Dissension in the Body of Christ.

Bible Study with Jairus – 1 Corinthians 4

Rivalry in the Church. In 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul urged the Corinthians not to idolize him or his coworker, Apollos. Paul said, “I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.” As I read this passage, the Holy Spirit highlighted the words puffed up. Why did Paul say that the Corinthians who picked sides, favoring Paul or Apollos, were puffed up?

In politics, we often see one politician exalt another for his own personal gain. Those who exalt others usually have ulterior motives. Their purpose is to use the people they exalt to achieve their goals.

Unfortunately, such scenarios also exist in the church. People who exalt others in the church often use the people they exalt to increase their own influence. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:11-12, “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’”

Paul pointed out that there was rivalry between the Corinthian believers. These rivalries stem from the flesh. Paul clearly states in Galatians 5:20 that rivalry is an act of the flesh.

What is the purpose of a rivalry? The purpose of a rivalry is to pursue leadership, authority and influence. The people who were rivals in the Corinthian church were not really trying to exalt Paul and Apollos, but to gain their own influence. Paul and Apollos were just tools in their hands.

Stages of Church Decline. Why did some Corinthians exalt Paul and Apollos to advance their own status? To answer this question, we need to cite a pastor Ernest B. Gentile. In his book, Your Sons & Daughters Shall Prophesy: Prophetic Gifts in Ministry Today, he analyzed the famous German sociologist Ernst Troeltsch’s theory of the degradation of the church. Based on his own experience, he proposed his own research on the “model of the degradation of the church.” This model includes four stages.

The first stage is “an aggressive sect.” At this stage, the leaders of the first generation of churches or denominations are usually very focused on God’s mission and actively devote themselves selflessly to the Lord. The leaders and believers of the first generation are also full of energy. Leaders of the first generation often have prophetic guidance. They create new churches and are actively committed to correcting the mistakes of the past churches, purifying the ranks of believers, and actively playing the role of the church in society. There is often external persecution, but the persecution does not restrict them but instead makes them work even harder. The church achieves great growth and the number of people increases. The church achieves widespread gospel influence.

The second stage is“ an evangelistic movement.” At this stage, the church continues to expand and multiply. Not only do they maintain their enthusiasm for the gospel, but they also continue to maintain their uniqueness in preaching of the truth. This is a period of consolidation. Because the ministry has expanded, it is necessary to establish a certain organizational structure for management. After such an organizational structure is established, it gradually loses the flexibility of the first generation and instead relies mostly on organizations and institutions for management. At this time, prophetic experiences begin to become less common. Through the efforts of the first and second generations, vivid spiritual experiences and practices gradually morph into sectarian rules and traditions.

The third stage is “a recognized denomination.” People of the first generation usually lack a management structure. The management structure established by the second generation has begun to help the church or denomination continue to grow, but in the third stage, it will become a limit to the growth and spiritual vitality of the church. The church and believers begin to lose the enthusiasm of the first generation and begin to be more influenced by the world. At first, the church attached great importance to paying attention to the poor, but now the church and believers have become rich and gradually forget this mission. The church begins to focus on more academic and theological teaching and begins to ignore the use and practice of gifts. At this time, prophetic words and gifts begin to be gradually ignored. The church pays more attention to knowledge and reason.

The fourth stage is “A Spiritless Monument.” In the fourth stage, the church slowly becomes a monument to the glory of the past, and the spiritual reality has been lost. Believers do not know and desire God as the believers did in the beginning. The church’s interest in the gospel and ministry has also gradually declined. The Holy Spirit gradually loses any freedom, so the Holy Spirit leaves this church. The church continues to operate according to tradition and organization.

Ernest B. Gentile said that this cycle has been operating throughout the history of the church. After the fourth stage, the Holy Spirit will raise up a new apostolic church movement and start the cycle all over again. Because new wine can’t be put into old wineskins and new spiritual movements often contain new wine, believers in traditional churches begin to leave the traditional church to seek the richness of God.[1]

The Arrogance of the Corinthian Church

Although Ernest B. Gentile’s observations apply to current-day Charismatic and Prophetic churches, the insights may apply to many churches, and even to Paul’s ministry. Paul and Apollos were the first leaders of the Corinthian church. They both served in the Corinthian church. But the Corinthian church faced a difficulty: Paul and Apollos were not present in the church as permanent pastors.

