From my reading of the Bible, I have come to understand that unity among Christians is a good thing.
Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
We know from scripture that "God is love" and that Jesus exemplified love throughout his earthly life. It would seem to me that our relationship with God is the most important thing--more important than the religious traditions to which we might adhere, or the religious rules and principles by which we might live, or the religious organizations with which we might affiliate ourselves.
With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
There are multiple examples in the Gospels where Jesus rebuked the leaders for putting more of an emphasis on their rules and traditions than on their relationship with God.
These, and other passages of scripture, seem to emphasize the importance of Christian unity and love while de-emphasizing the importance of religious rituals and distinctions. In light of these passages, how do Christians justify separating themselves into so many different denominations? Are there any Biblical justifications given for why having such division is preferred over unity?
History is replete with examples of schisms of the Chruch. How did the Pope, and other leaders at the time, defend the East-West Schism? How did the protestant leaders, such as Martin Luther, justify the need for a separation? Did these leaders specifically address the apparent contradiction with the scriptures which stress unity? Specifically, did they provide any Biblical reasons for their positions? Even among modern evangelical churches, such as the Baptists and Congregationalists, there is a strong belief in separation and local autonomy. Do they provide any Biblical reasons for why their autonomy is more important than the unity of the Church?