Divisions in the Church

I Corinthians 1:10-17

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2010

Last week, we began a study if the Book of I Corinthians, a letter that Paul wrote from Ephesus to a church with problems. The first problem that he deals with in the book is the problem of divisions or schisms in the church (1:10-17).

We are not going to study every verse of I Corinthians. What I want to do is to pick some of the main themes out from each chapter. What I want to talk about today is the problem of divisions in churches. It is a greater problem today than it was when Paul wrote I Corinthians.

Today churches are divided theologically (liberal and conservative churches), economically (rich and poor churches), racially (some are all black and some are all white), denominationally (Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals) politically (some churches love Obama and some think he is the Antichrist) and even sexually (gay and straight churches). Often within the same church there are also divisions.

How many of us have been through a church split? How many have left a church for one reason or another? Churches split for different reasons. Paul is dealing with divisions, not a church split. Divisions can cause people to leave a church but the people at Corinth had not left the church yet. They were still there; they were just divided, instead of united.

Facts about Divisions in the Church

1) Divisions are Common

Divisions are common in the church today.  Many people see problems in their local church and say to themselves, “I wish I could be a part of the early church”. There were divisions in the early church. There were divisions in some churches founded by apostles.

2) Divisions are Painful

If you have ever been a part of one, you know that divisions can be very painful. They are very upsetting.  Most of the time they are sinful, though there are some exceptions, as we will see.

3) Divisions are Sinful

Divisions are not only painful; they are sinful in most cases (Galatians 5:19-21). It is like cutting Jesus into pieces (I Corinthians 1:13) because it splits up and dissects the body of Christ.

4) Divisions Affect Testimony

They hurt the cause of Christ. Disunity hurts our witness. People see it. It hurts our testimony to the world when Christians are fighting with each other. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you LOVE one another” (John 13:35). Christians should be known to the world for their love, not for their fighting and bickering with one another.

The Causes of Division in the Church of Corinth

What were the causes of division in the Corinthian Church? There are three different causes of divisions in churches that Paul mentions in I Corinthians. These are not the only causes of divisions in churches today.

A. They were caused by Cliques (1:12; 3:4).

What is a clique? We all know what a clique is (Mean Girls). A clique is a small group of people with similar interests. It is common in junior high and high school (e.g., popular, geeks, band, red necks, Goth). There is nothing wrong with being in a small group of like-minded individuals.

The problem comes when the group becomes an exclusive group and when it puts down and mocks people who are not in the group. Cliques are not restricted to schools. Cliques can also take place in a church.

What kind of clique did the Corinthians have? The Corinthian church was splitting into groups or factions or cliques over which leader they liked the most. They made rock stars out of certain pastors or preachers today and idolize them. They liked certain personalities better than others.

Some said, “I am of Paul. We follow only Paul.” He founded the church at Corinth. He started the church and the early members would have been his converts. He was there a year and a half. He wrote half of the books of the NT.

Some said, “I am Apollos. We like him better than Paul”. Who was Apollos? He came after Paul and ministered to the church of Corinth (3:6). What do we know about him? Like Paul, he knew the Scriptures very well (Acts 18:24).

Apollos was also very passionate (18:25). He was also very eloquent (18:24). Apparently, he was a better speaker and a better preacher than the Apostle Paul (II Corinthians 10:10). He had some gifts that Paul did not have. He was extremely gifted. He was a popular speaker in the church.

Some said, “I am of Cephas. We like Peter better than both of them”. The people who said this were probably Jews because Peter was the Apostle to the Jews (Gal 2:7) and Cephas was the Aramaic name for Peter. Why would have some people wanted to follow Peter and make him their leader?

Unlike Paul, he lived with Jesus for three years, heard all of his teaching and witnessed all of his miracles. He was part of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples (Peter, James and John) and was called “one of the pillars of the church” in Galatians 2:10. He is the rock of the church. Jesus gave him the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:19). He preached the sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2 and three thousand people got saved from his one sermon.

