by Al Maxey

Issue #542 ------- August 2, 2012
Old religious factions
are volcanoes burnt out.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

Following the Fourth Faction
Examining the "I am of Christ" Party
Within the Universal One Body

James Madison (1751-1836) was one of our nation's founding fathers, as well as the fourth President of the United States. The Federalist Papers, which Madison co-wrote with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, are a series of 85 essays produced between October, 1787 and August, 1788 in which the authors sought to influence the vote to ratify the Constitution. Article #10, which came from the pen of Madison, is regarded by most historians as the most important. It was published on Friday, November 22, 1787. The main consideration of Article #10 was how the nation as a whole could guard against the rise of partisan factions. One historian even went so far as to declare that this particular article "is among the most highly regarded of all American political writings" [David F. Epstein, The Political Theory of The Federalist, p. 59]. The chief concern of our founders, of course, was to maintain a united nation, rather than allowing it to break apart by the wrangling of various factions, each seeking their own good above that of the nation as a whole.

Notice the following excerpt from Article #10 of The Federalist Papers: "By a faction, understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community. ... The latent causes of factions are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well as speculation as to practice; an attachment of different leaders ambitiously contending for preeminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good."

Madison has stated the case quite well, highlighting not only the fundamental causes of factionalism, but the dangers as well. Any person interested at all in preserving societal wellness and wholeness should ever be on guard against the rise of attitudes and actions that are inherently factious in nature. Paul even warned the shepherds of Ephesus that it was not unlikely that even among their own number some might attempt "to draw away disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:30). Thus, they were to be alert. Satan knows that if he can divide and dismember the Body of our Lord, he has thereby effectively rendered it dysfunctional, thus minimizing its ability to positively address and affect the ills and evils of the world in which it has been placed to be a guiding light. For this reason, the apostle Paul wasted no time in confronting the schismatic squabbling that was taking place among the disciples of Christ in Corinth. He appealed to them to remain united, and that there should be "no divisions among you" (1 Cor. 1:10). Paul uses the Greek word schisma, which means a division into parties or factions. Its literal meaning is "to rip, rend, tear, split apart," as one might tear cloth. It is taking something that is a unified whole and tearing it into separate pieces. The saints in Corinth were "called into fellowship with God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (vs. 9), yet they were in the process of ripping that One Body fellowship apart. Paul had been informed by some from Chloe's household that "there are quarrels among you" (vs. 11). The Greek word Paul uses here is eris, which is a contentious disposition manifested in wrangling, brawling, altercations and strife. In 1 Cor. 3:3 it is declared to be a disposition of the fleshly nature (see also: Gal. 5:20). "Pride breeds nothing but strife" (Prov. 13:10). It was an arrogant presumption that was fostering contentions, and it was quickly endangering the unity of the church of God in that location.

Indeed, four distinct factions were forming. "What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' or 'I follow Apollos,' or 'I follow Cephas,' or 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided?!" (vs. 12-13a, ESV). As is often the case, the church in Corinth began to reflect the ills of the secular society within which it dwelt (this was also seen among the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 -- see: Jesus Evaluates His Church; I would also refer the reader to an in-depth evaluation of two of those cities in earlier Reflections: Ephesus -- Issue #69 and Pergamum -- Issue #179). "Party feeling ran high in the city of Corinth, and this, with the mixed character of the population, tended to break society into sects and schools. This affected the Church, and Paul received reports of the disposition to make parties within it, and so destroy the unity of the Church in Christ; such reports greatly distressed him, and they are in part the immediate occasion of his writing this epistle" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 55]. "The point Paul urges is that their partisanship was a disjunction of their unity, and hence that this unity, which was designed to grow into perfection, was arrested by strife" [ibid, p. 16]. Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann points out, "A divided Christ means a Christ appropriated in parts, in this case in four parts, each faction claiming His truth for itself" [Popular Commentary of the Bible, The NT, vol. 2, p. 90]. Our primary emphasis in this current study will be the fourth faction: the "I am of Christ" party. Before we examine it, however, we need to briefly detail the dynamics of the other three factions.

