Division and factions in churches serve God’s purposes

by Mike Ratliff

19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19 NASB)

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like:of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 KJV)

In the passage from Galatians, which I placed above, at the end of v20 is the word “heresies.” The NASB translates this same word as “factions.” 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.

18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. (1 Corinthians 11:18-19 NASB)

18 πρῶτον μὲν γὰρ συνερχομένων ὑμῶν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ ἀκούω σχίσματα ἐν ὑμῖν ὑπάρχειν καὶ μέρος τι πιστεύω. 19 δεῖ γὰρ καὶ αἱρέσεις ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι, ἵνα [καὶ] οἱ δόκιμοι φανεροὶ γένωνται ἐν ὑμῖν. (1 Corinthians 11:18-19 NA28)

18 For, in the first place, when you come together in an assembly I hear that divisions exit among you; and I partly believe it. 19 For it is necessary that there be sects among you so that those who are approved may become manifest among you. (1 Corinthians 11:18-19 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

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 NASB translated it as “factions” while translating σχισματα as “divisions,” which I did as well, but I translated αιρεσεις as “sects.”

In any case, here is the passage in question in context:

17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. (1 Corinthians 11:17-22 NASB)

In this passage Paul was addressing a social issue the Corinthians were having around the Lord’s Table. I put vv18-19 in bold. 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.

What does this tell us about the growing and rampant apostasy all around us my brethren? How are we to view it and handle it? We continue to stand firm. We continue to tell the truth. We never compromise. The contrast between the approved and those in their various sects, factions, divisions and heresies will be manifest and is manifest at this time. Remain faithful my brethren!

Soli Deo Gloria!

3 thoughts on “Division and factions in churches serve God’s purposes

  1. “We continue to stand firm. We continue to tell the truth. We never compromise. ”

    And we continue to do all this even if we are attacked from those within the professing church.

    Thanks for the post, Mike, I needed to hear this today.

    Like

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