The Genius of Disunity
Heresy is often less important than disunity. Disunity can do what heresy cannot. Heresy draws true believers together. They circle the wagons. They expel the heretic. But disunity does not necessarily require false doctrine. Only a little intemperance of spirit. Disunity works remarkably well with genuine conviction about genuine truth. This is because it is not logical rigor or theological precision that brings oneness. It is the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus (John 16:33; James 3:16-18). So disunity, for the devil, can be better than heresy. For in disunity true believers stand their theological ground against one another.
Meanwhile, the archetypal “dis-uniter” knows that “if Christians were to act in concert, moving forward as one, under the direction of one Power, for the accomplishment of one purpose, they would move the world.”1 Why let that happen?
As I reflect on 1888, it seems that skepticism, cockiness, deep commitment, objectivity and detachment—all these or any one will do to smother meekness and facilitate disunity. Jesus, meek and lowly, will simply be run over by totally committed heretics; or dismissed by the skeptic as a spineless weakling; or evaluated by detached objectivity as deficient in leadership qualities; or simply shriveled to inconsequence by cocky wit. Being meek and lowly can be perilous to personal or corporate success. But it is essential to heavenly unity.
In February 1887 Ellen White wrote to A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner from Switzerland about material they were publishing in Signs of the Times: “I have no hesitancy in saying you have made a mistake here. You have departed from the positive directions God has given upon this matter, and only harm will be the result. This is not in God’s order. You have now set the example for others to do as you have done, to feel at liberty to put in their various ideas and theories and bring them before the public, because you have done this. This will bring in a state of things that you have not dreamed of.”2 Tell me about the voice of prophecy!
Correspondence with George I. Butler and Uriah Smith expresses the same concern: “Had you avoided the question . . . , it would have been more in accordance with the light God has seen fit to give to me.”3 She thought “the whole thing . . . not in God’s order.”4 Even the treatment of apostatizing D. M. Canright deserved reprimand: “God did not treat apostates in this way, and if you had anything to say, say it without putting such things in the paper. I tell you, brethren, I am troubled when I see you take positions that you forbid others to take and that you would condemn in others.”5 But because of saints who had to push their point of view at all costs Ellen White had to conclude, “I believe now that nothing can be done but open discussion.”6 Evidently, much of what we remember of the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference session is a history lesson on what happens when personal vindication—administrative, theological, or otherwise—triumphs over meek submission to counsel, and the bliss of harmony that Jesus says will prove to the world that He came from God (John 17:21).
It is not so much false doctrine the devil needs as disunity: Heresy is often less important than disunity.
- Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 9, p. 221.
- Ellen G. White letter 37, 1887.
- Ellen G. White letter 13, 1887.