Jesse Mercer, for whom what is now Mercer University was named, often challenged those who created divisions among the Baptists in his day. The remarks quoted in this writing bear as much relevance today as they did two centuries ago.
I begin with words from the scriptures in which Paul addresses divisions in the Corinthian and Roman churches.
For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. (1 Corinthians 11:18)
Paul received word that there were divisions among factions within the church at Corinth. In his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote:
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. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Cor. 1:10-13
Later in the same letter, Paul wrote regarding preparation for administering the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. Divisions tainted the sanctity of the practice and Paul admonished the Corinthians to be done with their contentions.
Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. Among the heresies Paul addresses involved the matter of eating and drinking in association with the Communion Service … What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.1 Corinthians 16:17-19.
Paul emphasizes the diversity of gifts among God’s people, and that one should not be honored above the other.
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? (1 Corinthians 12:29)
There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:25).
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:12-17)
One of the root causes of division among the Roman brethren regarded the matter of eating habits. One faction ate meat, the others were vegetarians. (Romans 14:1-3)
Does this seem ridiculous? Not any more so than disputes between one group emphasizing good works and the other placing an emphasis on predestination.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat (Romans 14:10)
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (1 Corinthians 14:13)
Although the following writing centers primarily on preachers, we know divisions that begin in the pulpits soon work their way into the pews.
This is Elder Jesse Mercer’s treatment of the problem of divisions among preachers in the modern church. (From Memoirs of Jesse Mercer by Charles D. Mallary)
We take this occasion to state our conviction that there is utterly a fault among the ministers of Christ ; that is, instead of each one pursuing his proper calling, according to the gift he has received of the Lord, and all laboring in different parts of the same field together, to obtain the same great object, they too often fall out and accuse one another of some supposed error, or inconsistency in their matter or manner of labor; each one at the same time sacrificing so far to his own drag, as to condemn his fellow servants because they do not labor precisely with him.
Thus the high predestinarians accuse the low with arminianism ; and in turn the low accuse the high with antinomianism. This may be in some cases true; and proper steps should be taken, in the spirit of christian meekness, to remedy it : but this spirit of crimination and recrimination cannot be right.
Let not him, therefore, that preaches the covenant and all things ordered in it and made sure, despise him that preaches that men should repent, and exhorts, admonishes and beseeches them to turn to God through Christ ; nor yet him that dwells on practical godliness, because he does not preach election in every sermon ; and let not those despise him that preaches the purposes of God in the salvation of his chosen people, as the theme of his ministry, for God may have accepted them all in their different spheres of labor.
We most affectionately exhort and admonish all our brethren in the ministry, to cease to look on each other with an evil eye, and to speak of each other with harsh words. But let us all rather take the Apostle’s advice in Rom. 14 : 13. in view of the most solemn and interesting fact that every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)