1 CORINTHIANS 1:10-18

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Continuing with our thought stream, there may well be a causal connection between the tendency in religion towards division and sectarian off-splitting and the popular idea of God as arbitrary in his behavior and prejudiced in favor of “true believers.” More simply stated, fragmenting communities and an unstable deity are very possibly two sides of the same coin.

If your belief is that God favors with salvation only those who “get it right,” and if “getting it right” is a definition that can change willy-nilly from one religion to the next, from one tradition to the next, and from one day to the next, then the anxiety of just possibly being even slightly off the mark will keep you from full devotion to any one path. Or the opposite: it may drive you to become fanatically devoted to your path as the only valid way.

In the church of Corinth (an unstable community if there ever was one) members were throwing themselves on the side of one party or the other, with at least four distinct sects competing for control. There were Paul’s Liberals who fancied themselves as living above and outside the law of Moses; the Intellectuals who venerated Apollos, a highly reputed Bible scholar and teach; the Traditionalists of Peter’s (Cephas) school who saw the Jesus movement as a reform effort in Judaism and a bridge between law and gospel; and finally the Charismatics who identified themselves with the supernatural Christ-power and celebrated the spiritual gifts.

The congregation was falling apart.

                                                                                                 

How much like the church in Corinth is the Christian community today! Liberals, intellectuals, traditionalists and charismatics have divided the body of Christ into rival denominations, each one insisting on exclusive rights to truth.

From the perspective of the non-Christian world, Christianity is a multiple personality beyond any hope of integration – and by definition also without integrity as a voice for human salvation. Either Paul is right and Christianity is about engaging contemporary culture with a time-relevant message of religious freedom. Or Apollos is right, and Christianity is about systematic biblical theology and logical beliefs. Or Cephas is right and Christianity is about conserving the “faith of our fathers” and the ago-old certainties of the past. Or else Christ is right (that is, the Christ party) and Christianity is about intense experiences of spiritual ecstasy showcased in settings of public worship.

Paul’s answer to this mess is that none is right in excluding the others. The truth is that Christianity, and every Christian community, requires a healthy balance among these four distinct disciplines – the radical message of freedom, the responsible study of scripture, deep roots in the continuum of tradition, and real-time attention to the fresh winds of the Spirit. And the anchor to which all of these complementary values are tethered is the cross of Christ – Jesus, his gospel, and the revelation of the New Being.

 

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