We ended our last article with a promise that we would trace out the masterful skill with which Paul goes to battle with the sword of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, when he would combat the evil of schism and party strife in the church of the living God.
The attentive reader will, no doubt, be looking forward to this tracing out of Paul’s great apology and polemic against this cancerous evil in Christ’s body.
This we now proceed to do.
At first glance at the verses 13-17, I thought that I could call attention to all that Paul says here in these verses. However, upon closer observation, and riper reflection I notice that my space will be taken up if I only write on verse 13a, where we read, “Is Christ divided?“
This question is asked by Paul against the background of the terrific sin of party-strife over the “personalities” of Paul, Apollos, Cephas and even Christ. This difference over and striving about the persons of Paul, Apollos, is rooted in animosities, in not minding and willing and judging the same thing. And that sorry spectacle is seen amongst them who are very really saints in Christ, they are Christians, that is, members of Christ, living members by faith, and thus partakers of His anointing!
Only to such does this question of Paul have any relevancy!
Only to such can and must this question have pedagogical, corrective, reproving value only in these can this question be such a heart-searching one, that we go out and weep bitterly with Peter if we have been engaged in a conduct which is not fitting to Christians. Here the Davids sing, “Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin; for I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.” Ps. 51:2, 3.
Paul’s question, therefore, presupposes that the congregation at Corinth has the anointing of the Holy one and knows all things that pertain to godliness in this world.
It is an appeal to the new man in them; to the fact that this church has the mind of Christ (den zin van Christus). Just as a little child in its right mind, ere it can read, must learn to properly associate such objects as the mother and the baby, the kitten and the ball, the little girl and the doll etc., in its reading book, and thereby proves that it can put natural things with natural, thus also Paul presupposes in this question that the Corinthians, at bottom, can see the things which belong with Christ and those that differ. The simple, the babes see!
Much of what I hope to write to the address of those who worked schism and mutiny in our midst also presupposes that they are not “natural man,” who have only an eye for the psychological, but that they are, at bottom, “spiritual man,” yet, who are in their walk and conduct in God’s church fleshly. (sarkikois)
Paul asks of every one who works schism and cries: I am of Paul, I of Apollos: Is Christ divided?
In order that it may become crystal clear what a divided Christ would be let me call your sanctified attention to the following:
1. It should be noticed that in the Greek language the verb “divided” is not the same as “rend” (schizoo) but it means to be divided into parts. The idea is that then Christ would be distributed to the church so that not the whole church would possess the whole Christ, but each could claim a part. Then the unifying power and work of Christ in the church would be gone.
2. It should also be noted that the tense employed in the Greek is the perfect passive tense. Christ would then undergo such a division. Those who work schism would then affect Christ so as to divide Him. And then Christ would be in this divided state up to the present moment. Whether in the decree of God or while laboring on earth, or now in heaven, he would be in a completed state of division. O, horrible thought! Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever in such acompleted state of division up to the present moment!
Such is the question of Paul.
We do well to analyze its implications just a bit more.
The question is not whether Christ makes a division amongst men; whether there is not a fundamental “schism” between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Such, indeed, there is. Such is the “schism” of which the Gospel of John repeatedly speaks.
In John 7:43 we read according to literal translation of the Greek text: “Wherefore there became a schismamongst the people because of Him.” This was the schism of the evaluation of faith and unbelief. Some said that Christ was to be born out of Bethlehem and others said that even though he was from Galilee, yet, he is truly the prophet which was to come. Here is the “schism” between those who receive him and those who don’t. Such is the sword which Christ brings upon earth, being set for a fall and rising again of many in Israel, Luke 2:34. Likewise John 9:16, 10:19 speak of the “schism” amongst the people because of Jesus.
In the above passages there is the schism between those who are of Christ, given to Him of the Father and those who are not of Christ, as this historically becomes manifest in faith and unbelief.
But that is a far cry from sinful “schism” in the church of God.
This latter is just as ridiculous and sinful as it would be to divide Christ! If the latter is permissible and possible then the party-strife has the sanction of the most high. But, if not, woe be to him who offends the little ones of Christ, walking after the flesh.
