Pathological Divisiveness – Reflections from ABQ Pt 3

During my days in Seminary I readn an article editing the experience of church splits. The author actually spun church splits into a methodology for church growth – planting churches!

Years later I am want for a Christian denomination without the experience of division. But alas to begin one simply means sooner or later a divsion is inevitable. There are a number of reasons. Ask any pastor with experience beyond ten years what kind of inane reasons are submitted for both leaving and splitting churches.

Purists will claim the Roman Catholic Church has not had a split but that would be editing the Grand Schism. And while the Orthodox lays claim to a contiguous experience we must take into account the ethnic manifestations of this “one” church. Maybe you would suggest it something different, not a split. But, let’s see us all get together then.

After all if a Southern Baptist can tell anything, it is division. Long or short form, we know what it is. We divide theologically – and often on disputable matters. But if it is “your” matter then the split was “worth it.” We divide over pragmatics, methodologies and music. We know how to divide. It is not divide and conquer. It is divide and reveal how hard it is to get along.

When Phyllis Tickle described the benefit of the Great Reformation – the priesthood of all believers – she explained this blessing and this curse.

The blessing came in the desire to be sure everyone could read. If you are to have such a large priesthood, and you are going to move to the Bilbe as your sole authority rather than the believing community, then you must work to see that everyone can read the book. Enter Gutenberg. Not only do we work to see that everyone can read, but we help to ensure we have plenty of copies for them to read. I am glad to have a copy, or two, or three, or … But, even in the battle of translations the matter is how the majority reads a text.

Gideons can place bibles everywhere. Anyone who wants a bible and can read will then be able to exercise their prerogative over the text. And from the blessing comes the curse.

Consequently void of the interpretive move of the believing community I am now on my own, allegedly guided by the Spirit, to make sense of it on my own. Enter pathological division. I am not questioning the Bible. I am suggesting the notion of objective reading by anyone is impossible. We need the Spirit to lead us into all truth. But, we must also have some boundaries of protection when we are not listening. And, since the Spirit would bring unity, like that found in the Trinity, evidently we do not always listen so well.

Phyllis noted the more than 29,000 Christian denominations in the USAmerica as acknowledged by the IRS. She also commented on the 39,000 different Christian denominations worldwide. If this does not illustrate the tendency toward a pathology of division, I am nost sure what does.

My friend Stan Norman, former professor of Baptist History and now Provost at Oklahoma Baptist University, and I had this conversation during a BWA meeting some years ago. It seems we have taken priesthood of all believers and made it priesthood of “the” believer. Now the nuance is important. Unless “the believer” is connected to a believing community to which he or she submits, his or her interpretation becomes “the” interpretation. So the original move was to underscore a person’s access to God not make them singularly an authority unto themselves. When we are an authority unto ourselves we will certainly pathologically divide, and divide, and divide.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

7 comments on “Pathological Divisiveness – Reflections from ABQ Pt 3

  1. Bart Barber says:

    Somebody pointed me over to this. If I disagree at all, I don’t see where.

  2. Bart,
    Glad Wes tipped you off to the post. I guess looking for something to disagree with is something like a pathological need for division. Having a Church History guy, and Baptist History guy, give me a good grade is nice.

    I did pass both of those back in the day at SWBTS.


  3. Bart Barber says:

    “I guess looking for something to disagree with is something like a pathological need for division”

    Perhaps I’m just predisposed to take that the wrong way (as though you’re alleging such a quality in me). I would only put before your consideration the fact that, however many posts you may have put up to which I might have DISagreed, I have not recently demonstrated any disposition to run over here and comment looking for something to disagree with. Rather, upon finding a post with which I agreed, I came over here to say so, and that has been about all of the comment traffic that you have recently earned from this reader.

    Perhaps I read your comment wrongly (a real possibility). I wouldn’t want to think it represented the back of your hand to my genuine gesture of goodwill.

  4. Bart,
    I found your original comment a compliment and a humorous way to offer such. My attempt at replying in similar fashion fell miserably.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Bart Barber says:


    My bad, and probably entirely my fault.

  6. Barb O. says:

    Hi Todd,

    I was at the EC Albuquerque Conf. too. It was amazing. So many good things happened and the sweet Spirit of Jesus was evident. Many divine appointments with various people. I stayed for the post conf. as well. One theme was repeated: Have a Listening Heart.

    I flew down from Canada. It was well worth the trip. Yes, much processing going on by all who came. I have enjoyed reading the various eye witness accounts of others who experienced the conf.

    My doctoral dissertation is available online:
    Ministering Restoration: Recovering Spiritual Harmony.

    Keep at it–in Him!
    Barb O.

  7. Barb O. says:

    Hi Todd,

    I am delighted to tell you that my Book Proposal has been accepted by a publisher!!! I am thankful for this opportunity to make my doctoral research available to a wide audience.

    This will immediately affect the availability of my dissertation on this website.
    I will leave excerpts and point people to the book but access to the entire dissertation has come to an end.

    If you would like to be contacted when the book is available, please email me at:

    Talk to you later,
    Dr. Barb

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