith, others have been traveling years in the faith. 1 Corinthians 13:12 reminds us that our knowledge is still through a glass darkly. And what is the goal of our instruction anyway? Is it not 1 Timothy 1:5, .. "love from a pure heart and good conscience and a sincere faith." Let Christ be our example of love. Let the teaching of 1 Corinthians 13 remind in words what Christ demonstrated regarding love.

Division within the Body of Christ is like divorce in marriage, it breaks the heart of GOD. Let's hold fast to Jesus, and be careful not to tear each other up with our "favorite" doctrines. Doctrines are important not for use as weapons against our neighbor, but as mirrors to our own hearts that we may more closely reflect Christ in our own lives, rather than our ugly sinful selves for which Christ died. If we truly believe Galatians 2:20, that we have been crucified with Christ, then uniting one another with Him should be a goal. Love your brother (1 John 4:20), pull the logs out of your own eyes, and let Christ's sermon on the mount (Matthew ch's 5-7) be a perpetual sermon to yourself. I've got so much to learn and so much growing to do. May GOD forgive me for the callousness of my own heart when a broken one was in my presence. Open the eyes of my heart LORD. I want to see You.


Jeana Lawrence commented…

The #1 issue that still divides "christians" is the Gospel. How you define it impacts all of the others whether it's prosperity gospel, universalism or something else.




Kim commented…

Everyone believes different things and we can't conclusively prove
whether or not much of it is "right" or "wrong". As a Christian I think
it's your responsibility to know why you believe what you believe and to
be able to tolerate the perspectives of others in love. Does arguing
(which is different from discussing) about this stuff ever really sway
anyone from their beliefs? Maybe I'm just stubborn, but it's never
worked for me.

The only reason I can see for such heated arguments is if a particular
issue definitely affects the salvation of believers, and we are not the ones who decide who is
salvation-worthy and who is not.

I was raised non-denom, one set of grandparents were Pentecostal, one
set of grandparents (and my in-laws) were/are Lutheran, my aunt
converted to Catholicism, I've got a friend who is going to a
hyper-seeker-sensitive church, and one who is going to a
super-progressive-emergent-artsy-hipster chuch. Our beliefs about the
little things don't quite line up, but we all love(d) Christ. I have
a hard time believing that God is petty enough to judge us on the
things that aren't clearly spelled out in the scripture.

Jeremy O'Maille


Jeremy O'Maille commented…

I'm sorry you wasted that much time writing that many words to say something that has nothing to do with me, although it's me you're addressing. But it seems like you're having a good conversation with your straw man so I don't want to intrude.


Eclecticwarrior commented…

Money. It's a simple one, but I have increasingly seen the issue of money, and it's implication with the Prosperity doctrine, tear people from congregations, church and faith.


Ericfan27 commented…

these are big issues and worth dividing over. #1,2,3 are pretty black and white issues...dont see how you can compromise but #4,5,6 are more grey areas.


Ericfan27 commented…

oops i mean #1,2,5. are black and white.

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