Sunday, October 30, 2005

Dealing with Disunity pt. 3

When considering the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 1:10, maybe your picture of what a factious person looks like is something like the Neighborhood Watch villain. He’s easy to spot and, of course, he doesn’t look anything like us. Knowing our own hearts such as we do, and giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt, we recoil at the idea that such a word could possibly apply to us without overstating the case. We may be rough or over-zealous at times; but typically we reserve this sort of terminology for King James Only people, or hyper-Calvinists, or maybe Rick Miesel. And while these assessments would be correct, Paul's down-to-earth description of disunity in verses 11-12 should give us pause. The extremities of sinful behavior too easily serve as distractions from the very same roots which lie in our own hearts.

Notice that the first manifestation of factious behavior is manifested in what Paul calls "quarrels". The word there is literally “strife” in the plural – the same word used in Titus 3:9: “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife[s] and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” Quarrels aren't discussions; they're not friendly debates or healthy in-house deliberations; they describe a kind of verbal sparring which eventually alienate us from one another and rupture trusted friendships. We all know the difference, though we often pretend we're doing one while we're really doing the other. But quarreling isn't simply the action of shouting at one another – it’s also a way to describe the state of a relationship. “We’re quarrelling” doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re at this moment engaged in hostile verbal debate – it means that our friendship is being strained and our fellowship is being disrupted by our heated disagreements.

So far so good; but I suspect that our eyes are still on the branches instead of the roots. What we often fail to recognize is that no one prefers to thinks of themselves as “loving quarrels”. In fact, most of the time we engage in quarrels it’s because we think we’re doing something else - we’re championing the truth against the various manifestations of liberalism, we're standing for God and the Bible in times when it's unpopular to do so, we're being faithful to the Scriptures, come Hell or highwater . . . and so on. But bickering about the truth can still count as quarreling. And this, unfortunately, is often our speciality.

Phil. 1:15 says, “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife (or quarrelling), but some also from good will.” Strife, like all other sins, is a deceiver. It dresses up stubbornness as "faithfulness". It paints ego as "boldness". It answers the fear of being challenged with the Bible by a call to tow the party line. In short, factious behavior always looks spiritual, and is always painted as virtuous. Always. Without exception. Notice the Corinthians didn't say "I am of Zeno", "I am of Epicurus" or "I am of "Plato". They said, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Those of us who are used to fending off criticisms of being "too harsh" or "too narrow" or "unloving" by seeing these epithets as a compliment, or worse, as a sign of divine approval, should let this bald biblical truth haunt us.

In order for our disputes to be spiritual, they must display the fruit of the Spirit. That means that our words, attitudes and even our study should be saturated with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; and it should display not just one of these things – just faithfulness, for example – but all of them. Don't let the radical nature of that claim escape you! Imagine what our study (much less our disputes) would look like if it were characterized by the love described in 1 Co. 13; and that's just one of the nine qualities of the Spirit's yield.

Of the four very deeply drawn lines of divisions between Corinthian believers, how concerned do you suppose these factions really were for the truth? I'd venture it had very little to do with it, if for no other reason, Paul, Apollos and Peter were all devoted lovers of Jesus Christ. The clue to what drove their separation lies in the common word shared in all of their sloganeering – the word “I”! Selfishness and arrogance, not truth, stood behind their disputes. They were just using the reputations of these leaders to lend both lend credibility to their own views and to use their respected status as a wedge for other Christians to prove their loyalty.

Far from being "spiritual", divisions are usually motivated by lust and manipulation. James 4:1-3 says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” The coattails of men like Paul and Peter are worn thin from ambitious, pouncing Christians. Respected pillars of the Church throughout it’s history have their share of uninvited tailgate parties as well. And each with our chosen personality set them up as a barometer for who we will fellowship with, and who we won’t. But when the pretentious platter is removed from this dish, and the rhetorical steam clears, what remains isn't meat(1 Co. 3:1-4); it's shriveled, poisonous fruit (Gal. 5:17-21).


hettinger said...

The coattails of men like Paul and Peter are worn thin from ambitious, pouncing Christians. Respected pillars of the Church throughout it’s history have their share of uninvited tailgate parties as well.

Lol. I wonder if some of the said pillars would of 'driven off,' had they known there was a tailgate party happening behind them.

Ephraim said...

It seems to me that most of the people who find themselves "arguing" with others about some doctrinal point, are the very ones who do not accept the whole counsel of YHWH as revealed in scripture.

In other words, if we really believed the testimony we read in His covenants, and that they applied to us today, and walked in them, where would the arguments be?

