The word of the day is “division.” Our world seems hopelessly divided. Many delight in division and profit from polarization. Even the church is divided. Ecclesial denominations maintain and promote the distinctions between Christians.
In today’s reading of 1 Corinthians 11:8-22, St. Paul gets to the rotten core of the problems in the congregation at Corinth. The members of the church are divided in mind, behavior, and worship. Their separation from each other is most apparent at the time when they ought to be united. They are separated from each other when they ought to be sharing together in the one Heavenly Bread and one Cup of the Body and Blood of Christ. In response to reports of the divisions Paul expresses his distress, “For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (OSB 1 Cor. 11:19).
Today we will examine the Greek word for “divisions” and find in its meaning a way to think about the healing of these ruptures in the Body of Christ.
The Schisms Splitting the Church
The English word schism is a cognate [word with the same meaning and pronunciation] of the Greek word skhis’-ma. It comes from the thought of a rent or tear (Strong’s #4978). From this derivation, we get the idea of a “split” or “cleft” in the body of believers. This analysis suggests the nature of division among the faithful. It is a gap between them. The width of the chasm depends on the subject, intensity, and duration of the conflict.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul is distraught over the breach that is separating the members of his flock. His theology of the Body of Christ depicts his profound belief that believers are called together to be one in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Likewise, St. John Chrysostom said, “For it was made a Church, not so we who come together may be divided, but so they who are divided might be joined” (NfPf1:12).
How Is the Gap to be Closed?
So how is that gap to be closed, that rent to be mended, and that chasm to be bridged? The metaphor of a fissure within the group suggests an answer. Think of it this way. The cross stands in the middle of the gap between those who are divided, and it unites them in its self-giving love.
We hear an expression of this thought when the apostle speaks about the miracle of the unity between the Jewish and Gentile Christians in the church. In Ephesians, he writes, “For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and decrees. He did this to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace and reconciling both of them to God in one body through the cross, by which He extinguished their hostility” (OSB Ephesians 2:14-16).
The Cross Transcends Whatever Separates Believers
From this perspective, we can say that the cross transcends the conflicts, whatever disagreements might separate believers. When all “sides” of a conflict look to the cross for their salvation, then they are united in the same divine and self-giving love. They are all reconciled to God, and if they share the same peace with God, they can relate to one another with the same peaceful spirit.
For reflection: the Lord called His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him. In the light of today’s study, we can say that the Lord is calling believers to take up the cross of self-giving love into the gaps that separate the people of our world. Then we will be peacemakers who bring those who are divided together by sacrificial love?