Thursday, March 31, 2016

Divisions in the Church?

10 I appeal to you, brothers, [1] 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. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 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.” 13 Is Christ 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 may 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 preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (ESV)
Paul starts to take on a party mentality that seems to have developed among the Corinthians. He seems to see this as the root of many other problems that are showing up within the congregation. It’s the sort of thing that sometimes happens when a parish has a couple different pastors and members begin to feel a little more loyal to one pastor or another. Or in another scenario people who felt close to a former pastor and aren’t sure what to make of a new pastor that has been called to take his place. It can be a tough thing. Even a pastor that tries not to make too many changes to the way things are done will inevitably make changes. It’s a challenge for a congregation. This is what this passage is speaking to far more than it is speaking to anything else. Peter, Paul and Apollos were united in doctrine. They taught the same thing, they worked for the same thing. This is perhaps where the application of this passage to decry denominationalism fails most miserably. What divides denominations from each other is doctrine a different understanding of the gospel itself, even if there is some agreement and overlap in what they believe. To be sure there were occasions when their personalities clashed, other times when one or the other had to be corrected, but the correction was possible because there was unity in the gospel.
However, Peter, Paul and Apollos had different strengths and weaknesses, different gifts and talents, different personalities and abilities. And this perhaps explains what Paul has to say about baptism here. It’s curious that someone who laid so much emphasis on baptism throughout his letters would himself baptize so few and even say that he was not sent to baptize. Many try to use this to downplay what Paul says elsewhere concerning the importance of baptism. The truth is he left the baptizing itself and the instruction that would lead to baptism to others. It seems already here the church began to require at least some instruction in the faith for adult converts before baptism. This is something that is not seen in the book of Acts where many baptisms are recorded for whole households. This may be explained by prior knowledge of the faith that would have come with being either a Jew or Jewish proselyte that wouldn’t be there in the case of a pagan who perhaps heard Paul preaching in the market square over lunch. Something that would be further complicated by Paul’s need to support himself with a day job. A worker/priest situation is going to require a much larger division of labor within a congregation. Perhaps Paul lacked the patience necessary for the systematic instruction of new converts and was much better at piquing the interest and gathering people together to hear the gospel. We know he was also quite mindful concerning the training of the next generation of pastors. This sometimes requires a pastor to give others jobs that he would rather do himself so that they can receive the training that they need and can be further evaluated for their suitability for the office as well as consideration concerning where they might serve best. We know that Paul relied on Priscilla for this teaching too in regards to Apollos who is given not a little attention in this letter. With Titus and Timothy, a reader can see that being a pastor started more and more to become a full-time job in which one person working full time would be required to more of the work that used to be divided up a bit more.

Yet, it is still true that each pastor is going to have different strengths and different gifts. They will be inclined to do their work accordingly. So a new pastor is necessarily going to do things differently from a former pastor. Some pastors are excellent at administrative and clerical type work and can sit in an office all day tending to record books and so on. Other pastors are perhaps more social in nature and are just better at getting involved in community activities than others. Some are perhaps better at scholarly pursuits and teaching. Still others will excel in a Bible Study type situation and might not have the monologue capabilities to deliver great sermons, or maybe it is the other way around. This can make transitioning between pastors a difficult thing for members of a congregation. The trick is to not let it be divisive and adjusting in such a way that is beneficial for the congregation as a whole. Everyone has different gifts. Perhaps the new pastor’s deficiencies is God’s way of giving new people in the congregation new opportunities to user their gifts in service to the church. 

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