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What is the nature of the divisions identified in the original text of this statement by the Apostle Paul?

1 Corinthians 1:12–13 (ASV)
Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos: and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided?

By extension, could it then provide a warning against different denominations (of Christianity)?

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    How do you define "non-denominational"? Broadly speaking, every Christian belongs to a denomination, whether it's a huge one like Roman Catholicism or a tiny one like Grace Independent Church of Springfield. Sep 14, 2015 at 12:11
  • I guess what I mean by non-denomination would be a strict biblical reading from original biblical text.
    – Merick Juarez
    Sep 14, 2015 at 12:22
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    @MerickJuarez In that case it may be a candidate for the Biblical Hermeneutics site, which focuses on the texts themselves moreso than on how Christians have interpreted the texts through history (like this site does). Sep 14, 2015 at 13:51

3 Answers 3

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In a word, no. In the passage you cite, Paul is condemning divisiveness and a party spirit within a local church, not denominationalism.

From our perspective today, you might say Paul's teaching in this regard is applicable to each and every denomination, since every local church within a given denomination (or even a local church which considers itself to be "non-denominational," which the church of my childhood did) can manifest the same problem which Paul addresses in the passage in question.

Christians, as with non-Christ followers, are subject to the quite natural phenomenon of "having favorites." By that I mean we are naturally drawn more to some people than to others, especially people in positions of leadership. I suggest there is nothing particularly wrong with this. It can become unhealthy, however, when one leader and his or her followers set themselves apart from a local fellowship or denomination as a matter of pride. That is the issue Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians, chapter 1.

The church at Corinth (whether it consisted of one or more local churches) was afflicted by what I've called a "party spirit"; consequently, the seeds of divisiveness and discord were threatening to destroy the spirit of unity which Paul earnestly desired to characterize the Corinthian church, a theme he takes up again in chapter 12 in the context of differing spiritual gifts.

Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with being attracted to a particular minister of God's word. Where that attraction leads to a kind of loyalty which creates a spirit of separatism and superiority, however, steps must be taken to address and exorcise (so to speak) that spirit.

In Paul's day, some of the Corinthians thought that Apollos was the man for them and that somehow Paul and Peter did not quite measure up to Apollos. Others were siding with Paul or Peter, and still others, thinking perhaps they were the only "truly spiritual" ones in the Corinthian church, sided with Christ alone!

Now this party spirit can afflict entire denominations, but that does not mean denominations per se are unbiblical, nor does that mean Paul is condemning denominations in this passage. The spirit of favoritism which breeds a divisive party spirit, which in turn creates disunity within a church body of any size, including the church universal(!), must be eradicated.

Perhaps the only time when a "party spirit" can be helpful is when a serious doctrinal error begins to take hold in a church body, regardless of how limited in scope or how far reaching it may be. There are times, for example, when a contemporary "hot" issue becomes divisive and creates schism, particularly when a key doctrine or teaching of Scripture is at stake.

If, for example, a schism developed over the doctrine of Christ (i.e., Christology), with one group espousing the doctrine that Christ was not fully God, with the spokesperson for that group urging the larger body (whether a single local church, a group of local churches, or an entire denomination) to follow him or her in this (erroneous) belief, then church leaders (e.g., elders, bishops, district superintendents, ad infinitum) would need to administer spiritual discipline and root out the false doctrine, even to the point of the excommunication of church members.

We in the West live in perilous times, with hot-button issues threatening the unity of the body of Christ, locally and nationally. Gay marriage, gay leadership, denominational superiority (an attitude which says in effect, "Our group has a corner on the truth and those other groups which disagree with us are simply wrong"), abortion, the nature of the inspiration of Scripture (e.g., errancy versus inerrancy), and a host of other issues can be legitimate, biblical issues over which divisiveness is the unfortunate but inevitable result.

In such situations, what is needed above all else is a spirit of love which looks for biblical common ground on which conflicting factions can agree. Failing that, excommunication or perhaps other forms of discipline must be administered, but always in a spirit of love, with a view to restoration of the erring parties once they evidence genuine repentance.

In conclusion, denominations are not unbiblical, per se. In fact, if 10,000 more denominations were to come into existence worldwide, and each one held tenaciously to the central doctrines of the Christian faith (the Deity of Christ, the centrality and authority of Scripture for all things pertaining to life and godliness, the efficaciousness of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin, and several other key and necessary doctrines), I would rejoice.

As a Christian friend of mine told me once, we Christians cannot exhaust the ways and means of worshiping our great God and Savior, not matter how hard we try. Moreover, God delights in the variety of ways in which the unity of the church universal is demonstrated through the sheer sui generis nature of expressions of praise, worship, and love, regardless of how they may be expressed. As a wise person once said,

"In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity."

When this perspective characterizes a church body of any size or denomination, I believe God is honored and the body of Christ will flourish.

