What Does the Bible Say About Cliques in the Church?


Cliques – exclusive groups of people who only socialize with each other – are unfortunately common in many churches today. While close friendships are great, cliques can be harmful, dividing congregations and excluding people. What does the Bible say about cliques and divisions within the body of Christ? There are several key principles we can look to for guidance.

Key Takeaways:

  • Unity and acceptance should be top priorities for Christians
  • Cliques often form due to worldly attitudes like favoritism, pride, and judgement
  • Jesus prayed for unity among believers, and Paul condemned divisions
  • We must love others as Christ loved us and welcome all in His name
  • Acceptance and inclusion should extend to people of all backgrounds
  • Cliques can hinder church growth and turn people away from Christ
  • As members of one body in Christ, we must strive to be unified and avoid factions
What Does the Bible Say About Cliques in the Church?

What the Bible Says About Unity and Acceptance

Unity and acceptance are major themes throughout the New Testament regarding relationships within the church. Jesus prayed specifically for oneness among believers:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20-21 NKJV)

He prayed that all Christians would be unified just as the Father, Son, and Spirit are unified. Jesus desired this oneness so that more people would come to believe in Him. Our unity is important for drawing unbelievers to the faith.

The apostle Paul also emphasized unity and warned against divisions within the church. To the Corinthians he wrote:

“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.” (1 Corinthians 1:10 NKJV)

He pleaded for them to be perfectly united, speaking the same truths with one voice. Earlier he appealed:

“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:13 NKJV)

Paul adamantly argued against factions forming around certain spiritual leaders like himself, Apollos, Peter, etc. The church belongs to Christ alone. He insisted there should be no schisms within the body of believers.

Worldly Attitudes That Lead to Cliques

Unfortunately, divisions arose in the early church due to worldly attitudes creeping in. James wrote:

“For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” (James 3:16 NKJV)

Envy, selfishness and pride are root causes of cliques forming in churches. When believers start judging one another and competing for popularity or position, factions develop. James warned this leads only to confusion and evil.

The early Christians needed reminders to humble themselves and not let worldly mindsets cause rifts between them. Romans 12:3 says:

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” (NKJV)

Arrogance and entitlement have no place in God’s church. We must view ourselves rightly before Him, with grace, humility and sobriety.

Paul also addressed the temptation to show favoritism:

“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4 NKJV)

Showing preference to the rich while dishonoring the poor is evil favoritism. When we judge outward appearances, prideful divisions result. As Christ’s ambassadors, we must welcome all people equally with open arms.

Jesus’ Example of Acceptance

Jesus Himself modeled radical acceptance that crossed social divides. He drew disciples from very diverse backgrounds. Jesus called Levi the tax collector to follow Him, even hosting a dinner party at Levi’s house with many other tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:27-29). Tax collectors were despised by religious Jews for collaborating with their Roman oppressors. Yet Jesus welcomed them.

He also defended Himself against Pharisees who judged Him for spending time with unsavory people:

“When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13 NKJV)

Despite critique from religious elites, Jesus prioritized connecting with people who needed Him most. He desired mercy for the downtrodden rather than empty religious sacrifices. Jesus associated with many marginalized groups, showing God’s acceptance is for everyone.

The apostles learned from Jesus’ model. Peter realized even after becoming a believer, he was still wrong in avoiding Gentiles (non-Jews). He said to the Gentile Cornelius:

“You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (Acts 10:28 NKJV)

Jews traditionally did not associate with Gentiles, but God showed Peter He was accepting people of all nations into His family. The early church had heated disputes over whether Gentiles could become Christians without first becoming Jewish. Praise God they settled those debates in favor of inclusivity.

Striving for Unity in Diversity

The first Christians came to understand that unity did not mean uniformity. They didn’t all have to become culturally identical to be one in Christ. Paul wrote:

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NKJV)

Here Paul explains that the church is like a human body, with many different parts working together in unity. So the church is unified in Christ by the Spirit, even with tremendous diversity among members.

To the Galatians, Paul explained:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NKJV)

External differences like ethnicity, economic status, and gender do not matter in regard to being one in Christ. What an amazing unity! The early church came to understand that all believers are equally part of God’s family across such divides.

How Cliques Can Hinder the Church

It’s easy to see how cliques go completely against all these Biblical principles of unity, humility and acceptance. Cliques breed judgement, pride and rejection – the opposite of Christ’s character. And they harm churches in several important ways:

  1. Turn people away from Christ. When visitors encounter cold shoulders from cliques, they may never return. Seekers could miss an opportunity to know Jesus because they felt excluded.
  2. Quench spiritual growth. People who only socialize within their clique stunt their own growth. They miss out on valuable perspectives and gifts other Christians could offer them.
  3. Breed bitterness and division. Cliques often gossip and compare themselves arrogantly to others, causing hurt feelings between groups. This creates a toxic environment lacking Jesus’ grace.
  4. Inhibit church participation. Some may withdraw from serving if they feel unwelcome among certain participating cliques. The whole body suffers when gifts go unused.
  5. Distort evangelism. Outreach becomes unbalanced if cliques only invite their own social circles to church. We must share Christ with all types of people.
  6. Misrepresent God. Cliques reflect poorly on our loving, welcoming God. We fail to show His heart to the world.

For the health and growth of the church, we must eradicate cliques and the worldly attitudes feeding them.

Principles for Fostering Unity

Building an inclusive, unified church across all barriers takes intentionality and reliance on the Holy Spirit. Here are some key principles for avoiding cliques:

  • Focus on Jesus above all else. He alone is the head of the church. Keeping our eyes fixed on Him keeps us from worldly divisions.
  • Love one another. Make the effort to love all fellow believers, even those different than you. Love crosses all boundaries.
  • Esteem others higher. Value and honor each member of the body, rather than competing for status. Be quick to serve.
  • Build relationships. Get to know people beyond your normal social circles at church. Share life together in Christ.
  • Welcome newcomers. Make visitors and new members feel cared for. Help them connect into the community.
  • Affirm unity. Remind each other that what we have in common in Christ is greater than any differences.
  • Model inclusion. Intentionally connect with those who might feel marginalized. Challenge exclusivity.
  • Gently confront. If you observe clique behavior, compassionately discuss it with those involved, praying for change.
  • Depend on the Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate His fruit of love and unity in your church family. Yield to His work.

As we take these steps in the power of the Spirit, our churches can reflect Jesus’ heart for all people. We demonstrate His love across the barriers worldly cliques erect. Our unity becomes a beautiful witness, drawing many to worship our gracious God.


The New Testament makes clear that unity and acceptance should be top priorities for the church. Cliques which breed exclusivity and disunity have no place in God’s family. Jesus prayed for oneness among believers from diverse backgrounds, molded together by the Holy Spirit. As members of Christ’s single body, we must strive to walk in humility, esteeming others higher than ourselves. This honors our God who looks not at outward appearances but at the heart. By loving all believers equally as Jesus did, we can break down dividing walls and witness the amazing unity only possible in Him. Our churches should be places where anyone can belong, welcomed with open arms in the name of our gracious Savior.

As the Bible says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). When we do, our churches will thrive, lives will be transformed, and the world will come to know Christ. To God be the glory!

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