What is the difference between pledging allegiance to "Sha'ul, Appollos, Kefa or Messiah" for the Corinthians then, and the practice of pledging allegiance to "Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon or Christ" today?

Some follow the pope, and they argue with those who follow Luther. Some follow Calvin, and they argue with those who follow the SBC. And some Calvinists argue with those who follow Calvin differently than themselves.

Recall when the disciples came to Yeshua and told Him that they had seen one who was doing works in His name, but he did not follow them. And the disciples withheld fellowship from that person. But Yeshua said to allow him, as he that was not against them was for them.

What did the disciples mean that this person "did not follow them"? They meant that he did not walk as they walked. Which was, and should still be, the way a person's beliefs are appraised. As far as the disciples were concerned, if a person did not walk in Torah as they did, they should not be throwing around the name of the Messiah and performing exorcisms. Realize that they were already Torah observant (recall Kefa's unwillingness to ingest something unclean, arguing that he had never done so before), and any deficiencies in that area in their lives would have been brought into sharp focus in the presence of the Word made flesh. That would make anyone not walking "exactly" as they walked suspect. Unqualified to speak the Messiah's name with any authority.

What does that have to do with unity? Well, there are those who argue practice, and those who argue belief (in the sense of the intellectualized "Greek" model of belief).
Those who argue practice say that the other's beliefs are wrong, hence the incorrect pratice. Those who argue belief say that the other's practices are incorrect and must conform to their way of thinking and believing.

Now in can be proposed that these fine Christian folks really believe in Christ and no other, and perhaps even "argued" successfully as to where their true faith lies, but, isn't that just what you are describing?

If someone is truly following Messiah Yeshua, they will do as He did. Those who are not will usually find some man made religious system to cling to and defend.

While there are some who teach not to follow the pre-digested beliefs of other men, they themselves end up with a following of people who cling to them and defend them and base their trust on that teacher's insights. That is partly the result of a broken system, and partly the result of poorly defined and maintained relationships within the ranks of believers. It's not that maturity isn't talked about, it's that it isn't modeled properly very often in the "local church" setting. Again the result of a broken system.

Enough rambling. Good post. Keep on.

Shalom Blue

Bobby Grow said...

What Ephraim brings up, is what Martin Luther's Theology of the Cross vs. the Theology of Glory (of men)is all about.

Also if you do a thematic study of Glory in the book of John--you'll discover this same motif, i.e. seeking the glory of men (pharisees), rather than the glory of God (like Jesus did/does)--contributes to an inability to recognize Jesus as Messiah (unbelief); picked up in the Pauline's, and explicitly argued by Paul here in I Cor.

Good article, and focus, Blue.

TheBlueRaja said...

Thanks, fellers! One more of these to go . . .

Ephraim said...

It sure is quiet in here. Where do you suppose everybody went?

TheBlueRaja said...

Hey Epharaim -- I don't know! But I still am reeling from the fact that anyone reads this rag, much less bothers to comment!

Elmom said...

This is apparently not a new problem: from the bio of Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment: "Jeremiah Burroughs combined harmoniously in his own person what might be considered incompatible qualities: a fervent zeal for purity of doctrine and worship and a peaceable spirit, which longed and laboured for Christian unity. For the first of these qualities the Puritans are renowned; in the second, they are deemed by some critics to have been deficient...One of his most famous works was Irenicum or Heart Divisions Opened, in which he pleaded for the unity of all who loved the truth and argued that what made comparatively minor differences into causes of rigid divisions was a wrong spirit and wrong motives. His efforts to promote a united church settlement were to prove unsuccessful, though many of the leading Puritan ministers kept, like him, a true sense of proportion..." (p. 12-14)

But, Blue, what hill would you die for (to paraphrase John Piper) When so many deny the basic tenets of the faith (virgin birth, resurrection...) And really, does it matter what other churches do?

The question is, how can your/my own church be a "fragrance of Christ to God." Who indeed is adequate for that?

TheBlueRaja said...

I think the question of "what hill I'd die on" partially involves the circumstances. If I lived during Nazi Germany, I may be willing to die for my belief in the Jewishness of Jesus! But outside of any circumstantial context, I frankly don't think I could provide a list. I'd hope to be willing to die over the absolute lordship, messiahship and deity of Jesus Christ. I'd also hope to be willing to die over the inherent worth of human life given their image-bearing status. I'll tell you what -- you give me the issue and the circumstances, and I'll tell you if I'd hope to be willing to die for it.

Rose~ said...

Very good post. I don't trust human nature, especially my own (becuase I'm quite intimate with my own.) If there's a bad motive to be had, it is sure to be found in the human mind. It's a wonder that God has provided us a way to enter His presence what with the pride that fills our hearts. Good insights.