Adison Martin

esus conducted his earthly ministry among the Israelites, who were divided into religious sects. The Sadducees, Pharisees and Herodians are mentioned by name in the New Testament, but there were others as well. During his ministry, Jesus was frequently confronted by men of those sects. The Pharisees, hoping to ensnare him, asked about marriage (Mt. t 9:3-9). Then they joined forces with the Herodians to ask him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar (Mt. 22:15-22). It was a politically sensitive issue, and they hoped to trap Jesus. Later that same day the Sadducees came asking Jesus a question about marriage in the resurrection (Mt. 22:23-33). During his encounters with these men, Jesus always rebuked their errors. But he never rebuked them for having their sects. NEVER. Not even ONCE!

Jesus DID pray that his followers would be one (Jn. 17:20-23). But was he praying that each individual Christian believe exactly the same as every other Christian? Are we required to understand every verse of scripture alike, and to reach the same conclusions on every religious issue? Must our beliefs and practices be identical in every detail in order for Christians to accept (receive - fellowship) each other? Is that what Jesus prayed for?

That hardly seems to be the point of Jesus' prayer for, if it were, his petition has remained ungranted for about two thousand years! But his prayer WAS granted. His followers ARE all one. Paul wrote:

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for YOU ARE ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS" (Gal. 3:26-28; NIV).

In view of the religious division which exists today, how can we all be one in Christ? Read Paul's words again. The basis for oneness among believers is that they were all immersed into Christ, they have all clothed themselves with Christ. In Christ, those distinctions which otherwise concern us - political, social and sexual differences - do not effect the oneness of believers.

So it was among the Jews. They were one in that they were all children of Abraham, and they boasted of that relationship (Jn. 8:33 & 39). They were one in that God called their fathers to be a holy nation (Ex. 19:6). They were one in that their fathers had all been immersed into Moses, and they all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink (1 Cor. 10:1-4). Because their oneness was not affected by their differing views, Jesus chose to ignore their sects. Instead, he focused his rebukes on their arrogance, guile, hypocrisy and unrighteousness.

In this world, some Christians are men and some are women. But in Christ those same Christians are one. Some Christians are Canadians and some are United States citizens, but, having clothed themselves with Christ, they are one. Some Christians are Democrats and some are Republicans, but their political differences do not effect their oneness in Christ. Here is the point: All Christians are SPIRITUALLY ONE, based on their SPIRITUAL RELATIONSHIP IN CHRIST. Christians did not create that relationship with their thoughts, views or practices. God created their relationship and their differing religious views and practices DO NOT NEGATE WHAT GOD CREATED!

Christ's plea that his followers be one has been interpreted by men to mean that all Christians must believe and practice the same things. That doctrine has led to intolerance between brethren of opposing views, and has ultimately resulted in religious divisions and the withholding of spiritual fellowship. Other New Testament passages have also been wrongly interpreted. The scriptures teach that Christians should have the same mind (Rom. 1 2:1 6), but that passage and its context will show that it is not saying Christians must always believe and practice the same things. Rather, it teaches Christians are to have empathy, the ability to share in another's emotions and to be humble, free of conceit. Other passages teach Christians to be like-minded (Rom. 1 5:5, Phil 2:2), but again the contexts will prove they are teaching them to imitate the attitudes and manners of Jesus. They do not forbid Christians to hold or practice differing religious views.

In his letter, Paul condemned the Corinthian ekklesia because they were divided (1 Cor. 1:10-17). They were divided because they had given up their oneness in Christ and spiritually aligned themselves into groups based on who had baptized them. They were following men, not Christ. But Christ was not divided, as they were. The men they followed had not been crucified for them. Neither had they been baptized into the men they followed. Their quarreling struck a fatal blow to the heart of their oneness in Christ, creating bickering groups of people whose worship was man-centered. They were rebuked for that. But that same ekklesia had differing views regarding whether or not to marry (1 Cor. 7), and about the eating of food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8). They were not rebuked for those views, for they did not effect their oneness in Christ.

"Sect" is translated from the Greek "hairesis", from which we also derive the English transliteration "heresy". It means "to choose; a choice". "Factious" is translated from "hairetikos", which has the same root meaning and refers to a man who has a party spirit. He is a man who presses his "choice" to the point of division, usually for his own advantage (see W.E. Vine on sect; heresy; heretical and factious). So when Paul wrote that the factious (divisive) person was to be warned twice, then avoided, he was NOT discussing the man who forms, holds and practices his own religious opinions, but the man who forced division into separate groups based on his own opinions.

To summarize, all who have been immersed into Christ, have been clothed with Christ. They are all one in Christ, and they are to receive (fellowship) one another. Paul wrote, "Accept (receive) him whose faith is weak, without passing judgement on disputable matters" (Rom. 14:1; NIV). Christians will be able to do that when they remove themselves from the corporate body church institutions which have enslaved them. Those institutions are the vehicles through which the various factions are kept alive.