By Mike Willis
In this series of articles, I have been trying to call attention to the factional mindset that is sometimes creates division and dissension in the Lord’s churches. In trying to identify factionalism, I am listing several characteristics of the factional brother. Factionalism is difficult for us to identify because it flies under beautiful banners — “standing for the truth,” “defending the faith,” or “opposing liberalism.” Because none of us wishes to discourage loyalty to the truth, we sometimes are too tolerant of the factional man. By the time one recognizes the dam- age he is doing, the time may have already passed to stop his divisive ways. We hope that listing these attributes of the factional mindset will be helpful in identifying those who are dividing churches so that sinful division can be stopped.
1. The factional man has no place in his thinking for any present day issues that fall into the category of Romans 14. A factional man can usually correctly explain the meaning of Romans 14 and make correct application of the text to the issues described in Romans 14 and other New Testament issues (such as circumcision, forbidding to marry, etc.). However, he is not able to identify anything that he believes as a Romans 14 issue. Everything he believes is a matter of faith with which no one can disagree and be faithful to the Lord. Romans 14 was originally written to meet this very challenge.
2. The factional man makes every judgment decision with which he does not agree tantamount to apostasy. In areas of application, a factional brother tends to make every judgment issue a test of one’s faithfulness to God. In a case where two brethren are united on a principle of truth but disagree over whether another man is a mistaken believer or a false teacher on the same point, the factional brother’s judgment must be the correct one and all those who disagree are compromisers violating 2 John 9-11. Such a brother is willing to divide a church over his judgment about the other man because everyone who disagrees with him is a liberal apostate.
3. The factional man has trouble understanding that general authority is just as surely Bible authority for an action as is specific authority. Certainly this has been true historically. Those who created dissension in the church over multiple containers, Bible classes, and located preachers were looking for a specific example of a church having a Bible class, using multiple containers, or a preacher working with a church with elders. General authority in these areas was not judged adequate.
4. The factional man can justify sinful conduct under the banner of “standing for the truth.” Everyone would agree that such things as envying, strife, and division are works of the flesh (1 Cor. 3:3). All would agree that “hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies” are works of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). However, these sinful behaviors can be obviously practiced in the heat of pressing one’s opinion to the point of dividing the church and all of them be justified under the banner, “He was standing for the truth.” Standing for the truth does not produce sinful fruit. If strife, seditions, and heresies are occurring in the local church, those who are guilty are not “standing for the truth,” without regard to the issue before them. Where the fruit of one’s “stand for the truth” is a refusal to speak to one’s brother, driving brethren into parties, destroying elderships, destroying men’s desire to serve as elders and preachers or even be a Christian, and such like things, one can rest assured that this is not “standing for the truth.” Jesus taught that one should judge a tree by its fruits (Matt. 7:15-16). These are not the fruit that the truth produces.
5. The factional man majors in minors and is out of balance (Matt. 23:23). Regarding the Pharisees, Jesus said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matt. 23:23). Factional men tend to develop telescopic vision — all that they see is the one issue on which they are focused. A man may be a godly brother who studies his Bible daily, has raised a godly family, serves in the local church in every capacity he can, and otherwise devotes himself to the Lord. All that the factional man sees is that he disagrees with him on this one issue, which he impatiently and dogmatically demands be resolved to his personal satisfaction. The efforts of elders, preachers, and other mature members to address the problem are ignored or belittled as “compromise.” With a bulldog mentality, the factional brother charges everyone with “sin” who does not embrace his agenda and his campaign against the brother with whom he differs. He will press that issue to the point that he runs off from the local congregation such God-fearing men. His pet opinion means more to him than his brother does, so he will sacrifice the fellowship of his brother to elevate his opinion.
6. The factional man acts morally superior. Because of his evaluation of his opinion as the test of all righteous ness, the factional man will look upon himself as morally superior to his brethren who disagree with his pet opinion. Regarding this attitude, Paul warned, “Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:1-2). If such a man knew anything about the Scriptures, he would not destroy his brother for whom Christ died by his opinions. Of course, this man can rationalize what this Scripture teaches by convincing himself that his opinion is “what the Scriptures teach,” not “opinion.”
