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©Laura Haverkamp

Chapter 16:17-20 (ESV)

Posted on January 24, 2024  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 16:17-20 (ESV) -  I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Question to consider: How can we avoid divisions in the church?

Paul’s final exhortation was a warning to hold to the true gospel and watch out for those who would try to divide the church. At the time Paul wrote this, division was being caused by three main groups: Jewish Christians who believed Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved, by the Nicolaitans who denied Christ coming in the flesh and taught that sins done in the body served to grant more grace in the spirit, and by the self-proclaimed super apostles who taught similar doctrine to the modern-day prosperity preachers. All of them seemed to weave their way into churches by joining a congregation and planting seeds of discord.

In modern churches, these same kinds of divisions can creep in through popular Bible studies or contemporary worship music. I think of some of the fad studies over the years like: The Purpose Driven Life, The Prayer of Jabez, or any of the women’s studies offered by Beth Moore. All seem to undermine the gospel in some way, apply scripture unmoored from its context, or focus on pop psychology over Biblical truth. 

Heretical ministries like Elevation, Bethel, or Hillsong use their praise bands as a marketing arm for their ministries. People get swept up by the emotions evoked by the music and fail to discern the error in the ministries themselves. Currently, there is a particularly dangerous movement called the “New Apostolic Reformation” (NAR) where the leaders consider themselves to be the “end times apostles” and proclaim to receive extra biblical revelation from God. In all of these cases, the ones who raise warnings or objections to false doctrine are vilified as heresy hunters who are trying to quench the Holy Spirit. As difficult as it may be, church elders should be faithful shepherds to root out these wolves among the sheep rather than entertain them.

Personally, I also think Christians should avoid creating divisions in a church by bringing up doctrine that goes against that of the denominational affiliation of the church. Since the reformation in 1517, there has formed a wide swath of denominations to choose from. It is best to understand the doctrinal distinctions of these denominations before becoming a member so you know whether you align with what they teach.

If your doctrine has changed over time so that you no longer align with the denomination to which you belong, I  would argue that it is better to change your denomination to one that more closely resembles your faith than to try to change an established church. The division that occurs in trying to change a church can be devastating, and often the things that create the division end up doing more harm than good.


Dear heavenly Father, please help us to know our scriptures well enough to recognize deceptive doctrines that can so easily creep into a church. May we seek the pure spiritual food that comes from Your word rather than signs, wonders or emotional experiences. Help us to find church elders who have the courage to hold to what is true over what is novel. Amen.