By Michael E. Brooks
“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10 NKJV).
The Abbas Hotel in Chuknagar, Bangladesh, of which I have written previously, is notable for its limited menu and the quality of its food. It is also interesting for its history. The hotel was built by a gentleman who has since died. It is currently owned and operated by his two sons. When I first began to eat there, there were actually two restaurants under one roof. Both were operated under the name “Abbas Hotel”. Both had the same menu, and used the same recipes. There was a wall dividing the building in half, and each brother had his own enterprise. This separation occurred because the two brothers had a dispute and refused to work together.
A few months or perhaps a year later I revisited Chuknagar and saw that the wall had been removed and both brothers were now operating a single hotel. The dispute had obviously been resolved. When I mentioned that to one of the Bengalis with whom I was traveling he laughed and said, “They are always doing that. When they get angry they put up the wall; when they make up they remove it.”
The Abbas Hotel reminds me of a lot of church divisions. One individual or group in a congregation has a quarrel with another person or group, and when it is not resolved promptly it escalates to the point that eventually one of the parties leaves to start another congregation.
Outsiders see two groups teaching the same things, doing the same things, and using essentially the same name, and wonder, “What is going on? Why are there two churches here that are so much alike?” Sadly the only true answer is that they simply cannot get along with each other.
It is often stated that most divisions are caused by personality problems than by any other factor. There may be some dispute on doctrine or methodology, but these are frequently the excuse rather than the true cause. Unfortunately, unlike the hotel in Bangladesh, reconciliation rarely occurs even if the original quarrel is eventually forgotten.
There is no good reason for two separate “Abbas Hotels” in the same building. Neither is there justification for two identical but opposed churches in the same area. The Holy Spirit condemns division and exhorts us to work together in unity (Ephesians 4:3). The Psalmist says it beautifully:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing – life forevermore (Psalm 133:1).
For two parties to dwell together, the first and primary conditions are unselfishness and brotherly love. “Personality problems” are simply another way of saying that one or both parties are putting self ahead of others, and their dispute ahead of the Lord’s body.
Paul reveals the perfect recipe for unity in these words, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interest, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Another essential to unity is consensus. Amos asked, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Paul recognized this principle when he said that Christians are to speak the same things and be of the same mind and judgment. When Christian hearts and minds are in harmony, the Church enjoys true unity. They want to get along and work to resolve any difficulties or misunderstandings. In such an environment God and Christ are glorified and their people are blessed.