Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.”
Paul wrote the letter we call 1 Corinthians, in part, to deal with the problem of division among the Christians in Corinth. For a variety of reasons, these believers were not getting along, and were dividing up into little cliques rather than living as the unified church of Jesus Christ.
One of the central factors in the disunity among the Christians in Corinth was the tendency of these immature believers to bring along elements of their culture that were inconsistent with the Christian life. For example, in the previous pagan religious experience of some of the new converts, they had been led into religious mysteries by a special person designated as a spiritual guide. They identified strongly with this mentor as their doorway into the divine. Similarly, certain of the Corinthians may have studied with a philosopher whose teaching and personality defined their intellectual and moral lives. Thus, it felt natural for the Corinthian Christians to identify themselves according to the one who introduced them to Christ, perhaps Paul, Apollos, or Peter. Yet they tended to define themselves so much in terms of this human relationship that they were threatening the unity of the Christian community in Corinth.
We find a similar state of affairs in the church today. For some of us, our denominational identity (or nondenominational identity) says who we really are as Christians. For others, what defines us is the theological stream in which we swim or perhaps the theologian whom we are following in that stream. Denominational or theological distinctions aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are wrong when they threaten our unity in Christ. If I, for example, let my identity as a Presbyterian in the Reformed theological stream become so pronounced that it threatens my relationship with Methodists, then I am falling into the Corinthian trap. What ought to define my identity as a Christian is, above all, my relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything else pales in comparison to this essential fellowship, through which we are bound to others who have put their trust in Christ.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How do you define yourself as a Christian? How important to you are denominational labels? Have you ever identified so thoroughly with some Christian leader that it threatened your relationship with other believers? How can we be unified in Christ when we who have put our faith in him nevertheless differ theologically?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, today I am reminded that you desire your church to be unified in Christ. And I am also reminded of how easily I can let things that are not central threaten that unity. The truth is, Lord, sometimes I just don’t want to be in fellowship with Christians whose ideas or actions bug me. Forgive me, Lord, for the ways I contribute to division in your church.
Help me, on the contrary, to identify so thoroughly with you that I am bound in heart, mind, and spirit with others who belong to you. May I put aside the ultimately insignificant things that keep me from loving my brothers and sisters in your family.
May your church be truly one, Lord, not by “making nice,” and surely not by pretending as if our core beliefs don’t matter. We are, after all, one in you! So may our unity be based in who you are and what you have done as the Lord and Savior. Then, help us to live out that unity with genuine acts of love and service.
To you be all the glory, Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray, Amen.