CONCERNING DIVISION IN THE CHURCH
Pastor John Samson
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.” – 1 Cor 1:10-15 (ESV)
As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church there were many issues that were of concern to him, one of which he outlines in this passage, namely division in the Church. He wished to see harmony and unity and was alarmed to hear reports that there were four factions amongst the Church members. The King James Bible states the problem this way, “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” In considering the four groups a few things come to mind.
The first group he mentions were followers of Paul. Now lets remember who is writing this. It’s Paul! Yet Paul seems just as much concerned that people would follow him blindly as they would anyone else. Paul saw his ministry as a gift to the whole body of Christ, and he was not in this to gain a following, but to point people to Christ. He looks back at his time of ministry in the city and now knowing of these factions is happy when he remembers he did not baptize them, except for the two people he names, Crispus and Gaius. If he had baptized most of the Christian Corinthians (even though doing so would not have violated any Scriptural principle at all) then it might have added fuel to the fire, so to speak, further cementing the ridiculous idea that these Christians are unified by their love for Paul, rather than another prominent Christian leader. Paul wanted the Church to look to Christ alone as the Head and that there be no divisions amongst them, united in the same mind and the same judgment (v. 10).
The second group were followers of Apollos. We are told that he was a very eloquent speaker, mighty in the Scriptures (Acts 18:24). It is easy to see why certain members of the Church might gravitate towards him and enjoy his ministry. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a ministry. The problem comes when we can only hear one minister. Christ did not give just one ministry gift to the Body of Christ (Eph 4:8-12) and no one sees the complete picture by themselves. Proverbs 11:14 tells us, “There is safety in the multitude of counsellers,” and likewise, there is safety when the people are exposed to more than one ministry gift.
The third group were followers of Cephas (or Peter). Peter was, like Paul, an obvious leader amongst the Apostles and was a leader amongst leaders. He is prominent not merely in the Gospels, but preached the opening sermon on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 people came to Christ. Very little needs to be said about why believers would feel safe following Peter’s lead.
The fourth group is intriguing though – the “followers of Christ.” Isn’t that exactly what Paul was longing to produce – followers of Christ?
Well, yes, and no. Yes, Paul would want people to be followers of Christ and nothing would please him more to see this, but it would seem from the context that in the division that was taking place in the church at Corinth it would be fair to say that these “followers of Christ” had just as much a divisive spirit as the others. They are listed as one of the four splinter groups in the Church.
Perhaps they would only listen to Christ’s words, and not listen to any Apostle of Christ. Perhaps they would not submit to any human leader, and this too would be wrong. All Christians are called to the safety and nourishment of the local Church body where pastors (elders) are given oversight in order that they might nourish and care for their spiritual wellbeing. This is the way of Christ for us all. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
I have met Christians who have this “I am of Christ” mindset in our day. They say they love Jesus but have no time for Paul. In a recent conversation I had, one lady said Paul was wrong (concerning the issue under discussion) and she felt much more comfortable with Jesus. Of course, I was immediately alarmed by this and sought to point out that although no human being except Christ was ever perfect, when Paul wrote Scripture, he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. More than that, to be an apostle of Christ is to be one sent forth by Christ with the full authority of Christ. If someone rejects an apostle of Christ, they also reject the One who sent him. Jesus made this principle clear even as He sent out the 72, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16) . Sadly, the exchange I had with the lady did not go well. She refused to listen. I pray God will open this dear lady’s eyes as to her folly and the seriousness of her error. Her issue is not merely with the Apostle Paul, but with the Lord Jesus Christ who sent him.
As I consider the factions in Corinth from the super-spiritual “I am of Christ” group, even to the followers of Paul, Peter and Apollos, I think we can all take note of the error of putting any one man on a spiritual pedestal. Instead, as we serve Christ in His body the Church, let us enjoy and submit to the many gifts God has placed there for our edification. Not even Paul sought followers of Paul, and each of us as ministers of Christ should never seek to make people dependent on us. We can promote the right thing always by pointing away from ourselves and to the Christ who not only saves, but nourishes and tenderly cares for His sheep as the masterful Shepherd. As Paul wrote later to the Corinthians, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor 4:5)