THE NATURE OF THE EKKLESIA – ISSUES OF DIVERSITY & LUKEWARMNESS IN THE BODY OF CHRIST.

Updated: Mar 30, 2021


Recently, Francis Chan, whose ministry many of us admire, spoke of the nature of those who assemble under the banner of Christ, as the Body of Christ. Francis, as we here at One Body Life, desires that there be true unity in the Body of Christ—in fulfillment of our Lord’s prayer in John 17—“That they all may be one – perfected into one” as the Father and Son are one in eternal fellowship—even so we are brought into that same fellowship of oneness when we are born from above . . . both of us, and all believers in Jesus, should desire this fellowship!

Notwithstanding, believers in the Savior proliferate with division. Yet, Jesus prayed that His unity/oneness would be a reality among us all . . . so, where do we stand in this confliction when, on the one hand, we’re all supposed to be ONE in His fellowship—yet, on the other hand, division and divisiveness persists among believers in Jesus? Francis Chan interprets 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 when Paul speaks of divisions among the Corinthian believers with the following commentary (periodic insertions by OBL are added to clarify statements):

FRANCIS CHAN [Transcribed from his video as seen @ CRAZY LOVE MINISTRIES ]:

“One of the chapters in the book [one of Francis Chan’s latest publications] was the fellowship of the lukewarm – here’s what Paul says to the Corinthians [1 Cor. 11:18-19], he [Paul] goes, ‘yeah, I hear there’s divisions among you and in part I believe it; in fact, divisions must exist so that those who are sincere can be separated’ . . . you know there is going to be a division but the only way we’re going to have perfect unity is when we divide from those who are not sincere; from those who are lukewarm; who are not really saved. The problem is we’re trying to become one with people who have not really surrendered their lives to Jesus.

“It’s not about denominations. It’s not about these technical points of theology. It’s about in your heart you have not surrendered to God. You don’t see the beauty of the cross. You’re not like Zacchaeus where you’re just ready to give up everything because God is so in your life that when Zacchaeuses meet with one another they can become one; but when Zacchaeus and the rich young ruler try to have fellowship it doesn’t work out.

“So, you get a bunch of missionaries, you know, who’ve had their arms chopped off for whatever [reason]—you put them in a room and there will be unity . . . but you throw in some kook, skinny jean guy, you know, ‘hey, Jesus is your buddy’ . . . it’s going to be, like, real fellowship to take place suddenly?

“But there is, I think, this desire in those of us who are believers . . . we want to be one. It doesn’t make sense to us – there’s no way on earth that God is looking at all these factions and going: ‘Yes, that is exactly what I wanted. That’s what I dreamt of when I was on the cross.’ We know that’s not what He wanted. And we desire . . . we don’t like division; we hate division. Those of us who really know him . . . why? Because the Spirit hates division.

“This is why we grieve the Spirit. We can literally grieve God (Eph. 4:30) by our divisiveness and by the way we treat one another. So, then, for those of us who have the Spirit—when we see the division—it grieves us because the Spirit is in us. And, so, I’m going: ‘Gosh, it actually shouldn’t be that hard. It’s those who really have the Spirit of God in them—you’re going to want this, and we’re going to pursue this.

“The issue is to be willing to let go of those who divide the church . . . the Bible commands us to ignore them . . . to warn them . . . and to have nothing to do with them. And, so, we have to let go of those people (biblically) and move on with those who want this oneness.

“It’s got me more and more excited and I think, maybe that’s why I’m back [in the USA from Hong Kong] and I’m supposed to do something like that for awhile and bring people together and get back to just really praising God deeply with brothers and sisters . . . then showing a unity that the world doesn’t have right now. Because I think, you know, the world was more unified (I’m talking about America) – Americans were more unified than the Christians were. You know, they rallied around the same causes. And now, the country is pretty divided for the first time in my lifetime. Have I seen this much division to this extreme? I say, ‘Wow, maybe this is the time the church comes together, and we can be a light in the darkness.’

“But it’s just fun having that childlike faith again. And, ‘God, if You sent Jesus to the cross to bring peace between us and You, then You’ll do something to bring us all together, Your children, because you hate this and I’m going to keep praying for this and believing in this and saying and doing whatever I can. But now it’s not like I’m just going to do my little part and it’s not going to work anyway. It’s a different attitude. It’s like, ‘No, this could happen in my lifetime.’ I’m believing for it; I’m shooting for it. Excited about it."

ONE BODY LIFE’S RESPONSE (Do bear with us in this rather lengthy treatise.)

We are responding to our brother’s sincere, but somewhat mixed interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:18-19. Yes, we here at OBL are just as concerned and grieved by the divisions in the Body of Christ by those who provoke a spirit of division with their factious behavior. However, we must address the very nature of the oneness of expression articulated by our beloved brother with the intent that he, as we all, would come to grips with the expression of our gathering together under the headship of Christ as it relates to 1 Corinthians 11:18-19:


For first, while you are coming-together in church[a], I am hearing that there are divisions among you. And a certain part of it I believe— 19 for there indeed have-to[b] be factions among you in order that the approved ones may also[c] become known among you. (1 Cor. 11:18-19 – Disciples Literal NT) – a. 1 Corinthians 11:18 Or, an assembly. That is, in home meetings. b. 1 Corinthians 11:19 Or, must. (1 Cor. 11:18-19)

Separating out those lukewarm, insincere brethren – those factions – out from the assembly of brethren because they may not even be saved and that they inhibit, even mitigate, the expression of the Oneness of the Body of Christ may seem like we are “purging out the leaven that leavens the whole lump” . . . in other words, Chan says that such “factions” are NOT in the mind of Christ when we assemble and that these brethren (who may be considered insincere or even unsaved) should be extracted from our fellowship. Francis reinforces his commentary by alluding to Romans 16:17-18, to wit:


“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them (or “avoid them”). For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery, they deceive the minds of naïve people.”

Unfortunately, by conflating 1 Corinthians 1:18-19 with Romans 16:17-18 our brother has inadvertently done an injustice to the intent of Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 1:18-19 in that Paul clearly states that such “factions” are necessary in our assemblies (Paul is not suggesting we expunge them from the assembly)—“factions” are anticipated and they “must” appear . . . not, as brother Francis claims—should be separated out from our fellowship. Why? These factions are there so that those who are approved of God, are genuine, are mature in the Lord, should be manifested to keep, no doubt, the “unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Yes, we all want a pristine expression of the ekklesia—but such a pure expression is NOT happening by purging out or separating from Laodicean-style believers (viz., those lukewarm).


Again, such an exclusion from fellowship at our assembling would open the door by creating spiritually superior cliques unto themselves—keeping those less spiritual from our gatherings. By keeping those less spiritual from our gatherings can readily result in cliques. Our conviction is this: When Paul said that the believers in Corinth were carnal because they clung to certain apostles like Apollos, Cephas, Paul and some claimed “I am of Christ”—they were all carnal. The “I am of Christ” group readily could be viewed as the spiritually purified clique! Whereas Paul continues to clarify the nature of the assembly and those who might “show up” among us in this manner:


“When you come together, each of you has . . . For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged . . . So, if the whole ekklesia comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers [aka, the “unlearned”] or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer (“unlearned”) comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Cor. 14 excerpts – NIV).

Indeed, it is mandatory that such factions come together – be they Baptists, Pentecostals or “Dones” – even unbelievers or inquirers - or whatever their label – DIVERSITY is the norm in the Body of Christ—that’s why we have Romans 9-16 – and that’s why we have 1 Corinthians 11-14 wherein “each one has” . . . and “one by one” is done “decently and in order.” We are and can be of “one mind and one spirit” but that does not mean we are a homogeneous section of the orchestra but we are in agreement as in a symphony with all gifts, parts, and members of the same Body in harmony when we’re all playing in unison.

If we separate out those who are “less spiritual” than ourselves (aka, “lukewarm”) then the five ekklesia Jesus reprimanded in Revelation 2-3 would be excluded; it would be unnecessary to exhort them to faith and to inspire them to repent—“. . . they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare.” How can that happen if such “factions” are not present? If such “factions” are excluded—there will be little conviction of the aforementioned to repent of their divisive sins!


