Sitting comfortably in a living room, a few Christians cordially but earnestly discussed their differing views. Normally you could characterize them as being of one mind, but today a logjam threatened. If you find the following details of the initial story irksome and perhaps petty, this is to your advantage, for then perhaps you are clearly perceiving the principle involved in an easy piece. If so, then consider the second not-so-easy exercise.
The heart of the discussion on that day centered around the concept of unity and phrases like, “there should be no division in the body.”/1 Because of what the scriptures teach about unity, the claim had been advanced that a congregation should not utilize small groups since these would divide the body of Christ.
Of course, the problem with this rationalization against small groups involves failing to recognize the limitation of what is criticized in scripture. The biblical denunciations against division involve warnings against becoming embroiled in carnal warring factions, following false teachings and despising fellow believers. This biblical concern over schisms has nothing at all to do with the geography of where God’s people might meet. Even if a congregation of God’s people might meet in separate locations during the week, they are still unified. The disharmony of division has not overtaken them.
When meanings are allowed to grow beyond the purview of the author’s intentions, a message foreign to scripture will be infused into the text. Stated conversely, to accurately understand a biblical message involves limiting what the text can mean for us to what the author intended to convey.
Consider how this principle bears upon Galatians 3:28-29. In these verses, Paul affirmed that unlike our world entrenched within its various forms of barriers and caste systems, the body of Christ is manifestly different. God’s wonderful promise of providing an inheritance can be claimed equally by all without regard to race or status. While physically a Christian might be a Jew or a Gentile, a male or a female, in Christ the salvation of sonship is equally received and enjoyed. As Paul explained, “what I am saying is … because God has made you a son you are also an heir.”/2 Everybody receives the same!
But what happens if an interpreter does not limit the equality Paul articulates to receiving an inheritance, but rather extends this to other arenas such as the context of worship? Suddenly, the interpreter has infused a message into the text (and undoubtedly will subsequently pull it out under the banner of ‘Paul teaches’), that there are no gender roles in the context of worship! Huh? Well, if that’s valid reasoning and not taking something out of context, then maybe small groups are unbiblical.
1/ 1 Corinthians 12:25
2/ Galatians 4:1,7