This is obviously a big question not only for the Christian but also for the non- Christian who is looking at Christianity from the outside. What he sees is legitimately concerning because instead of seeing Christians united in their faith, he sees deep divisions within the Church, made worse by the biting and devouring that is rampant among Christians.
10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinth 1)
Paul was aghast that the infant church was already dealing with divisions when being perfectly united was the recommendation that Jesus himself gave the church during the last days of his ministry. One of the few things that was heavy on the heart of Jesus as he prayed for the church to be, was unity,
‘—–May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me’. (John 17).
He well knew that the devil would rock the church and one of his greatest strategies would be to destroy the unity of the church. And the divisions that began in the early church continue today causing great harm to the gospel of Christ.
What are the reasons for divisions in the church? We will try to look at Paul’s warnings and recommendations in this vital area of Christian doctrine.
The first reason for divisions is the tendency that man demonstrates to follow men rather than Christ.
12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas “; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Corinth 1)
The Christian walk is a journey of faith. However it is so much easier to do away with faith and hold on to leaders and their teaching that is more visible and tangible. There is also the matter of appeal that comes along with the way some leaders minister or their teaching that touches a nerve. However when any one holds on to men rather than Christ, it is the beginning of heresy, which finally ends up in a cultic way of life. Examine any number cults around you arising from Christianity and all of them would claim exclusive knowledge and unceasing allegiance to a leader. In this regard, no matter how perfect the leader is, it is not a justification to follow him. Paul’s life was nothing short of amazing, but he was harsh in his condemnation of those who claimed to follow him and attempted to divide the early church. He goes to say,
1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly–mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? 5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.
Every servant of the Lord has a unique call to fulfill and he might be quite different in the way he ministers or exercises his gifts. He might not fully agree with you (not that you can claim perfection in any way) but rather than being critical of him and condemn him, we need to celebrate the wisdom of God in building his church through different people who emphasize different ministries within the kingdom of God. And so Paul concludes,
19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
We will attempt to look at some of the other reasons in the next post.
- TO ERR IS HUMAN–