In sum, there were territorial fights in Corinth; not over land, but over followers. Cliques were vying for shelf-space. Verse 11 says this is exactly what Chloe’s people told Saint Paul was going on in the church at Corinth. Paul does not say, “It was reported to me… there are quarrels among you,” but, “It was made clear to me… by Chloe’s people.” Paul shuts down the rumor-mill by disclosing his source and, thereby, launches into the first big issue of the epistle: The need to restore the church’s unity. That is his agenda from here through 4:21. Verses 1-9 are about bringing the people back to their common identity (in Christ through baptism), common history, and common hope. All of it is “in Christ” so everything said and done in the church is accomplished, “…in His name.”

The Corinthians had become a quarrelsome lot, broken into factions rallied around their iconic candidates. In other words, the church had become politicized (he who has ears, let him hear). Most unfortunate was the ridiculous egotism Paul brings out by the four-times repeated “I”: “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Messiah” (v.12). They sounded like the inane and hotly partisan audience contributions from the Sean Hannity program. Such divisions are not going to accomplish anything except the inevitable disintegration of their church. The Church loses because people see themselves more as devotees of candidates and parties than baptized disciples of Christ. The Church becomes anti-church when the new world order Christ inaugurated by eliminating demographic division through the commonality of Baptism is exploded by allegiance to cults of personality. Paul planted the Church of Christ, but now there are friends of the parish telling him the work in Corinth is near implosion because the family is fractured into factions; and there is probably nothing worse than a fractured family.

The Church becomes anti-church when the new world order Christ inaugurated by eliminating demographic division through the commonality of Baptism is exploded by allegiance to cults of personality.

The Corinthians had been called into communion with Christ (v.9). Paul’s appeal to them comes, “by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (v.10), the One Name that should completely overshadow any party names and loyalties. After all, this was the name into which they had been baptized, not Paul or Apollos for crying out loud. Preacher, your people have also been called out from among their respective cities and towns to do the same: Be united in love and purpose and now exemplify before the world what the future existence of humanity will be like when Christ fully returns to rule on Earth. That is the drama, the reality, the hope, the truth all disciples are called to play out here, which is why Christians gather together and confess the same creedal truth, put their lips on the same chalice, dine on the same loaf, receive the same grace, share in the same Holy Spirit, exchange the same peace. What is happening as the Church gathers in worship (or at least should be) is a foretaste of what is going to be out there on the last day, not as the result of our government, but the result the One who governs from on-high. We have been called out in the name of the World’s rightful King into a single communion in which the bond of love makes us one family. There is no, “I am of Bombaro,” or, “I am of Pless.” “Kolb baptized me.” No, instead, all faithful pastors are but movable pawns for the Lord’s Holy Ministry. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Based on their common bond in Christ, Paul encourages the church in v.10, “to say the same thing.” Be of the same mind. Say the same things. Get your public confession straight and your public allegiances straighter. Now, there was no way Paul envisaged a colorless uniformity in a cosmopolitan city like Corinth. There is lots of room for individual insights and accents, for correction, instruction and reproof of one another from the Word of God. On the other hand, neither would Paul have condoned the principle of “reconciled diversity,” the pluralism in doctrine and practice endorsed by the modern ecumenical movement. There is no room for Rodney King ecclesiology when it comes at the expense of Christ the King theology, argues Paul. God’s pure doctrines unite. This is why he opens with the Gospel in verses 1-9. Man’s personal preferences for personalities only seem to divide the Church.

The same thing applies today. Preacher, your auditors should know that when a couple hundred Christians gather for the Divine Service/Mass/Worship and confess the same creed and recite the same liturgy, there is euphony. When it is karaoke liturgy and open mic night at the lectern, there is cacophony. When everyone is talking in the church like a group therapy session, parroting their favorite pundit (I am of Joel Osteen, I am of Beth Moore, etc.), then expect family fragmentation. In this sense, Paul’s position anticipates the need for the Augsburg Confession (1530) and The Book of Concord (1580).