The translation of the word to “heresies” is a contextual bias on the part of translators. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the NT suggest a variety of meanings:


“. . . that which is chosen, a chosen course of thought and action; hence one’s chosen opinion, tenet . . . a body of men separating themselves from others and following their own tenets [a sect or party]: as the Sadducees, Acts v. 17; the Pharisees, Acts xv. 5; xxvi. 5; the Christians, Acts xxiv. 5, 14 . . . dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims: Gal. v. 20; 1 Co. xi. 19.[1]


The general sense of the word used here in 1 Corinthians 11:19 is not that of aberrant teachings antithetical to the “faith once delivered” but of a “diversity of opinions and aims” (i.e., beliefs/doctrines and aims/practices/styles) creating factions in the assembly which can become divisive.

[1] Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament – Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers, by Joseph H. Thayer, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass., Fourteenth Printing—June 2019, 139, p. 16.

Listen, over the course of many centuries believers have sought to “come out from among them and be separate” – the unfortunate consequence of their actions with other members of the same Body is to proliferate countless sects of superiority claiming they are the true expression of the Body of Christ where Christ is lifted up and all else is Babylon the Great! So, you may charge us with: “Well then, we should all have stayed in the Roman Catholic Church!” No, quite the opposite—the Roman Catholic Church did NOT tolerate diversity; and, tragically (as Protestants later did) persecuted other believers who were different.


Yes, factions show up—it is necessary they do—but when it becomes FACTIOUS or DIVISIVE in the assembly, those who are approved of God should be manifested and inject unity in Christ alone into the conversation!


Romans 16:17-18 does speak to those divisive ministries which prevent God’s people from “meeting and greeting” one another in the Lord—that is found at the conclusion of Romans 16:1-16 where Paul encourages the believers in Rome to “meet and greet” one another—not just say “hi” from Paul. These “cancerous ministers” can be preaching Christ out of contention, drawing the innocent believer into their orb through clever and smooth talk prohibiting indiscriminate meeting and greeting of one another. Not only are these divisive ministers NOT in the assembly of the saints, if you would, they are ingesting God’s people into their own bellies—their own avaricious ministries—with little or no concern for the greater fellowship of the Body of Christ. Their claims of placing the sheep under their care is but a ruse to gather God’s people to themselves and to prohibit them for entering into the general Body of Christ seeking fellowship with “all saints.” Yes, definitely, AVOID such!


Notwithstanding, there are specific warnings on who should be excluded from the assembly and how that takes place:


(1) Those who habitually divide (after one, two warnings – with the third warning/offense being brought before the assembly [Matthew 18:15-19]). If the brother fails to correct the “sin of divisiveness” - then the third entreating comes into play: “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the ekklesia; and if they refuse to listen even to the ekklesia, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Someone to avoid is one who persists in “foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition” (Titus 3:9-10).


(2) Exclude those who do not teach that Jesus Christ is God come in the Flesh (2 John 1:7, 9-11—“Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God, whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” (ESV)


(3) A person living in habitual sin. Paul encountered this in the ekklesia in Corinth—“I have written to you in the epistle not to mix with fornicators . . . or with the avaricious [covetous] and rapacious [extortioners], or idolaters, since then you should go out of the world“ (See 1 Cor. 5:1-2, 6-7, 9-13, DBY). Again, this is a matter of brotherly/sisterly injunction – once individually, twice with another believer present, and if the person persists in their sin, then bring the matter to the assembly and if they fail to correct the matter—treat them as a pagan or tax collector.


(4) One who is a busybody, not working – just a general loafer (See 2 Thess. 3:6-10, 14-15). Again, the way of admonition is a three-fold process.


We are NOT at liberty to reject those whom the Lord has received. RECEIVING one another as the Scripture clearly states IS the spiritual habit of the ekklesia: “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things . . . Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God” (Rom. 14:1; 15:7). How wonderful it is when we extend grace to one another in an assembly where those who gather may regard the Sabbath to keep the Sabbath and yet, there are those gathered together with them who “esteems every day alike” – “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). Do we have such “receiving in the assembly” – if we desire true “ekklesia” we will! And, if we do—then the GLORY of GOD is revealed – it is not until after Romans 1-14 that God has glory (Rom. 15). Yes, we are glorified by Romans 8 but God doesn’t receive glory until Romans 15:


“We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves . . . Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . There receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the GLORY OF GOD” (Rom. 15:1-6, excerpts).

May the Lord spare us from inflicting exclusive rights to our assembling—may we receive those “weak in the faith” because, remember this:


“But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ . . . Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to be a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way” (Rom. 14:10).