We don’t know who the pastor or leader of the Corinthian church was. But because Paul and Apollos were no longer there, nobody had enough authority to make others obey. Therefore, there were different leaders trying to exalt Paul and Apollos, using Paul and Apollos to establish their own leadership in the church. Fortunately, after Paul learned of these circumstances, he promptly wrote a letter to correct the situation. But we know that his letter did not prevent the eventual decline of the church. Perhaps the fall of the Corinthian church was delayed because of Paul’s intervention. But in his later years, Paul said that all the Asian churches had abandoned him (2 Timothy 1:15).

One of the difficulties of the Corinthian church is that Paul was not there. Paul even mentioned that “Some are arrogant as though I were not coming to you.” (1 Corinthians 4:18). Here Paul clearly pointed out that the reason why some people are “arrogant” is that they think Paul will not go to the Corinthian church. A Chinese proverb says, “When there are no great tigers in the deep mountains, even a monkey can become king.” This proverb describes the situation in the Corinthian church very well. Since Paul was gone, sin and rivalry were running rampant. “When the cat’s away, the mice can play.”

Paul said in verse 19, “But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.” In this book, the word “arrogant” is used three times (verses 6, 18, and 19). This shows that Paul was very concerned about their arrogance. God wants to teach us something through this word.

Why are these people arrogant? Rodney Hogue, a teacher in the “Deliverance Ministries,” will answer this question very well in his commentary on 1 John 2: 12-14. These verses say, “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”

Rodney Hogue said that from a spiritual perspective, there are three types of people in the church: children, young people, and old people. Older people are the spiritual fathers. They know the God who has existed from the beginning. What they care about is knowing God and who he is. To them, “being” is more important than “doing.” They will never be jealous of the spiritual progress of young people and children, but are instead happy for them.

Young people are those who have overcome evil to a certain extent. They are strong, know the word of God, and eagerly hope to do something for God. But their weak point is their jealousy when they see the progress of other children. They are not fathers, but elder brothers. They will be jealous of younger believers’ progress. They resemble the older brother in Luke 15 who was jealous of the prodigal son. These kinds of people are characterized by an active desire to do things for God, and they care about their ministry (doing).

The third type of person is a child. On the one hand, they simply trust the Heavenly Father. Because their sins have recently been forgiven, they urgently need the love of their spiritual brothers, and to be fed by their spiritual parents. They are characterized by the need to humbly accept spiritual offerings (receiving). Rodney Hogue said that the church needs spiritual fathers. Unfortunately, the church is full of spiritual brothers but lacks spiritual parents. On the one hand, these elder brothers are a little more spiritually advanced than the children, but they are often jealous of others because their lives have not matured into the mindset of spiritual parents. Many pastors and even elders are still at the level of elder brothers.

The situation in the Corinthian church resembles the plight of many modern churches. Why are some people arrogant? They are spiritual young adults. On the one hand, they aspire to be leaders of the church and accomplish more for God. But when they encounter opposition and interference from others, there will be rivalry. When they see that others also want to be leaders, they will feel jealous.

Paul knew their situation well. Paul longed for them to grow into spiritual parents. He knew that the way to become spiritual leaders was to help the Corinthians mature into spiritual fathers. Paul said, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:14-16)

Paul knew that the growth of the church required leaders, but the creation of leaders required maturity. The church leader must be a spiritual father, not a spiritual young person who will rival and contradict others at every turn. Paul was a spiritual father, so he said, “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!” (1 Corinthians 4:8) Although Paul was mocking them, Paul’s heart really yearned for them like a father who had matured into spiritual life and reigned in a glorified spiritual abundance.

However, the lives of the rival Corinthian believers had not matured to this point. On the contrary, they were young people. Paul used himself as an example to let the Corinthians learn how to be a spiritual father.

