FACTIONS IN THE CHURCH
When I say that I have obeyed the gospel, been saved from my sins, and added to the one church of which we read in the New Testament (Acts 2:47), some of my leftist brethren who are bent on portraying the Lord’s church as a denomination will ask, “Which faction of the Church (sic) of Christ were you added to?”
Before I answer that question, let me hasten to say that when I obeyed the gospel it is for sure that the Lord did not add me to any one of the more than 30 different kinds of Baptist Churches! He did not add me to any of the at least 20 different kinds of Methodist Churches in North America, plus many others in other parts of the world! He did not add me to any of the over 30 different kinds of major Presbyterian Churches or to any of the many smaller Presbyterian bodies! He did not add me to any one of the almost 40 different Lutheran factions in North America, nor to any of the over 20 different kinds of Catholic Churches, all with their own patriarch or prelate and their own rites and rituals!
In New Testament times the Catholic Church with its many factions did not exist. The Catholic Church came into existence over a period of time as a result of departing from the New Testament pattern. The New Testament itself clearly predicted that this would happen (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 15:7-9; Acts 20:28-30; Romans 16:17-18; II Thessalonians 2:1-5; I Timothy 4:1-5; II Timothy 4:1-5). None of the protestant denominations with their many factions existed in New Testament times. The first protestant church was not established until 1521 when the followers of Martin Luther formed themselves into the Lutheran Church and in 1530 adopted the Augsburg Confession of Faith as their denominational creed. Think about it! Protestant denominationalism is still not yet quite 500 years old! Christianity had been in the world for almost 1500 years before there were any of the many kinds of Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc., etc. that we now find in the world!
But what about factions in the Lord’s church? Sadly, such exists. A faction is a segment, a division, a part, a party, a section, a sect of a larger entity. The word most often used in the New Testament is “heresies,” which comes from a word that means “a choosing, choice; then that which is chosen, and hence, an opinion, especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth and leads to division and the formation of sects, Gal. 5:20” (Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. II, p. 217). In I Corinthians 11:19, in both the ASV and the NASB, the word is rendered “factions.”
Paul said “that there should be no schism (division, disunity) in the body” (I Corinthians 12:25). Heresies (parties, ASV; factions, NASB) are included in the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:20), right along with murder, adultery, fornication, idolatry, sorcery, drunkenness, outbursts of wrath, etc., with the warning “that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). It is highly regrettable that those who practice and defend denominationalism and other forms of religious division and disunity do not recognize this very serious and sobering truth.
There were factions (divisions) in New Testament times (I Corinthians 11:19), but God did not approve them, the apostles did not sanction them, and inspired scripture is bold and plain in its opposition to them. When Paul learned of the various factions in the church at Corinth, he severely rebuked the congregation for its disunity and urged them to “all speak the same thing, and that there be no division among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10-13).
Now suppose for a moment that a citizen of Corinth had heard, believed, and obeyed the gospel while this unseemly situation existed in the church at Corinth. To which of these factions would the Lord have added that saved person? The answer is: why, of course, not to a one of them! In New Testament times the Lord did not add saved people to a faction or a religious party. He added them to the one body, the church (Ephesians 4:4; Colossians 1:18; Acts 2:47). The same is true today. I can obey the gospel, receive the remission of my sins, and be added to the church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ without being a part of any faction or party in the church. This is precisely what millions have done down through the centuries since the beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 2. I am a member of the one spiritual body of Christ, His church—nothing more, less or else! I have aligned myself with no faction in the church.
I lament the factions in the church, however many or few there might be. I think my liberal brethren are prone to exaggerate the number because they think that might enhance their case for claiming that the church of Christ is just another denomination, but such is not the case. Factions have occurred in the body of Christ when matters of faith have been treated as matters of opinion (doing something other than what the Lord has authorized or commanded) and when matters of expediency (an approved and advantageous way of doing something the Lord has authorized or commanded) have been treated as matters of faith. Early in the movement to return to the New Testament pattern in all things various liberal, progressive factions arose in the form of the pro-missionary society movement, the pro-instrumental music movement, and the pro-women preachers movement. Later, various “anti” factions arose in the form of anti-located preachers, anti-Sunday School, anti-multiplicity of containers for the fruit of the vine in the Lord’s Supper, anti-Christian schools, anti-orphan homes, anti-sponsoring church arrangement for congregations cooperating, etc. Through the years various false doctrines and erroneous practices have been forced into some congregations, creating heartache, heartbreak, and division (e.g., premillennialism, the A.D. 70 theory, etc.). The apostle Paul is quite clear as to what is to be done to those who are responsible for such (see Romans 16:17).
Happily, not all differences in views and opinions have resulted in divisions and factions. Good and honest and capable brethren may very well differ on the meaning of a biblical text without disrupting fellowship and creating a faction. We all should be willing to study and learn. There are various Bible subjects on which Christians may disagree without breaking fellowship. Other matters are of such a nature that fellowship cannot be maintained because such would involve a compromise with false doctrine or unscriptural practice. In such cases, those bringing in the false doctrines and erroneous practices are responsible for the disruption of fellowship, not those who stay with the word of God (see Romans 16:17-18; Ephesians 5:11; II John 9-11). Thus, the promoters of error, whether in doctrine and/or in practice, are the faction makers!
What has been interesting to observe in over 65 years of preaching is that very often some of those who start out on the “radical right” in some form of “anti-ism” often do a complete pendulum swing to the “liberal left” and become advocates of all sorts of unscriptural doctrines and practices. Some of them now acknowledge that they were wrong when they were extremists to the “right” (“antis”), but cannot see that they are wrong now in their extremism to the “left” (liberalism). Some of them have written and/or spoken of their “journey to freedom.” In reality, theirs has been a journey into generic, ecumenical “Christianity” in which anyone of any religious hue or stripe is considered to be a child of God whether one has obeyed the gospel or not, and irrespective of belief, doctrine or practice. Balance is indeed hard for some people to achieve! By their very nature and emotional makeup, they have to be extremists!
One can hear, believe, and obey the gospel, be saved from his or her past sins, and be added by the Lord to the church, all without joining any denomination or becoming a part of any faction. That is what people did in the first century and that is what people must do today to be God’s faithful children.
Hugh Fulford, September 29, 2020