Summary: Ordinary Proper 21: Divisions among Christians are not new. Unfortunately, they are all too common - even among the same church members. But we are called to be one because of the price paid to make us one - the Cross!
At one time, we had a large aquarium. It was fun to keep it up and to learn about the different sorts of tropical fish that we kept. One of my very favorite fish was the Betta Splendens. Sometimes they are called bettas or they are called Siamese Fighting Fish. There is a picture of a betta on the cover of the sermon notes page. In their native habitat, these fish can live in puddles or rice paddies or any place where the water slow moving. The male fish have these beautiful flowing fins that make them very striking. But one of the interesting things is that the males cannot tolerate each other. You cannot put more than one of them in an aquarium or they will simply tear each other up – hence the name Siamese Fighting Fish.
Dan Ericksen tells a story all too familiar in the annals of church history. In the 1890’s there was a small Baptist church in Mayfield County, Kentucky. The church had two deacons who were constantly arguing and bickering. One of them put up a small wooden peg on the back wall so that the pastor could hang up his hat. When the other deacon discovered the peg, he was outraged, “How dare you put up a peg without consulting me!” The people in the church took sides and the congregation eventually split. Today the residents of Mayfield County still refer to the two churches as Peg Baptist Church and Anti-Peg Baptist Church. (New Life for the Church, by Doyle Young, Page 63.)
I’d suppose that if it was only these two deacons that had issues with getting along – we’d be ok. But the fact of the matter is that Christianity has struggled - almost from the very beginning – with unity. There are numerous examples in the scriptures of Christians simply not able to work together. There are examples of Christians choosing up sides. There are examples of Christians choosing to walk away from each other because they could not agree.
We find that as Jesus began his ministry, there was a certain amount of mistrust and nitpicking between those who followed John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus. The followers of John once asked, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Matthew 9.14)
In the Church at Corinth, the situation got so bad that Paul had to call them on it. It seems that there was quarreling and a number of factions had formed in the Corinthian Church. Some claimed to follow Paul, the founding missionary. Some claimed to follow Apollos, a brilliant preacher. Some claimed to follow Peter and still others Christ. Paul would have none of this. In his first letter to the Corinthian believers, we find that Paul really hammers the believers there for arguing and for choosing up sides. Let me read you some of what Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote:
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.” (1 Corinthians 1.10-15)
I find it absolutely amazing that Paul even puts the notion of Christian unity above the notion of whom he baptized among the believers in Corinth. That is really an amazing point. It isn’t that Paul doesn’t value the Sacraments, but that clear and manifest disunity among Christians is a great and grievous sin! Division and separation happen because of sin – no question about it. Here, listen to what Paul writes about the Corinthian brethren’s party spirit in chapter three:
“You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (1 Corinthians 3.3-7)