He also sent Timothy to the Corinthian church. Paul specifically mentioned, “That is why I sent you Timothy my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4: 17). Timothy would follow Paul’s example as a spiritual father. Therefore, Paul’s purpose in sending Timothy to the Corinthian church was to get them on the path to becoming spiritual leaders. He wanted them to imitate himself, just as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Living in God’s Power

When Paul talked about arrogant people in verses 19-20, he evaluated their spiritual power, rather than just looking at their words. Paul said, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

A man asked, “What does power mean here?” In my personal opinion, the power includes the power to cure the sick and cast out demons, but that is not the only power in view here. The real power lies in being able to give birth to other believers, just as Paul gave birth to the Corinthian church in Christ. Abraham’s power lay in his ability to have as many descendants as the stars in the sky, and our power lies in fathering spiritual children.

I grew up in rural China, where we often dried food on the roof. We would tie a rope to a bucket so we could lift the grain to the roof. This task requires a lot of power. When I was a child, I didn’t have enough muscle power to pull it up, and I needed to ask an adult to help me.

The Local Church Movement (LCM) often uses this metaphor to explain how you should not marry unbelievers because the Bible teaches that believers and unbelievers should not work closely together (2 Corinthians 6:14). A close association with an unbeliever could pull you down into sin, rather than pulling the other person up to salvation.

To illustrate, one man would stand on a chair, and another man would stand on the ground. One man tried to pull the other off the chair, and the other tried to pull the man up onto the chair. As a result, the person standing on the ground tended to pull down the person standing on the chair.

The person who gave this example said that it is very difficult for us to lift people up spiritually, but it is very easy to be dragged down by the world and sin. When two people get married, if one is an unbeliever, it is difficult for you to pull the other into belief, but the other person can easily pull you into unbelief. This is a good analogy.

In the same way, the real power lies in removing yourself from the attraction of possessions, the temptation of physical sin, and the uncleanness of the soul and life. Remove yourself from influences that will complicate your journey to heaven.

You can only lead someone to a place you’ve been yourself. If you’re living in intimate fellowship with God (as if you were in the Holy of Holies), you can bring others with you into God’s presence. If you’re living at a distance from God (as if you were in the outer court), you can only bring people into the Outer Court.

Therefore, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4 demonstrate great power. He not only pointed out the spiritual problems of the Corinthian church, but also regarded himself as an exemplary spiritual father. He told the Corinthians that they must become spiritual fathers like himself in order to become the spiritual leaders of the church.

Becoming the spiritual leader of the church does not lie in exalting Paul or Apollos, but in the maturity of your own life. If your life is mature enough to resemble Apollos, you will have Apollos’ authority. If your life is as mature as Paul’s, you will have Paul’s spiritual authority. The true power comes from the spiritual authority we receive from God after we mature in the spiritual life.

The book of 2 Corinthians tells us that the Corinthians repented and worried over their downfall, and Paul comforted them himself. This tells us that Paul’s message to the church did its job and was effective. Later, the church in Asia rejected Paul, but the Corinthian church did not reject Paul.

Parallels in Today’s Church.

While studying this passage, a man asked, “What is the state of the church today? Is today’s divided church puffed up, as well? Do you see situations in our current church today that mirror the situation in 1 Corinthians 4?” I said, “Yes, I do.”

In the church where I was saved, I saw Ernest B. Gentile’s principles at work. The first generation of leaders experienced many struggles, and the second generation became more established. However, in the third generation, rules and regulations inevitably entered the church and slowly hindered the work of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, some people began to seek more guidance from the Holy Spirit. Because of this situation, I began to study in the Charismatic Movement and the Prophetic Movement. Once I got in touch with the Charismatic Movement and the Prophetic Movement, I learned that the Holy Spirit has a lot of freedom among them and has done a lot of things.

According to Ernest B. Gentile, when the leaders of the second or third generation of churches are not trying their best to open themselves to the Holy Spirit’s prophetic guidance, people will lack the manifestation of the authority and power of God. This makes it difficult to establish trust in the church.

At this time, the leaders of the second or third generation will hold high some of the views or propositions of the leaders of the first generation. On the one hand, it solidifies the teaching of the first generation of leaders, but on the other hand, they use it to establish their own authority. Because they cannot get fresh prophetic revelation from the Holy Spirit and direct authority from God, their authority is often based on the inheritance and consolidation of the teachings of the first generation of leaders. Furthermore, they usually don’t dare to break the restrictions taught by the first generation of leaders. Thus, they lack the ability to create a major breakthrough in the future. This pattern is not only found in the Charismatic and Prophet Movements as observed by Ernest B. Gentile, but also in many different denominations.

