Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 27, 1969

The Sin Of Factionalism

Forrest D. Moyer

Throughout the New Testament factionalism is condemned. Various words are used to suggest the extent of the factionalism and the sinfulness thereof. By considering some of these words, we can understand the nature of it.

1. SECT from hairesis. Vine suggests that "it properly denotes a predilection for a particular truth, or for a perversion of one, generally with the expectation of personal advantage; hence a division and the formation of a party or sect in contrast to the uniting power of 'the truth' held in toto; a sect is a division developed and brought to an issue." (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary, Vol. III, p. 335)

Thayer gives five headings for the word. Among them he suggests : "3. that which is chosen, a chosen course of thought and action; hence one's chosen opinion, tenet; acc. to the context, an opinion varying from the true exposition of the Christian faith (heresy) ... 4. a body of men separating themselves from others and following their own tenets (a sect or party): as the Sadducees, Acts 5:17 ... 5. dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims: Gal. 5:20; 1 Cor. 11:19." (Thayer, p. 16)

It is obvious that whatever falls into this category is sinful and those who persist therein shall not go to Heaven. Please observe the thoughts that are suggested by this word:

a. When one chooses an opinion or tenet that is either not in the truth or that is an extreme application of some principle and presses that point to the pulling away of a group, he has become guilty of factionalism.

b. The resulting group is a sect of division developed and brought to an issue. It is a dissension that has arisen from diversity of opinions and aims. How many times have congregations been divided because of such as this. Many times gospel preachers are alienated because of this very spirit. These things ought not so to be. If every Christian would do all in his power to avoid this party spirit, we could help to curb factionalism in the church.

What can we do? First, let us never press an opinion beyond what it is — simply an opinion. Let us not isolate some truth and build our whole teaching around that — this, too, could develop into factionalism. Secondly, let us warn those who begin traveling a course that is conducive to this factionalism. Sometimes one begins to press his opinions without realizing that he is doing so. He must be warned lest he lead others into the sin of division. Let us be faithful in studying our Bibles, so that we might know the truth and then plant our feet firmly on that truth. Let us turn neither to the right nor to the left. We dare not lose our souls through the sin of factionalism.

2. FACTION from erithia. Vine says that erithia "denotes ambition, self-seeking, rivalry, self-will being an underlying idea in the word; hence it denotes party-making." (Vol. II, p. 68.) Thayer says that "in the N. T. a courting distinction, a desire to put one's self forward, a partisan and factious spirit which does not disdain low arts; partisanship, factiousness: Jas. 3:14, 16, Phil. 2:3 (p. 249).

Perhaps the idea suggested by Thayer is one of the most prolific sources of factionalism — "a desire to put one's self forward." Human ambition — a desire to be recognized as outstanding — has led many to actions that make parties or factions. Some want to be champions and resort to "low arts" and partisanship in order to attain such. Their preaching and writings are designed to achieve the image they have in mind. They do not hesitate to cut down a brother or to create doubts about him in the mind of brethren. It is a course of factionalism.

Meyer suggests that the word erithia carries the thought of "desire of intrigue, pursuit of partisan courses." (Comment of Rom. 2:8). The word is found in such passages as 2 Cor. I 2:20: Gal. 5:20; and James 3:14, 16. There are some church members who definitely fall into this category. They have a "desire for intrigue." Their interest is always in some new thing. Having found something which they think is new or unique, they then "pursue partisan courses" in their exploitation of the "intriguing" doctrine. Consequently, a faction arises from this course. The church is divided; souls are lost; Satan howls with glee. Clearly it is sinful to be guilty of factionalism.

3. DIVISION from dichostasia. Vine says that this means, "lit. a standing apart." (Vol. I, p. 329) The word indicates a division in its completed form and some are thus "standing apart" from others.

Here we see even more the result of the factional thinking suggested in our previous studies. The desire of putting one's self forward, the making of opinion into law — these foster the standing apart. It is tragic but true that brethren are too often standing apart over trivialities — things that do not affect the worship, organization, or purity of the church. At most these might affect the individual. Why have a "standing apart" over such things? This division is sinful and damning.

When clashes come between brethren, each so often has his following. Friends and others rally to support someone involved and to the opposition of those on the "other side." Splits and factions follow. Motives are impugned; the honesty of others is called in question; name-calling and abusive language is heard. This is factionalism! It is a work of the flesh just as much so as fornication and adultery. It leads men to damnation.

Brethren, the place to cut off division is before it ever reaches such a stage as a "standing apart." Let us resolve to teach only God's word — that and nothing more. But let us also maintain the proper disposition as we do so.

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