What is God doing within the division and factions in the Church?

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)

19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 NASB)

In King James Version of Galatians 5:20 there is the word “heresies.”  The NASB translates the same word as “factions.” “Heresies” and “factions” are translating the Greek word αἱρέσεις, which is a form of the word αἵρεσις or hairesis. This word describes a condition 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.

A word study of αἵρεσις and σχίσμα is very interesting as we look for all occurrences of these words and the words formed from them in the New Testament. One big hit comes 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 NASB translated it as “factions.” That was pretty exciting having both of these key words just one verse apart. Further cross referencing reveals that these two words are tied together quite a bit in the lexicons as well.

Here is the passage in question:

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. 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!

One thought on “What is God doing within the division and factions in the Church?

  1. Hello, After reading your post I think and ponder them, and I do not think I can leave a comment as I just sound silly. But you have made my brain think and ponder and as a woman I love reading things that help me realize that I now know the reason as a square peg I will never fit into this round hole. You must also feel the same way as you will to conform to the seeker friendly church! I appreciate you!


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