Divisions in the Church
Tim Temple

Introduction

Today we want to think about verses 10-17 of I Corinthians, chapter 1.

I Corinthians 1

10Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
11For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
12Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
13Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
14I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
15Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
16And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
17For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

We will stop our reading there with verse 17, and as a prelude to looking at those verses of Scripture, I want to ask if you have ever heard the Bible story back in the Gospels of the Mudites and the Touchites? Are you familiar with that story? Let me just remind you what it is about. It came up during the first few years after the ascension of Christ–His return to Heaven–and no one is sure how it all got started. It happened sort of gradually, but it is all based upon the miracles of Jesus. In Matthew, chapter 9, verses 27-31, Jesus healed two blind men. Jesus was going along doing his teaching, and these two men started following him and crying out to him to heal them. Finally Jesus stopped in the road and He said, “Do you really believe I can heal you?” They said,“Yes, Lord.” Verse 29 says that He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith, let it be to you.” Then in verse 31 it tells how they went everywhere telling how Jesus had miraculously healed their blindness. Many people came to faith in Christ because of their testimony of that miraculous healing.

Interestingly enough, not too long after that, there was another group who were involved in a similar miracle. That story is told in chapter 9 of the Gospel of John. The first seven verses tell about a man whom Jesus ran across who had been blind from birth. The Pharisees tried to use him as a test case, trying to trip Jesus up; but Jesus turned and looked at the man and Jesus spat on the ground and He made a bit of mud from that spittle in the dust and He dobbed the mud on the man's eyes, and then He told the man to go wash in the pool of Siloam. The man followed Jesus' instructions and went and washed in the pool at Siloam, and as soon as he came up out of the water, his sight was given to him. From birth he had been blind, but now, as the mud was washed off his eyes, he could see for the first time in his life.

John goes on to tell a really funny story about how the Pharisees had to grapple with that and try to explain it away. Something else that is not recorded in the text that probably happened was that the friends of the man who Jesus had touched and healed heard about the man that he had put the mud on, and those people who were the friends of the men who had been given their sight by Jesus in the book of Matthew by touching them immediately denounced this other thing as a fraud because everyone knows that Jesus heals blindness by touching people. They became known as the “Touchites”. Jesus heals blindness by touching. They had seen that, and they knew it, and if anyone said that He healed some other way, then that was wrong. But the people who saw Jesus put mud on the other man's eyes said, “Now we know what we saw”; and they formed their little group known as the “Mudites” because everyone knows that Jesus heals blindness by putting mud on people's eyes. Do you know that in Jerusalem two great denominations arose–the Mudites and the Touchites–and to this day their descendants will not speak to each other or worship together. That story is found in the book of Adverb. It is told with what my dad calls a “sanctified imagination”. But you know, that is not very far from what happens in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ all the time. People have their own ideas based on their own experiences, and they insist that that is the only way God works.

Disagreement About Methods

Think about this story for just a minute. There is something very important to notice here. What are these people disagreeing about? They were disagreeing about something that was really very minor. You see, they did not disagree about the fact that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. They did not disagree about the fact that Jesus Christ could heal blindness. They did not disagree about the fact that God should be praised for that, and that everyone should tell about it. What were they disagreeing about? They were disagreeing about methods. I am going to get myself out on a limb here, but I think it is a Biblical limb. We have Methodists and Baptists and Churches of Christ and Presbyterians, etc., who agree on so many things, but they disagree about methods. They disagree about their history. They disagree about this or that, which is a peripheral issue and which is something that we live with. It may not be that much of a problem, but let me tell you there are individual local churches, be they Baptist, Methodist, Bible Church or whatever it may be, who have those kinds of disagreements within their church as well.

