Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, “I am of Paul”; and “I of Apollos”; and “I of Cephas”; and “I of Christ”.
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12-13).
If things got much worse in Corinth there might well have been the Pauline Church, the Apollonic Church, the Petrine Church, and the church of Christ, as opposed to just the singular “Church of God” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
Even though many issues were problematic in Corinth Paul begins with what he had heard from Chloe’s people: the Corinthians were contending amongst themselves and lines were being drawn around various people: Paul, Apollos, Cephas/Peter, and Christ (1 Corinthians 1:11-12). Paul will address this issue in various ways from 1 Corinthians 1:10 until 1 Corinthians 4:21, attempting to emphasize that God is the one who deserves all the glory, that such divisiveness exposes a carnal/fleshly mentality incompatible with the spiritual wisdom of Christ in the Gospel; these growing divisions indicate jealousy and strife, works of the flesh, walking after the manner of men, and not after Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1-4). The church is God’s building, God’s temple; it is not for man to divide, but, as Paul says, for all to speak the same thing in subjection to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10, 3:9).
The New Testament is full of warnings about what would happen in the future with many false teachers attempting to lead Christians astray (e.g. Acts 20:18-35, 1 Timothy 4:1-3); while such false teachers existed even in New Testament times, by the end of the first century local churches still maintained the pattern of organization they received from the Apostles and recognized each other as fellow churches seeking to glorify the Lord and hold firm to the faith as delivered by the Apostles (Jude 1:3, Revelation 2:1-3:21). Churches in different towns were not different denominations but local congregation of the Lord’s people in different areas. Nevertheless, we do see the principle of denominationalism strongly condemned here in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13. Paul did not want to see Christians drawing lines against each other on the basis of their favorite preacher; if there were a “Pauline Church” and a “Petrine Church” in Corinth it would be a failure of God’s purposes for unity, not merely in pretense, but in substance: to have the same mind and same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:11). There may not be the “Pauline Church” and the “Petrine Church,” but there are the Lutheran Churches, Mennonite Churches, and the Wesleyan Churches, named after the men whose preaching or teaching influenced those who would follow them. Other churches are denominated by their pretense toward universalism or correctness (Catholicism, Orthodoxy), by church polity (Presbyterians, Congregationalists), or by geographical origins (Anglicans). While many such groups have come to understand the need for unity based in John 17:20-23 none have yet proven willing to uphold Paul’s standard in 1 Corinthians 1:10 to not be divided by party or names of past preachers but instead to be of the same mind and judgment, to be part of the Temple of God, His one church, where Christians work together according to the truth of the Gospel to advance His purposes. In the end, if Paul chastised the Corinthians for their jealousy and strife manifest in following particular preachers, how can such practices and denominations be justified today?
Such “cults of personality”, jealousy, and strife are not limited to “those denominations.” Many more are recognizing that the divided heritage of Christendom is an embarrassment to Christ and the faith, the opposite of the unification of mankind in His blood as was God’s eternal plan (John 17:20-23, Ephesians 2:1-18, 3:10-11). Yet even then many will follow a particular preacher. Among churches of Christ many have spoken strongly against denominationalism and for unity in the Lord’s church in the truth yet delineated themselves along the lines of various publications or movements or trends. In the end “I follow this paper” or “I follow this school” is no better than “I follow Peter” or “I follow Luther”; they are all evidence of division and strife in the church which ought not be!
It is interesting, however, that Paul includes among the various “divisions” or “sects” those who say “I follow Christ.” Some have speculated that these last people were the ones who truly understood God’s purposes, yet the text provides no such indication. Paul identifies these four as the various “sects” developing in Corinth (Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ), and then immediately asks, “is Christ divided” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13a)?
One can imagine what those of the “Christ-sect” were thinking as the letter was read aloud. They, after all, could give all the “right” answers. “Was Paul crucified for you” (1 Corinthians 1:13)? No, of course not; neither were Cephas or Apollos. But Christ was (1 Corinthians 1:23). “Were ye baptized into the name of Paul” (1 Corinthians 1:13)? No, nor into Cephas or Apollos, but they were all baptized into Christ (1 Corinthians 1:14-15, Galatians 3:27). So the “Christ-sect” had all the right answers. So how could they be condemned?
The problem is not their answers; the problem is not really in being “of Christ.” The problem is the jealousy, strife, and contention for which Paul chastises all the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:11, 3:1-4). The sectarian mindset and attitude is the problem: you can have the “right name” and the “right answers” but maintain the wrong attitude.
This is an important warning for members of churches of Christ. We do well to seek to be of the same mind and the same judgment, one in the faith in the truth as Paul exhorts in 1 Corinthians 1:10. Yet the danger of denominating remains ever present, to consider oneself “Church of Christ” as another considers himself a “Baptist” or another a “Lutheran.” If, in the end, the Restoration Movement simply created new denominations, then its energizing spirit has failed and proved a lie. If the Restoration Movement has merely spawned some new denominations it proves little better than that against which it arose.
At its best the Restoration Movement emphasized both unity and truth. Truth without unity is sectarianism headed toward Pharisaism and even Gnosticism, the “enlightened” clearly superior to the “ignorant” masses. Unity without truth is what we can find in the modern ecumenical movement, an attempt to declare victory in failure, seeking to affirm all they agree upon while dismissing the very real remaining divisions as irrelevant, and the goal of 1 Corinthians 1:10 as stated to be a pipe dream. Meanwhile Jesus is the truth and has prayed for unity among those in the truth (John 14:6, 17:20-23). Christians do well to call themselves Christians or believers and to speak of churches in ways seen in the New Testament, honoring God in Christ and not named after men or church polity. Christians do well to follow God according to the New Testament and not the creeds and cults of personality of men as Paul well describes in 1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21. Yet it must always be remembered that sectarianism is a work of the flesh; all division is the result of jealousy and strife, and for good reason all three are reckoned as works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). When such things take place it hardly matters who is “right” and who is “wrong” doctrinally; the division is wrong, the sectarianism is wrong, and we must do all we can to encourage all who believe in Christ to fully reflect the unity He desires, not merely in pretense, but in truth, having the same mind and judgment, one in Christ. Let us be one as God is one and thus testify to His great power!
Ethan R. Longhenry