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God’s Coming Bema Judgment on Schismatic Ministers

 

All genuine gospel ministers receive unique rewards in a
final evaluation of our service to Jesus Christ.

Those rewards will be dependent on this question:
‘How have we built on the foundation: Christ’s
body of believers where we live?’
1 Cor. 3:11

 

fire 2

Kiss of the Fire, www.motaen.com

The church in Corinth yearned for one sin above all others.

It wasn’t idolatry, or fornication. It wasn’t Greek oratory. It wasn’t even pride. But it was so bad that Paul wrote one of his longest letters in the New Testament to argue them out of it.

It is also the transgression we most ignore, and by ‘we,’ I mean genuine gospel ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ, who loyally preach justification by faith alone in churches.

What was this horrendous sin?  Schism.

“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that you all agree and that there be no schisms (σχίσµατα)
among you, but that you be made complete in the
same mind and in the same judgment.”
(1 Cor. 1:10)

Schism is the result of preferring our own subset of believers rather than Christ’s body of redeemed people where we live:

“each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’
and ‘I of Apollos’ and ‘I of Cephas,’
and ‘I of Christ.’

Has Christ been divided?
(1 Cor. 1:11, 13)

schismed bodyChrist divided? How can Christ be divided?

“The simplest way of understanding the expression and the argument is to presuppose the church as the body of Christ”[1]Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, Hermeneia, p. 35

“The vivid imagery of Christ sliced into fragments is Paul’s first move decrying the divisions among them”[2]Garland, 1 Corinthians, 52

But of course. Schism is the dividing of the one body of Christ in a single locale into different churches. Yet, who today preaches down schism? Paul does:

“you are still fleshly, for since there is jealousy and strife among you,
are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another,
“I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?”
(1 Cor. 3:3-4)

And also in chapter four, here:

“these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and
Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed
what is written, in order that no one of you might become
arrogant in behalf of one against the other.”
(1 Cor. 4:6)

What do the commentators say?

“In discussing the difficulties of the Corinthian church Paul begins
with the problem of division. The fact that he puts this
problem first and continues for four chapters
indicates the significance of the issue.”[3]William Baird, The Corinthian Church, 29.

“This opening issue is the most crucial factor in the letter.”[4]Gordon Fee, 1 Corinthians, 49

“Following a request for unity in 1:10, Paul mounts a long and complex argument against divisions in the church.”[5]Roy Ciampa, 1 Corinthians, 68

“The first four chapters of the letter contain Paul’s treatment
of the double problem of factionalism and faulty wisdom
and knowledge  in a unified exhortation.”[6]Benjamin Fiore, ‘Covert Allusion’ in 1 Corinthians 1-4, CBQ 47 (1985); 101.

Four chapters and almost eighty verses form a continuous rebuke on the sin of schism. It denies the wisdom and power of the cross (1:18-2:16). How does this relate to us gospel ministers? It is produced by immature men who build their churches on their sectarian doctrines ministers rather than Christ. That’s why it will be judged so thoroughly:

“No one can lay a foundation other than that
which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

“Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver,
precious stones, wood, hay, straw–
each one’s work will become manifest,

for the day will disclose it, because it will be
revealed by fire, and the fire will test what
sort of work each one has done.

If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives,
he will receive a reward.

If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though
he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
(1 Cor. 3:11-15 )

 

When all of us gospel ministers from all the centuries appear before the Lord in His Coming Day, a fiery assize on our work will reveal the true value of our labor to Jesus Christ.

How will you fare in that Day?

Voices from Church History

church history chart 2Perhaps over-confidence is our problem. Heaven knows, it isn’t new to our generation. If we feel well-prepared for Christ’s coming judgment because no one “important” speaks out about schism anymore, then we have been afflicted with what cultural analysts call “presentism.” That’s the belief that what is happening now is more mature and more prescient than what happened in the past. It is not.

Maybe hubris is our problem, for after all, many of us hear the word “schism” and tune out. To many true gospel ministers, schism is irrelevant. ‘Didn’t that happen back in the dark ages?’ Besides, only the liberals or the Catholics care about schism, right?

Clement of Rome, 96AD clement rome

We have only to listen to those who have come before us and spoke on schism for our silence to be exposed. Forty years after Paul rebuked the Corinthian believers for their desire to schism, another pastor named Clement condemned it in this letter:

“Wherefore are there strifes and wraths and factions and schisms and war among you? Have we not one God and one Christ and one Spirit of grace that was shed upon us? And is there not one calling in Christ?

Wherefore do we tear and rend asunder the members of Christ, and stir up factions against our own body, and reach such a pitch of folly, as to forget that we are members one of another?

Your division has perverted many; it has brought many to despair, many to doubting, and all of us to sorrow. .” (1 Clement 46:5-7, 9)

schismed-saintsCan you even imagine a pastor having the chutzpah to write that to another church today? Clement didn’t want to control the church in Corinth, nor did he claim authority over it as Roman Catholics claim. No, he expected the Corinthians to obey Christ.[7]Clement continued, “And your sedition still continues. Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle. What wrote he first unto you in the beginning of the Gospel? Of a truth he charged you in the Spirit concerning himself and Cephas and Apollos, because that even then you had made parties. Yet that making of parties brought less sin upon you; for you were partisans of apostles that were highly reputed, and of a man approved in their sight. But now mark you, who they are that have perverted you and diminished the glory of your renowned love for the brotherhood. It is shameful, dearly beloved, yes, utterly shameful and unworthy of your conduct in Christ, that it should be reported that the very steadfast and ancient church of the Corinthians, for the sake of one or two persons, makes sedition against its elders.”

Then came the divisiveness of the Donatists in the mid-200s. Seventy-five years later their schisming works were discussed and rebuked at the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Unlike today’s theologians who avoid the topic like the plague, at Nicaea schism was rightly identified as a disagreement among true Christians that results in an ecclesiastical separation. Indeed, in just about every century of church history, gospel ministers have publicly wrestled with schism. Except now.

Today, schism is no longer a matter of concern to Bible-believing ministers of the gospel. Most of us are separated into partisan groups and instead of making a protest we promote it. When was the last time Baptists and Presbyterians joined each other in a single church plant to reach a needy area? No, they’ll each send in their own people who will do their own thing, although to be straight up, they’ll more likely send church planters to a place with a thousand churches than none.

Is this because schism has been solved in our time? Just the opposite is the case – genuine Christians are more schismed than ever. Is it no longer a sin in the sight of God? No, it is still high-handed treason against the unity of God the Father and God the Son, together with the Holy Spirit, One God, indivisible, to whom belongs glory, dominion, and power, forever and ever.

I’d suggest that we don’t think about schism because, in large part, it feels irrelevant to us. One searches in vain for books on schism written by present-day ministers who accept the Bible as infallible and inerrant. Nor will you find conferences with ministers preaching messages exposing today’s sin of schism, or showing the Bible’s solution for it. You will scan in vain for sermons and websites addressing it, yet, the sin of schism has never been more of a problem.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 20th Century

That’s a reality Martyn Lloyd-Jones recognized over fifty years ago and for a brief while provided a remarkable exception to this rule. He tried to address schism in the 1960s but his proposed solution, a council of churches committed to inerrancy, never materialized.[8]See Iain Murray’s assessment. For recent assessments on the web, see here and here. He likely came across too strident since his proposed solution to schism required separating from the then-popular ecumenical movement, which was experiencing its greatest days. Liberals, and those evangelicals courting the liberal’s favor, isolated him for creating “us vs. them” categories among churches.

But Lloyd-Jones was no liberal and had the audacity to call many liberals “non-Christians.” Still, he still didn’t go far enough for some conservative ministers. They opposed his unity as too flimsy on matters like infant baptism and church polity. lloyd jonesWhat good, then, did MLJ do? He forcefully expressed that schism is healed by repentance and obedience, not capitulation and compromise. So there was that.