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  • +1 for a great answer. United in the non-negotiable faiths like sola fide, sola scriptura, the Trinity and so on.
    – R. Brown
    Sep 14, 2015 at 18:11
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    @RadzMatthewCoBrown: Thanks. My answer may sound a bit abstract and ethereal, but I think it is mostly biblical. Denominationalism does have its weaknesses, but the Body of Christ universally IS one body. Christians from all denominations who can agree BOTH on "essentials" AND agree to disagree agreeably on non-essentials need to encourage one another to keep the main thing, the main thing; namely, the preeminence of Christ and the centrality of God in all things. "For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen" (Ro 11:31). Sep 15, 2015 at 17:43
  • Thanks @rhetorician for your time. I'm very new to this site and still figuring out how to properly use the site. Re-reading your post gives me a well rounded perspective and gives me the conclusion that as a body of Christ we must be different. The "Body of Christ" couldn't function properly if we were all the same. Metaphorically we could not walk if we were all hands. It reminds me of Philippians 1:12-19. Although he was talking about motives and the bottom line being that the gospel is preached. Like wise regardless the denomination, it is good for The Lord to receive praise and worship. Sep 16, 2015 at 1:54
  • I observe that the term "body" used in NT as in "his body, which is the church," seems to consistently refer to the singular, universal "body", which is equated to the universal "church of God", while there are localized references to church, such as "the church at Corinth", and plural as in "the churches of Galatia". I don't find plural and/or local usages of "body" like "the bodies of Galatia". Not a big issue to use "body" as you want, just noting it doesn't seem to fit NT usage: "a church body of any size" struck me as awkward since NT seems to indicate only one body of universal size. Jul 18, 2022 at 22:28
  • @BobBlocher: Good point. When I use the word "body," I'm simply using the term in the 21st century usage and meaning of the word, as in " a group of individuals regarded as an entity; a corporation." (see the Free Dictionary). I could just as easily have used the term "local church" instead of "body." By the way, Paul does use the term "body" in a slightly different way in his explanation of spiritual gifts. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 12:12 ff., where Paul uses the metaphor of a physical body to describe the body of believers at Corinth. (I just used the word "body" to mean "group.") Jul 20, 2022 at 1:50
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The body of Christ is in no way a corporate entity.This is because a body corporate is found under a secular form of law and is not realized "in Christ", but rather, legally separated from the members as a CORPORATE "person" and etymologically derives it's usage from "corpse" or cadaver, see Black's law dict 5th. Christs body is in no way separated, it is when the believer places Christ back under the law that there remains no more sacrifice for sin,Hebrews 10:26. This separates the believer from attaining the merits of faith in Christ Gal 4:21. The principal rests in the spiritual state of Christs body in relation to "life" as this is not present in the corporate entity (the agreement under state indemnity is a willing decision on the believers part). Christs propitiation is only credited by faith unto righteousness Romans 4:24, and without faith it is impossible to please God Hebrews 11:6. Moreover, the believer operating under law without Christ as Head, remains unjustified as the necessity of obedience is no longer the result of faith in Christs work, but that of the secular legal system.Further study: Blacks Law 5th, a good Greek concordance and interlinear (if you don't know Greek).

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Yes, Paul explicitly decries denominations. "Denominating" relates to creating a sect with a name; a named sect, such as "Baptist" or "Calvinist." Paul gives several examples of named sects such as "Of Paul." Not that it was a name name but it was still an identifier of a personality cult, like "Lutheran."

Only scriptural identifiers are permitted, such as "Christian," or "The Israel of God," and by location, such as "The assembly at Ephesus" "The saints at Corinth" Etc.

Paul suggests that until Calvin dies for you, lose the name for your "ism".

Paul described the practice of denominating as "carnal" [motivated by the flesh] and the activity of "carnal" people.

[1Co 3:3-4 NASB95] [3] for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? [4] For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not [mere] men?

He suggests that the activity corrupts the Temple of God and that God will destroy such:

[1Co 3:16-18 NASB95] [16] Do you not know that you are a temple of God and [that] the Spirit of God dwells in you? [17] If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. [18] Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.

But not only are the names offensive, they are also inappropriate channels of control. A corporation like a Church:

  • owns the property
  • provides credentials to allow certain people to speak enforces dogmas

And a great many other things that are not taught in scripture.

But differences of opinion are inevitable. 1 Cor is written to address the proper way to handle such, which he calls "a more excellent way" (or rather, "a better approach [IE: to handling different opinions]").

What is the better approach? It is spelled out in 1 Cor 14:15 - to 1 Cor 14:40:

[1Co 14:15-40 NKJV] [15] What is [the conclusion] then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. [16] Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? [17] For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. [18] I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; [19] yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. [20] Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. [21] In the law it is written: "With [men of] other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me," says the Lord. [22] Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. [23] Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in [those who are] uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? [24] But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. [25] And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on [his] face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. [26] How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. [27] If anyone speaks in a tongue, [let there be] two or at the most three, [each] in turn, and let one interpret. [28] But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. [29] Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. [30] But if [anything] is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. [31] For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. [32] And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. [33] For God is not [the author] of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. [34] Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but [they are] to be submissive, as the law also says. [35] And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. [36] Or did the word of God come [originally] from you? Or [was it] you only that it reached? [37] If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. [38] But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. [39] Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. [40] Let all things be done decently and in order.

Note:

The words "the conclusion" and various other renderings in the English translations, were added, and miss the point. "What is it" refers to the his "better approach [to handling differences]," which involves reasonable sharing of the microphone, active listening and either rejecting it or taking it to heart; not starting a new, named sect.

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