Visible disunity in the church is the worst it has ever been, but we must take care not to think that God’s people were once fully and visibly united on all matters of Christian living. Christians may have the Holy Spirit, but they are not free from sin in this life, and living in community with other believers always leads to disagreements. It has never been easy for any generation to keep “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
Disagreements in the church have occurred over a wide range of issues, some more serious, some less serious, in regard to the essentials of the Christian faith. But whatever is at issue, disagreements in the church occur only because one, if not both, of the respective parties are in error. It is possible for you and I both to be wrong when we differ, but we cannot both be totally correct. Of course, not every error in the body of Christ is a just cause for division, and differences that do not undermine the orthodox Christian faith are to be tolerated. This is Paul’s point in Romans 14 — the church can tolerate the views of weaker believers as long as they do not try to bind the consciences of the strong.
On the other hand, errors that compromise the tenets that distinguish Christianity from all other religions are absolutely intolerable. Denials of the Trinity, the virgin birth, and similar matters cannot be allowed to remain within the church because without these truths, there is no Christian faith. Throughout history, the church has summarized the biblical teaching on such matters in its creeds and confessions, using them as a rule by which it can preserve the purity of its testimony to the one true God.
Creeds and confessions are useful only if the church holds its ministers accountable to these documents. Regrettably, the church has not always enforced the plain teachings of Scripture, and in many denominations today, orthodox Christian pastors and teachers are few and far between. Until the Lord returns, however, believers, especially those in leadership positions, are called to maintain the purity of the faith. And if we do not exercise appropriate and loving vigilance, wolves will sneak in and work to deceive the flock of God.