But like most preachers of repentance from schism, his words gained no traction and earned him some painful denunciation from those who ought to have been his friends. Truth is, no one but him felt badly enough about schism to actually want to repent of it. “Forget about that schism stuff, doctor. Go preach the gospel.” Like me, buried in the day-to-day of ministry, the men of his generation refused to see that denying the one meant hindering the other.

Lloyd-Jones was onto something, though. He said that the “only people who could be guilty of the sin of schism were those who in reality belonged to the body of Christ….and yet remained separate from one another in different denominations. They (and they alone) could be guilty of that sin.” [9]M. Lloyd-Jones, “Relations within Evangelicalism,” p. 4, no longer available at http://www.mljtrust.org/ He  wrote, “You cannot justify remaining in an Episcopal…Methodist or…Presbyterian situation…”[10]Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times, 254 He clearly saw the sin of schism was committed only by genuine Christians, and was unafraid to address it such in public.

Less clear was Lloyd-Jones’ position on a national or territorial church comprising the saved, a point still argued about to this day. But he stepped on too many toes when he defined schism as the separation of true Christians interspersed among the denominations. Though Lloyd-Jones was larger-than-life, when it came to schism, he was considered a clanging gong.

After all, his solution to schism meant a lot of people lost their ecclesiastical place. So his solution to schism was met with a massive public shaming. When Lloyd-Jones spoke to evangelicals in 1966 on the matter of unity and proposed that true believers leave their mainline churches, he was famously (infamously?) reproved by John Stott immediately after his speech. And when I say immediately, I mean like, immediately, in front of everyone he had just spoken to. For all those present it was an unforgettable event, especially in the starched air of British ecclesiastical culture.[11]See Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided, 79-111, or https://www.dbts.edu/journals/1998/sidwell.pdf, pages 53-54.

Lloyd-Jones’ shaming may be part of the reason some gospel ministers avoid the topic of schism today. ‘Been there, tried that. It doesn’t work.’ complainBut shame’s fatigue of shame won’t absolve anyone of disobedience to Christ anymore than we can wear blinders as we drive the streets where we live, observing all the schismed churches. Schism is intensely personal for every one of us who is a gospel minister, and those of us who are “in ministry” deal with schism almost every day. All of us experience Christians who leave our church for another “down the street,” while receiving others from the same. Many of us have experienced church splits, and some have experienced them multiple times.

leave my churchSo what do we do? Many of us write articles advising Christians on how to leave and join other churches. But have you ever read those articles looking for God’s explicit wisdom on leaving a church? There are no passages on leaving or joining churches in Scripture in either precept or example, but does that stop our fingers from typing? So we grope for answers.

Nor do we acknowledge our dilemma. Oh, we say God’s word is sufficient for how our churches should believe and practice, but immediately throw it out when confronted with such church problems. Let’s be honest. We don’t believe Scripture is has a clear ecclesiology on such matters. But it does. So let’s at least admit that while church-hopping is everywhere, we refuse God’s wisdom on the matter. And as a result, schisms continue at an ever-accelerating rate.

Our silence on schism and tacit approval of church-hopping prove we are running from what we see and deal with every day. Few gospel ministers even attempt to define schism, and those that do might resort to self-serving theories that only approve of their own communions (I’ll deal with this at the conclusion of this article). Thus it is impossible for most gospel ministers today to locate who bears the guilt of schism and to know what our Lord Jesus Christ would have us do to fix it. So for that knowledge, then, we now turn to Scripture.

Defining Schism

We start here with all that God spoke through His holy apostles on schism. It goes strongly against the grain of our human wisdom, and yet, being holy, provides its own inner witness to the wisdom that is from above. Once we have rightly defined schism by Scripture we can then understand His counsel through His apostles on how to heal it. Two quick illustrations will show that a schism is a tearing apart that results in a loss of unity. Jesus taught,

patch garmentno one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear (schism, σχίσµα) results.” (Mat. 9:16)

The garment, due to shrinkage, was schismed. It was ripped and torn. divided phariseesSecond, the Jews schismed over Jesus:

“a division (schism, σχίσµα) occurred in the crowd because of Him.” (John 7:43).

This latter schism, among religious people, repeated itself: “There was again a division (schism, σχίσµα) among the Jews because of these words” (John 10:19, cf. John 9:16). Building off these visual examples we gain simple insight. Schism is a tearing apart. Now we’ll look at the three instances of “schism” in the apostolic writings and see how it applies to churches. Each instance is found in 1 Corinthians and each builds upon the previous use. since this is all the uses of schism, these three texts form the apostolic doctrine of ecclesiological schism.

Schisms are a Divided Body of Christians
who Belong in the 
Same Church

“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no schisms (σχίσµατα) among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Cor. 1:10)

Paul reveals he is writing to prevent the Christians in Corinth from existing in separate churches. Four times he collectively addresses them “you” in this one verse. They are collectively addressed because they are all one church at the time of Paul’s writing, meeting together every Sunday in one place (1 Cor. 11:18, NKJV, 1 Cor. 11:20, NKJV, 1 Cor. 14:23, NKJV, cf. 1 Cor. 1:2, 5:4, 10:16-17, 12:13,  14:5, 12, 16:1-2).

But that one church unity was threatened by partisan affiliations (“I am of Paul, I am of Apollos”), affiliations would result in multiple churches in Corinth, or what Paul called “schisms.” Thus, contrary to church history, schisms do not occur with Christians who live in other locales or countries but only with those who live nearby as demonstrated by the words, “that the be no schisms among you” (emphasis added).[12]Paul wrote “that there may be no schisms among you” with a present subjunctive form of the verb “to be:” µὴ ᾖ ἐν ὑµῖν σχίσµατα, showing that Paul did not believe the schisms had yet occurred. They were, however, a future possibility: “the subjunctive naturally looks to the future for the resolution of the contingency.”

Paul further explained in this verse that he intended to heal them of their growing alliances before they divided mended netinto separate churches as seen by his words, “made complete” (κατηρτισµένοι). The word referred to the mending of fishing nets so they were without rips, tears, or holes (Mat. 4:21), and it’s origin referred to restoring something back to its previously whole condition. Paul’s apostolic counsel, if obeyed, will heal them so they can be of “one mind and in the same judgment,” in one church. So while at the time of writing the Christians in Corinth were moving toward several divisions Paul’s labored to prevent it. And in fact, he did. Writing from Corinth six or so months later he closed off the letter to the Romans this way, “the whole church greets you” (Rom. 16:23).

Schisms are a Body of Christians who Ought to Take
the Lord’s Supper Together, but Don’t

The next occurrence of schism makes several important contributions to the apostolic doctrine of ecclesiology. Notice who is included:

“First of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that
schisms (schisms, σχίσµατα) exist among you,
and in part I believe it.

For there must also be heresies (αἱρέσεις) among you, that those
who are visibly approved may be recognized among you.”

Therefore when you come together in one place,
it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper”
(1 Cor. 11:18-20)

Due to the verb “come together” in both v. 18 and 20 the apostle defines a church as only those groups that physically assemble together for the worship of Jesus Christ. Churches are groups of people that “come together” for the purpose of worship, and that worship includes the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, from 1 Cor. 11:17-34 the verb “come together” is used five times and reinforces what was taught just above: schism can only be among those in Corinth.

Now we learn that “coming together” was for the mutual worship of Jesus Christ as specified by participation in the Lord’s Supper (v. 20). If Corinth’s believers did schism they could not take the Lord’s Supper together and would thus commit great sin against the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17, 11:29). This definition of “church” is further strengthened by Paul’s statement that they all came together in one place. (v. 20, cf. 1 Cor. 14:23, NKJV).

