by Mike Ratliff
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19 ESV)
I was listening this morning to Chris Rosebrough’s “Fighting For the Faith” on the Pirate Christian Radio podcast for 9/2/2010. The show seemed pretty long. I checked and it ran for over 2 hours and 38 minutes. In it Chris addressed the 25th Anniversary of the Jesus Seminar and some other things. At the 1:02:50 point in the broadcast he began what he calls The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly segment. It is where he reviews sermons. This one was a very long sorta’ sermon from Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan in which he had guest Peter Rollins speak. Chris did a fine job of breaking it up with his own input. If you aren’t familiar with Peter Rollins, he is a Post-Modern “thinker” from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is very much at home in the Emergent camp. I know that there has been a campaign to try to make Rob Bell not appear Emergent, but he speaks in this “sermon” as well and his comments at the end seal it. All through Rollins rambling “sermon” he speaks quite a bit about religion and life, but, to him, real Christians are those who are proven to be so by their doubts, not their solid faith. Never once does he talk about Christ’s atoning work in the Cross as the propitiation for sinners. No, to him, real Christians are those who work to make the world a better place. Jesus was like a coach to him, no more. In any case, at the end of the broadcast, Rob Bell said that hearing all of that was like drinking from a cold stream of water. On the other hand, I felt exactly the opposite. I was in desperate need of Biblical truth to wash myself clean from the filth of heresy.
After that I received an email from a reader asking me to do a word study on a word at the end of the King James Version of Ephesians 5:20, “heresies.” It is a form of the word αἵρεσις or hairesis, which is only theoretical in that one can hold different views than the majority and remain in the same body but he is a heretic. Heresy is theoretical and does not become practical until the heretic tears himself away, σχίζω or schizō. Then he is schismatic and is the source of σχίσμα or schisma. In that, schismaticalness is practical heresy.
I did that and sent him the results. I had some lawn work to do and that is pretty mindless so I had time to ponder and mediate on these things. When I got back to my desk this evening, I decided to look up all of the occurrences of those Greek words in the New Testament. One big hit came in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19. In v18 there is σχισματα or schismata, which is the anarthrous, plural form of σχίσμα. Also, in v19 is αιρεσεις or haireseis, which is the anarthrous, plural form of αἵρεσις. The ESV translated it as “factions.” That was pretty exciting having both of these key words just one verse apart. I did some cross referencing and found that these two words are tied together quite a bit in the lexicons as well. Remember I was a bit “down” after listening to Rollins and Bell. I think the word I am looking for to describe that is “empty.” I was utterly amazed that those people at Mars Hill would eat up that sort of thing and would think that what he was babbling about was “like a drink of cold water from a stream.” No, to me it was not refreshing at all, but only empty. I wondered why that hit me that way. As I dug into this word study though, all of that was gone. I drank deeply from the true well of God’s cold water of His Word. Peter Rollins may think the place to be is in doubt, but that is not where God wants His people. Those with real faith are in the blessed place of belief not doubt. Also, my joy is not something that is tied to how well I keep the Law or how religious I am, but in that fact that my sins are forgiven indeed!
In any case, here is the passage in question:
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Corinthians 11:17-22 ESV)
In this passage Paul was addressing a social issue the Corinthians were having around the Lord’s Table. I put vv18-19 in bold. Here they are in Greek, “πρῶτον μὲν γὰρ συνερχομένων ὑμῶν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ ἀκούω σχίσματα ἐν ὑμῖν ὑπάρχειν, καὶ μέρος τι πιστεύω. δεῖ γὰρ καὶ αἱρέσεις ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι, ἵνα οἱ δόκιμοι φανεροὶ γένωνται ἐν ὑμῖν.” Here is my translation, “First indeed for having come together you in assembly I hear divisions in you to exist and part some I trust. It is necessary for also sects in you to be, that also the genuine evident might be recognized.” I translated σχίσματα as “divisions” and αἱρέσεις as “sects,” but “heresies” would have worked too I suppose. In any case, what point was Paul making here? Inside of the rebuke of the utterly fleshly behavior by these divisions and sects or heresies, the result was that schisms or splits were being created within that body over this stuff. However, in v19 Paul says something very interesting.
It is as if Paul was saying that this entire setup of divisions and factions in this church was a spiritual test. Factions revealed who passed the test of spiritual genuineness and purity. God was using this petty, selfish, self-centered, split to not only test the genuineness of His people (1 Thessalonians 2:4), but to split them away or remove them from those who were not genuine. While those remained who would continue in their drunkenness and gluttony revealing their Christian disingenuousness, the genuine Christians could gather and partake of the Lord’s Table correctly. Those who refused to repent would receive Paul’s rebuke personally when he arrived.
So, from this, do we learn something? When there are divisions and factions in the Church we are being tested. The Remnant’s consistent faithfulness is being tested. This testing “proves” or “tries” it in the fire. It makes it more pure. It burns away from it those who are not genuine. These fall away into their heresies and factions and sects and divisions, et cetera. The faithful must stand firm with eyes firmly fixed on Christ with their focus on the Eternal rather than the temporal. That means that even though we must live here in the here and now, we do so from an eternal perspective. That changes everything. When Christ and His Gospel is the center, those with their heresies can try to cajole and persuade all they want, the truly regenerate, the real Christian will pass the test as Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 11:19 (above.). Factions reveal who passed the the test of spiritual genuineness and purity.
Soli Deo Gloria!