Those of you who have read all sixteen chapters of Paul's first epistle to the Corinthian brethren are well aware that there was significant diversity among the members of the One Body in that city. Indeed, that diversity was applauded and celebrated by Paul. The problem in Corinth, however, was that the members were becoming so focused on their differences, rather than rejoicing in that which they shared in common, that they were beginning to separate from one another into feuding factions. They were contending with one another over personal preferences. The party spirit was raising its ugly head in the church in Corinth. Disciples were beginning to rally to the side of mere men; elevating one ministerial mission over another; taking human ideas and promoting them to divine precepts. This can only result in schisms, which we find to be in the early stages of development in the church in Corinth.

  1. The Paul Party -- Perhaps in addition to favoring Paul personally, they may also have been seeking to give far greater emphasis to the evangelization of the Gentiles than the Jews. Others feel they may further have been advocating God's grace and liberty in Christ over detailed adherence to law, which certainly would not have been well-received by those still favoring a more Jewish expression of their faith (see: Acts 21:17ff; I would refer the reader to my in-depth exposition of that passage in Reflections #166 -- Conforming to Jewish Custom). "The Paul party consisted of those who adhered to his views about Gentile freedom, and who liked the simple spirituality of his teaching. Paul rose above the temptation of considering that a 'party spirit' is excusable in our own partisans. He reproves factiousness even in the party of freedom" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 5]. "They seem to have boasted of their liberty in respect of some things which gave offence to more scrupulous consciences, and to have treated uncharitably the more contracted views of the Jewish Christians" [ibid, p. 33]. "They 'judged' and 'set at nought' (Rom. 14:10) brethren who could not take so essentially spiritual a view of Christianity, but who still clung to some of the outward forms of Judaism" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 289]. When we today allow our freedom in Christ to foster within us uncharitable attitudes toward and actions against those honestly struggling with their legalistic scruples, then we may well find ourselves following in the footsteps of the first faction.

  2. The Apollos Party -- Those within this party were undoubtedly impressed with the great learning and eloquence of this man from Alexandria (Acts 18:24; 19:1). "Apollos personally was absolutely loyal and honorable, but his visit to Corinth had done mischief. His impassioned oratory, his Alexandrian refinements, his allegorizing exegesis, the culture and polish of his style, had charmed the fickle Corinthians. The Apollonians were the party of culture. ... Apollos, as we see by his noble refusal to visit the city of Corinth under present circumstances (1 Cor. 16:12), was as indignant as Paul himself at the perversion of his name into an engine of party warfare. Nothing further is known respecting him, but he is the almost undoubted author of the Epistle to the Hebrews" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 5. With this stated conclusion as to the authorship of Hebrews I concur completely; see: Reflections #128 -- The Authorship of Hebrews: In-depth Investigation into Identity]. "Apollos brought with him the arts of the rhetorician, and the culture of a Greek philosopher, which gifts and knowledge rendered him more acceptable than St. Paul had been to a certain class of intellectual and rationalizing hearers in Corinth" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 289]. When we allow scholasticism to trump spirituality, when we are enamored with eloquence and style over substance, we may be following the second faction.

  3. The Cephas Party -- "The use of the Aramaic name for Peter perhaps shows that these Petrinists were Judaizers. They personally disliked Paul, and questioned his apostolical authority. Perhaps the extravagances of 'speaking with tongues' arose in this party, who recalled the effects of the outpouring of the Spirit after Peter's great sermon on the day of Pentecost" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 5]. These partyists may also have favored a much greater evangelistic outreach to the Jews than to the Gentiles. "This faction of the Corinthian Church still clung to many Jewish ceremonial ideas" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 290]. "Conservative Jewish believers, when conflict was afoot, rallied to the name of the preacher of Pentecost and the hero of the Church's earliest victories. This party affected Palestinian traditions" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 764]. They were "Judaizing lovers of tradition ... the legalist party" [ibid, p. 762]. "Peter would be the rallying point for the Judaizing Christians" [Dr. Marvin Vincent, Vincent's Word Studies, e-Sword]. This faction consisted of the "Judaizers, who sheltered themselves under the name of Peter, the apostle of the Circumcision" [Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1187]. Even today we have those who are legalists, patternists and traditionalists: those who are walking in the way of the third faction.

