Unity in Christ 2 (I Cor. 1:10-18)
He was one of the most influential voices for religious freedom in 17th Century America. His work as a minister, missionary, and politician resulted in the formation of the First Baptist Church in Rhode Island and the province of Rhode Island. His name, Roger Williams, has become well-known in most history books, but not always related to church history. It was Catherine Scott and Ezekiel Holliman that introduced Roger to the Baptist faith in Marthe church 1639. However, not long after he subscribed to the Baptist way of life, he left altogether. Many have asked, how could this happen so quickly? Historian Leon Macbeth writes, "We see that Williams lost confidence in his baptism, not its mode but its authority. He took the view that for church ordinances to be valid they must be traced by unbroken succession back to the apostles. Any break in that succession would invalidate the ordinance." Williams hang-up was not in the mode or meaning of baptism; instead, he was consumed with the baptizer's authority. We might ask, how could such an amazing man be led astray by such a strange issue. However, 1600 years before Williams lived, Paul was dealing with a group of people divided over this kind of problem.
The Church of Corinth was divided soon after it was founded in 51 A.D. The quarreling was about the authenticity of baptism as it relates to the identity of the baptizer. Some felt their pedigree as believers were better than others simply because of who baptized them. Paul reminded them that the most important thing was not who baptized them, but in whose name they were baptized, the Lord Jesus Christ. Overall, in this passage, we learn that the less a church emphasizes the person and work of Jesus in worship and practice, the more they will experience disunity and division. Paul begins in verse ten by reminding the church of who binds them as their central source of unity. He wrote, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you…" Paul further elaborates on the notion by asking three crucial questions, all of which should be answered negatively. In I Cor. 1:13, he asks, "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" Now it should be obvious that Jesus cannot be divided, nor should his body be riddled with division. Paul later wrote to the Ephesians believers, "There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." The answer to the second question is also "no" because Paul was merely a human being and not the perfect Son of God. Only Jesus crucified took away the punishment for sins. The final question is even more absurd because the Corinthians were baptized in the name of Christ. However, they were consumed with who baptized them, not so much the meaning or the baptism mode.
In the final verses of this section, Paul makes a plea for the Corinthians to allow nothing to get in the way of seeing the Cross of Jesus and experiencing the gospel's transforming power. When something interferes with the Cross's message, the meaning and power are devoid of its power to save. He is concerned, "lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power."
As believers in Christ who belong to local churches, we must be vigilant not to let secondary matters of faith consume primary issues of theology and the gospel. For the Corinthians, it was the baptizer's authority, eclipsing the true meaning of the baptism.