I’ve been contemplating some things for a long time and finally decided I needed to write them down, if for no other reason than to have them solidified in place. Thoughts alone are one thing and can bring great trouble if we don’t “take them captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). But it could be that our thoughts (as long as they’re not tainted with the opinions of social media and journalistic controversy) could be the Holy Ghost prompting us to study to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15), or a mark of a schism.
I’ve been off social media now for at least a couple of weeks or thereabouts. And only sparsely before that. I can’t remember the last time I actually logged on and scrolled through, but I haven’t completely deleted my account yet, either. There are a precious few Facebook groups that I lean on for information about gardening and such that I still may want or need to look at, and who knows when the Lord may speak to me to post something again. All I know is there is so much animosity – especially among believers or those who claim to believe – it’s almost impossible to come away without experiencing some form of deep emotion. And I just can’t see the good in that. Because of all the negative emotions and arguments that Facebook (and all the others) has caused in the past 2-5 years, joy and peace aren’t likely to be found.
I’ve talked to my husband many times during this period about how division is abounding. And not just in the “world!” Even the Body, or that which is supposed to be the Body, is so pitted against itself it actually gives unbelievers something to point a finger at! Is there no thought given to the fact that WE, ambassadors of the Living God, are making a mockery of the very One we serve when we do these things?
“There should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” (1 Corinthians 12:25)
This is the one and only time the word “schism” is used in the Scriptures.
Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines the word as “a separation, an alienation causing divisions among Christians, who ought to be united.”
The International Standard Bible Encylopaedia says this: “siz’-m (schisma): Only in 1 Corinthians 12:25. The same Greek word, literally, “a split,” is translated “rent” in Matthew 9:16, Mark 2:21; and “division” in John 7:43, John 9:16, and John 10:19. It designates “a separation,” not from, but within, the church, interfering with the harmonious coordination and cooperation of the member described in the preceding verses (1 Corinthians 12:18). The ecclesiastical meaning is that of a break from a church organization, that may or may not be connected with a doctrinal dissent.”
And in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, you’ll find this definition: “a rent, division, is translated “schism” in 1 Corinthians 12:25, metaphorically of the contrary condition to that which God has designed for a local church in “tempering the body together” (1 Corinthians 12:24), the members having “the same care one for another” (“the same” being emphatic [which means to express something forcefully])“
It’s also interesting to note that there are NO Hebrew or Aramaic equivalents for this word, schism. I believe it’s because there was no “koinonia” body in those days, as everyone was expected to follow the same laws in a very methodical manner, ensuring the spiritual protection of the group. The priest in charge of the yearly sacrifice was the one meant to follow all the procedures for the sacrifice, the blood offering, as it were, and the rest was a matter of law-abiding Jews doing what they were supposed to do on their end. (Another long and tedious study for another time, but unrelated to this topic.)
I found another Scripture that relates very much to the schism topic. But before I bring that out, let’s take a look at the rest of Paul’s discourse in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, starting at verse 12:
(12) For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
(13) For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
(14) For the body is not one member, but many.
(15) If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not the body; is it therefore not of the body?
(16) And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
(17) If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
(18) But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
(19) And if they were all one member, where were the body?
(20) But now are they many members, yet but one body.
(21) And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
(22) Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.
(23) And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundance honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundance comeliness.
(24) For our comely parts have no need: But God hath tempered the body together; having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:
(25) That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
(26) And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
Paul paints a picture of an entire body, functioning together, without schism, in much the same way as a physical body. There may be weaker parts, uncomely parts, but all the parts come together to make a whole. When a person has lost a limb or a digit, we call them an amputee. But what word is there for a spiritual body that has gone through the same thing? There’s not enough teaching to even know how to approach this, at least not as far as I am aware.
And all this leads me to a piece I read in the tiny, one-chapter book of Philemon recently. In this book, Paul is writing to his dear friend, Philemon, who lives in Colosse at the time. We know that they share a special friendship by the way Paul addresses this letter, which is a bit different in form than many of the other letters he has written. He addresses Philemon as “our dearly beloved,” and goes no further in stating his apostleship as he’s done in other letters. We can assume that Philemon knows Paul, so predecessory introductions are not necessary. And there certainly doesn’t appear to be a schism.
