1 Corinthians 1:12 speaks directly to this issue of Christian tribalism:
For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions [divisions] among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (11-13).
Thus, there was tribalismâ€”â€śexaltation of the tribe [shared interests] above other groupsâ€ťâ€”an emphasis on distinctions implying an attitude of superiorityâ€”in the church at Corinth. Paul reprimanded this radicalization of distinctions. Unity and harmony should be the goal and activity of any church (local or regional) (Eph. 4:1-3). Men should not be the center of group-focus, rather the group should look to the base commonalities with the larger community in which it relates.
Not only should undue separation in doctrine and deed be avoided, mutual submission should be practiced (cp.1 Pet. 5:5).
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Cor 1:10)
In this passage we have the opposite of church-tribalism: internal and external unity. Internally we should be of the â€śsame mindâ€ťâ€”the same thought patterns, goals and ideals. Hence, the church is an organism. Externally, we should speak the â€śsame thingâ€ťâ€”the same confession, not merely in creed but also in deed. Hence, the church is an organization.
What this means is that as a member of the church, we should strive to submit to the greater unity of that church (locally or regionally). What this does not mean is a lost of identity in function or personality (1 Cor. 12). There is diversity within the unity. We will have differences (raising children, political practices, apologetic techniques, etc.), and even shibboleths (raising children, political practices, etc) but unless they are clearly in the Word and rise to the occasion of separation, they ought not to become issues. They ought not create a tribal-mentality in which that group of people and its goals, intents or ideals becomes greater than the whole of the church.
Is This Not Obvious?
It is not.
It takes much prayer. It takes discipline. It take humility. A ready admittance that "my way" is not always the best way. And even if it is the best way--so what?
Let us not forget Paul's admonition to the Romans:
"Receive on who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes ove doubtful things...Therefore let up pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another..." Rom. 14:1,19
Unity is little practiced in America. Even in Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Even within the same denomination! It seems at times that each church lives its own life in isolation from others. If this is unhealthy for individuals and families, then why not for churches? No church is an island.
We have to think outside our own selves, families and churches. We have to strive toward the unity that Christ bleed and prayed for. We have to begin with humility and repentance from egotistical isolationism.
To defeat tribalism and to avoid being another illustration for blogger fodder, we must change our ways. And love one another, esteeming others higher than ourselves.
Pray that the Spirit would be pleased to do just that.
Pastor Shawn Mathis was raised by God-fearing parents, served in the Air Force, worked as an electrical engineer and then entered the ministry by Godâ€™s grace....