Does God have a purpose in divisions and factions in the Church?

by Mike Ratliff

18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 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 2:18-19 (NASB) 

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) 

Only those Christians who put their head in the sand, that is, those who are deliberately ignorant would say that the visible church is not under extreme attack from charlatans, out-right heretics, false-teachers, and compromisers.  That last being the most dangerous for they look so good and orthodox, have a great following, and yet they do and say some of the strangest things at times so that even their supporters have a hard time explaining them, which causes great confusion. This ministry has mostly been concerned with three major heresies since its inception. The first being the seeker-sensitive paradigm which has caused huge numbers of local churches to fall apart and be destroyed as deceived pastor after deceived pastor has fallen for the Purpose Driven Church lies and attempted to implement that model and ended up with simply a store front church full of goats. The second heresy I have spent much time on is the Emergent Church or as some call it now, Emergence Christianity. This takes many forms and I often finds elements of it in the third heresy I have spent much time on, which is a strange combination of Reformed doctrine, but includes the false doctrines found in Charismatic teachings and as well as Roman Catholicism and even Gnosticism. I don’t have a concrete name for it so I simple call it NAR/New Calvinism/Acts 29. There are 3 commonalities found in all three of these heresies, though not to the same degree.

1) Their Jesus is not the Biblical Jesus.
2) Absolute Truth is found outside the Bible.
3) Doubt is the marker of true faith not assurance.

Carefully read the two passages I placed at the top of this post.

Here is Galatians 5:20 from the NA28 Greek text:

20 εἰδωλολατρία, φαρμακεία, ἔχθραι, ἔρις, ζῆλος, θυμοί, ἐριθεῖαι, διχοστασίαι, αἱρέσεις, Galatians 5:20 (NA28)

Here is my translation:

20  idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, divisions, sects, Galatians 5:20 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Look at the last word in the text, αἱρέσεις or hairesis. 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.

If we do a word study of this process of a heretic tearing himself away and becoming a schismatic we would do a word search in our Greek text and see if we can find passages with these words grouped together, which is what I did. 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 NASB 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.

In any case, 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 when you come together in an assembly I hear that divisions exist among you and in part I believe it. It is also necessary for there to be sects in you, so that the approved among you may become evident and 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!