God knew that that was going to be a problem, so He had the Apostle Paul write to the church that was having that very problem and to discuss the matter of division within the church. Let me say one more thing before beginning to look at the text. There are times when divisions within a church or within a denomination are legitimate. Turn with me for just a moment to I John, chapter 2. John is writing to some of His followers, and in verse 18, he says:

I John 2

18Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
19They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Let me say before I elaborate on this verse that this verse is not directed necessarily to anyone who has ever left this church, and I am not preaching today about this or that person who has left this church; but there is a Biblical principle that sometimes people who we thought were a part of us–this church or any other church–were not actually believers, and they went out, as happened in John's day, and formed their own group or own sect and in some cases, their own cult. John said, “Don't worry about that. They went outside of us because they were not of us. If they had been of us, they would have stayed with us.” Now, if we took the time to study I John, chapter 2, verses 18 and 19, in their context, we would see that he is talking about unbelievers. He is talking about doctrinal heresy. He is not talking about the divisions which we are going to look at in I Corinthians, chapter 1.

Legitimate Reasons for Leaving a Church

I am saying this by way of parenthesis, there are those times when it is legitimate to leave a church. There are those times when the church itself may have become dominated by those who are not teaching the truth. There are those times, and there are people sitting in this audience who have left churches because those churches are under the control of those who did not honor the Lord Jesus Christ and who did not teach the Word of God or who were conducting the affairs of that church contrary to the principles of the Word of God. There are times when the time comes to leave a church, when it is not what you believe. There are times when a church that is teaching the Word of God and that is ordering things along the lines and the principles of the Word of God that people within the church may leave because it is obvious that they are not part of that group. But this matter of people leaving churches, in the Scripture, when it is spoken of as being legitimate, is always in terms of the basic, fundamental issues of the faith. It is not a matter of leaving over whether Jesus heals by means of touching or using mud. It is not a matter of leaving a church because you just don't like the color of the carpet or the sense of humor of the pastor or this or that or the other thing. Those are not the reasons to leave churches, though there is a very legitimate reason, a very specific and narrow field of specific reason to part company with a church.

Communicating In Love

Let's go back to I Corinthians, chapter 1, and notice what Paul has to say about these divisions within the church. In I Corinthians, chapter 1, verses 1-9, we talked last week about the way that Paul began this letter to this church–very graciously with a commendation of the Corinthians. The second third of the chapter has to do with this important challenge to the Corinthians in verses 10-17. It has to do with the presence of division in the Corinthian church. Notice the very unique admonition concerning divisions that he gives in chapter 1, verse 10:

I Corinthians 1

10Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

Notice in verse 10 that this was an admonition; it was a correction, but it was an admonition based on his love for them. Notice he says in verse 10, “Brethren…” and “…I plead with you…” Here is something that should be a lesson to any of us who are caught in a disagreement with a fellow Christian, and that is that no matter how deep a disagreement may be and how important a disagreement may be, it should always be handled in Christian love. When we are not talking about those doctrinal divisions which John is talking about in I John, when we are talking about peripheral divisions, when we are talking about the Mudites and the Touchites kind of things, it ought to always be done in love. The Mudites and the Touchites were brothers in Christ. Those of us in a local church who disagree about this or that issue are still brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Paul and the Corinthians were brothers and sisters in Christ. He said, “I plead with you, brethren…”

There is something else to notice here in that same regard. He has said in the first part of his letter at which we looked last week, “Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ”. As I pointed out last week, why would Paul need to remind them? They knew he was an apostle. Why would he put that in his letter? To remind them that the things that the Holy Spirit was inspiring him to write about were being written with the authority of Jesus Christ.

Paul was an apostle, and they knew it. He could have said to the Corinthians, “Now you all cut that out. I am not going to have any more of it. I am the apostle here, and I demand it,” but he didn't do that. Even the Apostle Paul, who was Christ's representative on earth during those early years before the completion of the Scripture, said, “Brethren, I plead with you.” Let us never forget that we must deal with each other in love. We are brethren, and instead of demanding that the others do it the way we want to do it, let's plead that they understand our point of view. That is what the Apostle Paul did.

Notice that it was an admonition of authority. He says, in verse 10, “…by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is not an unimportant issue even though it is going to be dealt with lovingly. This is something that needs to be dealt with in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is interesting to me to notice the difference between God's priorities and ours. Here we have an issue that Paul says is so important that it is going to be dealt with in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We would think that only extremely important things like murder or adultery would be approached in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The use of that phrase implies that it is important, but notice the subject–disagreements between Christians. You see, in God's priority, these disagreements and these divisions which sometimes arise are just as important as murder and adultery or some other kinds of things that we might think of from a human standpoint as extremely important.