Therefore, only Christians who can meet together for Sunday worship can actually be schismed from each other. Hence, the “Great Schism” of the Western and Eastern Communions in 1054 is not, by apostolic teaching, a schism. Nor, by Paul’s apostolic measure, is the Protestant Reformation a schism from Roman Catholicism. Nor is Christianity experiencing a “third schism” as claimed in one recent book.

Second, while Paul wants to prevent schisms, he recognizes that such schisms might in the future come to exist “among you,” that is, the Christians in Corinth (v. 18). But he asserts that schisms will expose heretical churches among Corinth’s professing Christian community, showing who is visibly disapproved, i.e., going to hell (v. 19). Schisms in themselves do not separate the saved from the unsaved but they do serve the purpose of God’s judgment in this time. 

shepherds crossAs such schisms call sincere faith into question. The regenerate don’t have to stay in schism as the reprobate do have to stay in heresy. But the regenerate can repent and come together in one place for the worship of Jesus Christ. By this coming together for worship they can show forth genuine faith as those “visibly approved to be recognized among you” (v. 19, οἱ δόκιµοι φανεροὶ γένωνται ἐν ὑµῖν).

However, professing Christians in heresy will always refuse the “coming together” that heals schism and thus remain among themselves in their own churches. After all, heretics always refuse to submit to the authority and wisdom of the apostles. Heretical ministers exist to keep their church bodies under heresy and away from the body of Christ while falsely professing Him. They will receive a judgment appropriate to their ministry (cf. Luke 12:46), while ministers who sustain and promote schism receive wood, hay, and stubble. To differentiate themselves from the heretics and obtain a reward of gold, silver, and precious stones ministers of schismed churches must use the word of God to heal schism and bring together the local body of Christ where they live. If they do not, not only do they leave Christ’s redeemed separated from Christ’s redeemed, but their fruit is little different than the heretics. They are men held in the grip of disobedience, who by their ministry hold others in disobedience as well.

Schisms Creates Dismembered Members

“God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that
member which lacked, so that there may be no schism (σχίσµα)
in the body, but that the members may have
the same care for one another.

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it;
if one member is honored, all the
members rejoice with it.

Now you are Christ’s body, and
individually members of it.”
(1 Cor. 12:24-27)

Here Paul teaches two foundational realities. body of christ partsFirst, he teaches the local body of Christ is comprised of those members chosen by God to care for each other in this life: “God has so composed the body… so that the members may care for one another.”

By this we know Paul is not referring to the Universal Body of Christ in v. 27 of all who will ever be redeemed, most of whom never know each other on earth, and therefore never care for each other.[13]The local body is the NT corollary to the local church, and it is explicitly found in Rom. 12:4-5, 1 Cor. 10:16-17, 11:29, 1 Cor. 12:12-27, Eph. 4:12, 4:16, Col. 2:19, 3:15, and implicitly found in many other texts, such as 1 Cor. 1:13. We know these are local body texts because they contain commands that can only be obeyed when the Christians addressed in those letters are physically connected together. Those commands are plain, such as, “love one another” and “pray for one another.” For more information, read my article on The Local Body of Christ. Specifically, it is all the believers in Corinth, and Corinth only, whom Paul calls, “Christ’s body” (v. 27). Other bodies of Christ exist in other cities (Rom. 12:4-5, Eph. 4:16, Col. 3:15), but are not required to provide mutual care for the body of Christ in Corinth.

Second, he teaches that God makes this local body in a unique way. It is composed of individual people who “fit” each other by their sympathies and spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:11-12). God makes some members to lack and some to be honored so that the local body will be knit together and not be schismed. Hence, it functions as designed only when all the members, both those lacking and those in honor, are caring for each other.

Now, here’s the sad thing. Neither you or I have ever once experienced these sympathies or gifts in the measure designed by God. In their fullness they are unknown to us today, for schism has robbed us of their spiritual pleasures and commitments. Such body life as Paul describes is only known when the local body cares for itself. But when the local body is schismed into separate churches it can’t care for itself in unity. One writer describes what we have lost this way:

“So close is the link between members of the community that what affects one necessarily affects all. Paul’s language must be carefully noted here. He does not say that experiences of individuals within the community, both pleasurable and sorrowful, should be shared by all the others who belong to it. He says instead that they are so shared, whether consciously experienced or not. The “body” has a common nerve. There is a common life within it in which each is identified with the other – all in one, as it were, and one in all (12:26).”[14]Paul Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community, 60.

When a preacher exhort his church to develop body life he unwittingly shows his embrace of schism. Paul never does this because it would be like exhorting Christ to be like Christ. When the local body of Christ is unified (i.e., not schismed into two or more churches) body life has to occur, because Christ is the life of that body.

bean-sundayCompare this to your (or my) church where we note so much malaise among many who are certainly in the Lord but are disconnected from this communal life. When Paul describes Christ as dismembered in 1 Cor. 1:13, He has the destruction of Christ’s life distributed to His people as His unified body in mind. It also helps us understand what Paul meant by “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ…”[15]1 Cor. 2:2: His life among them, translating εἰδέναι as an infinitive of purpose, “for the purpose of knowing Jesus Christ and Him crucified among you” as well as “no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” [16]1 Cor. 3:11, “which is Jesus Christ” means Jesus Christ’s creation of His body in Corinth as made explicit in 1 Cor. 12:12).

Yet, what God did through the preaching of the gospel in Corinth – the creation of a local body of Christ – He also does in “every place” (1 Cor. 1:2). He originally did it where you live too. At one time in the past there was a united local body of Christ where you live in which each member equally shared. They had “one nerve.”

Every local body began the same way, united through Christ’s spiritual baptism. This is not a baptism performed by human hands, but the spiritual baptism performed in Christ’s Spirit:

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether
Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were
all made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body is not one member, but many.

If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part
of the body,’ it is not for this reason any
the less a part of the body.”
(1 Cor. 12:13-15)

schism handSadly, schism has dismembered the local body where you live into lifeless pieces that can not know a 1 Cor 12:26 spirituality. The local body where you live can’t function in a “care for itself” way, for it is separated from itself. Since its members don’t meet with each other for worship and mutual ministry where you live they can’t suffer when one member suffers, or rejoice when one member is honored. They don’t even know each other.

Over time schismatics have carved up the body “God has so composed” so that it can in no wise “care-for-itself.”

Paul is clear. The body of Christ in Corinth that received this letter was a single church in Corinth, a group of persons who personally cared for each other solely due to their being formed solely by the power of Christ. The result of His sovereign work, says Paul, is “one body” (v. 14). Some of those in the body are feet while others are hands, ears, and eyes. But make no mistake. All are physically connected to each other in the same body.

We were all designed to be in one body where we live, and thus physically connected to each other each Sunday. Summing up the three instance of “schism” used ecclesiastically, the apostle Paul defines schism as the ripping apart of Christ’s physically connected local body formed by His baptism into separate churches. Only by putting the body back together again into one church that physically connects through every-Sunday worship can it be healed.

Picking Up the Pieces

glass shatteredBecause we are adjusted to schism, a common misinterpretation rules – the ‘spiritual body’ interpretation. But we are mistaken if we think the body of Christ is best understood as a ‘spiritual body,’ for Paul only compares each member to a part of a physical body, that is, a body that is physically connected to each other, such as a hand and a foot, or an eye and an ear. The spiritual result (caring for one another) is entirely dependent upon the physical connection of gathering of the body in worship, which is, naturally enough, the context surrounding 1 Corinthians chapter 12.[17]Nor are the parts of Christ’s body individual churches, but individual people such as Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 12:13).

