Causes of Disunity

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The Old Testament (OT) prophets repeatedly called upon literal Israel and the role it plays, as God’s chosen people to obey Him. Seventh-day Adventists believe that the OT prophecies and predictions given to literal Israel were based on the condition that they should obey God. However, the Bible gives numerous examples of how the Israelites disobeyed God and demonstrated disloyalty to Him instead. Disobedience is one of the causes that lead to disunity.

From Deuteronomy 28:1–14, we learn that the blessings God promised to Israel await them if they prove to be obedient to Him. Deuteronomy 28 lists a series of covenantal blessings and curses connected to obedience and disobedience. The chapter opens with texts that are related to the concept of obedience, which leads to blessings “across the broad spectrum of daily life (Lev 26:3–13; Deut 28:1–14).”[1] These blessings, include among many, the birth of children, fruitfulness of the crops and that of the herds; blessings of the city and the country as well. The birth and the naming of children is a blessing of unity, when a person gave his own name to another, it implied the joining of the two in a very close unity, as when God gave his name to Israel.

God in His infinite wisdom provided the Israelites with “every facility for becoming the greatest nation on the earth”[2] When they apostatized, God said, “Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not be angry forever.’ ‘Only acknowledge your iniquity, That you have transgressed against the LORD your God And have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree, And you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares the LORD.” (Jer 3:12–13). Obedience to God’s commands was essential to safeguard against the sins of idolatry and self-centeredness.

Because of disobedience, Israel went into captivity, “there to learn the lessons they had refused to learn under circumstances more favorable.”[3] The Danish Proverb fits here, “He who will not obey a father, will have to obey a stepfather.”[4] The old proverb says, “When you obey your superior, you instruct your inferior.” The words of Aristotle are alarming when he said, “He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander.”[5] A good person must learn the virtue of both: he should learn how to govern like a freeman, and how to obey like a freeman. Again and again, God warned the Israelites that blessings go hand in hand with obedience and that curses accompany disobedience (see Deut 4:9; 8:19; 28:1, 2, 13, 14; Jer 18:6–10; 26:2–6; Zech 6:15).

The book of Judges tells of the many stories where Israel did not obey the Lord’s will and suffered the consequences of their sins. With the death of Samson, the record of the Israelite judges came to an end. The last five chapters contain two sorties to reveal the predominant idolatry and moral corruptness of Israel. The phrase, “in those days there was no king in Israel” appears four times in the book (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). These words show the contrast between the time of the monarchy—when they obeyed God, and the time of the judges—when they disobeyed God. The words, “every man did what was right in his own eyes” is repeated two times (17:6; 21:25). These words are a keynote to the entire book. It expresses, as Arthur Penrhyn Stanley says, “the freedom, the freshness, the independence, —the license, the anarchy, [and] the disorder.”[6] Never was there a more bitter instance than in these two alternate sentences in the period of the Judges.     

Whenever Israel disobeyed and sinned, God sent the Angel of the Lord to remind them of their previous deliverance from the oppression of the Egyptian. Disobedience, as it is highlighted in this lesson, is one of the causes of disunity. Another is the intermarriages with the Canaanites (see Judges 3:5–7). The instruction in the book of Deuteronomy was “you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and He will quickly destroy you.” (Deut 7:3–4). God was concerned for purity and that is why God’s instruction was not to marry or even to mingle with the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites. These nations could influence Israel to turn away from God; foreign wives would lead Israel astray, which in turn, will incur God’s wrath. The Apostle Paul warns believers today not to marry unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14–17).

Lack of wisdom is another cause for disunity among the people of the OT. The story of Rehoboam who rejected the counsel of the elders and sided with the young advisors brought not only division but plunged Israel into a senseless civil war. Homer said, “in youth and beauty wisdom is but rare.”[7] In contrast, “Old age is wisdom” said Georges Minois, the French historian. Further, I like the African proverb that says, “When an old man dies, a library burns down.” The ancient Afghani tribe said, “As one declines in strength, one increases in wisdom.” These wise words imply that there is safety in the counsel of the old. As a king, Rehoboam should have remembered that the counsel of the experienced is always helpful. We should not seek wisdom for personal gain, but rather we should seek wisdom so that we become a people of faith. God’s word should be the filter for the advice we are receiving.

In I Corinthians 1:10–17, the apostle Paul makes a transition from salutation (vv. 1–3), being thankful and commendation (vv. 4–9), to addressing the internal divisions the Church at Corinth is facing. The divisions in the Corinthians church were many: factions, litigation, sexual immorality, food offered to idols, spiritual gifts. The word translated divisions is schisma in the Greek language; the word can mean “split,” “tear,” and “division.”[8] John James Lias argues the word schisma renders an unreliable translation because schisma is more of a separation from the church. According to him, the best translation would be “divisions in, than separation from, the church.”[9] Such divisions, “Paul insisted, constituted a denial of their allegiance to one Lord (1 Cor. 1:10, 13) and their membership of one body (1 Cor. 12:12–26) where discord (schisma) had no place (1 Cor. 12:25).”[10] In Verse 13, the apostle Paul asks a rhetorical question, “is Christ divided?” The answer to this question is apparently negative from the following phrase, “Was Paul crucified?” Paul wanted to exalt Christ and Him crucified.

Ellen G. White said that the purpose of Satan is to “seek to divide and scatter them [the church], that they may grow weak and be overthrown. The people of God should move understandingly, and should be united in their efforts. They should be of the same mind, of the same judgment; then their efforts will not be scattered, but will tell forcibly in the upbuilding of the cause of present truth.”[11]

Mark Twain used to say he put a dog and a cat in a cage together as an experiment, to see if they could get along. They did, so he put in a bird, pig and goat. They, too, got along fine after a few adjustments. Then he put in a Baptist, Presbyterian, and Catholic; soon there was not a living thing left.

In the Old and the New Testaments, we saw examples of disunity and divisions among God’s people. When God’s people live in faithful obedience as the author says, the dangers of disunity will diminish. May the Lord help the Seventh-day Adventist Church during these trying moments of our church’s history, as believers, we should aim to be united and not to look for issues that separate us. The Lord desires His chosen church here on earth “learn how to be united in harmonious effort.”[12]

 

Youssry Guirguis is Lecturer in the Faculty of Religious Studies,Asia-Pacific International University (AIU), in Thailand.

 

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[1]J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014), 92.

[2]Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1941), 288.

[3]Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1943), 405.

[4]Robert Christy, Proverbs, Maxims, and Phrases of All Ages: Classified Subjectively and Arranged Alphabetically, 2 vols. (New York, NY: Knickerbocker, 1887), 1:312.

[5]Aristotle, The Politics of Aristotle, trans. by B. Jowett (London, UK: Henry Frowde, 1885) 74.

[6]Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, The History of the Jewish Church: Abraham to Samuel, Vols 2 (New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1879), 1:317.          

[7]Homer, The Odyssey of Homer: Translated from the Greek (London, UK: Henry Lintot, 1752), 375.

[8]M. J. Harris, “σχίζω,” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 3:544.

[9]John James Lias, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: With Notes, Map and Introduction (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1892), 34.

[10]M. J. Harris, “σχίζω,” NIDNTT, 3:543.

[11]Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, 9 vols. (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1855), 1:210.

[12]Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1949), 483.