Culture Faith Theology
Joshua Lewis  

Tribalism in the Church

Tribalism is rampant in our culture. If you’re a Macintosh enthusiast, you likely feel compelled to disdain Windows. If you prefer Ford, you’re expected to despise Toyota. Being a Cowboys fan isn’t enough; you must also detest the Eagles. And politics? Well, your social equity seems to be measured by how loudly you can scream at the ‘others,’ who are deemed less patriotic, less sophisticated—simply less. It’s important to recognize that while there is right and wrong, good and evil, the frequency of such polarizing positions should alert us to a deeper issue in Western society. Regrettably, this spirit of tribalism is also seducing the church.

Roots Of Tribalism

Tribalism within the church is not a new phenomenon. Scripture records divisions in the early church of Corinth, showing divisions and factions that mirror our modern-day churches. Claims of following “Paul” or “Apollos” echo today’s religious superiority complexes. “Why did this sickness of tribalism invade the early church?” you ask. Because the sickness of sin infects us all. I believe the quest for belonging is an innate human desire that, by nature, eclipses the pursuit of correct beliefs. This drive to belong also illuminates why so many harbor such a paralyzing fear of cancel culture. The dread of exclusion for espousing views that may be deemed politically incorrect is akin to social suicide. There is nothing sinful about wanting to belong. However, allowing this desire to drown out our obedience in striving for unity and the bond of peace is sinful.

I must remind the reader that there are fundamental beliefs that define Christianity, such as the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, and the resurrection. I am not advocating for a theological free-for-all; there are essential doctrines that every Christian must believe. However, I witness Christians clashing over non-essential issues within their respective groups. In some Pentecostal circles, for example, believers who do not speak in tongues may be treated as second-class citizens. Meanwhile, in certain Fundamentalist Baptist settings, those who read Bible versions other than the KJV are often labeled “compromisers.” Furthermore, adherents of the Hebraic Roots movement might view those who do not follow Old Testament dietary laws as rebelling against God’s Law. These divisions, often rooted in human pride, lead to the establishment of “tribes” within the broader Christian community, each claiming to uphold the “true” faith or doctrine. Blinded by their own superiority complexes, these tribalists fight and quibble over words, dividing the body of Christ into factions.

These superiority complexes can even be used as a tool to control and manipulate. Paul says as much in Galatians 4:17, criticizing those who exclude others to elevate themselves. This behavior helps leaders maintain control, demonizing dissenters to uphold their traditions. However, when we elevate our customs and traditions to the status of essential doctrine, labeling non-conformists as “compromisers,” we stray into cult-like behavior. These theological disputes can deepen divides, leading Christians to prioritize doctrinal conformity over love and unity.

Navigating Christian Unity & Doctrine

As the host of a theology program, I have interviewed hundreds of scholars, pastors, historians, and theologians from various churches and denominations, including Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, and Pentecostals. I have learned from those who adhere to Amillennialism, those who embrace dispensational theology, and those who are pre-trib or post-trib, as well as those still determining their stance on end-times theology. There is even diversity among my best friends; one of my co-hosts is a Calvinist, and the other is not; both teach me regularly.

There is much that the Body of Christ can teach us and so much we can learn from those with whom we disagree. The eye can learn from the ear, and the fingers can learn from the toes. There is no need to “cut off the nose to spite our face,” nor is there any need for the tongue to say to the lips, “I have no need of you.” Jesus didn’t live with this kind of exclusionary lifestyle, so we shouldn’t either.

In His ministry, Jesus Christ demonstrated an awareness of the tribal tensions that marked His time, such as the divides between Jews and Romans or Samaritans and Jews. He not only recognized these differences but engaged with them in ways that were constructive and healing. By crossing tribal boundaries, Jesus exemplified love and respect toward those outside His immediate community, including Samaritans and even Roman figures like Pilate. His approach to tribal challenges was marked by prudence and wisdom, skillfully navigating contentious issues like the payment of taxes to Caesar and offering responses that transcended simple binary solutions. Ultimately, Jesus’s mission was revolutionary in its aim to form a new tribe—the body of Christ. This new spiritual lineage was intended to transcend all earthly divisions, uniting followers in love and inclusion.

Rethinking Church Identity: Moving Beyond Tribal Boundaries

Why, then, are we trying to rebuild walls of hostility that Christ has torn down? Why should we disrupt the unity for which Christ continually makes intercession? Why are we so quick to label others as ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ if we have all been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus? Why are we so quick to see the inferior and the superior when Christ has unified us all into one new man?

The challenge for today’s church is to embrace a Christ-centered identity that transcends tribal lines, focusing on our common unity in Jesus rather than fixating on our differences, which breeds division, exclusivity, and a sense of superiority. Only a faithful allegiance to Christ can inspire a conscious rejection of the pride and superiority inherent in tribalism, committing us to the humility and self-sacrificial love demonstrated by Christ. Through such transformation, the church can truly manifest the unity and diversity of the Kingdom of God, serving as a unifying light of love to a world fragmented by hatred and tribalism.

Joshua Lewis
Pastor of King’s Fellowship Church
Host of The Remnant Radio

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    This is so good, I love your points Josh. We often like to pick a theological or denominational hill and set up camp, and yet there are gold nuggets to be found in each hill. Jesus doesn’t want us to compromise on truth, but compromising on truth does not equal rejection of a brother in Christ due to his secondary beliefs. Whatever we do, whether we accept or reject certain theological beliefs, seek to find common ground, or correct someone’s theology, we must do so in complete love and submission to the Word of God.

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