And just to tidy things up, nor is there any evidence in Scripture of a “world-wide spiritual body of Christ,” for the body analogy requires physical connection or else it loses all reference. Just like Christ’s own human body, bodies are physical, not spiritual. Indeed, such a “world-wide spiritual body,” if there were such, would of necessity exist in schism since it never connects to itself physically and hence could never “care for itself” as a hand cares for a foot. Such a “spiritual body” would be too far spread across a region for its members to use their gifts for each other’s spiritual upbuilding – the only kind of care that Paul writes of in 1 Cor. 12.[18]Apostolic ecclesiology only allows for a Universal Body of Christ consisting of all believers that is the exact equivalent of the universal church (Eph. 1:22, 4:4, Col. 1:18), and for a local body of Christ, consisting of all believers in a city, or region. whole church fruitFor this reason a local body is also called “the whole body” in 1 Cor. 12:17 and Eph. 4:16, and is equivalent to the one local church of all the believers in Corinth and Ephesus (1 Cor. 1:2, 11:18, 14:23, Eph. 1:1, Rev. 2:1). The “whole body” was exactly equivalent to the “whole church” that gathered together as one group on Sunday in one place (1 Cor. 11:20, NKJV, 1 Cor. 14:23, NKJV, cf., Acts 5:11, 15:22, Rom. 16:23). In the New Testament the local body of Christ was never more than one church.

schismed body

Paul fought against the one body of Christ in Corinth being schismed into separate churches:

“God has so composed the body that there be no schism in it” (1 Cor. 12:25).[19]Paul again uses the present subjunctive “so that there may be no schism” (ἵνα µὴ ᾖ σχίσµα), showing that the body of Christ in Corinth had not yet schismed apart (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10).

He wanted the threat of schism healed, and explained how that occurs. Churches of genuine believers must merge together evvery Sunday so the believers can experience the common life of Christ together, as expressed in Paul’s words,

“God has so composed the body that there be no schism in it but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25)

This is not Paul expressing a consecutive thought, “that there be no schism, AND members should have the same care for one another…..,” but a contrasting thought, “that there be no schism, BUT members have the same care for one another.”[20]”ἀλλὰ” The adversative, “but,” is Paul’s solution to schism. Put the body together in worship and the common life of the body, Christ, will move in it producing unity and maturity.

If you are a gospel minister and thereby gifted according to Eph. 4:11, it is your responsibility to put the schismed body of Christ back together where you live so it may measure to a mature man (Eph. 4:11-16). drawn quartered

Or do you disagree? Do you think the body of Christ where you live is better off schismed, and not together? Then what do you do with Paul words,

“Has Christ been divided?”
(1 Cor. 1:13)

He accused those Christians of looking favorably upon the ripping apart into different body parts the glorified Christ.[21]”You have cut Christ in pieces and distributed His body! Here is anger! Here is chiding! Here are words full of indignation!” Chrysostom,  Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 3:5 He repeats the repulsive thought again to shock us out of complacency:

“you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.”
(1 Cor. 12:27)

Once connected to it’s context of schism two verses earlier in 1 Cor. 12:25, that statement again reveals Paul’s shocking point:

“The tearing apart of the limbs of a body precisely conveys
Paul’s language in 1 Cor. 12:27.”[22]Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, 116.

Therefore, the work of a gospel minister is not only giving out the gospel, but using its wisdom to pick up the pieces it has created but are now scattered by schism. Paul’s counsel drawn from 12:25 is for the body of Christ in Corinth to remain physically connected to each other, meeting in one place each Sunday in the same church (cf., 1 Cor. 1:2, 5:4, 10:16-17, 11:18, 1 Cor. 11:20, NKJV, 1 Cor. 14:23, NKJV, 16:2). Our responsibility, post-schism, and to put the pieces, the members, back together in one place again, worshiping the Father through Jesus Christ every Sunday in one church in each locale. Our own churches aren’t sacrosanct, but the body of Christ is:

“But now God has placed the members, each one
of them, in the body, just as He desired.”
(1 Cor. 12:18)

Today the local body still exists, but in schism is invisible to men. As a result our witness to the unbelieving world is non-trinitarian (John 17:21, 23). Our jobs as gospel ministers is healing schism in the body of Christ. Our mandate is then to merge churches so God’s elect worship Him together every Sunday in one place, thus visibly representing the Trinity.

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Gospel Wisdom and  Power is Publically
Displayed 
By Unity in the Local Body

We ministers of the gospel have a powerful ally on our side – the wisdom of the gospel. It contains all the power in itself to heal schism where you live and minister, and to build up the whole body of Christ there. As those who earn our living from the gospel we are uniquely empowered to build on the only foundation which is laid, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-11). But if we do not apply the wisdom of the gospel to heal the schism where we live we misuse our call, and even the gospel.

The text from 1 Cor. 1:18 through 1 Cor. 2:16 is often noted for its connection of the gospel as God’s chosen opposition to worldly wisdom in ministry. Paul doesn’t explain the gospel in his usual terms of substitutionary atonement, but rather in terms of its power and wisdom which carnal Christians like the Corinthians refuse to prize.

Thus Paul begins his anti-schism polemic describing the results of the gospel,

“were you baptized in the name of Paul?…

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the
gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the
cross of Christ would not be made void.

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who
are perishing, but to us who are being saved,
it is the power of God.”
(1 Cor. 1:13, 17-18)

body-of-christIn Paul’s apostolic theology, the gospel de-schisms all it touches with the power of God. Baptism, understood obediently, unites all different types of persons into the fellowship of the saved, not into competing factions. Paul wanted them to know themselves as a group of entirely unimportant and insignificant persons he called “brothers” (1 Cor. 1:10, 26-29). The only reason they were Christians is because they had received the power of God in the word of the cross by God’s power, not their own. Yet being just a Christian was too insignificant for them as it didn’t do enough to differentiate them from others. Because they thought too highly of themselves they gloried in men,

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men…

For since there is jealousy and strife among you,
are you not fleshly, and are you not
walking like mere men?

For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another,
“I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?”
(1 Cor. 3:1, 3-4)

The “brethren” found an earthly power by affiliating themselves under men like Apollos, Paul, and Cephas, but it was an earthly power that opposed God’s power because it denuded the gospel’s power to erase schism. True, Apollos, Paul, and Cephas were extraordinary gospel ministers, but they were only “servants through whom you believed” (1 Cor. 3:5).  Gospel ministers aren’t to use schism for financial and career support, but are rather to confront proud Christians who enjoy its earthly power.

As great as the gospel is, those saved by its power need to humble themselves to “loves the brethren.” Apart from being humbled, we would all only love those in our little cliques. Gospel ministers are to rise above the cliques and factionalism and show forth the real fruit of the gospel, love for all the brethren. But gospel ministers who are insensitive to schism today will naturally attract truly regenerate men and women to themselves and their churches, and in so doing promote schism away from their brethren where they live. They too are proud and unloving and do not yet understand the wisdom of the gospel in which God’s Son humbled Himself to the death of a cross.

God’s Field

field cultivationSuch men don’t see what God wants them to see. They don’t have sight of God’s one field where they live, comprised of all the Christians who live there. “You are God’s field,” Paul tells all the believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 3:9). All proud gospel ministers see is their own field, their own chosen sub-group of the regenerate where they live and beyond.

In distinction, when a gospel minister’s ecclesiology is drawn from the Scripture he understands his role geographically, what Paul repeatedly called a “sphere” (2 Cor. 10:13-16). A schismatic man locates his ministry in a particular group, denomination, or communion, or as broadly as his erring heart conceives. But God’s servants serve one field. One gospel minister might plant it, and those who follow after him water it. But they don’t create their own fields where God’s field already exist, nor do they subdivide the field and put up fences.

Paul likens all the Corinthian Christians to a contiguous plot of recently cultivated ground in Corinth whose owner is God.[23]θεοῦ γεώργιον refers to an area of land specifically used for cultivation, and owned by God. God’s example for the unity of gospel ministers in the church age is Corinth. As the planter Paul was the first to plow and sow the field while Apollos, as the field’s first caretaker, watered what Paul planted. Apollos did not come to Corinth and plant another field, and thus it is true that “he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1 Cor. 3:8).

