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Divisions in the Church June 12, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting the Corinthians – out of their regard for Christ – to agree with one another; this would stop 1) the alienation of feelings that existed between them and 2) the party strife that was occurring in their church, leading to unity in faith and love. Indeed, some of the members of Chloe’s household had told Paul that the Corinthians had been wrangling over their religious teachers. Some of the Gentile believers claimed to be disciples of Paul, while other Gentile believers who were more highly educated claimed to be followers of Apollos; the Jewish believers claimed to be followers of Peter, while still other believers claimed to have a special relationship with Christ that the other parties lacked. Paul then asks, rhetorically, whether

  • Christ can be divided
  • Paul has redeemed them by his sacrifice
  • they have been baptized into the name of Paul, so that their faith is in him and they must confess his name.

Paul then rejoices in God’s having allowed him to only baptize a few people in Corinth – including Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and Gaius, who hosted him while he wrote the book of Romans – so that he could not be accused of baptizing in order to gain followers. It should be noted that Paul did baptize the family of Stephanas; in fact, he is not omniscient regarding the baptisms that he previously performed. Now Paul had only baptized a few people in Corinth because his main purpose in going there was to preach the Gospel message – and his preaching was not with words of human wisdom, which would have nullified the power of the cross of Christ.

Thoughts: In verse 12, we see the nature of the divisions that existed in the Corinthian church – believers were claiming to be followers of certain religious leaders and quarreling with others who claimed to follow other leaders. Hodge offers some thoughts on this issue:

…it is probable that the converts from among the Gentiles claimed Paul as their leader, and the Jewish converts appealed to the authority of Peter…As Apollos was an Alexandrian Jew distinguished for literary culture and eloquence, it is probable that the more highly educated among the Corinthian Christians were his special followers.

Unfortunately, such divisions can be found in the modern church. They usually manifest themselves in the following way: a believer will note, “well, I really do enjoy this pastor’s preaching and teaching. The last church that I attended had a pastor who gave rather superficial and fluffy sermons, so I left that church.” Clearly Paul is instructing his readers to not focus on the relatively unimportant qualities of their leaders and to focus more on Christ, who unifies all of them into one body.

In verse 17, we see that Paul prioritized preaching the Gospel message over performing the important sacrament of baptism. This interesting statement is explained by Hodge as follows:

The main thing was to make disciples; recognizing them as such by baptism was subordinate, though commanded…During the apostolic age, and in the apostolic form of religion, truth stood immeasurably above external rites. The apostasy of the church consisted in making rites more important than truth.

So while we should not treat baptism as unimportant and unworthy of being performed, it should be noted that if a choice between the two must be made – e.g. in the middle of a life-or-death situation – one should opt for delivering the Gospel message and desire to obtain a profession of faith from the one who hears it, as opposed to only baptizing the person in question. Indeed, acceptance of the Gospel message is what truly brings life, not any external rite.

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