Factions

Psalm 133 says how good it is for brothers and sisters to live in unity. And we know we desire such unity in our churches. However, we don’t often experience it. What’s wrong? Why can’t we all get along? The apostle Paul addressed such a situation in the early church at Corinth:

…In the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 English Standard Version (ESV)

There must be factions? What is Paul saying here? John Calvin dissects these verses:

When ye come together in the Church, I hear there are divisions …It is…a reproof of a general kind — that they were not of one accord as [is fitting for] Christians, but everyone was so much taken up with [their] own interests, that [they were] not prepared to accommodate [themselves] to others.

Hence arose that abuse, as to which we shall see in a little — hence sprung ambition and pride, so that everyone exalted [themselves] and despised others — hence sprung carelessness as to edification — hence sprung profanation of the gifts of God.

Sounds unfortunately familiar. Calvin points out that Paul realizes not all are involved but the complaint isn’t groundless:

{Paul] says that he partly believes it, that they might not think that he charged them all with this heinous crime, and might accordingly complain, that they were groundlessly accused. In the meantime, however, he intimates that this had been brought to him not by mere vague rumor, but by credible information, such as he could not altogether discredit.

Calvin then defines heresies and schisms:

For there must be also heresies …Heresy…consists in disagreement as to doctrine, and schism, on the contrary, in alienation of affection, as when anyone withdrew from the Church from envy, or from dislike of the pastors, or from ill nature.

It is true, that the Church cannot but be torn asunder by false doctrine, and thus heresy is the root and origin of schism, and it is also true that envy or pride is the mother of almost all heresies, but at the same time it is of advantage to distinguish in this way between these two terms…

Calvin consoles those who do not participate in these divisions:

“So far, says he, should we be from being troubled, or cast down, when we do not see complete unity in the Church, but on the contrary some threatenings of separation from want of proper agreement, that even if sects should start up, we ought to remain firm and constant.

For in this way hypocrites are detected — in this way, on the other hand, the sincerity of believers is tried. For as this gives occasion for discovering the fickleness of those who were not rooted in the Lord’s Word, and the wickedness of those who had [feigned] the appearance of good men, so the good afford a more signal manifestation of their constancy and sincerity.”

Finally, Calvin says something shocking: disunity is providential. How can that be? He says:

But observe what Paul says — there must be, for he [suggests] by this expression, that this state of matters does not happen by chance, but by the sure providence of God, because he has it in view to try his people, as gold in the furnace, and if it is agreeable to the mind of God, it is, consequently, expedient…We know, also, that the Lord, by his admirable wisdom, turns Satan’s deadly machinations so as to promote the salvation of believers.

Hence comes that design of which he speaks — that the good may shine forth more conspicuously; for we ought not to ascribe this advantage to heresies, which, being evil, can produce nothing but what is evil, but to God, who, by his infinite goodness, changes the nature of things, so that those things are salutary to the elect, which Satan had contrived for their ruin.

So God uses the works of Satan and his followers for our good, to refine us and to prove our salvation. As a result of this, we ought to remain firm and constant obeying God’s word in the face of disunity.

Denomination Blues” (Washington Phillips) by The 77’s Unplugged (Michael Roe & David Leonhardt), YouTube, Alternative Rendition, lyrics, history

Christ’s Human Nature

Sadly, if the scriptures can be twisted, they will be twisted. Folks, one thousand five hundred sixty-five years ago, met to work out a concise statement of the Lord Jesus Christ’s humanity based on the scriptures because several heresies were then circulating that led people astray. Phillip Schaff presents the text in its entirety:

Following the holy Fathers we teach with one voice that the Son [of God] and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same [Person], that he is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and [human] body consisting, consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood; made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted; begotten of his Father before the worlds according to his Godhead; but in these last days for us men and for our salvation born [into the world] of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God according to his manhood.

This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably [united], and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person and subsistence, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Prophets of old time have spoken concerning him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ hath taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers hath delivered to us.

In passing, note that John MacArthur offers some insight to this creedal statement.

Four hundred eighty years ago, John Calvin reflected on such attacks on Christ’s humanity in his Institutes. His proof text was:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 English Standard Version (ESV)

And a brief excerpt from Calvin’s comments states:

And the [Word] was made flesh. …The plain meaning…is, that the [Word] begotten by God before all ages, and who always dwelt with the Father, was made man [at the incarnation]. On this [point] there are chiefly two things to be observed. [First], that two natures were so united in one Person in Christ, that one and the same Christ is true God and true man. [Second], that the unity of person does not hinder the two natures from remaining distinct, so that his Divinity retains all that is peculiar to itself, and his humanity holds separately whatever belongs to it.

And, therefore, as Satan has made a variety of foolish attempts to overturn sound doctrine by heretics, he has always brought forward one or another of these two errors; either that he was the Son of God and the Son of man in so confused a manner, that neither his Divinity remained entire, nor did he wear the true nature of man; or that he was clothed with flesh, so as to be as it were double, and to have two separate persons.

Sadly, too, Christ’s human nature is being attacked in our time. The Presbyterian clergyman, John Flavel, gave a sermon three hundred forty-five years ago that has bearing on the current attack:

To explicate this mystery more particularly, let it be considered;

First, the human nature was united to the second person [of the Godhead] miraculously and extraordinarily, being supernaturally framed in the womb of the Virgin, by the overshadowing power of the Highest… Luke 1: 34, 35

Secondly, Christ took a complete and perfect human soul and body, with all and every faculty and member pertaining to it. And this was necessary…that thereby he might heal the whole nature of that leprosy of sin, which has seized and infected every member and faculty…

Thirdly, He assumed our nature, as with all its integral parts, so with all its sinless infirmities… [Christ did] not assume our innocent nature, as it was in Adam before the fall…but after sin had…defaced, ruined, and spoiled it… Heb. 2:17, 4:15; Rom. 8:3

Fourthly, [Christ’s] human nature is so united with the divine, as that each nature still retains its own essential properties distinct… The divine and human are not confounded; but a line of distinction runs betwixt them still in this wonderful person…

Fifthly, the union of the two natures in Christ, as an inseparable union; so that from the first moment thereof, there never was, nor to eternity shall be, any separation of them…This hypostatical union remained even [through His death] as entire and firm as ever: for, though his soul and body were divided from each other, yet neither of them from the divine nature…

…And thus you are to form and regulate your conceptions of this great mystery.

Christ’s incarnation is a wonderful truth from the scriptures, repeatedly attacked over the centuries to the present day, that must be defended, upheld, and celebrated.

Stephen Nichols and R.C. Sproul: The Ligonier Statement on Christology, Mar 2, 2016, Ligonier Ministries