The Lord of Corinth did not own multiple fields in Corinth, each with an employed cultivator/gospel minister, but only one field. And in that single field His gospel ministers are to cultivate men and women in unity for His reaping. But when gospel ministers do not minister to the same people but serve separate churches in the same field, Paul’s analogy is ruined.

Our present ecclesiastical landscape typically features dozens, if not hundreds of gospel churches in cities of comparable population to ancient Corinth (>500K). Neither God’s field, not His gospel ministers, are one, but competitors. They compete with each other for the limited elect pool of Christians whom Jesus has baptized into His local body (1 Cor. 12:13). But actually, they compete against God’s field, and to fill in the gaps, must pick up many unregenerate along the way.

Therefore, gospel ministers in competition with each other, or content to remain in schism with Christ’s body where they live, ought not expect a favorable reward from Him. Their labors maintain Christ’s body in schismatic disobedience to the apostolic “one-another” commands as well as the commands on love given by the Lord Jesus (John 13:34-35). So what will they receive for reward? Paul moves from field to temple to detail precisely how “each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1 Cor. 3:8).

God’s Temple

greek templeWhat eternal reward will each gospel minister receive? It depends on how they treat the God-made unity of Christ’s blood-bought elect where they live. The best of God’s servants will receive an everlasting reward comparable to gold, silver, and precious stones, while those who advance schism, or merely comply with it, will receive a reward of wood, hay, and stubble.

God’s reward isn’t up for ministerial debate, and the Almighty offers no refuge in a defective ecclesiology. This is 1 Cor. 3:9-17, where Paul advances the argument against schism by comparing all the believers in Corinth to a single temple. Every Christian temple begins with a gospel minister build a single foundation.

Such gospel ministers are like Paul – men who first bring the gospel to a region. They lay the foundation of Jesus Christ, that is, the body of Christ: “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Yet, even today’s ministers borrow from Paul’s foundation laying techniques, employing his sacrifice and doctrine.[24]Paul identifies himself as an ἀρχιτέκτων (architektonēs). According to one website dedicated to such matters, “Temples also indicate that Greek architects (architektones) were perfectly aware of the problems of providing stable foundations able to support large buildings. Correct water drainage and the use of continuous bases on foundations above various layers of fill material (conglomerate soft rocks, soil, marble chips, charcoal, and even sheepskins) allowed large Greek buildings to be built in the best positions regardless of terrain and to withstand the rigours of weather and earthquake over centuries. Indeed, absolute stability was essential, as even a slight settling or subsidence in any part of the building would render useless the optical refinements discussed above. It is remarkable the vast majority of Greek buildings that have collapsed have done so only because of human intervention – removing blocks or metal fixtures for reuse elsewhere – weakening the overall structure. Structures not interfered with, such as the Temple of Hephaistos in the Athens agora, are testimony to the impressive durability of Greek buildings.” In contrast, Apollos did not lay a new foundation, even though he was so successful in ministry that people became Christians through his gospel ministry:

“What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one” (1 Cor. 3:5)

From this we learn a lesson. Once a gospel minister lays the foundation of Jesus Christ (the body of Christ) in a city or region, all gospel ministers who come after him, even church planters, build upon it. No one lays a foundation in a city or region where the gospel has already produced a people who believe it. Someone might start a new church, but like all other gospel ministers in that place, his work, at best, builds upon the ministry of others who came before them. At worst he divides the body of Christ there.

God’s Coming Judgment on Gospel Ministers

gold wreathAll gospel ministers will receive reward in six possible outcomes, representing two categories:

“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,

each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.”

If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.

If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:12-15)

No matter what your reward will be, salvation isn’t your problem if you are a true gospel minister: “he himself will be saved” (1 Cor. 3:15). And indeed, only true gospel ministers can build on the foundation which is “Jesus Christ and and Him crucified,” 1 Cor. 2:2, 3:11). Therefore, the identification of the building materials as valuable or invaluable cannot be attached to any one communion, denomination or ecclesiastical stream of Christendom. Because Paul is clearly referring to building the institution of a church, the coming judgment of 1 Cor. 3:12-15 does not refer to a judgment upon each and every Christian, nor even purgatory. It only pertains to gospel ministers.[25]Roman Catholic scholars teach this passage as alluding to Purgatory, “Each Christian builds up an edifice that is based on the foundation of Christ received in Baptism, consisting in the gift of sanctifying grace, faith, hope, and charity. Each man builds the edifice of his life on top of this gratuitous foundation through his free acts of virtue and vice. As long as mortal sin is avoided, the foundation remains. Nevertheless, the acts which each one builds on the foundation of sanctifying grace may be very different, which St. Paul compares with “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw.” Acts of heroic virtue will be gold and silver; acts of venial sin (and attachment thereto) will be hay and straw.” Yet, the following verses assure the reader that Paul speaks only of church leaders who build churches.

Responsible interpreters through the centuries have proposed a variety of options in identifying the building materials, several of which are commended above others here. The gold, silver, precious stones, or wood, hay, and stubble have been variously interpreted as:[26]I am indebted to my former professor James Rosscup for the following compilations (James Rosscup, A New Look at 1 Corinthians 3:12: “Gold, Silver, Precious Stones,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, Spring 1990, p. 33-51)

  • The gospel minister’s doctrine, true or false[27]Barrett, First Corinthians 89–90; J. Calvin, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Calvin’s Commentaries, eds. D. W. Torrance and T. F. Torrance; London: Oliver and Boyd, 1960) 75; C. W. Turner, “The Metaphors of St. Paul” (Ph.D. thesis, U. of Aberdeen, Scotland, 1956) 70-71; H. A. W. Meyer, The Epistles to the Corinthians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1877) I, 92–94; Kistemaker, 1 Corinthians, 112; Lenski, 1 Corinthians, 140.
  • The gospel minister’s people – be they saved or unsaved[28] Godet, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971) I, 183; Meyer, I Corinthians, 93; Turner, “The Metaphors” 70.
  • The gospel minister’s character[29]H. A. A. Kennedy, St. Paul’s Conceptions of the Last Things (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904) 205-7; Robertson and Plummer, First Corinthians, 62; Ciampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians, 154.
  • The gospel minister’s skill – emphasizing “how one builds”[30]”the spiritual dimensions, attitudes, character and values of the Christian life,” Rosscup, A New Look, p. 47; John B. Polhill, The Wisdom of God and Factionalism: 1 Corinthians 1–4, Rev Exp 80:3 (Summer 1983), p. 335; MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, 82; Garland, 1 Corinthians, 116-17.

One of the reasons there is a diversity of opinion on the building materials is because gold, silver, and precious stones were not building materials in ancient temples. Jewels and precious metal might decorate a temple, but temples were built of stone. Similarly, wood, hay, and stubble were not building materials in temples either. No one offered a temple to a deity that might rot or burn. So, obviously the six materials are a metaphor?[31]The following books and articles on ancient temples help the student interested in ancient temple construction, William Bardwell, Temples, Ancient and Modern: Or, Notes on Church Architecture; Marina Belozerskaya and Kenneth Lapatin, Ancient Greece: Art, Architecture, and History; Carmelo G. Malacrino, Constructing the Ancient World.

The Materials as Obedience or Disobedience

obey better than sacrificeSince the reward from Christ reveals the quality of each gospel minister’s work and each gospel minister is unique from all others, it is best to understand each one’s reward as an individual assessment of his obedience or disobedience to Christ. Understood this way, each man’s eternal reward reflects a combination of the four categories: doctrine, skill, people, and character.