Some said, “I am of Christ”. This group tried to be real spiritual and not follow anybody. They rejected all human leadership. “I don’t go to church anywhere. I just open my Bible and let Christ speak to me. I belong to the Church of Christ. I don’t follow Wesley or Calvin or any other human leader”.

Signs of a Leadership Clique

How do you know if you have a leadership clique? What are some signs of it?

1.  You have one favorite preacher or teacher.

2.  You boast or brag about that person.

3.  You mock or ridicule other teachers or preachers.

What was wrong with having a leadership clique? There are several problems with this mentality.

The Problem with a Leadership Clique

1. Leadership cliques glorify men, rather than God (3:4-7).

God should get all the glory, not men (1:31) and yet these cliques only glorify human leaders.

2. Leadership cliques lead to boasting and pride (3:21; 4:6).

Leadership cliques take pride in the leader they have chosen to follow. Today, we would not say, “I am of Paul or I am of Apollos” but some might say today, “I am of Benny Hinn,” “I am of Joel Osteen,” “I am of John MacArthur,” “I am of John Calvin” or “I am of Jerry Falwell”. Personality cults exist today and some time they creep into the church.

We still have churches today which are centered on certain charismatic leaders with strong personalities. Some Fundamentalist pastors act like dictators. They have an authoritarian leadership style. They claim to speak for God, quote verses about submitting to authority and obeying those who rule over you and abuse their position as pastor.

3. Leadership cliques lead to disunity and division.

What other cliques could we have as well? These were leadership or party cliques. There could be other cliques in a church as well (social or fellowship cliques). You walk into a new church and no one greets you because everyone is busy with “friends”.

Cliques can scare away new members. You could have a small group clique as well. That is why we have an open door policy at our small group (married, single, divorced, some in teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties).

B. They were caused by Quarrels (1:11; 3:3).

The second cause of division in the Church of Corinth was quarrels. What is a quarrel? How do you know if it is a quarrel? What are some signs of a quarrel?

Signs of a Quarrel

1.You Love to Argue with People

Some people love to get in verbal disputes but would never darken the door of a prayer meeting. They just love to argue. The Bible calls that person a fool (Proverbs 20:3). As much as possible, we should avoid causing arguments with people.

2. Arguments often Center on Minor Issues

It is one thing to argue about the majors but often people get all bent out of shape over minor things that don’t matter.

3. Anger is involved in the Dispute

It is not just an argument, it is a heated argument (if you are screaming, yelling, out of control). I have been in some Bible studies that have gotten pretty heated.

4. A Break in Fellowship Occurs

When feelings are hurt, parties are no longer friends and are not on speaking terms as a result, a division has taken place. What does the Bible say about quarreling  It says that quarreling is a sin. It is a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:20) and we are not to do it (II Timothy 2:24). You can have a disagreement or a difference of opinion, and not have a quarrel.

A quarrel is a verbal fight. There were a lot of disagreements in Scripture (Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Peter). You are not always going to agree with someone but if you can disagree and get along with that person, you are not quarreling.

C. They were caused by Jealousy (3:3).

The third cause of division in the Church of Corinth was jealousy. What does it mean to be jealous? Jealousy simply means to want something that belongs to someone else. I am using the term jealousy and envy as synonyms, though there are some differences between the two emotions.

Paul said that the Corinthians were guilty of jealousy. The Bible teaches that jealousy is a sin (Galatians 5:19). Jealousy is not always wrong. There are some forms of jealousy that are appropriate but most jealousy is irrational and sinful. If we are guilty of it, we need to repent.

Biblical Examples of Jealousy

Saul was jealous of David. Saul liked David and gave him a high ranking job in the government but he became jealous of David when people started praising David more than himself, right after he killed Goliath and people started to say, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” (I Samuel 18:7-9).

Joseph’s brothers were jealous of Joseph sold into slavery (Acts 7:9). Why were they jealous of Joseph? Because their dad loved him the most (Genesis 37:3-4).