In addition to difficulties within a sect, there are often disagreements between sects. The struggles of different factions within denominations are often not necessarily known to outsiders. But the struggles between denominations are easily visible to the world. Struggles within churches and groups are often concealed in the name of unity. However, the struggles between sects can be seen by the world.

Both are from the flesh. Different denominations are like different brothers in the body of Christ. One group said that they belonged to Paul, and the other said that they belonged to Apollos. The struggle in the Corinthian church represents a struggle within a church, but the struggle between denominations represents an internal struggle with the universal church.

Imagine Paul speaking not only to the Corinthian church, but to the entire body of Christ. Imagine that the Apostle John was not speaking to the fathers, young people, and children in one particular church, but to the fathers, young people, and children in the entire body of Christ. We can see that the situation of the global church is similar to that of the Corinthian church. There are not many people who are truly fathers like Paul was. Most of them are young people or children. The problem with young people is that they cannot accept others. But spiritual parents can accept others. The brother in Luke 15 could not accept the prodigal brother, but his father was able to accept the return of the prodigal son.

Our God is our Father. Every snowflake he created is different. Everyone has a unique call from God. Every sect is born out of a truth received from God that the group adheres to. None of us are complete without our fellow believers. When we criticize each other and condemn other denominations, we make our Heavenly Father sad, just as the rivalry within the Corinthian church made Paul, their spiritual father, sad.

The Chinese church has experienced similar dissension. Many evangelical pastors, such as Pastor Stephen Tong, fight against the Local Church Movement (LCM), and neither Chinese evangelical churches nor LCM churches accept Charismatic churches. My personal study in both the LCM churches and the Charismatic churches, as well as my contact with churches under Tong’s influence, has shown me that the teaching and practice of the LCM would be very helpful to ordinary Chinese churches and Charismatic churches. The LCM can provide insight into the importance of life maturity and spiritual practice, which can help many believers in the Chinese evangelical churches and Charismatic churches to grow up spiritually. In addition, the practice of Charismatic churches can inject more vitality into the LCM and other evangelical churches, giving them more freedom in the Spirit and keeping them from dying.

Because Tong strongly criticized the LCM and Charismatic churches, many believers were unable to learn the truth from these two groups. In addition, the LCM refused to accept the baptism of the Holy Spirit and tongues. They have not accepted God’s work in other churches, especially Charismatic churches. Charismatic churches have weaknesses of their own. They generally tend to be immature and place too much emphasis on miracles and marvels, lacking pastoral teaching on the deeper spiritual life.

We should be eager to humble ourselves and learn from each other. God’s calling for our time is to bring together different denominations and sects. As we come together, we can learn from each other’s strengths.

Another controversy in today’s church is the Hyper Grace Gospel. Many evangelical Chinese churches in China strongly oppose the Hyper Grace Gospel. A woman who studied the Bible with us was deeply hurt by legalism in her evangelical church. She said that her church taught her that she must always condemn herself for not repenting enough and not working hard enough. It was very painful for her to condemn herself over all those years.

As a result, she found that Pastor Joseph Prince and his message on the Gospel of Grace helped her. Joseph Prince is often accused of being the leader of the Hyper Grace Gospel. It’s true that some believers go to extremes, overemphasizing grace and ignoring the law of God. However, the reason the Hyper Grace Gospel has become so popular in China is that in many traditional churches, legalism prevails. For believers who have been wounded by legalism, it is particularly easy to accept the teachings of the Hyper Grace Gospel. Because many evangelical churches in China have legalistic tendencies, the message of the Hyper Grace Gospel is like a cool breeze on a summer day for believers who have suffered from legalism.

This controversy has caused internal disputes in many churches, causing many church members to become estranged. The backlash from the church has been fierce, condemning the Hyper Grace Gospel as heresy.

But there is something commendable in the Hyper Grace Gospel, especially for believers who have been harmed by legalism. The Hyper Grace Gospel finds fertile ground for spreading widely in China. To a certain extent, this is due to God’s desire to correct the mistakes of legalism.