Of these four, the most important is the people, since the building is also upon a person (Jesus Christ). Although no bonafide gospel minister intentionally misleads people such that they (his work product) finally burn in eternal hell, he is responsible to build on the foundation with the only materials that can stand the test of Christ’s fiery judgment – the eternal souls of people.[32]contra Godet, First Corinthians, 183

Connected to the people, his obedience and disobedience is judged on a scale. Like the six materials there’s “good, better, best,” and “worse, worser, worst.” We understand this both biblically and as parents. Children, and people in general aren’t entirely obedient in all things nor entirely disobedient in all things. So among gospel ministers, this three part scale accurately reflects “what sort of work each one has done” (1 Cor. 3:13, ESV). scale of justice

This encourages us to view this judgment not in static categories such as black and white, or true and false, but on a scale of obedience and disobedience. Even our best deeds are tainted with sin (i.e., disobedience), as also our deeds of disobedience, as regenerate men, are done in shame and conflict, inwardly wishing for pure obedience.

So when we are assayed by the fire we will receive a final reward from as valuable to God as gold or as worthless to Him as stubble. Is this not how the Father rewarded His Son? When it came to obedience Jesus Christ set the standard. His perfect obedience to the will of God granted Him the highest reward, a seat at His Father’s right hand (Heb.12:1-4).

Thus He is qualified to judge us on such a scale, and since His word is irrevocable, it provides Him a one-rule-judges-all-of-us standard. While we are each unique in life and circumstance, there is but one standard for all of us – to build on the body of Christ, not tear it apart. After the fire assays us we either receive a permanent reward for obedience, or nothing for disobedience. Gold denotes the best obedience (cf., Rev. 3:18), while stubble reflects the worst disobedience. For example, we would expect the apostles’ obedience to be gold, while perhaps Apollos’ and Timothy exhibited a silver-like level of obedience (1 Cor. 16:12, 2 Tim. 1:7), and Archippus perhaps a precious stone level (Col. 4:17). Yet all receive an eternal reward, for all kept the local body of Christ in unity in every place. fire 2

On the other hand, most gospel ministers are generally disobedient and all their work is consumed by the fire of judgment. While wood reflects less disobedience to build on body of Christ than hay or stubble, they yet lose all reward and are left only with their salvation. They don’t exactly tear apart the body of Christ, but they labor to keep it schismed, in separate ecclesial groups. Having known their Master’s will they deliberately disobeyed it. Their stubble-like ministry will receive many lashes (Luke 12:47) while less destructive ministries – those built with wood – will receive but a few (Luke 12:48).

A focus on our obedience takes us beyond our mere work product as gospel ministers and reaches to our greater identity as worshipers of the glorious Lord Jesus who “learned obedience through the things He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). We who were made righteous “through the obedience of the One” understand the Lord esteems obedience more than sacrifice (Rom. 5:19, Mat. 12:7, 1 Sam. 15:22). We know that obedience to Christ encompasses more than our ministry. It also includes our daily battle against the flesh, the world, and Satan. Therefore, all disobedient gospel ministers, maintaining or increasing schism where they live, will end up with much less eternal reward than the overwhelming majority of Christians who will receive eternal reward (1 Cor. 4:5, 2 Cor. 5:10, Eph. 6:8). When the Lord gives parables on rewards, it is always obedience (loyalty) that He rewards (Luke 19:17-19, Mat. 25:21, 1 Cor. 4:5, 1 Pet. 5:4).

Your Relationship to Schism Defines You as Obedient or Disobedient

The gospel minister’s obedience in 1 Corinthians chapter 3 is judged by Christ on how they heal schism, for when Paul addresses the Corinthian Christians in chapter 3, he drags them back to his central thesis of healing schism in the first four chapters:

“For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:3-4)

His words in chapter 3 are a restatement of his controlling agenda in the first 4 chapters:

“…that there be no schism among you… each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos’” (1 Cor. 1:10-12).

Healing the threat of schism is Paul’s number one ministry among the Christians in Corinth, and everything in between 1 Cor. 1:10 and 1 Cor. 3:4 has only been to humble them into loving each other for Christ’s sake, not for partisan gain. unity-body-2And as chapter three moves toward how schism among the Corinthians shall be healed, Paul launches into the grand role of gospel ministers.

He claims without hypocrisy that both he and Apollos served the body of Christ in Corinth as “one” (1 Cor. 3:8-9), even though they served it at different times. And after Apollos, the church was still trending toward schism while in the care of another gospel minister who “is building upon it” (i.e., the foundation, 1 Cor. 3:10). Question is, what will that gospel minister do?

If he works to prevent and heal schism, he builds on the one foundation with gold, silver, and precious stones. If instead he sustains or promotes schism, his work is wood, hay, and stubble, and yields no glory to Jesus Christ, and robs him of eternal reward.

This “another is building upon it” is us, beloved Christian minister. Schism is not a matter of preventing church splits, though that may be included. It is much larger than “your field.” It is you ministering in God’s field, the “sphere” of the regenerate where you live, that is, all those Christ has baptized into His body in your locale (1 Cor. 12:12-14, 2 Cor. 10:13-16). You or I will never be judged as a Baptist, a Presbyterian, or a Protestant, or any other ecclesial identifier by Jesus Christ. We will all be judged, every one, as either disobedient schism-enablers, or obedient schism-healers.

Two Types of Disobedient Ministers

man under magnifying glassAnd because schism is so virulent a sin Paul enumerates yet a second type of disobedient minister. There are not only the disobedient who are yet saved in the Day of Christ; there are also those ministers who will be damned for destroying Jesus Christ (i.e., the local body of Christ). Outwardly, the difference between the two types of ministers – the disobedient saved and the destroyer – isn’t all that great. Both types pretty much look the same in this life. But Paul promises:

“If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.”
(1 Cor. 3:17)

So if you are a saved gospel minister who ignores, defends, or worst of all, propagates schism, it will not go well for you. If you do nothing to heal it among the local body of Christ where you live, but are a paid servant of Jesus Christ , and yet you will never love all the members of Christ’s local body that are not in your church, you will suffer loss. The genuine gospel minister who only gives his love and giftedness to those who affiliate with him based on partisan Christian convictions, not to all those whom Christ gave His love and giftedness where he lives, takes the gifting God graces upon him in vain andhay bale house only builds upon the foundation of Jesus Christ with wood, hay, and stubble.

Your work, when tested by judgment’s fire, will suffer loss though you yourself shall be saved (1 Cor. 3:15). In spite of valiant labor in many years in ministry, if it is only on behalf of a schismed flock in whatever denomination or independent church you work, do not expect a positive reward. Fact is, you do not care enough about the unity of Christ’s body to teach your own flock who Christ wants them unified with every Sunday.

But hey, at least you aren’t the second type of disobedient minister who actively promotes schism as a means of self-advancement. He is likely a man of eminent gifts and prestige, who pits Christians against each other, destroying the unity of God’s “temple.”[33]φθείρει translates “destroy,” a destruction brought about by “deterioration of the inner life” (BAGD)

Scholars have long recognized that 1 Cor. 3:17 is a NT example of lex talionis: the one who destroys is himself destroyed. Some who schismatize are destroyers who are already being destroyed.[34]Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, 318 They either produce such distrust among Christians that they sin the sin of schism, proud preacheror they excel in starting churches that seduce and schism Christians away from existing churches. Such men are far more interested in sinful pragmatics than in serving Christ.

Since they destroy “the temple of God” (the naos of God, τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ) in the area they live, God will take special interest to destroy them in eternal judgment (cf. 2 Pet. 2:12, Jude 1:10, Luke 12:46). Paul used the word “naos” because he wanted us to realize the body of Christ in each place is the dwelling of God Himself. The naos was the part of the temple where the deity dwelt, and thus refers in 1 Cor. 3:17 only to those whom Christ corporately indwelt in Corinth – the local body of Christ there. To split apart those He indwells is to attack Him. His judgment of just recompense is destruction.