The Jews handed Jesus over to be killed out of envy or jealousy (Matthew 27:18). That is strange. Why were the Jewish leaders jealous of Jesus? He had a big following. A lot of people followed him and they did not like that, so they killed him. Now He has billions and billions of more followers.

Are you jealous of anyone in the church? This is one of those ugly topics that no one wants to talk about, let alone confess to one another.

Signs of Jealousy

1) Are you jealous of something that someone else has?

2) Are you jealous of someone else’s gifts and abilities (gifts that you do not possess)?

Someone else in the church may have a better singing voice than you do. Some pastors do not allow anyone else in the church to preach but them, because they are afraid that the congregation might like them better.

3) Are you jealous because someone else is recognized and honored and you are not?

4) Are you jealous of someone else’s position in the church that you want (elder, deacon)?

You may be jealous that someone other than you gets to be in front of the church every Sunday.

5) Are you jealous of someone else’s success?

Other people’s ministry may grow faster than yours. Not everyone has a small group as large as ours. Some pastors of small churches are a little jealous of pastors of mega churches.

James MacDonald said that one time a man came up to him and asked why God was using him to be the pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel?  Why was he the one who was chosen to lead a big mega-church?  He was clearly jealous of his success in ministry.

What was Paul’s answer to division in the church? Paul’s answer to division is to “live in harmony with each other” (1:10). He exhorted the Corinthians to “be of one mind, united in thought and purpose” (1:10).

What does that mean? How is that even possible? I understand the live in harmony part. We are to get along with one another but what does it mean to be of one mind? How do we become united in thought?

It is simply not possible to have two people agree on everything one hundred percent of the time, to say nothing of a whole church. There would be absolutely no diversity in the body if everyone thought exactly alike.

On what the Bible clearly teaches, there should be complete unity. On the essential doctrines of the faith (deity of Christ, resurrection of Christ, salvation by grace) we should be of one mind.

On doctrines that the Bible is not as clear on and are not essential (good Christians disagree), we can have honest differences of opinion and those should be respected. Paul told us to do this in Romans 14:1-10. We should be able to live in harmony with one another even if we do not agree on every minor issue.

The problem with fundamentalists is that they do not distinguish between essential and non-essentials. Everything they believe is considered essential and there is no freedom to hold differing views on minor issues.

Are All Divisions Wrong?

Many believe all divisions are wrong. Almost everyone will tell you that but I’m going to let you in on a little secret that most people do not know. All unity is not necessarily good and all division is not necessarily bad. What is an example of a unity that is bad (e.g., Antichrist, Tower of Babel)? What is an example of a division that is good?

Divisions are not wrong when they are based on truth. Three times in The Gospel of John, we are told that Jesus caused divisions among people (7:22-23, 40-43; 9:16; 10:19-21). If divisions are always wrong, then Jesus must have sinned because he divided people. He still divides people today (Matthew 10:34).

The gospel divides people. When Paul preached the gospel in the Book of Acts, he divided the whole city (14:1-4). Later, he divided the Sanhedrin (23:6-7). The fact is that truth divides people.

Some churches need to be divided.  If someone is teaching false doctrine, it is right to take a stand against error. Martin Luther caused divisions when he stood up for the truth about justification in the sixteen century.

Unity is not more important that truth. The Bible commands us to live at peace and harmony with one another. It also commands us to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

3 Responses to Divisions in the Church

  1. jomon says:

    very through & good bible study; I took some portions for our bible study
    let God may use you more and more
    Pastor jomon, Mumbai India

    • admin says:

      Wow. Glad to be of some help. God bless your ministry. I am teaching on the Ten Commandments right now in my Sunday School class which you can read on the website. Have a great day.

  2. Luka Musa Madaki says:

    This is so inspiring and will need more of this teachings, because we are struggling with the problem of division in the church in Nigeria,can you please help in sending more of your teachings in my email address, more also recommend books on the same subject matter.

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