Problems Complicated By Talk

Then in the last part of the verse, he gives a sort of summary/analysis of the problem and the solution to the problem. He said, “I plead with you that you speak the same things.” One of the reasons I am specifying that and pointing it out is that it demonstrates the problems in Corinth and the problems in Abilene and the problems in Dallas and in any local assembly of the Body of Christ are very largely complicated by talk. Paul writes to the Corinthians and says, “You people are talking among yourselves, and I want to ask you that you speak the same things.” Skip down to verse 12 and notice what he says:

I Corinthians 1

12Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.

The problem in Corinth was largely a matter of talk. It was the way they were talking, and of course talk expressed attitudes of hearts. But in many, many problems within churches, the problem is greatly complicated and greatly enlarged by all the talk that goes on. I hope that by now I don't need to teach you this, but let me just remind you of the order that is set out for us by Jesus Himself in the Gospel of Matthew: “Brethren, if ye have a fault between yourselves go to your brother and tell him his faults between thee and him alone. Then if he will not hear you, take with you two or three others that in the mouth of one or two witnesses every word may be established. Then if he will not hear you, take it to the church.”

I think the majority of Christians, if we were to judge by our actions, would assume that that verse says, “Brethren, if your brother offends you, go and tell him his fault in the presence of anyone who will listen.” Or we would assume that that verse says, “Go and tell others his fault.” Let me tell you something: You do not have a Biblical right to tell anyone else about your disagreement with some other Christian until you have talked to that person yourself. You do not have a Biblical right to talk to the public in general about it until you have gone back to him with a couple of witnesses, and even then you don't have a Biblical right to broadcast it in the halls at church. It doesn't say that after you have taken two or three witnesses, then start talking about it between church and Sunday School. It says to take it to the church and consider all the other Scriptures that bear on the subject. That is an official dealing of the church. This is something that we as believers are woefully inadequate about. This is what was happening in Corinth: “You are saying, I am of Apollos; I am of Paul”, and the admonition that Paul gives them is, “Speak the same thing.”

Importance of Harmony

Our tendency is to think, “What is so bad about that? It is, after all, only a little talk.” But in the last part of verse 10 and in all of verse 11, Paul points out the adverse nature of the division. Notice in the last part of verse 10 he says:

I Corinthians 1

10…that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
11For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

The word “divisions” in the middle of verse 10, is the word from which we get our English word “schism”. It is a Greek word that is often used to describe a torn and therefore useless garment. Then notice in the last part of verse ten, “…that ye be perfectly joined together…” That is a translation of the word that fits right in with schism. It is a translation of one Greek word; the whole phrase, “that you be perfectly joined together,” is the translation of a single Greek word. Interestingly enough, that word is translated in Mark, chapter 1, and in Matthew, chapter 4, to describe the disciples as Jesus came across them and called them to be His disciples; they were mending their nets. That is the word that Paul uses here, “be of the same mind”. You see, the specific meaning of the words that Paul chose had to do with mending a torn and useless net or a torn and useless piece of clothing. It is a restorative kind of idea; it is a mending kind of idea.

In fact, interestingly enough, it is not used in the New Testament this way, but in secular Greek writings, it is used to describe the harmony of a symphony orchestra. Now what kind of noise would it be if every instrument just played its own notes? In fact, when we go to the symphony, we hear but we pretty much ignore the very first few moments when they are all tuning their instruments. That is really not what we came to hear, because it is just a den of noise. We are not offended by that because we know that that is what people have to do to get ready to play their music, but that is not really what we came to hear. We paid our money to hear the beautiful harmony of those instruments. One instrument all by itself, just tuning up, isn't worth paying that money for, but we pay our money to come and hear what happens when they all play together in the way they are supposed to play. That is the concept that is here. The world looks at the Body of Christ; the world looks at a particular local church, and I am afraid that many times what they see is what ought to be just the tuneup. Many times what they see is a den of noise instead of the harmony and agreement that God wants us to have.

