What Paul’s Warning Didn’t Mean –And How We Know It Didn’t Mean That

According to ScriptureThe meaning of 1 Corinthians 1:10 seems quite obvious, doesn’t it?

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. ~~1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV)

Pretty straightforward, right? As a spokesman for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Paul warned the Corinthian church against having divisions within its  members. He later described the church as a unified body with each member functioning in cooperation with all the other members (1 Corinthians 12:12-30). Such unity precludes criticizing each other, clearly.

Some use 1 Corinthians 1:10 to shame those who call out false teachers who appear to be genuine Christians. We, rather than the false teachers, receive accusations of causing division within the church, as if our discernment violates 1 Corinthians 1:10. After all, our critics reason, this verse isn’t ambiguous; God’s Word plainly prohibits divisions among His people!

Therefore, they further reason, we mustn’t speak against anyone who injects deviant teachings into the church. Teachers like Beth Moore, Rick Warren and even Joel Osteen present themselves as Christians, so we have no right to speak against them. Doing so only creates unnecessary divisions between members of Christ’s body.

But 1 Corinthians 1:10 is not the blanket prohibition against divisions that some people would make it out to be. If you examine the letters of 1st and 2nd Corinthians as a whole, you’ll discover several instances in which Paul actually commanded division from certain people.

Before I show you those passages, let’s talk about the historical context of Paul’s epistle. The church in First Century Corinth suffered from factions. Cliques, if you will. Each group prided itself on following a certain leader, feeling superior to other groups in the church.  The leaders that the various cliques aligned themselves with all taught sound doctrine, and consequently the factions were completely unwarranted. The divisions harmed the body of Christ when unity would have strengthened it.

Notice that even in this isolated verse Paul emphasized unity in judgment. This verse doesn’t promote a lackadaisical attitude that minimizes the importance of sound teaching. Quite the opposite: Paul commanded the Corinthians to be unified in how they judged matters.

Moreover, the broader context of Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians demonstrates that there are times that obedience to the Lord requires us to divide from disobedient professing Christians.

In 1 Corinthians 5, he demands the excommunication of a man in gross sexual sin, warning them not to tolerate any so-called brother who willfully rebels against the truth. This warning most assuredly extends to 21st Century Christians, particularly those who pride themselves on tolerating LBGTQ causes. When Beth Moore equivocates on the issue of homosexuality, for example, we must divide from her for the sake of the Gospel. In such cases, division maintains the purity of the church.

And what about separating from disobedient aberrant forms of worship such as Roman Catholicism or Holy Yoga? We can apply 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 to both situations. In fact, Paul doubled down on separating from deviations from truth in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 commands division from unbelievers. Wouldn’t that include false teachers?

Finally, we must remember that Paul cautioned the Corinthians to watch out for false teachers who masquerade as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:1-13). Ladies, in this passage Paul associated false teachers with Satan himself! That was hardly an expression of acceptance and tolerance! Indeed, today that sort of declaration would be condemned by many evangelicals.

I agree that 1 Corinthians 1:10 instructs churches not to permit division among its members. But we must be clear on what kind of division Paul meant to forbid. Using this verse in an attempt to shut down warnings against doctrinal and/or behavioral error ignores the greater context of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, thereby opening us up to deception. But heeding these letters in proper context protects us and keeps us in purity before the Lord.

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