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Are Fractured Churches Necessary?


(18) For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.  (19) 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.

– 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 (ESV)

Is verse 19 facetious? Do we really have to have factions in the church so we can recognize who is genuine and accepted by God?

Or is our love for each other what marks us as His people? God’s purpose is to unite all things in heaven and in earth in Christ (Ephesians 1:10), while sectarianism and division are works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19ff). God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.

Didn’t this epistle begin with an apostolic plea that we all be joined together in the same mind and the same judgment? See 1 Corinthians 1:10 and my recent blog about it.

So, why do some, whom I have known personally, take this verse as honestly stating the way things should be instead of a sarcastic reference to the way things were in the Corinthian church and in many congregations today – not to mention the sectarianism and strife among denominations!

Consider these appeals, admonitions, exhortations, and warnings found just in the book of 1 Corinthians:

1:10. I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

3:3. …you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

6:1, 7. When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?… To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather he defrauded?

10:17. Because there is one bread [in communion – JS], we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

12:12-14. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

16:14. Let all that you do be done in love.

Quotations from the English Standard Version. Emphasis added.

May God help us learn to love unity in him as much as his Son did when, on the road to Gethsemane for deep prayer about Golgotha where he died to bring unity among his people,* he prayed for our unity to be like the unity between the Father and the Son! God is One. We, as his people, are also to be one.

Fomenting fur-flying, furiously, fiercely feuding, fussing, fraudulent fratricidal factions fatally fractures family fellowship forever.

Such confusion is not from God. It is of the evil one, who always seeks to corrupt God’s good gifts. No, 1 Corinthians 11:19 does not tell us how things ought to be. It is a facetious, sarcastic statement about how things were in Corinth – written to shock the church into seeing their ungodly, selfish ways for what they were.

We would do well to take heed ourselves, for too often we walk in the Corinthian way.

*See John 17:21-23 and Ephesians 2:13-16.

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2 Responses

  1. Good article Jerry. We certainly need to be more united in Christ. We seem to be more united in things of this world rather than in the fellowship that is founded in the love of Christ. Christ was never divided among his disciples for they were always one together learning of the oneness between Christ and the Father. So it should be in the churches today. Oneness based on love for each other and the truth that binds us in fellowship (1 John 1:5-7; John 17:17-26; 1 John 4:11-12). By the way the 12 word sentence that began with all f’s is quite an accomplishment. lol.

  2. This is definitely a timely article for me. Right now there is a serious division in my church. Those who are against the current leadership have used this very verse to justify their rebellion. This is a very cogent and reasonable way to look at this verse. This is a great example of letting scripture interpret scripture rather than taking it out of context and using it to justify our own feelings and hurts.

    Thank you Jerry.
    Kevin, I pray that you may be able to use this to help everyone in your congregation see the dangers on driving disagreement into division. Romans 14 & 15, which well may have been the point Paul wrote this letter to establish, shows that even different understandings of deeply held beliefs should not divide those who truly put their trust in Jesus as Lord and CHRIST. Proceed with prayer and humility. I will be interested to hear details (without naming individuals or the congregation) of how things turn out. – Jerry Starling

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