It is this idea that is behind Paul’s plea for a “great consensus” in the church, so the congregation may glorify God, “with one voice,” and be eager to, “maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace,” as he puts it in Ephesians 4:3. Consensus in confession yields a unity of Christian peace. Compromise leaves the Church in pieces. It is all about them sharing in love the bond of peace and, moreover, how it profoundly proclaims the reality of the Gospel in their midst where Christ governs startlingly differently than the way we govern ourselves in the world. Thus, there should be no factions in the congregation, because Christ is not divided.

Consensus in confession yields a unity of Christian peace. Compromise leaves the Church in pieces.

It seems like things fell out this way: Paul founded the church and there was a significant group that stuck by him. But long after he had gone, Apollos, the gifted and eloquent Alexandrian, arrived. By comparison with Apollos’ rhetorical skills, Paul’s preaching seemed—to some at least—pathetic and pedestrian. This should not surprise us. Go to any church where two preachers have worked side by side or in quick succession and you will find people comparing them. It is natural; but how easily this can pass into juvenile factions and rivalry: “I’m with Apollos, Paul sucks.” “Yeah, I was baptized by Paul, the Cadillac of Christening. Apollos’ baptism is the Yugo of sacraments.” “Oh yeah?” chimes in the next voice, “Ever heard of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles? He’s a real Jew, not like that pork-eating Apollos or turn-coat Paul. I’m not sure if either of you are even in the New Covenant. Good luck with whatever they did. I’ve been baptized by the Jaguar from Jerusalem.”

Meanwhile, there seems to be a fourth party claiming they were the real Messiah-people. “Paul, Peter, Pope, whatever. I’ve got no creed but Christ.” The Christ-only group was clearly reacting against the other three with a critical attitude toward their faithful pastors. They smugly thought themselves more spiritual because they had, at least in their pietistic minds, direct spiritual access to Christ apart from any humanly mediated tradition. “We don’t need your priest-craft. We get Jesus straight from the tap. Just me and my life-application study Bible. I’m a self-feeder, feeding on Jesus in my heart.” Paul also opposes this high-minded group.

Paul’s response to the news from Chloe’s people begins with three rhetorical questions: “Is Christ divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul” (v.13)? Paul asks, incredulously, whether Christ could possibly have been divided into separate factions. Could there perhaps be a separate Pauline Christ, another Apollos Christ, a Petrine Christ, or an unmarked Christ? Of course not, so knock it off.

Paul digs down underneath any suggestion that special significance was to be attached to the person who baptized a new Christian. Now, it must remain an open question whether some in Corinth held their baptism had created a special bond with the baptizer. There is a natural and positive sense about it. But there is not some kind of mystic relationship between the baptizer and the baptized: Do not heroize those who have baptized you. The power and glory of baptism belongs to Christ alone. It is His work, His benefits applied and, therefore, His efficacy, but it is His will to make use of pastoral ministry. Baptism to every Christian must be understood as akin to crossing the Red Sea at the time of the Exodus. It means the coming out of slavery into freedom and into Kingdom responsibilities. Christ does this by His power, using the instrument of His authority—those ordained to holy ministry. Rejoice, then, because it is really and truly Christ who baptizes (using the hands and mouth of His ministerium). The Gospel, therefore, has this additional benefit: It unifies since only Christ really does the baptizing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul distances himself from the regular administration of baptism, not because it was and is unimportant, but for two key reasons. First, baptism is that important. It is the thing which actually unifies them all, just as it does us. So, he gets himself and all other baptizers out of the way so they can see it is Christ and Christ alone who baptizes. Second, he distances himself from the regular administration of baptism because he had a unique pioneering role in spreading the Gospel as widely as possible through Apostolic preaching in order to establish normative gospel-preaching. His apostolic task required special, nontransferably historic gifts — Apostleship. Holy Baptism was for the local pastors to do and exemplified their authority. His commissioning was transparochial, unlike a regular pastor. Paul had authority over local authorities. Paul’s point was baptizing was not the chief part of the specific charge of his apostolic office like it is for your pastor(s). It is this charge and responsibility that bonds us together as one people, one family, with one confession and one supremely important purpose and mission: To embody in the here and now, through our care for one another and support of the Gospel, the kingdom of love which will be fully present in the not too distance future.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching I Corinthians 1:10-18.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach I Corinthians 1:10-18.