Clearly, the unity of the Church of God in Corinth was facing some serious challenges. "Men glory in their distinctive shibboleths more than in the great doctrines of grace which are our common heritage. The guns of one division of Christ's army are too often directed against another division, instead of being turned against the foe" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 34]. We should hasten to point out that there is no sin in diversity of opinion or conviction, or even in preference for styles and teachers; the sin is in dividing over them. "Christianity does not obliterate individuality. Diversity is not a thing to be deplored, but rather to be rejoiced in" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 34]. The various schools of thought and practice in the church "serve to give expression to the many-sidedness of the Christian faith and life. But how readily does this natural and useful diversity give rise to hurtful divisions in the Body of Christ!" [ibid]. R.C.H. Lenski correctly observes, "The wrong and dangerous feature attendant upon the estimation in which these men were held was not the fact that these great teachers had their devoted personal admirers, who praised their excellencies and their achievements in the church, but the fact that these friends should exalt these teachers to an unwarranted degree, pit the one against the other, and misuse their good names for the purpose of forming parties and wrong distinctions in the congregation" [The Interpretation of St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 43].

There is one more party that needs to be examined, however: the fourth faction in the city of Corinth, a faction, I fear, that is very much alive today as well. It is the "I am of Christ" party, schism, faction. Some have tried to suggest that this last group mentioned by Paul is not a faction at all, and that Paul is simply suggesting that in spite of a "party spirit" present in Corinth, there were some who were "of Christ" who refused to be part of such partyism. Thus, they believe Paul, indirectly, commends this group as those who are genuine Christians. They were the ones "above the fray;" they were the ones who were NOT "denominationalists;" they, and they alone, were the "one true church" -- the only ones who were "of Christ," while all others had "denominated" themselves after mere men. Sound familiar? However, "the context subjects all four classes to the same reproach" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 765]. There were some in Corinth (just as there are some today) who "sanctimoniously took their name from Christ Himself and denied to the others true discipleship" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, The NT, vol. 2, p. 90]. David Lipscomb described such persons as those who professed Christ Jesus "in a partisan spirit" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles: 1 Corinthians, p. 27]. Dr. Charles Ellicott characterized them as being "the Exclusive Party" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 290]. Again, they were exclusionists, isolating themselves from all other believers whom they deemed spiritually inferior.

"The Christian who asserts, 'I am of Christ,' in distinction from others, claims an exclusive part in Him, whereas the one and whole Christ belongs to every limb of His manifold Body" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 765]. "This party, like some modern sects, was not ashamed to degrade into a party watchword even the sacred name of Christ, and to claim for a miserable clique an exclusive interest in the Lord of the whole Church" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 5]. They had "degraded that Name to the shibboleth of a sect, and were thus as guilty as the others whom the apostle here condemns" [ibid, p. 34]. "Is this last group composed of the true Christians in Corinth or to a wrangling party arrogating to itself the divine name? The context seems to imply the latter. It is possible to use the name of Christ in a sectarian manner" [T.R. Applebury, Studies in First Corinthians, p. 20]. Yes, even those who simply seek to follow Jesus can, and too often do, devolve into little more than another fragment of the whole, too often perceiving themselves as being the whole, exclusively and entirely. Many scholars feel Paul most likely had this faction in mind when he wrote, "If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as he" (2 Cor. 10:7). Such partyists quickly become arrogant, viewing themselves as the standard by which all others are measured (and generally found lacking). "They use themselves to measure themselves, and they judge themselves by what they themselves are. This shows that they know nothing" (2 Cor. 10:12, Easy-to-Read Version). I like the way The Message renders this verse: "In all this comparing and grading and competing, they quite miss the point."

"We are the only ones who are going to heaven! We are the only ones who worship God according to the pattern! We are the only ones who have understood the Scriptures correctly! We are, therefore, the only true church on the face of the planet. We are 'of Christ.' We are the church 'of Christ' ... we, and we alone!!" Again, sound familiar?! Yes, the "I am of Christ" party is still very much around today, and those who manifest this party spirit are not just limited to one denomination, although some denominations evidence it far more than others. In my view, this faction is the most despicable of the four! "Party spirit consists in elevating that which is peculiar to our own branch of the Church above that which is common to us with others, and thereby 'unchurching' them. The progress of the kingdom of God in the earth is thus made subordinate to the success of our own denomination or faction. The spirit that wrought such mischief at Corinth has been busy in the Church ever since" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 34]. Shame on us!! I fear that in my own denomination, for example, there has been far too much elevating of the name "Church of Christ" and its traditions, and far too little elevating of the name of Christ Himself and eternal Truth. By our focus on the former we have been guilty of following the fourth faction!! May God help us all to repent of such factious foolishness, to tear down those walls of exclusion that isolate us from our fellow believers, and to embrace one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, God's children are a diverse lot, but we all have the same Father, we follow the same Savior, and we are filled with the same Spirit. Thus, it's time to leave the factions behind and begin behaving as His Family!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

