Summary: All Christians should recognize Jesus Christ is the leader of the church, and do what they can do foster unity in the local church and the worldwide church.
A very interesting thing happened last week in the NFL playoff game between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. Trailing by 18 points late in the 3rd quarter, Indianapolis faced a 4th and 2 in their own territory. Coach Tony Dungy made the standard decision and sent out the punting squad. However, as the punting squad was jogging onto the field, the cameras caught Indianapolis quarterback Payton Manning shooing them off of the field with his arms and his voice, “Go back, go back!” He made the decision on his own that the team was going to go for the first down rather than punt. And for a few seconds the team was quite confused. “Do we listen to Coach Dungy, or do we listen to our quarterback?” It ended up going well for Indianapolis, as they ended up going for it on 4th and 2 and getting the first down (though they still ended up losing the game).
In all my years of watching football games I’ve never seen anything like that. The players had to make a choice in an instant who they were following – and instead of having only one choice now they had two. I still wonder what Coach Dungy was thinking then, and now, about his star quarterback’s decision to “take over”. For if a football team is divided over who they are following, chaos will come to their team and they’ll never be able to succeed.
The same thing is true in the church of Jesus Christ. The church may have all sorts of important players, “quarterbacks” who lead their congregations, but if the other players in the church start to get confused about who is ultimately leading their team, chaos will come to our team and we’ll never be able to succeed.
Such was the case in Corinth when Paul wrote his letter to them around the year 50 AD. As you’ll remember, Paul visited Corinth and spent about 2 years there, planting the church, but then left to begin other churches. Around 2 years later he finds himself in Ephesus leading the church there, when he receives word from some friends in Corinth that the church has fallen into divisions. It seems that in the time since he had been there, the church had benefited from the teaching and leadership of a couple different “quarterbacks”: men like Apollos and Peter (AKA Cephas). So after building them up, reminding them that as a church they lack no spiritual gift and can trust in God to be faithful to the end – he addresses this problem.
1 Cor 1:10-17 (NLT)
10Now, dear brothers and sisters, I appeal to you by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so there won’t be divisions in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. 11For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your arguments, dear brothers and sisters. 12Some 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." 13Can Christ be divided into pieces?
Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15for now no one can say they were baptized in my name. 16(Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.) 17For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News--and not with clever speeches and high-sounding ideas, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.
Paul is not concerned that people may prefer Apollos’ or Peter’s leadership to his. His real concern is that the church has taken its focus off of Jesus Christ as the leader of the church, and is drawing into factions which follow earthly teachers instead.
It’s easy to see how this happened to them, because the same things happen today. People feel drawn to a certain teacher because they appreciate their style of teaching, or because of the content of their teaching, or because that teacher helped bring them to know Christ, or simply because of the personality of the teacher. And pretty soon you hear people saying things like, “I’m a Baptist.” “I’m a Lutheran.” “I’m a Foursquarer.” “I’m an Episcopalian.” “I’m a Presbyterian.” “I’m a Christ the Kinger”
When this happens the church, which is supposed to be united under Jesus Christ as our leader, becomes divided. Paul appeals to us across the centuries:
I appeal to you by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so there won’t be divisions in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. (v. 10)