He goes on to say a few more words before shifting the conversation to Onesimus, a slave who had escaped or run away from Philemon at some point. And the first thing Paul mentions is that Onesimus was “begotten in my bonds:” (verse 10), which means Paul saw Onesimus come to the faith under his own ministry, and likely while Paul was in prison. But Paul also knows that, according to the Roman law of the day, slaves could be crucified for far lesser crimes than that of running away from their masters. And so his plea begins.
Paul said, in my own summarization of the verses, that he knows Onesimus had been unprofitable to Philemon, having been a runaway slave, but was quite profitable to Paul. Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon, likely with this very letter in hand, but he says, “I would have kept him with me so that he could have ministered to me in your place, IN THE BONDS OF THE GOSPEL (emphasis mine).
When I read down to this 13th verse, where the word “bonds” is mentioned, I couldn’t read any further because the Holy Ghost had stopped me cold. So I started looking up words and meanings, as I often do, to see the deeper context of the piece. And when I got to the word “bonds,” I realized this was what He wanted me to see, long before I even thought about a “schism.”
The word is translated from the Greek word, desmos (pronounced des-mon) and means a ligament of the body. It can also mean shackles or an impediment, but when we apply the rule of context (as in “bonds of the gospel”), we must see it as the ligament meant to hold things together. Many “translations” of the Bible reconstruct this verse to say or depict Paul speaking as a prisoner, as if “bonds of the gospel” meant that he had been imprisoned for the sake of the gospel. Which is, no doubt, true. But as we read this book in its entirety, along with the Scripture from 1 Corinthians 12, we can see the picture Paul paints with his words.
It makes so much sense since ligaments give the body the ability to move and function as it should. You’ll notice right away if you have ligament trouble when you try to bring a spoon of food to your mouth. The ligaments in the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and fingers all work together to get the job done. Just as it should be in the body.
Unfortunately, many believers today attempt a little thing called “defending the Gospel.” They even teach classes on it. They’ll use Scriptures like Philippians 1:6-7, which says, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.” But the problem with using this verse is that no one is actually “defending” the Gospel. Paul is saying something entirely different, which is easy to ascertain with a bit of careful study. They forget the part, just a couple of verses down, where he goes on to say, “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ;” (verses 9-10). And that word “approve” doesn’t mean we get to say, “Okay, I’ll allow it.” The word means “to test, examine, or scrutinize, as to whether or not they are genuine.” In other words… studying to show yourself approved.
Does this sound like “defending” to you?
To defend something is to set a guard, protect, and ensure no harm comes to something. In fact, the literal definition of the word defend is to “resist an attack, protect from harm, or attempt to justify.” Does the Gospel need this from us? Matthew 5:11-12 seems to say the polar opposite: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.“
No, I dare say that those who seek to “defend the gospel” are actually looking to defend their denomination. This is nothing short of a result of the deep schism that Paul warned about and continues to separate believers all over the globe. The enemy has to do less and less work as he continues to mislead believers and pervert the Truth of the Word. Even Peter and Paul contended against one another so much that Paul wrote about withstanding Peter to the face “because he was to be blamed” (Galatians 2:11). But, miracle of all miracles, there was no split in that early New Testament church! There were no lectures or hearings, and I don’t think Peter took offense to what Paul said because he backed it up with Gospel facts.
The truth of the matter is that there are salvational issues in the word, and there are non-salvational issues in the Word. When one denomination defends against their translation of the Word, without careful personal study, the result will ALWAYS be offense first and defense second. Offended that “what they’ve always been taught” or “what they always believed” is proved wrong against the Holy standard of the Word. Or offended that we would dare position ourselves against the time-honored traditionalism of denominational bylaws and catechisms.
These are called traditions of men, both by Jesus and others who penned the New Testament. Their warnings are still as valid today as they were those thousands of years ago…
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Colossians 2:8) You can also read (or hover over) any of the following:
1 Peter 1:18
And these are just a few to get started with.
Defend the Gospel? How about we work in the BONDS of the Gospel in an attempt to defeat the great schism happening in the Body of Christ right now?