The Party Spirit
Not a few today are addicted and obsessed with party going. T-shirts with the statement "I am a party animal" reflect such fascination. However, I want to draw attention to another type of party syndrome, the party fixation among God's people (I Cor. 1: 10-13).
Denominationalism is essentially the practice of people rallying around men. Martin Luther's plea, "I ask that men make no reference to my name, and call themselves not Lutherans " has gone unheeded (see "Quotations," party names). Without party loyalty, denominationalism would cease to exist. The party syndrome among religious people at large has blinded their eyes regarding the "one faith" and "one body" plainly taught in the scriptures (Eph. 4: 5, 4).
Worse still, cliques and parties among Christians are too common. We sometimes forget that all the teaching addressing cliques is directed to God's people (I Cor. 1: 10-13, 3: 1-7, Jn. 17: 20, 21, etc.). The action of many at Corinth is a perfect example of the party fixation: "Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas " (I Cor. 1: 12). The situation at Corinth was so bad and reprehensible that Paul actually said, "I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius" (Vs. 14). Even the apostle John manifested the party spirit when he forbade the disciple "because he followeth not us" (Mk. 9: 38). This disciple was teaching and practicing the truth but simply because he did not physically join the twelve, John believed him to be wrong (Mk. 9: 38-40).
The years of preaching the gospel and working with local churches have taught me that we have an excessive amount of factions in the lord's church. Parties are indeed factions. Faction or strife (erithia) is defined as, "self-seeking, rivalry hence, denotes partymaking" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Paul feared there would still be some of the party spirit remaining when he arrived at Corinth (2 Cor. 12: 20, "strifes," KJV, erithia). The clique syndrome is a work of the flesh and an evident sign of carnality (Gal. 5: 20, I Cor. 3: 3-5).
The sinfulness of parties within the church. There is no doubt about the sinfulness of factions and groups rallying around their leaders (I Cor. 3: 1-5). Allow me to suggest some specific features of partyism which exemplify the spiritual repulsion of such activity.
The party fixation prevents real allegiance to Christ. "I am of Paul" mindset precludes dedication to Christ (I Cor. 1: 12, 13). "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake," Paul wrote (2 Cor. 4: 5).
Parties are a prolific cause of infantilism. In the environment of cliques there is prevailing spiritual retardation (I Cor. 3: 1, 2). Clique members, you see, do not study for themselves, at least, not objectively. What study they do is for the confirmation of their party's beliefs. The party leader(s) informs them what to believe.
Parties are conducive to all manner of sin. Notice the presence of different sinful attitudes and practices in the climate of strife (partyism) in the case of Corinth (I Cor. 3: 3, 1: 10, 11-15). "For where envying and strife (erithia, dm) is," James wrote, "there is confusion and every evil work" (Jas. 3: 16). Marshall translates erithia as "rivalry" (Interlinear Greek-English New Testament). In view of the stringent language of the apostle Paul, it is evident that faction members are lost (I Cor. 3: 10-15).
Indications of the clique spirit among the Lord's people. Some never see anything because of cowardice (I Thes. 5: 3). Nonetheless, parties prevail in many "segments" and "areas" of God's people. Parties often form around schools and "brotherhood magazines." In the early eighties a leading and recruiting staff writer of a "brotherhood paper" approached me. "We are gathering up all the preachers we can and if you do not join us, we will view you as an enemy and we have a lot of influence, Don, for or against you," were his exact words as he urged me to join them. Some brethren have to wait until they can attend the lectures at Florida College (I still use the old name) in order to see what stand to take on various issues. They are not using the lectures as a study opportunity but to see who among the party leaders are taking which positions. I know this for a fact because I have had different preachers and members tell me this (they were not joking because I questioned them). Young, aspiring preachers are told by some, "you must attend Florida College to make the necessary contacts in order to succeed in preaching." (When finished reading this article, consider: "The Guardian of Truth Foundation and Florida College".)
I could not begin to tell you how many times certain brethren, upon seeing my independence, have told me, "you must align, you cannot make it in preaching otherwise!" I have felt the sting of the political whip of all our cliques on many occasions, but so what? I have asked some preachers as to when they formed certain convictions on specific issues only to find out it was when they joined their particular group. Yes, parties exist and are reigning throughout the brotherhood. Any who deny this are either isolated, blind, a party member themselves, or a party leader. "You have to have the backing and following before you take a stand," I have been told on numerous occasions. Such is the language of the party spirit. Such a philosophy also breeds partyism.
Of course, the apostle Paul was no stranger to this organized group rivalry (Phili. 1: 15, 16, "strife," erithia). He himself was the object of their throat cutting and marking (Ibid.). You see, Paul shunned such infantile practices and was an outsider. Appreciate the fact that the preachers to whom Paul alludes were preachers in the church during the First Century.
The prevention and remedy for the clique mentality. We need strong leaders in churches and throughout the brotherhood who take a firm stand and boldly challenge all (not just the party's declared object of attack) false doctrine. I also know that one can be used as a party leader without their endorsement (I Cor. 1, 3). Friendships, family, and school affiliation must not be allowed to dictate our stands, beliefs, and loyalties. Schools, magazines, and influential brethren must constantly guard against becoming a party source. Brethren need to become more independent of style and position deciding influences among us. We must look to Jesus, not a party or any man (Jn. 8: 24, Heb. 12: 2). There also desperately needs to be more plain teaching on the subject of the party spirit, identifying, exposing, and challenging it.
In conclusion: "A factious man (hairetikos, called 'the synonymous adjective by Vine, dm) after a first and second admonition refuse; knowing that such a one is perverted, and sinneth, being self-condemned" (Tit. 3: 10, 11, ASV). We must cultivate the ability to see and address men who seek to establish a following among us and defeat their efforts. Alas, so many seem to be totally devoid of this ability. (For more insight, please read "A Forgotten Verse, I Corinthians 11: 19")