“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that […]
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
The centuries following the Protestant Reformation have provided the church with an abundance of edifying and God-honouring authors. Yet, despite the availability of their works, many of these authors remain relatively unknown to modern Christians. One such author is James Durham, who wrote a timely discourse on division.
Durham was born in Scotland 400 years ago in 1622. He was not a believer early on in his life, but the family he married into convinced him to attend church gatherings. He was converted during a sermon by a minister named Ephraim Melville. The text Melville preached on was 1 Peter 2:7, “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious.”
After his conversion, Durham took a keen interest in theology, and his entrance into the ministry took place at a lively point of history. As Donald John Maclean explained it: “Durham’s life overlapped with many significant ecclesiastical and political events. He was involved in the Scottish army’s engagements during the English Civil War. After leaving the army he was ordained the year the Scottish Church adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) having been persuaded by David Dickson (Professor of Divinity in Glasgow University) to devote himself to the ministry.”
Dickson and Durham would go on to co-author a gem known as The Sum of Saving Knowledge. Durham’s other notable writings include commentaries on Revelation, Song of Solomon, and the Ten Commandments. He should also be remembered for his 1659 classic, The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland (also known as A Treatise Concerning Scandal). This work covers different aspects of division in the church, such as doctrinal disputes and church discipline. Chapel Library (a ministry of Mount Zion Bible Church in Pensacola, FL) has published a modernized and abridged section of Durham’s book titled How to Heal Rather Than Deepen Divisions. As its name suggests, it focuses on healing and preventing disunity.
Why are this Scottish preacher’s ideas worth considering? Matthew Vogan, the editor of the aforementioned abridgment, notes the quality of Durham’s work on division: “Probably no one has written more on this subject than James Durham—certainly there has never been anything wiser and weightier.” Let us then consider Durham’s thoughts from How to Heal Rather Than Deepen Divisions.
Recognise Division as a Danger
To begin, we need to recognise the danger that division brings. Durham describes such strife as a “plague” and a “snare.” These terms are fitting descriptors of division. Just as pestilence brings destruction to the land, conflict can bring suffering to the church.
Durham notes that if a church is already under stress due to disputes, people will tend to be suspicious of even the most prominent members of that congregation. He goes on to say that nearly all discourse among church members becomes “disheartening and comfortless” due to the tension. Such an environment is not fitting for the assembly of God’s redeemed people.
To avoid feuds, we should remember that quarrels expose a local church body to numerous problems. Keeping this in mind will also give us the right attitude to begin the healing process. It is not easily fixed, so prevention is key. Proverbs 18:19 puts it this way, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.”
Durham also makes a point to emphasise personal responsibility. When we find ourselves in the middle of a divisive situation, we need to step back and reflect on our own motives and actions. Durham urges us to consider if we had a part in perpetuating disunity. It’s possible that we have sinned and have not realised it. He tells us to ask ourselves, “Have I been an accessory in any way to bring in this evil of division, for example, by negligence and unfaithfulness, imprudence, heat, passion, tenaciousness, addictedness to personalities and too much reluctance to displease them, prejudice against others, uncharitableness to others, or the like?”
In addition to self-examination, we must also take responsibility and repent of any wrongdoing on our part, both as individuals and as a local congregation. Let us first turn away from dissension before we strive for unity.
After self-reflection, we need to get to work. Durham gives us several courses of action to take. First, we need to promote and prioritise unity between our brothers and sisters. Just as Paul urged Euodia and Syntyche to “be of the same mind in the Lord,” we should be advocating unity and not idly standing by.
Second, Durham emphasises sensitivity and respect when tackling this issue. This includes showing all parties respect when mentioning them, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and representing their opinions in an accurate way. Following these principles will aid us in bringing the saints together, as many will not listen to someone whom they find to be brash and impolite.
Finally, we need to turn to God for help. He is the one that brought us together in the first place. Durham reasons, “For He is the God of peace and ought to be acknowledged in removing the great evil of division. Hence the apostle subjoins prayers for peace to his exhortations to peace (Rom 15:1-7).”
In conclusion, this portion of Durham’s writing is a great resource for the church. His insights are both profound and practical. The church would do well to employ these methods in order to remain united in its gospel efforts. Unity is both good and pleasant (Psalm 133:1), so the Christian should be seeking to break up harmful discord whenever it arises. Let us put this into practice to ensure that there are “no divisions among” us.
– R.A. Miller is an elder at Sarasota Reformation Church in Sarasota, FL, USA.