Factionalism in the Body of Christ

Justin, in his ‘Dialogue with Trypho the Jew’ (63.5) speaks of the Church,

Moreover, that the word of God speaks to those who believe in Him as being one soul, and one synagogue, and one church, as to a daughter; that it thus addresses the church which has sprung from His name and partakes of His name (for we are all called Christians)

The term ‘catholic’ is not one that is usually held in high esteem among Fundamentalists. This is due solely to the fact that it is associated with Rome, which is the ‘arch nemesis’ of Fundamentalism; however, the word very simply means ‘universal’. It was this meaning that Polycarp and the Smyrnans used, as well as Ignatius and others in describing the universal Church versus the local congregation. It was not until many years later that the ‘c’ was capitalized.

It was the local congregations that held the immediate attention of Polycarp and Ignatius, both Bishops – or overseers – of the flock, but in each action and though, with each word, both men looked at the Church in a universal light. The orthodoxy in one congregation must be the orthodoxy in another congregation. Although practice might be based on culture, the fact remains that the universal Church have one foundation and one Doctrine, for the One God.

One of the issues that envelopes any organization of men is politics. Politics is a monitor that has involved itself in the lives of men since the very beginning. ‘Sides’ form often in families, businesses, nations, cities, and yes, even local congregations. In the primitive Church, many heretical doctrines developed which caused splits. Several of these was due to the political factions which developed around personalities rather than fixing our eyes upon Jesus Christ.

In the 3rd letter from John, we read of a division caused by a man who thought himself better than the rest,

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.  (3Jn 1:9-11 NKJV)

This certain Diotrephes, whose name most likely started his error (meaning nursed by Zues) has refused to hear the missionaries sent by the Apostle John, who by this time, was the last remaining Apostle. By refusing to hear the men that John sent, it was equal to refusing to hear the Apostle. Like all good schismatics, Diotrephes went further – he forced those that would hear from John out of the Church!. John gives us only Diotrephes’ ego as the reason for this problem.

In the congregation at Corinth, there was a problem. The politics of division had began to draw lines among the brothers and the sisters.

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. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions 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? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other.  (1Co 1:10-16 NKJV)

Chloe had brought the Apostle Paul some terrible news – the Church was divided. Divisions were forming. Some where claiming to follow Paul while others were claiming to follow Peter and yet others, Apollos. Some still maintained Christ as their Lord and Master. Paul pleads with them to maintain unity.

Even today in the Church, factionalism may develop in the Body of Christ. One may think himself pass over for the spot of overseer, or perhaps one family may think themselves preeminent above the others and seek to build themselves up over the Church, setting the rules and having all things come through them, much like Diotrephes. Other factions start because of doctrines, but even this is to be avoided. If a doctrine is being taught that is contrary to God, then anchor yourself and pray that God moves. Too many times, people like to start out on their own, but what faith does this show? Surely God can take care of His flock.

The factionalism that developed in the Corinthian Church destroyed the testimony and mission of that Congregation. Paul reminds them of the unity that comes through the Cross, as well as reminding them of their calling –  to preach the gospel. The Unity of the Body of Christ – the Church – is Paul’s theme in Ephesians as well, but it is the Church here at Corinth that brings about Paul’s words and corrections. A few people had taken their eyes of Christ, and looking upon mortal man, made political divisions in the Body.

I grew up in a Church that purports the same doctrine as the Church to which I attend now, but as a caveat to this Doctrine, the pastor taught against others who held this doctrine, often making his opinions of them into factual doctrines that must be held to while making himself the sole spokesman for the Church. This pastor would rather  have associated with those of similiar doctrine, or less than similiar doctrine, than with those of like doctrine. He purposely divided us from the larger Church organization by these teachings and f it seems scarred some forever. He sought division when unity would have helped him to grow. I had to overcome a lot of these erroneous doctrines – especially the doctrine of division – before I could actually anchor myself down. Even today, the spark of disunity has to be watered down occasionally, but at least now it is a spark and no longer an eager fire.

This divisions, spiritually speaking, are child abuse. When you build your congregation based on the division of another, when you bolt and run, when you cause controversy, when you are caught teaching your children that the pastor is not about God, or that others are better than who God has anointed, then you teach your flock that the needs of the individual outweigh the unity of the Church and the need of the gospel. When these members ‘grow up’, they more often than not turn to divisive actions themselves which further splits the unity of the message. Those that remained years after the split more often then not will find themselves far removed from the the doctrine and Truth of the Church. For those that merely threaten split, or disassociation in order to get there way, again, more often than not, they will be found soon after split and disassociated.

There there are others, because they don’t get there way, bolt and run.

While others claim family.

Still yet others claim preeminence in the congregation.

All forsaking unity for the individual. The Church is a corporate experience not an individual relationship, although the individual relationship is produced by the corporate experience. The Church should be a united body of believers, universal – no one congregation above another or different in doctrine than another. The same is well said of the individual believer.

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