Confronting and Correcting Carnal Cliques
Robert Wurtz II
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there is strife among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:10–12).
Carnality is the great enemy of Christianity. Carnality exists when Christians conduct themselves to reflect unbelievers rather than Christ (1 Corinthians 3:3). The carnality at Corinth developed into divisions or cliques among the church members. This factional attitude and discord led to strife within the church and is similar to the cliques (we might call them gangs if they were ruffians) we observed in junior high school. Whether they were snooty rich kids or trouble makers, they all maintained friendships that reveled in excluding people they hated (their enemies). In other words, the groups were devoid of real brotherly love. It caused strife in junior high school, and it causes strife in churches.
Despite their high-handed carnality, the saints at Corinth competed to see who was “the most spiritual” (as if it were a foot race). But neither God nor Paul was impressed. This behavior is why Paul told them that without love, their spiritual displays were nothing more than the discordant and obnoxious sounds of a clanging gong or cymbal. What is done under the guise of spirituality, could actually be earthly, sensual, and demonic activity. How can we tell? Because of the strife and discord that’s going on behind the scenes (James 3:13-15). Cabals, factions, coteries, and cells have no place in the churches.
To put this discordant behavior into modern terms, imagine holding a church event, and as predicted, nobody from “the clique” showed up to support. Why? Because they don’t support or help people that they hate and expect the clique’s members to fall in line. However, when a clique member holds an event, they show up in force. Either blind or careless to the fact that everyone sees what they are doing, the clique members log on to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and post all kinds of Christian memes or scripture verses to look spiritual. Sound familiar? There is nothing new under the sun. If God ever gags, that would cause it.
Paul told the Thessalonians, “But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9 KJV). Although the Spirit of God taught the Corinthians to express brotherly love, they completely misunderstood the true nature of spirituality. To be truly spiritual is to be Christ-like. That is to say, to do what Christ would do if He were you. Jesus could keep the peace between men such as Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Publican. In the absence of Christ, these men were mortal enemies. Jesus taught them to love each other despite their differing points of view. Nobody is spiritual unless they love their neighbor as themselves (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43-44, 22:39; Romans 13:9, et al.).
“I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, etc.,” were just a few of their symptoms of carnality. Like a festering wound, it oozed all kinds of toxic behaviors. Topping the list was this clique-type behavior that divided the church into competing groups rather than endeavoring to keep the unity of the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). James said that where bitter envy and strife exist, there is confusion and every evil work (James 3:16). The Devil is having a field day. The pastors may have tolerated or even participated in the behavior, but the apostle (Paul) confronted and ended it. That’s the difference in callings
Secondly, they misused the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This behavior stems from the mistaken idea that the Holy Spirit’s gifts are a sort-of measuring rod for spirituality or God’s approval. The Corinthians were “puffed-up,” from the Greek word phuo, meaning to cause conceit. The term is only used six times in the NT, and five of them are in 1 Corinthians. Instead, the Spirit’s gifts are for the “building up” (oikodomio) of the local church. The Corinthian’s individualistic and self-centered mishandling of the Spirit’s gifts made them a curse to the church (if you will) rather than a blessing.
Thirdly, some church members took other church members to secular courts rather than selecting a trusted person who could wisely judge disputes. Moses and the elders judged the people in ancient Israel, but the Corinthians went to Roman or local courts, embarrassing the church and bringing reproach on Christ.
Finally, some committed sexual immorality in the church in ways not seen among unbelievers. We need to ask, were these people prophesying and giving messages in tongues? Was this why the church overlooked their sin? Shockingly, in modern times, churches have overlooked all kinds of sexual immorality and drunkenness because a person was “prophetic.” Paul said the church was “puffed-up” and had not mourned. As then and now, these sinners destroy churches. Paul had no choice but to confront their lewd behavior because Corinth’s leaders wouldn’t do it.
Carnality Destroys Unity
Paul used the strongest terms to plead with the Corinthians for the unity of mind and judgment. A cursory reading of the epistle demonstrates that though they believed they were spiritual, they were carnal. Getting carnal people to see that they are carnal is difficult because they typically don’t take advice or tolerate correction. Weak leaders are usually intimidated by them and fear confronting them. Again, Paul in his apostolic authority dealt with issues that others tolerated or even participated in.
Carnally minded people behave contrary to what Christ teaches them in His word. The Corinthians backslid to the point that Paul could not speak to them as spiritual people (1 Corinthians 3:1). He had to use carnal (non-spiritual) illustrations the same as he used when preaching to unbelievers. Their condition was both disgraceful and disastrous. A carnal mind is at enmity with God and cannot be made subject to God. The cure for their problem was not to treat all these symptoms but to repent and get their hearts right with God.
Had Paul not written 1 Corinthians, the church at Corinth may have normalized bad behavior. Paul knew that he couldn’t allow this to happen. The way some of the saints were treating each other was utterly unacceptable. The church at Corinth was an environment where cliques had formed that excluded other church members from their circle of love. They had their reasons for doing it. Most of the time it’s because some leader expects their clique to isolate those who they don’t support and black balls those who do support them. How childish! In reality, they defrauded those people of the love and support they deserve (Romans 13:8). Paul dealt swiftly with this high-handed carnality.
There will be no unity until carnally-minded people repent and become truly spiritual. We attain unity by returning to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in all areas of our lives, especially among the saints. Jesus said we are to love one another and even to love our enemies. He leaves no room or excuse for treating one person with love and another person with neglect or contempt. God’s will is that we love one another with a pure heart fervently. It is the only hope. The alternative is complete strife, discord, and chaos. We can keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of perfectness, but we must determine we will live spiritual lives and avoid the carnal attitudes that put the church at Corinth at risk.