Again, setting up “superior spiritual standards” by excluding sundry factions which will display themselves, inevitably, in a dynamic ekklesia gathering, are a challenge for us all—our only standard should be to receive all whom the Lord has received. We are not the “Church of the Immaculate Perception” – we have come to the “Joyful assembly and ekklesia of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God, the JUDGE OF ALL, to the spirits of just men MADE PERFECT. To Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24)


Yes, there should be discipline based on certain scriptural criteria but “factions” is certainly not one of them—they are not only inevitable but necessary—and when they become “factious” or “divisive”—then those who are approved of God should manifest and draw our “spiritual attention” back to Christ alone!


This response may be seen as an OPEN LETTER to our brother and to the general Body of Christ. It is not our intention to cause disunity in the Body of Christ but to clarify how we ought to behave ourselves in the Household of God concerning weaker brethren, even the unlearned, the lukewarm in our diverse assembling—to avoid exclusivity based upon “spiritual criteria” set by even the most well-meaning of intentions (viz., “I am of Christ”) . . . let us receive one another as God, for Christ’s sake, has received us to the glory of God the Father!


Again, this response appears to be directly addressing the apparent challenge to a singular ministry of one man; however, it is purposefully directed to God’s Kingdom People and how we ought to “behave thyself in the House of God.”


These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church [Ekklesia] of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14-15 KJV).


The House of God is, in point of obvious fact, the essence and nature of the very Kingdom of God. In point of fact, how we should treat one another . . . even when we assemble together to honor and give praise to the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Yes, we must discern that any given gathering is not given over to the enemy of our souls. Well has it been documented wherein the “spirit of Jezebel” has entered our portals with witchcraft and sorcery whereby the spirit of deception and strife have far too often been given a platform on which to practice their enchantments, leading to division and disputes unprofitable for the Household of Faith! However, these demonic intrusions are one thing—“. . . receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God”—is quite another matter (Ref. Romans 15:7). Mature brethren in the Ekklesia ought to discern the difference and deal accordingly with wickedness vs. weakness!


Give One Another Some Space


When gathering together as an ekklesia where “each one has” and “one by one” is practiced (in other words, the assembly is participatory and contributory), there can be an atmosphere which engenders strife. Many examples come to mind.


However, I would like to focus on strong-willed brothers and sisters who express an opinion about some doctrine or aim whereby they will attempt to convince others that their opinion is the correct one and that “we should all embrace it.”


What I find at times is this: A brother or sister will commence to share a viewpoint, let’s say, about the futurity of the final Antichrist, along with assorted warnings like “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” and deceptions surrounding the final apostasy. Sometimes a brother who is giving the ekklesia such a “warning” will buttress his remarks by quoting another prophet or preacher from whom he has received insight into the “last days.” Then, instead of hearing the brother out—i.e., allowing him to finish his statements—another brother will interrupt in the middle of the conversation with:


“I don’t agree with pastor Smith’s expressions you’re quoting. It is full of fear which is not from the Lord. God doesn’t want us to walk in fear but in faith, believing that Satan is defeated and that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places far and above such contemptible fear and warning. Yes, we should walk circumspectly, but certainly not in fear—the TONE of this preacher you’re quoting is full of fear; I don’t accept it!”


You can readily imagine that “sides will be taken” for and/or against such a calamitous exchange of opinions. Both could be right “in their own eyes” and I’m sure they are. What to do? Both love the Lord Jesus and have very strong opinions. Neither wish to “back down” from their convictions.


This is precisely when brethren who are “approved” must step forward and become at that moment, place, and time the peacemakers, bringing us all back into the presence of the Lord. Easy? No, not at all. But this is exactly the meaning in 1 Corinthians 11:19 whereupon the “approved ones among you may be revealed.” These kinds of “factions” are NECESSARY. Yikes! We need them? Regardless, they will manifest from time to time over doctrinal convictions, aims, styles, attitudes and a host of other items which readily can result in factions becoming “factious.” Consider these as “teaching moments.” Be exercised before the Lord to maintain the “unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace.” – Selah!


Footnote:

(1) Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament – Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers, by Joseph H. Thayer, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass., Fourteenth Printing—June 2019, 139, p. 16.

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