Summary: How do we deal with the Babel of people teaching in the church?
Saying the Same Thing
If there is anything that plagues the church today, it is the myriad of voices spouting all sort of “Christian” teachings. Christians are separated from each other by walls of doctrine. If it was ever true, the claim of a unified church which all Christians say the same thing everywhere and always certainly is not applicable today. Everyone has a teaching. Some are more “orthodox” than others. Some teach outright heresy, a gospel, as Paul says in Galatians, that is “no gospel at all.” We look at the church in the early chapter of Acts and wish we could be that church. They were saying the same thing. They were all of one heart, soul and mind. There was power displayed in that church.
The Book of 1 Corinthians is especially useful in informing us that despite the original unity of the church just after Pentecost, this unity was soon challenged. This is especially true when the Gospel spread from the original Jewish context into the Gentile world. Even the church in Acts 6 (also Acts 15) had to deal with issues that threatened to tear the church apart. In the first case, the division was along internal Jewish lines, between the Aramaic speaking Jews and the Hellenistic Greek-speaking Jews. In the latter, the church had to decide the conditions of Gentile acceptance in the church.
Paul first came to Corinth on his second missionary journey around 50 AD. He had seen and heard in a vision a Macedonian call upon him to preach there. The initial response to the gospel in Macedonia was discouraging. Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned in Philippi and then thrown out of the city. Leaving a fledgling church. Troubles arose in Thessalonica and Berea as well. Paul was treated with scorn in Athens. Paul had suffered much and seen little fruit. He did not have time to properly ground these churches. 1 and 2 Thessalonians were written to address the imperfect understanding of the Christian faith, some of them very serious.
But Paul had quite a bit more time he could spend in Corinth. At first, it looked like the same persecution which had followed him previously would hound him here as well. But God comforted Paul in a dream, and told him that He had many people in the city. So Paul had a year and a half to minister there. Many were converted there. After Paul left, Apollos felt the call to come from Ephesus to Corinth. As he was a learned and eloquent speaker who was able to refute the attacks of the Jews, he had an effective ministry there as well. Obviously, Apollos was well respected there by many. Others who came from Judaism thought well of Peter who is mentioned by his Aramaic name.
We shall see that many of the believers thought of Christianity as a philosophy rather than a way of life. This can be unserstood, seeing that the Greeks were proud of their philosophy, The philosophers tried to create an intellectual system which encompassed all of life and reality. Many systems were created. By themselves they seemed logical. The problem was that they all to some extent refuted each other. This created conflicts among the members of rival philosophical camps concerning who had the right answer. This, of course, is not new. Human history is full of factions, whether it is over sport teams, politics, theology, or as here, philosophy. So the new Christians in Corinth saw Paul, Apollos, Cephas ans even Jesus as being the heads of rival philosophical camps.
The result was chaos in the church. Paul got word of this through the household of Chloe. Paul writes 1 Corinthians to them to deal with this. He starts out peacefully enough with a warm greeting and reminder to the church who they are and for what purpose they had been called. This was a tactful approach, and it also frames Paul’s confrontation. A standard needs to be established before one tries to correct things. Paul tells them they are united to each other as well as to all the other churches who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. Now Paul measures where the church was then in light of what it had been called to be. This is good for us also. Do we resemble the church described in 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, or are we more like the church we are describing this morning? And what do we do to bridge the great gulf we find?
Paul starts his admonition by telling the Corinthians to have a unified message. The church needs to emphasize its common unity over schism and factions in the church. Church battles do not make for a good testimony to the world. The world is full of division and strife already. They don’t want to come to church to find more of the same. The true Gospel is centered upon the person, the teaching, and the words of Jesus Christ. Our unity is not an empty one. Faith has content.