Saturday, November 05, 2005

Dealing with Disunity (Final)

Scraping the surface of 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, it’s clear that Paul’s vision for Oneness among the redeemed community is of desperate importance. But as one continues through the chapter what becomes even clearer is his contempt for its disruption. Paul’s tone in 1 Corinthians sanctifies sarcasm in legitimate moral outrage. The pinnacle of the apostle’s rhetorical razing comes in 4:7-8 – but its precursor shows up as early as his very first paragraph. Verses 13-17 read, “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? 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 would say you were baptized in my name. 16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.”

As much as Paul despises rhetoric for the sake of rhetoric, he masterfully baptizes it for Christian use in what’s called a “reductio ad absurdum”. This sort of argument carries your opponent’s thinking to its logical end in order show its absurdity. Parents employ this timeless classic in response to the perennial complaint, “But everyone else is doing it!” The familiar reductio ad absurdum in that case is (say it with me), “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?” The force of the argument is to expose the disastrous logical implications of a particular line of thinking – and the best way to do that is with a question. In addressing the Corinthian mindset, Paul’s got three of them.

The first is, “Has Christ been divided?” For Paul, church splitting absurdly implies that Jesus Himself can be broken into pieces and parceled out in chunks among various factions. How this follows from disunity is not easily discernable for most modern evangelicals, since Christ and the Church are typically held at arm’s length from one another. Resigned to the impossibility of moral victory and desiring to minimize the damage to Jesus’ reputation, the only available coping mechanism is to see His ministry as radically independent from that of the Church. But this is a fantasy. The Church, like it or not, is in mystical union with Jesus Christ. So much so, in fact, that 1 Co. 6:15-20 says when a believer joins himself to a prostitute, he’s not only defiling Himself – he’s defiling Jesus too. 1 Co. 12:27 puts it even more plainly – “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” The neat distinctions we make between Christology and Ecclesiology can be worse than misleading; they can blind us from the fact that the Church is His body, and as such bear His reputation, constitute His earthly presence and mediate His ongoing ministry. As such, seeking to separate believers from one another is a direct assault on Jesus Himself because, though comprised of many members, He is one.

This first question reveals an absurdity in their view of Christ’s Person; the second question exposes the absurdity in relationship to Christ’s work. Even though he used his own name, he could have just as easily inserted the names of Apollos or Peter – none of these men died on your behalf – so why are you choosing sides according to your loyalty to them? I think we should feel free to read the names of any respected teacher in the Church, past or present in verse 13. Is this where the lines that divide us should be drawn? Should we be organizing ourselves according to these sorts of loyalties? Paul’s answer was plainly, “Hell no.” And the reason for that is because of the nature of Christ’s work on the cross – it demands exclusive loyalty. Neither John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon nor John Wesley died for our sins. Neither John MacArthur nor Rick Warren reconciled our rebellious hearts to God. And since it was none other than Jesus who did that, there is no other loyalty which should be used as the acid test of Christian fellowship. The oft-repeated ultimatum, “Do you stand with X or do you stand with Y” exemplifies Satanic brilliance, because regardless of which option we choose, we’ve inadvertently hacking the heart of true discipleship: exclusive loyalty to Jesus Christ.

On top of these implications Paul piles on one more absurdity – “Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” These divisions reflected different spiritual heritages, the products of different discipleship. Some were influenced more by Peter, others by Apollos; some were the products of Paul’s teaching, and still others claimed to be purists, relying only on the words of Jesus Himself. Surely, then, these divisions reflected different faiths! Not so. No matter who their spiritual fathers were, every single believer in the Corinthian community, as well as every single believer in Macedonia, the Empire, in both times past and present were all baptized into the same name: that of King Jesus. And that baptism was based not on receiving the good news about Paul, Peter or Apollos, but about Jesus, who God has made Lord and Christ by virtue of His death and resurrection. The message of the cross was the basis for baptism in the name of Jesus, and therefore dividing the fellowship was a way of emptying the cross of its significance. The cross brings men of every tribe, tongue and nation into one body through baptism. Gal. 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I’ll close this series of posts with a searching quote about these verses from Gordon D. Fee:
“It is easy to see the urgency of a paragraph like this for the contemporary church, which not only often experiences quarrels such as these at the local level, but also is deeply fragmented at every other level. We have churches and denominations, renewal movements that all too often are broken off and become their own “church of Christ,” and every imaginable individualistic movement and sect. Even in a day of various kinds of ecumenism, the likelihood of total visible unity in the church is more remote than ever. This fragmentation is both a shame on our house and a cause for deep repentance. If there is a way forward, it probably lies less in structures and more in our readiness to recapture Paul’s focus here – on the preaching of the cross as the great divine contradiction to our merely human ways of doing things.”


metalepsis said...

well said!

TheBlueRaja said...

Thanks, Bryan!

marc said...


After 3 lengthy and excellent posts, you end up at the cross!! Man, in the future I'm just gonna start there.

Good Work!

TheBlueRaja said...

Thanks, Marc. You're right about starting with the cross -- this passage is Paul's introduction to his discourse on the foolishness of the cross in 1:18-25 (one of my favorite passages in the Bible!) which provides the most substantive answer to any of the problems faced by the Corinthian church.

MsAmber said...

I'm going to continue reading your blog, but I'm still undecided as to whether you are serious or a charlatan. Your picture doesn't exactly inspire confidence, but it is intriguing.
An old saying that solidifies my skepticism is this:
If you surround a lie with two truths, it will be accepted as truth.
I know God gave me a brain.
I don't hold on to beliefs that have no basis other than "faith". That is unacceptable. God gave us written instructions in the Old Testament, and as far as I'm concerned: it is THE WORD.
Now, if you would like to enlighten me on the reason you accept Jesus as your lawyer, I will be more than happy to listen. HOWEVER, you are not allowed to quote from Revelations. God commanded us to not consult soothsayers and fortune-tellers many, many years before John was imprisoned, starved and tortured and had his "dream".
Can you show me without the book of Revelations?
Looking forward to your dialogue.

TheBlueRaja said...


Thanks for stopping by! Since a charlatan is someone practicing deliberate misrepresentation for the acquisition of money, I'm not sure how I could qualify by anything I've posted on this blog. I'm also confused as to where you'd get the impression that I believe that faith is somehow opposed to rationality or that I deny the authority of the Old Testament. I of course affirm it, as well as the rational nature of Christian belief.

If your reference to Jesus as my lawyer expresses disdain for the idea of Jesus as mediator, I'm sorry to disappoint in my acceptance of that fact; but I don't hold to crassly legal depictions of salvation as entirely representative.

As for the problem of further revelation from the OT, John's apocalypse is the most distant problem -- a nearer one might be the reception of any prophet after after Moses (or Abraham, for that matter). New Testament revelation is only "soothsaying" if the authors didn't actually recieve their revelations from YHWH -- but of course they did. Further revelation from the NT seems to be ruled out by it's lack of necessity after the foundational role of apostleship was exhausted; added to this is the lack of any authoritative approval for local prophecy which came with the death of the apostles.

Of course all of that is offered without the slightest idea of what you're getting at, or how it relates to any of my posts! I hope some of that was helpful, but if not, could you help out with a bit of clarification?

Antonio said...

Dropping by to say, "Hi."