7. The factional man exalts his opinions over righteousness, peace and joy (Rom. 14:17). Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteous- ness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). For the factional man, his opinion with reference to his pet theory, is worth destroying the peace and joy of the local church.
8. The factional man refuses to receive those whom God receives (3 John 9). John described the conduct of Di- otrephes saying, “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3 John 9-10). Factional men are long on emphasizing 2 John 9-11 but have virtually no understanding of the teaching of 3 John 9-10. Elsewhere Jesus said, “And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:5-6). The offence under consideration in this text is the unwillingness to receive one of Christ’s little ones. In another text, this incident is reported:
And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me. And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part (Mark 9:36-40).
The sin that the disciples were guilty of was refusing to receive one of God’s children. The factional man commits this sin every time he draws a line of fellowship against one of God’s children that God has not drawn.
9. The factional man is legalistic in his approach to salvation. He believes salvation and fellowship with God and other brethren are conditioned upon perfect knowledge and obedience to a selective set of standards which he determines (selective because his own failures must be rationalized). The factional mindset makes one’s salvation conditional upon perfect understanding of and perfect obedience to everything in God’s word, ignoring the vital distinctions between matters of faith and of personal conscience, between absolute commands and relative areas of growth, between a process of rejection of truth and a process of growth and maturity, and similar truths. He may deny that he believes in perfectionism, but he surely cannot have an on-going fellowship with a sincerely mistaken brother who disagrees with him about his opinion on a particular point. Regardless of all other scriptural considerations, the mistaken brother is regarded as a false teacher who must be driven from the fellowship of the local church.
10. The factional man is self-righteous. Closely associated with the legalistic approach to salvation is his self-righteous attitude. Such a person cannot have fellow- ship with those who disagree with him about his opinion. He cannot invite such people into his home or participate in the various collective activities in the local church with one who disagrees with him about his opinion. Doing this would be tantamount to violating 2 John 9-11 in his mind. Therefore, he draws an ever-narrowing circle of people with whom he can legitimately have fellowship.
11. The factional man is inconsistent. Despite his best efforts to be consistent, the factional man cannot consistently apply his factional beliefs. Inevitably he will find a way to fellowship those involved in some mistaken beliefs but not to have fellowship with others who have other mistaken beliefs. Somehow he will rationalize in his mind the reason why he can fellowship those who are guilty of holding some wrong beliefs but cannot fellowship those who are mistaken about his pet opinion.
12. The factional man works to line people up with his view. He will work the phones or go out to lunch with various members of the church and express his concern about serious problems in the church of which he is a member. Soon he has contacted and influenced such a significant group in the local church that he has created a faction. His group is lined up against another group. He has created schism in the body of Christ that will probably lead to division.
A factional brother may not portray every one of these character traits and there may be other character traits that I have omitted. However, one cannot deny that, as a body of Christians, we have trouble with factionalism from time to time. We need to address the problem, in the pulpit, in Bible classes, and in journals such as this. If this series stirs others to study what the Scriptures say about the problem of factionalism and begin preaching about it, its purpose will have been served. Perhaps we can stop need- less and destructive factionalism from destroying another congregation.
A Word of Caution
Let me add an important word of caution. False teachers may quote some part of this series on factionalism out of context in an effort to find comfort for their liberal-minded departures from the truth, in a bid for peace at any price, or in an effort to counteract our past opposition to their error. In the first century, false teachers used the same tactics. Let this serve notice to those who may do so that we are as firm today in our affirmation of every truth and our denial of every false doctrine as we ever have been. We are as deter- mined now as ever before to “fight the good fight of faith,” to be “set for the defense of the gospel,” and to uproot error and bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (1 Tim. 6:12; Phil. 1:17; 2 Cor. 10:5).
The point of this series is this: we are as set to defend the truth of the gospel against factionalism as much as against liberal-minded departures, or any other form of sin. “Preaching the kingdom of God” means preaching “all the counsel of God” so that we may receive “an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:25-32).