More on Association and Separation within the Church Community
Within the church community, there have been two major historic separations. There was the break between the Western Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Church in The Schism of 1054. And then there was the Reformation that began in 1517 when Protestants and Catholics divided. Since then there have been many smaller breaks over various issues.
Today, churches in the USA divide over a wide variety of issues. Here is a list off the top of my head that are the source of conversations, debates, potential and actual division:
Adult or infant baptism
Continuation or cessation of certain spiritual gifts
Role of women in church leadership
Calvinist or Arminian understanding of salvation
Specific details in one's understanding of Jesus as the Christ
Details of the End Times
Young or old earth
Forms of church government
Role of Scripture for doctrine and practice
Approachs on music use in corporate worship
Degrees of support or non-support of Israel
Propriety of same-sex marriage in the church
Frequency of and who could partake in the Lord's Supper
Views on and degree of activity in matters of politics.
If you faced a division of opinion in your church community over any of these or other issues, how do you decide whether to separate over that issue?
I think 1 Corinthians 8 is one portion of Paul's teaching that can be helpful. However, this teaching seems to be limited to issues where there is personal history with an issue but ultimately is not a theological/ethical barrier. Nonetheless, every effort should be made to avoid wounding others who believe in Christ but might differ on that particular matter.
James 4 offers quick hitting advice on a variety of issues in life and ends with verse 17: Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
Thus, there are several layers of consideration. One step is determining whether the issue falls into a theological/ethical category in which case, one should try one's best to decide (1) what is one's view on it, (2) how important it is to get right, (3) how certain you think you are about your position, and then finally (4) proceed to a decision of association or separation.
If the item falls outside of a theological/ethical category and how important it is to get right, then one's view on the matter needs to take into account how one's actions regarding that issue impacts on others who disagree.