Conclusion

covenant breakersWe gospel ministers are like all other covenant breakers in Adam. We avoid the topic of God’s judgment when it threatens us by submerging its criteria under our self-loving nature and prejudices. We all weave fig leaves out of self-preserving beliefs, no matter how out of touch with reality they are. Like all of Adam’s descendants, we too will find ourselves receiving the consequences of disobedience in that Day.

But as those redeemed in Christ, we are secure in the Father’s great love. We are, in fact, children of God, bought at a great price, the blood of God’s own (Acts 20:28). The judgment against sin has been placed on Another and He is now our Advocate. His perfect love casts out all fear of judgment. And it is that love that makes schism so dissonant to genuine Christianity but so definitional to schismatic Christianity.

How shall we know the difference between the genuine and the schismatic? By defining schism properly, that is, by Scripture. love one anotherOnce that is done all lesser definitions are exposed for the false refuge they provide, and the true definition of schism – the local body of Christ divided in each city – provides its own path to healing. No matter where or who the gospel minister is, there is a path to reuniting the local body of Christ abundantly supplied in Scripture (cf. Titus 1:5, Eph. 4:11-16). The Apostle Paul taught that all gospel ministers will be examined by fire in the day of God according to that definition of schism, not to how they treat just their own church, denomination, or communion. Depending on the obedience or disobedience to Christ in the care of ALL His own where they live, the criteria of judgment will be they treated and healed the schism of Christ’s body just where they lived. And once schism is understood, it’s pretty easy to expose the false refuges that gospel ministers trust in. For example,

“… those who believe that Presbyterianism is biblical would say the connection, the unity, that our churches share cannot be cast aside so easily. To leave such a connection thoughtlessly or without sufficient biblical grounds would be schism. Because ‘schism is a willful separation from the unity of the church,” it must rest upon profoundly doctrinal grounds in which the very gospel itself is at stake.”[35]Sean Michael Lucas, What is Church Government, 27.

By such theology gospel ministers in such churches are admonished to look no further than their own fellowships to escape the disapprobation of schism. Schism from such a connection is not the schism Paul teaches.

As seen above, the apostle Paul defined schism as “the ripping apart of Christ’s physically connected local body formed by His baptism into separate churches.” In opposition, the Presbyterian definition imagines their own collection of scattered churches to be “the Church,” and that all the member congregations are in true unity, when in fact they are not. They merely share some resources and their leaders occasionally make decisions together – hardly the picture of New Testament unity in which all members build each other in love (Eph. 4:16)and take the Lord’s Supper together (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

Since the members don’t know each other, it is impossible for them to love one another in any real fashion. no salvationWorse, it’s a condemning definition. They aren’t, “the Church” since there are many other churches with Christ’s own redeemed in the regions of their presbyteries. Yet, they are all excluded from their definition of what comprises “the Church.”

In other words, they declare Christ’s Church in any one region is only those of their presbytery, since, after all, all those worshiping in churches other than their presbytery are not a part of “the Church.” And there’s more nonsense. As they define “the Church” it is comprised of but a few geographically scattered churches in a territory, but all the people in those scattered churches don’t actually assemble altogether for worship every Sunday in one place, thus identifying themselves as a “church” but not one the apostle Paul would recognize (1 Cor. 11:18, NKJV, 1 Cor. 11:20, NKJV, 1 Cor. 14:23, NKJV). Moreover, they are not “one body” since geographically separated churches cannot  fulfill the NT “one another” commands with each member in “the Church” (i.e., Rom. 12:4-12).

Another insufficient understanding of schism comes from a Baptist perspective:

“Unity within the Baptist tradition is understood to be spiritual (and to some extent doctrinal), not structural or organizational…. Given this understanding of unity and its corresponding structure, which is anchored in local congregations… divisions within or from the Baptist tradition are not usually thought of in terms of ‘schisms’ or ‘sects.’”

In other words, there is no such thing as schism. Since each church is its own unit governed by itself, if it splits the result is not schism, but two churches. Now if those two churches split again, the result is four churches. Some would call this an advance of Christ’s kingdom![36]One Baptist writes, “Let’s assume that your concerns are well founded – the new directions of your church are weakening its testimony and obedience to the Lord. There is ample evidence for such deterioration of Christian testimony through history and to the eye, it looks like this old problem is afflicting many churches again in these days. What to do then? Certainly you should not become a source of division in the church that has changed. You gain nothing by attempting to be the agent of change, trying to overthrow the “old regime” for a new one. Such activity will only lead to schism and will not help the body of Christ in the long run. However, there is something else you can do. The Lord could use you as a catalyst in church planting. You and a few likeminded individuals could be such a start. It is best if several families could have the burden of such a work together – it is very difficult to get a group going without a group! When a group of believers desiring to hold to a faithful Christian testimony bind together in a community for the purpose of worship, discipleship and evangelism, you have a church. If your church has left you, I would urge you to pray for the Lord to lead you to others with the same desires, willing to take a stand together in a Bible-believing independent Baptist church. The ministry need not be complex, but it will need the work of committed members to flourish. The Lord will provide the things that are needed when they are needed – space to meet, someone to lead in the preaching and teaching (i.e. a pastor!), helping hands to arrange the details of meeting together. You will need to be committed to evangelism – don’t look to grow by attracting the conservative from other churches. Some of these may come, likely will come, but a church will grow best if it is committed to evangelistic disciple-making.”

This understanding of schism was first claimed by John Owen in the 17th C and has been well-accepted since. What both definitions reveal is how Christian men create a view of schism that exempts them from judgment, even to the point of saying it doesn’t exist. In this they are no different than Roman Catholic prelates who rely on a definition of schism that excuses them from the Master’s judgment:

“schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”[37]Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law (751 AD)

or with  the Orthodox, who believe schism is tied to their power of the sacraments:

“every schism [is] a departure out of the [Orthodox] Church, out of that sanctified and holy land “where alone rises the baptismal spring, the waters of salvation.”

What all groups share is a strong rejection of the apostolic definition of schism, that is, the local body of Christ in any region, comprised of all those whom Christ has truly regenerated by the gospel, worshiping Him together in one body and one church every Sunday.

But this shouldn’t surprise. Every dispensation of God’s dealings with men reveals the same slide. In spite of great OT revelation through Moses and the prophets, Israel grew worse and worse all the way until the glorious appearing of God’s Son.

So too, since the NT revelation, the churches have continued their own downward thrust into schism and apostasy.

Question is, when the Son of Man appears a second time, will the slide be so far gone He finds no genuine faith on earth? And will you work toward ending schism where you live under the authority of Scripture? If you are not up to it, it is better that you remove yourself from ministry and serve Christ in other ways, for at least you will honor Him and gain some heavenly reward. But if you are gifted and called, you have a mandate before you to do your Master’s will.

For the apostolic plan for healing schism, read Paul’s Reformation on Crete and The Ephesian Mandate.