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Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
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Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
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(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, your study "Clocking the Crucifixion" was excellent: a very thought-provoking article! At our congregation we have been studying 1st century Hebrew customs, life, theological understanding and practice, etc., with regard to how the Gospels were written and how we should really understand a particular passage in the Gospels (it is called "the Gospel inside the Gospels"). Your study goes right along with this perspective being presented. I continue to believe that the single most important hermeneutical approach we can use to understand the teachings and events in the NT is to first understand the way of life, teachings, religious practices and customs of the Hebrews/Greeks/Romans before trying to declare what something in the text actually means. The who, what, when, where, why and how of common journalistic practice becomes lost in modern Scripture application, being covered up by legalistic views produced by CENI and Silence. I don't know if our teacher reads your Reflections, but this one will definitely be passed on to him this Sunday morning!

From a Reader in England:

Al, I want to thank you for yet another interesting, detailed study. I thought I knew this subject quite well, but, in fact, I learned several new possibilities from your Reflections article "Clocking the Crucifixion."

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

As always, your latest Reflections was a good read, not at all the usual type of writing that comes from most in the church today! That's why I really look forward to each new edition of your Reflections. God bless you, my brother.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Just wanted to let you know that I had to pull out your articles on 1 Peter 3:21 to stomp out ignorance once again (Reflections #217 -- Salvation by Immersion: Reflective Analysis of 1 Pet. 3:21 and Reflections #497 -- Critical Question on 1 Peter 3:21: Pondering the True Meaning of the "Pledge" of a Good Conscience as it Relates to Baptism). If only I had a nickel... Bro. Al, I count on you more than you know!!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

I trust this finds you and Shelly enjoying what we call here in Oklahoma "the dog days of summer," with temperatures reaching the 110 degree mark some days! I have a question: recently the teacher of our Bible class at the congregation where we are members stated that baptism is a "sacrament." Maybe I just don't know the correct definition of "sacrament," but I question whether his statement is true or not. Can you enlighten me? May our Father bless and keep you.

From a Reader in Canada:

I love your Reflections, Al, and can't wait to receive them each week. Due to poor health, you and your writings are one of the only true anchors for my soul that I have these days. If I had one wish, next to going to heaven, it would be to spend time with you and Shelly before I die. That would be such a joy. And then I read about the cold, heartless, so-called "Christians" who attack you constantly because you are simply willing to try and help others, like me, who have been suffocated by legalism, to understand the simple Truth of the Word. The arrogance of such people only shows the shallowness of their understanding. Never lose heart, Al. You are deeply loved by thousands, and, most importantly, by God, who has inspired you and given you this wonderful gift of understanding, as well as the ability to relay it to others. We love you with all our heart, brother! If you ever plan to come to the east coast of Canada, you will always have a place to stay here. It is beautiful and relaxing beyond words.

From a Minister in Texas:

Al, because of a number of problems in my life, I was becoming increasingly discouraged, and was honestly wondering, "Where is God?!" I would wake up in the morning weeping; I was hurting. Then yesterday I read one of your Reflections, and it has put some pep in my step. I determined that I was going to change my outlook on life. I opened up my Bible and then began printing out some of your Reflections. And then I started studying. I am now on fire, and I have rededicated my life more fully to God. As a preacher, I had no one to share my doubts and struggles with -- preachers aren't supposed to have problems or sins; the members demand perfection of them. Thank you for being there to turn to. I have determined to print out one of your articles each day and study it. I want to truly preach Christ and Him crucified. I want to understand more about His grace, mercy, etc. I wrote something about this on Facebook, and was immediately attacked by an individual who was abusive and rude about what I was doing. It made me ill; such behavior is hardly conducive to true Christianity.

From a New Reader in Oklahoma:

Please add me to your distribution list for your weekly Reflections. I really appreciate the thoughts you have shared on your web site. Thanks for making me think in my walk. I have also sent you a friend request on Facebook.

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