Dealing With Differences

Another aspect of the adverse nature of these divisions is in the use of the word “contentions” in verse 11. This is a word that in Galatians, chapter 5, verse 20, we have listed as the works of the flesh. We have listed the works of the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit, what the Holy Spirit produces in our lives as we let Him. But also listed there are the works of the flesh. Listed right there is this same word in the Greek and in the English–“contentions”. Do you know where contentions come from? God says contentions come from the work of the flesh. Here is a key to the whole problem–using human reactions and human methods to solve a spiritual problem.

You know, the Mudites and the Touchites had a genuine problem. They were both sincere. They were going by what they had seen; they were going by what they knew to be true. Yet it was really a spiritual problem as well, and that was the spiritual matter of being willing and able to look at someone else's viewpoint. Certainly we know what is true. Certainly we understand what we have seen, but is it possible that someone else is equally as sincere as we are? Is it possible that they have had just as genuine an experience as we have? Isn't it worth hearing about their experience? Isn't it worth listening to what they have to say? Unlike the Mudites and the Touchites, in listening we may discover that they are wrong; or we may discover, horror of horrors, that we are wrong. But listen: Nothing is going to be accomplished until we listen and until we do it in the orderly fashion, not what we hear out on the parking lot before or after church or in the halls between Sunday School and church, but what we hear when it is done in an orderly, Biblical way. But you see, so often when a difficulty arises, whatever it may be–and that is why I like the story of the Mudites and the Touchites, because I don't personally know any Mudites or Touchites so I don't have to feel like I am stepping on anyone's toes–when a situation like that arises, it is so easy for us to just bolt off in our own strength and in our own thinking ability and come to our own conclusion and handle it in the way that we see best.

Our Spiritual Resources

Turn with me to I Corinthians, chapter 3, for just a moment. There is a clear statement of this concept of the difference between the flesh and the Spirit. Notice in verse 3 of chapter 3:

I Corinthians 3

3For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
4For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

The word “carnal” is a translation of the Greek word which means “flesh”. In fact, we all know what chili con carne is, don't we? It is chili with meat. When Paul says you are carnal–now carnality and carnal are words that we hear mostly in the pulpit, and we think of it as some kind of mysterious, sinful kind of an attitude–you are using human means to solve spiritual problems. Paul says, “You people in Corinth are carnal; you are fleshly; you are looking at this from a human viewpoint.” It is easy for us to say, “Well, aren't we just men? I mean after all, we are only human.” Let me tell you something. The answer to that question is no;, Christians are not just human. It is not legitimate for a Christian to say, “Well, after all, I am only human.” You are human, and we still have our sin nature, but we have the Holy Spirit resident within us. It is almost blasphemy for me to say, “Well, I am only human; that's all I can do.” No, you're not. You are human, but if you have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, you have the Holy Spirit living within you, and the Holy Spirit can give you grace and strength to deal with that disagreement, and He can give you the guidance in dealing with it. Hard as it may be to believe, He can bring us to an understanding. Now that understanding may be having to admit, “Well, actually I see I am wrong.” It may be a matter of both groups, the Mudites and the Touchites, having to admit they are wrong. Only God can enable us to do that in most cases.

You see, we are humans with the Holy Spirit. It is so easy to get into diagreements, isn't it? Sometimes those disagreements are in areas where there can be no compromise, and people have to decide just to part company; but much more often, the majority of time, those disagreements are about things that are really matters of preference or opinion, and to let those kinds of disagreements come between us is to tear the beautiful fabric of the unity of the Body of Christ that God intends among believers.

Conclusion

Later in the letter Paul is going to go into detail about the solution to this problem, but here is the summary: Ask the Lord to help you with those with whom you disagree. Now listen carefully to what I am saying. Don't turn me off. I am not saying to ask the Lord to help you agree with them, but ask the Lord for the strength to discuss this Biblically. Ask the Lord for the grace to see if perhaps you are wrong, and ask the Lord to give them the grace to see if perhaps they are wrong. Ask the Lord to give both of you the grace to admit that maybe both of you are wrong and both of you are right. Far too often we, like the Corinthians, deal with these kinds of things as men. What a shame because we are not just men; we are men and women with the person of Jesus Christ living within us in the Person of the Holy Spirit.


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