References   [ + ]

1. Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, Hermeneia, p. 35
2. Garland, 1 Corinthians, 52
3. William Baird, The Corinthian Church, 29.
4. Gordon Fee, 1 Corinthians, 49
5. Roy Ciampa, 1 Corinthians, 68
6. Benjamin Fiore, ‘Covert Allusion’ in 1 Corinthians 1-4, CBQ 47 (1985); 101.
7. Clement continued, “And your sedition still continues. Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle. What wrote he first unto you in the beginning of the Gospel? Of a truth he charged you in the Spirit concerning himself and Cephas and Apollos, because that even then you had made parties. Yet that making of parties brought less sin upon you; for you were partisans of apostles that were highly reputed, and of a man approved in their sight. But now mark you, who they are that have perverted you and diminished the glory of your renowned love for the brotherhood. It is shameful, dearly beloved, yes, utterly shameful and unworthy of your conduct in Christ, that it should be reported that the very steadfast and ancient church of the Corinthians, for the sake of one or two persons, makes sedition against its elders.”
8. See Iain Murray’s assessment. For recent assessments on the web, see here and here.
9. M. Lloyd-Jones, “Relations within Evangelicalism,” p. 4, no longer available at http://www.mljtrust.org/
10. Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times, 254
11. See Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided, 79-111, or https://www.dbts.edu/journals/1998/sidwell.pdf, pages 53-54.
12. Paul wrote “that there may be no schisms among you” with a present subjunctive form of the verb “to be:” µὴ ᾖ ἐν ὑµῖν σχίσµατα, showing that Paul did not believe the schisms had yet occurred. They were, however, a future possibility: “the subjunctive naturally looks to the future for the resolution of the contingency.”
13. The local body is the NT corollary to the local church, and it is explicitly found in Rom. 12:4-5, 1 Cor. 10:16-17, 11:29, 1 Cor. 12:12-27, Eph. 4:12, 4:16, Col. 2:19, 3:15, and implicitly found in many other texts, such as 1 Cor. 1:13. We know these are local body texts because they contain commands that can only be obeyed when the Christians addressed in those letters are physically connected together. Those commands are plain, such as, “love one another” and “pray for one another.” For more information, read my article on The Local Body of Christ.
14. Paul Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community, 60.
15. 1 Cor. 2:2: His life among them, translating εἰδέναι as an infinitive of purpose, “for the purpose of knowing Jesus Christ and Him crucified among you”
16. 1 Cor. 3:11, “which is Jesus Christ” means Jesus Christ’s creation of His body in Corinth as made explicit in 1 Cor. 12:12).
17. Nor are the parts of Christ’s body individual churches, but individual people such as Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 12:13).
18. Apostolic ecclesiology only allows for a Universal Body of Christ consisting of all believers that is the exact equivalent of the universal church (Eph. 1:22, 4:4, Col. 1:18), and for a local body of Christ, consisting of all believers in a city, or region. whole church fruitFor this reason a local body is also called “the whole body” in 1 Cor. 12:17 and Eph. 4:16, and is equivalent to the one local church of all the believers in Corinth and Ephesus (1 Cor. 1:2, 11:18, 14:23, Eph. 1:1, Rev. 2:1). The “whole body” was exactly equivalent to the “whole church” that gathered together as one group on Sunday in one place (1 Cor. 11:20, NKJV, 1 Cor. 14:23, NKJV, cf., Acts 5:11, 15:22, Rom. 16:23). In the New Testament the local body of Christ was never more than one church.
19. Paul again uses the present subjunctive “so that there may be no schism” (ἵνα µὴ ᾖ σχίσµα), showing that the body of Christ in Corinth had not yet schismed apart (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10).
20. ”ἀλλὰ”
21. ”You have cut Christ in pieces and distributed His body! Here is anger! Here is chiding! Here are words full of indignation!” Chrysostom,  Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 3:5
22. Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, 116.
23. θεοῦ γεώργιον refers to an area of land specifically used for cultivation, and owned by God.
24. Paul identifies himself as an ἀρχιτέκτων (architektonēs). According to one website dedicated to such matters, “Temples also indicate that Greek architects (architektones) were perfectly aware of the problems of providing stable foundations able to support large buildings. Correct water drainage and the use of continuous bases on foundations above various layers of fill material (conglomerate soft rocks, soil, marble chips, charcoal, and even sheepskins) allowed large Greek buildings to be built in the best positions regardless of terrain and to withstand the rigours of weather and earthquake over centuries. Indeed, absolute stability was essential, as even a slight settling or subsidence in any part of the building would render useless the optical refinements discussed above. It is remarkable the vast majority of Greek buildings that have collapsed have done so only because of human intervention – removing blocks or metal fixtures for reuse elsewhere – weakening the overall structure. Structures not interfered with, such as the Temple of Hephaistos in the Athens agora, are testimony to the impressive durability of Greek buildings.”
25. Roman Catholic scholars teach this passage as alluding to Purgatory, “Each Christian builds up an edifice that is based on the foundation of Christ received in Baptism, consisting in the gift of sanctifying grace, faith, hope, and charity. Each man builds the edifice of his life on top of this gratuitous foundation through his free acts of virtue and vice. As long as mortal sin is avoided, the foundation remains. Nevertheless, the acts which each one builds on the foundation of sanctifying grace may be very different, which St. Paul compares with “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw.” Acts of heroic virtue will be gold and silver; acts of venial sin (and attachment thereto) will be hay and straw.” Yet, the following verses assure the reader that Paul speaks only of church leaders who build churches.
26. I am indebted to my former professor James Rosscup for the following compilations (James Rosscup, A New Look at 1 Corinthians 3:12: “Gold, Silver, Precious Stones,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, Spring 1990, p. 33-51)
27. Barrett, First Corinthians 89–90; J. Calvin, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Calvin’s Commentaries, eds. D. W. Torrance and T. F. Torrance; London: Oliver and Boyd, 1960) 75; C. W. Turner, “The Metaphors of St. Paul” (Ph.D. thesis, U. of Aberdeen, Scotland, 1956) 70-71; H. A. W. Meyer, The Epistles to the Corinthians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1877) I, 92–94; Kistemaker, 1 Corinthians, 112; Lenski, 1 Corinthians, 140.
28. Godet, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971) I, 183; Meyer, I Corinthians, 93; Turner, “The Metaphors” 70.
29. H. A. A. Kennedy, St. Paul’s Conceptions of the Last Things (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904) 205-7; Robertson and Plummer, First Corinthians, 62; Ciampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians, 154.
30. ”the spiritual dimensions, attitudes, character and values of the Christian life,” Rosscup, A New Look, p. 47; John B. Polhill, The Wisdom of God and Factionalism: 1 Corinthians 1–4, Rev Exp 80:3 (Summer 1983), p. 335; MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, 82; Garland, 1 Corinthians, 116-17.
31. The following books and articles on ancient temples help the student interested in ancient temple construction, William Bardwell, Temples, Ancient and Modern: Or, Notes on Church Architecture; Marina Belozerskaya and Kenneth Lapatin, Ancient Greece: Art, Architecture, and History; Carmelo G. Malacrino, Constructing the Ancient World.
32. contra Godet, First Corinthians, 183
33. φθείρει translates “destroy,” a destruction brought about by “deterioration of the inner life” (BAGD)
34. Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, 318
35. Sean Michael Lucas, What is Church Government, 27.
36. One Baptist writes, “Let’s assume that your concerns are well founded – the new directions of your church are weakening its testimony and obedience to the Lord. There is ample evidence for such deterioration of Christian testimony through history and to the eye, it looks like this old problem is afflicting many churches again in these days. What to do then? Certainly you should not become a source of division in the church that has changed. You gain nothing by attempting to be the agent of change, trying to overthrow the “old regime” for a new one. Such activity will only lead to schism and will not help the body of Christ in the long run. However, there is something else you can do. The Lord could use you as a catalyst in church planting. You and a few likeminded individuals could be such a start. It is best if several families could have the burden of such a work together – it is very difficult to get a group going without a group! When a group of believers desiring to hold to a faithful Christian testimony bind together in a community for the purpose of worship, discipleship and evangelism, you have a church. If your church has left you, I would urge you to pray for the Lord to lead you to others with the same desires, willing to take a stand together in a Bible-believing independent Baptist church. The ministry need not be complex, but it will need the work of committed members to flourish. The Lord will provide the things that are needed when they are needed – space to meet, someone to lead in the preaching and teaching (i.e. a pastor!), helping hands to arrange the details of meeting together. You will need to be committed to evangelism – don’t look to grow by attracting the conservative from other churches. Some of these may come, likely will come, but a church will grow best if it is committed to evangelistic disciple-making.”
37. Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law (751 AD)

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