"Factions, Divisions, Parties"
Although they may seem out of place to some, the words "factions, divisions, parties" are found in Paul's list of "the works of the flesh" in Galatians 5:19-21. These three words are not synonymous but they present different aspects of the same sin. Their being grouped here as a triplet gives added emphasis to the heinousness of the sin of religious division. They represent the results of the practices mentioned previous to them. "Enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths" will inevitably lead to "factions, divisions, parties."
The King James Version renders this term as "strife." Berry gives it as "contentions." Thayer's definition states "in the New Testament a courting distinction, a desire to put one's self forward, a partisan and factions spirit which does not disdain low arts; partisanship, factiousness." Hart interprets it to mean "the voice of a leader of a party created for his own pride; it is partly ambition and partly pride. It may involve the haughty forcing of his own views on others."
"But if ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not and lie not against the truth." (James 3:14) In spite of this verse there are those who appear to glory in leading or aiding a faction in the church. It is also highly possible that there are those who deceive themselves into thinking that they are contending for the faith when they are actually motivated by partisanship and self-seeking. Such individuals are described by Paul as being "puffed up, knowing nothing, but doting about questionings and disputes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is a way of gain." (I Timothy 6:4,5) Many of the unnecessary side-issues which are often introduced into discussions between brethren may well be included in the useless "word-battles" which the apostle here condemns. "But foolish and ignorant questionings refuse, knowing that they gender strifes. And the Lord's servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing, in meekness correcting them that oppose themselves; if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 2:23-25)
The cure for this spiritual disease is found in Paul's admonition: "Make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others." (Philippians 2:2-4) Instead of seeking to exalt ourselves we should seek to humbly and meekly recognize our own insignificance and count our fellow Christians more excellent than ourselves.
Divisions This term can also be translated "separations" or "schisms." Thayer gives "dissension" as well as "division" for the singular. He defines a closely related word "to cut into two parts, cleave asunder, dissever." In still another related form Thayer gives a term that was used in ancient tortures wherein human bodies were cut in two. This was no doubt a terrible practice; but how much more terrible is it for men to divide the body of Christ, the church for which He died.
Just here we might inject the question that some might ask — "How can these things be classified as 'works of the flesh'?" Let us let the scriptures answer. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent." (Romans 16:17,18) R. L. Whiteside comments: "'Contrary to the doctrine which ye learned' covers a wide field, such as mechanical music in the worship, the organization of societies to do the work of the church, and various schemes to raise money. The man who causes divisions in the Lord's church' by the introduction of things not taught is an enemy of Christ even though he may not think so. His interest is in self, and not in Christ. 'They that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly'." Again, Jude 19, states, "These are they who make separations, sensual, having not the Spirit."
"Heresies" is the rendering of the King James; dissensions" and "sects" are given by other translators. Thayer defines it as: "that which is chosen, a chosen course of thought and action; hence one's chosen opinion, tenet, according to the context an opinion varying from the true exposition of the Christian faith." Here we have the final end of factions and divisions — actual separation into distinct parties. The second chapter of 2 Peter deals most severely with the false teachers who would cause such sectarianism. The chapter begins: "But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, (sects of perdition — margin) denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction." These heresies or sects will bring destruction or perdition upon those who so teach as to cause them and upon those who receive them.
"Well, these words really hit the `denominations'," some will be anxious to say. But the "denominations" were not even in existence when these verses were written. The words we have studied were addressed to "the churches of Galatia." Like all the other verses we use to condemn "denominationalism" they were addressed to Christians, members of the body of Christ. Christ prayed that "those who believe on me" might be one (John 17:20,21); Paul urged "the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:1) to "speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment." (1 Cor. 1:10) One might conceivably quote these verses to those in "denominations" to show them that their divided system is opposed to true New Testament Christianity. But their primary application must always be to those who compose the church to whom they were first addressed. And when we consider the "factions, divisions" and "parties" among those who claim identity with that early church we should realize how much we need to apply them! But we can be thankful that no matter how many groups may develop from factions to actual parties that those who will remain loyal to "the faith once for all delivered" can always remain united in the one time body of Christ.
Consequences Of Practicing "Such Things"
Verse 21 states "that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." The unity of the Lord's church is one of its distinctive marks. When men are responsible for "factions, divisions" and "parties" they are guilty of a great crime against both the Lord and His church. Those committing such a sin are hated by the Lord and should be marked and turned away from by faithful children of God. (Proverbs 6:19; Rom. 16:17; 2 John 9-11; Titus 3:10,11) Those who are fostering such divisions, no matter how sincere and honest they may be, are placing their souls in jeopardy of being eternally lost.