What would a divided Christ be? How must we conceive of such a divided Christ so that its horribleness may keep us sober or bring us to our senses?
To form a conception of a divided Christ we must bear the following in mind in regard to Christ.
1. The name Christ means anointed. He is the anointed of God. He is such as the Son of God in our human nature. He is the one who is foreordained of God the Father and anointed with the Holy Ghost to be prophet, priest and king. That he is Christ, therefore, includes two elements, namely, that He is anointedand that He is qualified unto certain tasks and duties assigned to Him by God.
2. Further, it should be noticed that this Christ is anointed unto a threefold office. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it in Question and Answer 31:
a. He is ordained and anointed “to be our chief prophet and teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret council and will of God.”
b. “and to be our only high priest, who by the one sacrifice of His body has redeemed us, and makes continual intercession with the Father for us.”
c. “and also to be our eternal king, who governs us by His word and Spirit, and who defends and preserves us in the enjoyment of that salvation which he had purchased for us.”
Now it seems to me that a divided Christ who is one, one can claim a part of the office with neglecting the rest. This is done practically when we, as Christians, play out the one office of Christ against the other, or certain aspects of the offices themselves against themselves.
Is Christ divided means then: is there a conflictbetween the prophetical, the priestly and the kingly in Christ’s office?
When there is schism in the church, party-strife over preachers then the unity of the service of God, as this flows from the unity of the Unction of the Holy One, is lacking. This means a conflict between the parts which are in Christ most harmoniously! The harmony in our life is rent. It is the harmony of the three parts of ourone office to serve God.
What are these parts in our life as they flow from the harmony in Christ’s anointing as Head of the church upon us as the living members? They are as given in the Heidelberg Catechism as follows:
1. “Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thusam partaker of His anointing.
2. So that,
a. “I may confess His Name” (The secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption).
b. “Present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to Him.” (Since Christ has redeemed us by His blood).
c. “That with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life, and afterwards reign with Him eternally over all creatures.” (Since He governs us by His Word and Spirit).
Now it seems to me that to keep the unity of the body of Christ is really living according to the unity of Christ as expressed in this being anointed with Christ and partakers of these threefold benefits. He who does not do that breaks the inner harmony of Christ in His anointing as Head and as this anointing is ours as the body, living members!
Such is the inner harmony of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
Now it will also become evident what the thrust is of Paul’s question to the Corinthians: is Christ divided?
Is it so that the gift of prophecy can be played out over against that of the presenting of ourselves in our life a living sacrifice of thankfulness to God? Or, again, can we play out the clear word of prophecy over against fighting against sin and the devil with a good and free conscience. When this inner spiritual cancer gnaws at the vital of God’s people, at the spiritual life of the church then the inner harmony is broken, and unless repented of in heartfelt sorrow, will surely break forth into factions, party-strife, evil and sinful schism, giving untold heartache to those in Zion who will to say with Paul: for me to live is Christ, in the harmony of His threefold office and anointing, and to die is gain!
Often we are not too conscious of this sin of breaking the harmony of our life in Christ anointing!
It is good to be called to spiritual sobriety.
One cannot help but think of the brethren who so sinfully wrought “schism” within our ecclesiastical life. I cannot help but ask when I see their life: is Christ divided?
Does one in good conscience speak of the right of his conscience, of the office of his priesthood where this does not harmonize with the office of the prophet, the proclaiming and believing of the full counsel of God concerning our redemption? In the Spirit of Christ such that it pits the priest in us against the prophet? Does the Spirit of Christ so anoint us that in one court we can swear that the kingship of Christ is not in Classical decisions, while in another court we can swear before God’s face that it does. Is Christ divided? And if this were an isolated event, when one in a moment of weakness became an “opportunist,” one could understand it. But it is symptomatic!
Is Christ divided in His offices in the believers?
Paul didn’t answer this question.
They who can put spiritual things with spiritual, in the required sensitiveness of the saints, will give the correct answer. And the rest will be treated with the rod of God!