Studies in 1st Corinthians
Lesson 3: The Danger of Fan Clubs
I Corinthians 1:12-17
Every four years thousands of adults get together in a major city and wear funny hats and yell and scream and wave banners. These activities are known as national political conventions. And although there is a serious side to them, one of the focal points is to draw attention to one or two men or women of prominence from whom a candidate for the Presidency will be chosen. And there are people involved in these conventions who have devoted literally years of their lives to those men and women and their organizations. Now while those conventions have their good points, there is one thing that stands out about all of them they are built around men and their methods and programs.
From a completely different standpoint, the home of Elvis Presley, in Memphis, Tennessee, that is dedicated to the memory of a dead rock singer, is toured by hundreds of people a month – people who have nothing better to do, apparently, than to devote their attention to the memory of a dead man. Now those things may be legitimate in some senses, but when that mentality and philosophy is carried over into the spiritual realm of the church, it can be ruinous to a church!
In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul is writing about the various kinds of problems that can come into a church and keep it from having Christ at its center. Chapter One is divided into three parts, the first of which is a commendation of the Corinthians in verses 1 through 9. Then the second third of the chapter has to do with a challenge to the Corinthians. And the first part of the challenge has to do with the presence of divisions in the church in verses 10 and 11. Now in verses 12 and 13 he describes the problems with divisions. One problem is that divisions deify men.
Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos” or “I am of Cephas” or “I am of Christ.”
A comparison of Galatians 2:1-10 with Acts18:24-28 will show that Paul, Apollos, and Peter all preached the same doctrines. But because all these men had different personalities and emphases and all had visited Corinth, people identified with them. For example, Paul: He was the founder of that church! He was the great reconciler of Jewish customs and Christian liberty. Thus he was attractive to Gentiles as well as Jews. Or think about Apollos. According to Acts chapter 18 he was cultured, polished, and eloquent. And then, as now, people identify with eloquence. (As Bill McCrae as said, the less they understand it the better the sermon was). And Peter. He was one of the original disciples. He was probably older and more mature than the others. He was a traditionalist. And then, probably the most pious group of all, the followers of Jesus. Possibly they felt too holy to be led by mere men. Or maybe they were just imitating His lifestyle. But at any rate, while they were saying they belonged to Him, in effect they were saying He belonged only to them!
So divisions glorify men. But not only that, verse 13 points our that they dishonor Christ. And how? three ways: First in His unity. – “Is Christ divided?”
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (14) (I thank God that I crucified none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name.
The most obvious place that we see this today is the requirement that you must be baptized to join a particular local church. But it is basically a matter of attitude, whether baptism is involved or not. All of this strikes out at denominationalism, because all of the denominations go back at some point to identification with a person or a doctrine rather than Christ. Someone has said that the early church was like a bottle of medicine with many ingredients but no label on it. They practiced baptism, but they weren’t Baptists. They believed in election, but they weren’t Presbyterians, they believed in the Holy spirit, and saw signs and wonders, but they weren’t Pentecostals. In the biography of John Wesley (John Wesley, the Burning Heart) he describes a dream that he had: He went to the gate of hell – and there he saw Baptists, Presbyterians, even Methodists there. Then he went to the gates of heaven – and saw only Christians there. But he recognized people he had known to be Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists while on earth. But listen carefully: We are talking about an attitude here – thus non-denominational groups can be just as guilty. To say that we will only have fellowship with other independent churches is wrong. To say that we will have fellowship only with churches that emphasize teaching (or any method of teaching) is wrong.
To base our selection of a church to attend solely on the basis of where the Pastor went to seminary is wrong. The only Biblical position is to say that we will fellowship with anyone or any group that accepts the Bible as the inerrant Word of God defends the principles therein.
Now we have seen the fact of the presence of divisions in Corinth and (many other places) and “the problems” that those divisions create. Finally, in verses 14 through 17 we see the proper attitude about divisions.
(14) (I thank God that I crucified none of you except Crispus and Gaius,(15) lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. (16) Yes I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides I do not know whether I baptized any other. (17) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.
Now listen carefully: Paul is not, and we must not deprecating baptism in these verses. He clearly says that he practiced it (verse 14), (more importantly) Jesus commanded it in Matthew 28:19. And I Peter 3:21 makes clear that the Christian testimony is incomplete without it (“the answer of a clear conscience toward God”)
But notice the proper emphasis in baptism in verse 17:
. (17) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.
An over emphasis on baptism (or any other single doctrine) can actually stand in the way of the gospel! And verse 15 has already pointed out that it can cause divisions. And incidentally, this is one of the best possible defenses against baptismal regeneration. (belief that a person has to be baptized in order to be saved) First, notice that Paul makes in verse 17 (Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel – two different things) Second, Paul obviously did not baptize everyone whom he led to Christ – so again, there is a clear distinction between the two.
It is obvious that there are differences in of preferences among Christians. And it is very easy to “group” ourselves around those who appreciate the same things we do. But this passage very clearly teaches that those “groups” should never cause us to break fellowship or lose appreciation for people in the other groups. So what can we do about those with whom we disagree about peripheral issues? Two things, basically: First, don’t insist on your rights – Philippians 2:5-11 – it is not a sin to “agree to disagree.”
And second, pray for the other side – James 4:1,2:
You fight and war . . . yet you have not because you ask not.
And remember, God is the only one who can change minds and hearts