Joseph Prince also had a great influence among American Charismatics. Therefore, some Charismatic leaders have begun to worry. For example, a Charismatic and Jewish spiritual leader in the United States, Michael L. Brown, raised concerns that the Hyper Grace Gospel was preaching the grace of God too much and ignoring the law of God. Therefore, he proposed a peaceful meeting with Joseph, and the two men had a genuine dialogue. But I don’t know whether their dialogue had any specific positive effects.

Personally, I believe that the message of the Hyper Grace Gospel will be helpful to a person whose strict basic theological training has focused on legalism and external behavior. It will not cause them too much harm, because they need this strong correction to the teachings they’ve heard all their lives. But believers who have not received strict basic theological teachings will be more prone to extremes if exposed to the Hyper Grace Gospel.

There is an extreme example of the Hyper Grace Gospel circulating on the Internet. I have no way to know if it is true or not, but I have heard many similar reports among Chinese Christians. The Facebook post reads: “Now the Hyper Grace Gospel from Singapore has flooded China. They believe that once they are saved, they can never lose their salvation. There is nothing wrong with sin. A female Christian who keeps having an affair talked to a pastor, and the pastor asked her to repent. She told him that according to the teachings of the Hyper Grace Gospel she had received, this is not a sin. Even the Gentiles know that immorality is a shame! The Hyper Grace proponents regard Jesus as a consumer product, giving them heaven for free without holiness and repentance. It’s a highway that leads straight to hell.” [2]

People who have heard the Hyper Grace Gospel first-hand have told me similar stories. I don’t believe that Joseph Prince truly teaches these extremes, but some of his followers excessively expanded the grace element of the gospel and ignored the teaching about repentance and confession of sin.

We must look at the Hyper Grace Gospel in a balanced way. The Hyper Grace Gospel is like any other movement. If it is not from God, it will not gain much traction. But Satan tries to destroy God-given movements by pushing their teaching to extremes, thereby stigmatizing these practices. This is Satan’s, usual trick and it is called the Straw Man Fallacy.

Let me give another example of this tactic. Witness Lee, the leader of the Local Church Movement where I was saved, advocated “calling on the Lord’s name.” The practice of calling on the name of the Lord helped believers pray by meditating on the name of the Lord. This is a very good spiritual exercise, and I have benefited a lot from it.

But the enemy has tried to destroy this movement by raising up people in mainland China who twisted Witness Lee’s teaching. Some heretical groups in China stole this practice. Instead of calling on the name of the Lord, they call on the name of “Witness Lee” as if he were a god. This is not Witness Lee’s teaching or the LCM. The enemy has harmfully distorted this practice in order to discredit it. Unfortunately, because of the enemy’s destruction, not only the practice of “calling on the Lord’s name” was stigmatized, but the LCM and Witness Lee were also stigmatized.

Similarly, the Hyper Grace Gospel may contain truth from God’s word, as well as areas that need to be corrected. Believers who support the Hyper Grace Gospel, believers who oppose the Hyper Grace Gospel, and the church as a whole need to be humble enough to dialogue with one other. In some places, these conflicts are already very intense. Those who oppose the Hyper Grace Gospel call the Hyper Grace Gospel heresy. But perhaps those people should reflect on the legalism of the church. Believers of the Hyper Grace Gospel should also reflect on how to avoid the extremes shown in the above examples.

Instead, the two parties who support and oppose the Hyper Grace Gospel have become emotional and are unable to resolve the contradiction. Like in the Corinthian church, the modern church struggles with rivalry and division. Remember, when believers are immature, they will experience these contradictions and rivalries. True spiritual fathers imitate Paul, who can look at problems from different perspectives.

On the one hand, Paul was able to accept weak believers, and on the other hand, he was able to feel joy in seeing believers’ progress. We must also look at this issue from both perspectives. Too much emphasis on grace and too much emphasis on the law are both wrong aspects. Legalism will harm believers and prevent them from fully realizing God’s grace in Christ; the extreme Hyper Grace Gospel also hurts believers, preventing believers from understanding God’s holiness and strict discipline. These two aspects of truth need to be held in balance.

[1] [1] Ernest B Gentile, Your Sons & Daughters Shall Prophesy-Prophetic Gifts in Ministry Today, (Chosen Books, Grand Rapids, MI), 1999, 247-249

[2] https://www.facebook.com/godjesusloveme/posts/2371476159599706/