1 Corinthians 1:10-17
United in the Same Mind and Judgment
With this passage in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, we see the first problem which Paul chooses to tackle. And given the many problems this church had (we noted yesterday: lack of church discipline, lawsuits among the brethren, questions about marriage and celibacy, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, the resurrection, and interacting with a pagan environment), it is significant that Paul deems division in the church the place to start. Apparently, the apostle thought church unity a serious matter, more serious than we do, I think.
It appears that the Corinthian believers had divided along lines of popular preachers. I see the same thing today. Oh, I appreciate the men of God who purely preach and teach God’s word, and those women of God who teach God’s word at women’s conferences and in their churches. And as Paul indicates here, the problem isn’t with those teachers but with their listeners. It is so easy for Christians to become enamored with their favorite teacher such that they think that he or she is God’s chosen Oracle of Truth. (They will even direct some of their tithe to the ministry of that popular speaker and away from their local church, the people who have ministered to them and been there for them over the many years.) This is wrong, and this is what was happening at Corinth. And Paul was scandalized that some had even flocked under his banner. He would have none of it: “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” And as for the Jesus group, it appears that even they were using Christ’s name in a partisan and arrogant way.
More often, though, people leave churches over matters they deem more important than they really are: budget issues, building programs, specific ministries, or music. We must remember that there are many things over which we may agree to disagree. And that covers even some doctrine: Calvinist or Arminian; Premillennial, Post-, or A-? There are nonnegotiables and I would refer you to the Nicene and Chacedonian Creeds, The Fundamentals (virgin birth, inspiration of Scripture, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, second coming), the Ten Commandments, and unfortunately in our day, human sexuality, marriage and the roles of men and women in the family and church. Beyond these, we must be mature. Perhaps your idea for a particular ministry was not accepted—commit it to prayer. Maybe after time, people will begin to warm to your view of things. But please know the difference between something to break fellowship over and something not. And don’t make mountains out of molehills.
Church unity is something that Protestants and evangelicals in particular have truly failed to practice or even value. A local church is not just another organization; it is the body of Christ—a microcosm of the universal Church over the globe. Leaving one church to join another should not be as easy as changing one’s clothes are buying a new car. We have adopted our culture’s consumer mentality and brought it into our understanding of church. So many think that the local church exists to “meet their felt needs,” provide programs for their children (sometimes just plain baby-sitting), and above all, play the right kind of music. Hey, I’m a traditionalist, but even I know not to leave a church over a guitar.
I’m a Baptist so I’ll speak for them. When one joins a Baptist church (understand that to do so, one must be a born-again believer and follow up with baptism, generally if not universally understood as immersion), one is becoming a covenantal member of that community of faith. They are promising to attend regularly, pray for, and financially support that church. But honestly these are the very least of a member’s responsibilities. In that covenantal community, we become brothers and sisters in Christ who rejoice and weep with one another, hold one another accountable, help each other to grow into maturity of faith, and find ways to share the gospel with our neighbors. As such, the local church is the body of Christ where we become members of one another. Hear the exalted way Paul speaks of the local church:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Wow! And in another place, Paul calls the church “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). And it is our task to show forth the glory of God to a lost and dying world. What a privilege! And what a responsibility. So please adopt a biblical picture of the local church, not a twenty-first-century consumer American one. You need the church and the church needs you. If you’ve made a covenant with one, live it. If you haven’t and you’re a believer, you better. Don’t make the decision lightly, but don’t let your decision be driven by selfishness, either. And when you do join one, bless God for the privilege to be among His people—and serve.