1 Corinthians 1:10-16
Now I beseech you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing…
Hardly five years had lapsed since Paul had first preached the gospel at Corinth, when he is constrained to write to his converts, now in the language of fatherly entreaty, now in the language of the sharpest rebuke, and that though he can still give thanks to God with unfeigned gratitude for the growth of their faith in Christ. What then is the fault which causes him such keen anxiety? It is not heresy, it is not apostasy, it is not open separation from the Church of Christ: it is a matter which we might be inclined to regard as far less momentous than any of these: it is the growth and spread of party spirit within their body. They are degrading the names of the apostles into watchwords of divisions. Christ is divided! indignantly exclaims St. Paul. You are rending His body asunder, you are severing the members which cannot exist in isolation. The harmonious combination of manifold parts, all subservient to one end and united by one Head; this is the essential idea of the physical body. The same law holds in the mystical body of Christ. Disregard the Divine order, and the result can only be death. This division into parties is no venial offence, no pardonable enthusiasm for the teachers whose names you thus dishonour: it is the ruin of the unity for' which Christ prayed, "That they all may be one." It is a work of the flesh: the outcome of the evil propensities of your unrenewed nature.
I. WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF PARTY DIVISIONS?
1. The ultimate cause lies, I believe, in a radical misapprehension of the nature of truth. God's truth is infinite. Man's mind is finite. It is in the nature of things impossible that we with our limited capacities should comprehend the whole of truth. All that we can do is to grasp some fragments, here a little and there a little: truth indeed sufficient for our personal necessities, if we seek aright in faith and patience, but immeasurably falling short of the reality. Our views of truth are therefore partial, disjointed; and it is inevitable that men with minds differently trained should apprehend different parts and different aspects of the truth. This variety is not of itself an evil. Far from it. Such different views are complementary, not antagonistic. As God's truth was revealed to man "in many parts and in many fashions," so only in "many parts and in many fashions" can it be grasped and interpreted by man. Only as the ages roll on, and each generation contributes its share towards the final result, are we slowly learning the grandeur of the gospel. Differences are not to be ignored or dissembled, but frankly acknowledged: "combination in diversity," it has been said, is the characteristic feature of the Church of Christ, and it must be the characteristic feature of every organisation which truly represents that Church. Combination in diversity is a characteristic feature of Holy Scripture. It needs the records of four Evangelists to give a true portraiture of the Son of Man in His earthly ministry. We are not to regard one as more faithful than another, not to take any one as in itself complete, but to find in the harmony of all the true delineation of that perfection which we can only realise by contemplating it in its several parts. St. Paul and St. James, St. Peter and St. John, each offer to us different aspects of the truth; one is the apostle of faith, another of works; one of hope, another of love; but if they have each some special grace or duty upon which they insist, it is not to the neglect or exclusion of other graces and duties: nor are we to pit them one against the other.
2. Thus we see that various schools of thought are necessary for the full representation of truth. They supply, moreover, "that antagonism of influences which is the only real security for continued progress." But schools of thought are painfully liable to degenerate into parties. We naturally and rightly concentrate our attention upon that fragment of truth which we have realised for ourselves to be true and precious: gradually we grow to think that this is the whole of truth. We divide the swelling river of truth into a thousand paltry runlets, and each cries, Come drink at my stream, for it, and it alone, is pure and uncontaminated. Well for us, then, if the water of life is not evaporated and lost amid the sands of the barren desert of strife.
3. For the next step is easy. We affirm that because others see not with our eyes, they are enveloped in the mists of dangerous error; resistance to their tenets becomes a duty, and in the fierceness of controversy charity is forgotten, and the party contentions of the Christian Church become a spectacle that provokes the scornful laugh of devils and moves our angelic watchers to tears. The absence of humility, the strength of self-will, the spirit that desires victory rather than truth, all contribute to the direful result, and the imperfection of our knowledge is perverted by our sinful folly into the source of incalculable mischief to ourselves and those around us.
4. Especially in days of revival of religious life is there danger of party contentions. Conviction is intense, enthusiasm unbounded, old truths are resuscitated, new truths apprehended, and each individual cherishes his own discovery, and proclaims it as the one vital element of truth to the exclusion of others in reality no less important.
5. The use of party phraseology, too, tends to accentuate the difference between various schools of thought. "By this means over and above all the real differences of opinion which exist, a fresh cause of separation is introduced among those who would perhaps be found, if their respective statements were candidly explained, to have in these tenets no real ground for disunion."
6. Extremes beget extremes: if one set of men form themselves into an exclusive party, with narrow views and aims, the almost certain consequence is that those who are of the opposite way of thinking will form a party to resist them. But it is a faithless expedient. "Through strife, and not by strife, the Church of God has passed upon her way."
II. WHAT ARE THE EVILS ARISING FROM PARTY DIVISIONS?
1. Party spirit causes the decay of spiritual life: for love is the breath of life, and where love is not, life must wither and die. But how can the gentle breezes of love co-exist with the fierce burning blasts of the sirocco of controversy? As each party circle moreover ceases to hold communion with its neighbours, and feeds more exclusively upon its own limited truths, there is peril that even these will grow to be lifeless, and become petrified into hard unmeaning formulas. Not loss of knowledge and narrowness of sympathy alone, but even death, may be the consequence of isolation.
2. Party spirit is a grievous hindrance to the growth of God's kingdom. This it is which breeds distrust between the clergy and the laity, and opens that gap which we are sometimes told is daily widening. When shall we learn that the kingdom of God does not consist in a phraseology, but in "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" ?
3. Party spirit is a waste of strength.
4. Party divisions are a stumbling-block to weak ,believers. What are we to think when we see men whose personal characters are equally estimable denouncing one another with unmitigated bitterness?
5. Party divisions are a laughing-stock to unbelievers. "See how these Christians love one another," is the scornful taunt. And thus we lose that testimony of an united Church which was the ideal contemplated by our Lord.
III. WHAT ARE THE REMEDIES FOR PARTY DIVISIONS?
1. The fundamental bond of religious unity is this: "Ye are Christ's." Not primarily in outward organisation, however valuable, not in creeds, however necessary, but in living union with our Head.
2. Another remedy is to be found in the frank recognition that in the Church of Christ variety is not only not wrong, but natural and necessary; because the views of any one individual or group of individuals can be at best but partial embodiments of the whole truth. When we maintain that our partial view is the complete and only true one, it is as if the dwellers in the valleys round some mighty mountain, a Mont Blanc or a Matterhorn, should meet and compare their ideas of its size and form: and because these ideas do not tally, and the outlines of its slopes and peaks and precipices are differently described by each, should forthwith deny the identity of the object of their argument; or impeach the veracity of their neighbours, and part with angry and embittered feelings.
3. A candid and patient examination of the views of those who differ from us will do much to moderate party spirit. Men of undeniable honesty, conscientiousness, zeal, holiness, differ from us. Why is this? They cannot be entirely in the wrong. No holy life is based entirely upon false premises. No system rests altogether upon a lie.
4. Once more, a remedy for divisions is to be found in practical co-operation wherever possible.
5. If controversy should unfortunately be unavoidable, as it may be on some occasions, and for some individuals, we must take heed that it is conducted with calm sobriety, temperate reason, and with the desire of truth, not success. But it is a perilous resource: far healthier for us if we can abstain from entangling ourselves in it. "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee."
(A. F. Kirkpatrick, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
WEB: Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment.