The First Division in the Church

Ephraim Venn

Part 2 of 2 of the series The FirstDivision in the Church

In the first portion of this article the writer demonstrated by careful exam­ination of John's 3rd Epistle how sad division In the church arose even In the days of the Apostle John. He proceeds to show that the root cause of such division in our own day, as also then, is the activity of unjudged self.

We must now look at the formation of a new company, designated by the word " them." " I wrote unto the church, but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them, receiveth us not."  Here we have a particular church emerging from common church ground, and occupying a new and altogether unique position. A company is formed, claiming to be " the Assembly of God," and disclaiming all saints who are not of their fellowship.

A clear distinction was made, in John's first epistle, between " the children of God " and " the children of the devil " ; on one side were those who were " of God," and on the other, " the whole world lying in the wicked one " ; but here a third company rises up, not out of the world, but out of the church, who deliberately separate them­selves from those who are " of God," and glory in doing so. An inner circle is formed, having a particular basis of communion, more limited and narrow than the apostles of Christ made known as conveying the thoughts of God.

John proceeds to account for this strange departure from the truth, and we arc thankful to get at the real root of the mischief at a stroke. " But Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them, receiveth us not." Ah! here it is—Diotrephes loveth pre-eminence—the leprosy in the head I

John, however, had been painfully reminded of his own early leanings in this direction, when he took a prominent part in the strife among the disciples as to which should be the greatest. But he had never forgotten the words of his blessed Lord, " One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren." The lesson of the little child (Matt. 18. 2-6) had not been learnt by Diotrephes, or was completely forgotten, and so we find him having authority in the assembly, and ruling over his brethren, after the pattern of earth's great ones. This is church history from very early days down to its most modem develop­ments—whether it is the Pope, or the prelate, or the leading brother, who seeks priority in the meeting. Fleshly pride seeking domination has ever been the melancholy cause of strife and division.

We cannot say who now represents Diotrephes. Doubtless his name is legion, but " by their fruits ye shall know them." Wherever there is a manifest tendency to self-assertion in the assembly, to rule the saints, to sit on the judgment-seat, there Diotrephes is to be discovered.

Without doubt he was a man of ability, with perhaps apparent spirituality, or he would not have secured a following in the church; leading up the church to a high position, so as to make it appear absolutely necessary to separate from the brethren. ' Self' was the object he was serving, not our Lord Jesus Christ but his own belly (see Rom. 16. 17, 18).

In this way SELF becomes the real object of that which is done professedly for Christ and His people, and soon everything in the assembly is ruled according to its relation to selfish interest, under colour of outward separa­tion from evil, zeal for the truth, standing for the honour of Christ, guarding the sanctity of His assembly, and many other kindred objects of a highly spiritual appearance.

Happily for us the Spirit of Cod has anticipated this state of things, and provided for us a divine solution of the whole case, putting into our hands an able test where­with to " try the spirits " by pointing out the real root of the evil —Diotrephes loveth to have the pre-eminence among them. This is where the difficulty begins in almost every case where strife and division are found among saints. Christ will not share the affections: He will either gain the heart's whole interest, or the love of other things will enter in and gain the ascendancy, nay, the supremacy.

When once this terrible object, self, has been enthroned, there is no lack of complaints against the brethren. The very best of them, viewed from such a standpoint, will soon have glaring deficiencies ; for whilst love, according to God, will cover a multitude of sins, love, according to self, will uncover them, so that none can escape unless they bring themselves under the ruling spirit of the fault­finder, no, not even John " the elder."

We have seen the coming out, the formation of this new company. It will be well now to look at some of their leading characteristics, as described in verses 9 and 10. Now, what is the first tiling in verse 9 ? " The church." And what is the last thing in verse 10? " The church." From this we see, that this is a company strongly en­trenched on ' church ' ground. This is their impregnable fortress, and from whichever side you approach them you see their ensign flying aloft. It is not simply an assembly, but THE assembly of Christ—the only one which He can acknowledge as " My assembly " ; the only company of saints which can claim His Presence in the midst.

In the minds of the teachers of this select company this would be very clear, and they would seek to make it quite plain to others, who would naturally take all for granted as " sound teaching which cannot be denied."

But how all this fair show is shorn of its strength and dignity the moment that John unveils the facts of the case ! They are then seen gathered together not in the Name of the Lord, but unto the person of Diotrephes. Yes, gathered to a man who is pre-eminent among them ! The original mode of gathering was according to Matt. 18. 20- " Where two or three are gathered together unto My Name, there am I in the midst of them." But this, though tenaciously held still in the letter, has been cleverly manipulated here, so that whenever the saints come together in assembly, Diotrephes is the real centre and head.    How is the fine gold become dim !

It is instructive to see the attitude John takes up in relation to this restricted circle of fellowship. He docs not propose to discuss the new position occupied, for he well knew it was not after " the old commandment." Nor does he threaten to excommunicate Diotrephes, or cut off this troublesome assembly. He will not use his apostolic authority ; but he says, referring to Diotrephes, " I will call to remembrance his deeds which he doeth." He will seek to convict him of his wrong and, if possible, to convert him " from the error of his ways" (James 5. 19, 20). It would be most unfair to say that here two parties cut each other off. Oh no ; John, Gaius, and the brethren with them, never adopted such a course.

We are thankful that we never read of a John party, or a Gaius party, or a Demetrius party. .So far as we know, these godly ones never drew away disciples after them. May we ever have grace to say, " PEACE be to the brethren, AND LOVE, with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. GRACE be with ALL them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity."