Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is an epistle filled with rebuke and correction. And in chapter 11, Paul is in the middle of some scathing denunciations of some horrific abuses of the Lord’s Supper. Then, in verse 19, he takes a wholly unexpected turn and says, “There must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”
How strange, we might think, for Paul to go from telling the Corinthians how wrong this situation is to telling them that such occasions are absolutely necessary! The fact that Paul describes false teaching regarding a “faction” or “division” gives us a very helpful insight. False doctrine is a breaking away from Scripture and thus from historical confessional Christianity.
Beware of any teaching or practice that is contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture, or that is new to Christianity. You do not want to be a “sect” that is separate from how Christians have understood the Bible for centuries.
“False teaching” is not an accusation to be taken lightly on our lips. The charge is tantamount to saying, “This person is not a true Christian, by virtue of their unbiblical teaching or practice.” This is not someone merely disagreeing with me; it is someone teaching directly contrary to the Bible and the gospel.
To embrace false teaching is to separate yourself from true Christians, to become your own sect, which is a serious matter indeed.
Paul points to the over-arching providence of God and says it is necessary that such divisions crop up occasionally within the house of God. Why? In order to separate true Christians from those who are not.
Here in the church of Corinth the selfishness and ungodliness of those who were divisive were serving to undermine the love, unity, and maturity of those who were faithful and approved! Of course, those who cause such division are still accountable for their sinful actions; like Jesus, Himself says in Luke 17:1, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!”
How sobering, and yet comforting, to consider. Even in the darkest moments of Christian history, God has been sovereignly working. God uses even heresies to bring about His own purposes, including pruning his church of false teaching by honing the church through necessary divisions.
We must love God’s Word, contend for the gospel, and embrace other believers for Christ’s sake. We must be gentle and humble when we disagree with others. We must pray for God to keep us from false teaching. And yet when false teaching comes, we should rejoice that God is still on His throne and will turn even this to His glory.