1 Peter 3:8 (ESV)- Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart and a humble mind.
When St. Ignatius of Antioch (110 A.D.) was on his way to his martyrdom, he wrote a series of letters to the churches, expressing his concern for the future of Christ’s little flock.
Like today, already there were many, who while calling themselves “Christians,” were beginning to divide the established congregations. In almost all of Ignatius’ letters he expresses a common theme that the Holy Spirit continued to resound in his old heart: Unity. In his letter to the Philadelphians 7:1-2, Ignatius gives the following admonition:
“I cried out while I was in your midst, I spoke with a loud voice, the voice of God: ‘Give heed to the Bishop (head Pastor), the Presbytery (Pastors under the Bishop) and the Deacons (ordained servants). Some suspected me of saying this because I had previous knowledge of the division which certain persons had caused; but He for whom I am in chains is my witness that I had no knowledge of this from any human being. It was the Spirit who kept preaching these words: ‘Do nothing without the bishop, keep your body as the temple of God, love unity, flee from divisions, be imitators of Jesus Christ, as He was imitator of the Father.'”
Most divisions in churches are oftentimes caused by those who after being given a taste of heavenly instruction, become “puffed up” (1 Corinthians 8:1) in their new knowledge. This elevation of the ego gives the person a false sense of importance and self-worth, that leads him or her to forget about the very foundation of the Gospel, which is LOVE.
Since a little knowledge poses great danger, Lord Jesus instructed through the Apostles that a novice should not be ordained as a Pastor, lest he become conceited and fall under the same judgement as the Devil. (1 Timothy 3:6) For the same reason, those who are selected for ordination to the Holy Diaconate must also be tested, lest they fall into the same trap. (1 Timothy 3:10)
Lord Jesus teaches us in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (ESV)
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Christianity is a disciplic movement (Matthew 28:18-20), so therefore, there is no escape from the stark reality that true unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart and a humble mind, begins with the relationship we foster with the Teachers (Bishops, Presbyters) who instructed us in the knowledge of the Gospel, in both spoken word and deed.
Since human beings have the ability to conjure up a thousand rationalizations in order to justify their schisms, every church division is oftentimes padded by a plethora of justifications for breaking the unity of the brethren. Most of the time, these divisions are strongly accompanied by a disdain and dismissal of the teaching office commissioned to Bishops and Pastors, and this, with severe mischaracterizations launched from afar.
Yes, there are “bad” Bishops and Pastors…but Lord Jesus left instructions on how to deal with the bad apples in our churches. But regardless of a schismatic’s justifications, their prideful divisions are always accompanied by the disrespect to the teaching office of the Bishop or Pastor they are seeking to harm.
In speaking about those who cause divisions in the churches, Lord Jesus teaches us through His brother Jude that such persons are so prideful that they ignorantly speak evil of Principalities and Powers- who although being demonic, God requires that we respect their functioning office and God-given authority. Jude 8-10 says:
Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.
There cannot be true unity in the Christian Church while presuming that we can blaspheme and disrespect the office of our Bishops and Pastors, regardless of how much we might disagree them them. In fact, those who resort to such detestable practices become abominable to the God of order and cut themselves off from the Body of Christ. (Jude 17-19)
For those that presume to justify the divisions that they cause, St. Ignatius says the following in his letter to the Philadelphians 8:1–
“I therefore did my own part, as a man composed unto union. But where there is division and anger, there God abideth not. Now the Lord forgiveth all men when they repent, if repenting they return to the unity of God and to the council of the bishop.”
It is when we walk in all love, unity and subjection to the authorities placed over us, that we can then lay claim to the “blessings” that Christ has in store for His little flock.