When is Being a “Follower of Christ” a BAD Thing?

division 

My brothers and sisters, 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 in the name of Paul?  I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name.  (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

1 Corinthians 1:11-17

For me, this passage doesn’t go the way I expect it to. I would have expected the flow of Paul’s writing to more like one of the two:

  • One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; and still another “I follow Cephas.” Is the church divided? No! We all follow Christ.         Or…
  • One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” No one should follow me, or Apollos, or Cephas. The church follows Christ and no other.

But it doesn’t say that. I seems to condemn (or at least fails to condone) those who say they follow Christ. Why is that?

It is pretty obvious why some would say that they follow Paul. He was the founder of the church. Many people maintain a very strong attachment to the churchplanter, or any founder of an organization. Sometimes, such a person may even use that to apply undue influence over the church years, even decades, later.

It is pretty obvious why some would say that they follow Apollos. He had ministered there in Corinth as well. Apollos was described to be fervent of spirit, much like Paul. On the other hand, unlike Paul, Apollos was a great preacher/orator. Paul, by his own admission, was identified by others as a stronger writer than speaker. Frankly, churchplanters are commonly not the greatest preachers— it is not a critical skill in planting a church. They are often better at evangelizing than oratory. It is hardly surprising that some would prefer Apollos.

It is less certain why some would say that they follow Peter. Perhaps the use of his Aramaic translation (Cephas) is indicative of a strongly Jewish camp in Corinth. Paul indicates in his Epistle to the Galatians that Peter had a strong influence in Antioch. The context suggests that Peter had a strong influence in Galatia as well. Further, since Peter was the preacher at Pentecost, some might argue that while Paul founded the Church of Corinth, Peter founded the Church (as some groups argue still to this day.) On the other hand, adding Peter may have been more of a rhetorical device— making the point that the issue is more than simply about Paul and Apollos.

And then we get to the followers of Christ. I have seen commentaries that speak of these as possibly the “hyper-spiritual.” I suppose that is pretty likely, and my thought is petty consistent with that. Still, I would like to keep this simpler. After all, the passage is not about spirituality per se, but rather about divisions in the church. When one sees this as the central point, then the issue changes a tiny bit. The labels, after all, are not simply labels, but descriptions of divisions. I believe one could read verse 12 as:

One of you says, “I follow Paul— unlike you”; another, “I follow Apollos— unlike you”; another, “I follow Cephas— unlike you”; still another, “I follow Christ— unlike you.”

This way of saying it is consistent with the context, I believe, but it gives a very different feel. Of these, which is the worst?

I have a friend who also teaches missions. I like to say that he is more “Ralph Winter” while I am more “John Stott,” expressing in this how our theology lines up with a couple of 20th century missiologists. That isn’t really that bad. I Corinthians 3:6-7 downplays individual roles (specifically Paul and Apollos) but does not discount them. Rather the emphasis is on God.

But when we get to “I follow Christ” there is something different entirely. Now it could be that in chapter 1, some people were saying:

“I follow Christ— as, of course, we all do.”

It is possible. But that breaks the parallels with Paul, Apollos, and Peter. It also seems inconsistent with the next verse that utilizes the previous verse as the basis for describing the divisiveness found in the Corinthian church.  It’s more likely that some in the church of Corinth were saying to other members of the church:

“I follow Christ— and you don’t”

That is quite a strong statement. This tendency to see oneself as uniquely of Christ as opposed to other Christians has a fairly long history. Some of that has roots in fairly important doctrinal issues. After all, if one claims to follow Christ, but Christ is only a prophet, or a docetic divine being, and archangel, or deluded apocalyptic revolutionary, it may be fair to say that we don’t follow the same Christ. But it is hard to see that in the Great Schism of 1054 AD when the Western Church excommunicated the Eastern Church over issues that today appear less than trivial (except for issues of control and power— temptations of most churches). In theory the Protestant Reformation should have improved things as it became clear that the church is a spiritual entity, not a governmental entity. But alas, more fighting ensued.

In recent years it still happens. )There was a tendency to say something to the effect that, “Outside of the (as in our very specific) church, there is no salvation.” This was especially noticeable in the Restoration Movements in the 19th century… some of which had very inadequate Christologies, but many relatively orthodox. Restoration was built on the premise that the Church had for all intents and purposes died soon after the New Testament age, and they were needed to “restore” the True Church.

I am a Baptist missionary professor although I don’t generally emphasize my denominational pedigree. The Baptists were not officially among the Restorationists, but often acted like them. In the 19th century there was a movement that sought to view Baptists as uniquely God’s chosen church. They saw themselves as part of a “trail of blood” going back through to Christ Himself, while other Christians were deluded. One still comes upon this view at times.

And sometimes being Baptist isn’t enough. One has to be the right kind of Baptist. I haved lived near two Baptist churches that share a neighborhood. The pastor of one of those two churches stated they their church was the only “God-ordained” church in their neighborhood. (I wonder how one can tell that one’s church is “God-ordained”?) There is a lot of hubris there, although I hold slight hope that the pastor was joking. Less serious perhaps was a Baptist minister who told a Baptist churchplanter that she was going to hell because she had apparently committed the unforgivable sin– being a churchplanter while female.

Anyway, I can see that I am drifting off topic.

The question is “When is being a ‘Follower of Christ’ a bad thing?” I would say that when that label is used particularistically to tear apart the Church (or a church) it is a bad thing, and really draws into question whether the one speaking really is a follower of Christ.

“Two Masters” Repost

Barry Phillips is a missionary here in the Philippines. He and his wife oversee Aurora College of Intercultural Studies, among other things. This post (on FB) speaks of his concerns about Americanism (and similar ethnocentric tendencies of other groups).  He also expresses concern about militarism.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the post… but then I don’t agree with everything I say, either. But I hope you will take time to look.

Two Masters

You may also want to check his blog:  Jungle Jot

 

A Rewind at the Love Feast

Have you ever wanted to do things over again— perhaps do something different, or something the same but better. I rewind things in my mind and try to “fix” whatever I did poorly, or not as well as I could have. One of the joys of blogging is the ability to do just that. Go back and fix whatever wrong-headed opinions I had` before, or perhaps simply say it better or with less grammatical or typographical errors.

There are stories in the Bible that I would love to see a rewind made. Obviously, I am not speaking of changing the Bible, but simply wondering if the participants in the bible story would like to amend their words or behavior. This is actually one of the wonderful things about the Bible that “heroes of the faith” are shown as humans, with both strengths and weaknesses. In the church age thinsg began to change when it became impious to show such people in ways that were not laudatory. This pattern of sanitizing the records of Christian saints was so prevalent that one argument for the early date of some Christian writing was willingness of the writers to show Christian saints “warts and all.”

One story in the Bible that I wonder if the participants would have liked a rewind is found in Galatians 2:11. The story, related by Paul says:

“Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he wold eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? …” (Galatians 2: 11-14 NKJV)

This passage is generally taken by commentators as an example of Peter behaving badly. I have a study Bible with me (“The Nelson Study Bible”). In the notes for this passage, the commentators say things like, “Given Peter’s immense influence, Paul had little choice but to point out the hypocrisy directly.” “… the behavior of Peter in Antioch was contradictory and hypocritical.” “Peter’s example was so divisive…” “Peter’s actions did not represent conviction, but hypocrisy.” “Peter’s hypocritical example implied that Gentiles had to behave like Jews in order to receive God’s grace.” Clearly, the commentators have taken a position that takes Paul’s actions and perceptions quite uncritically.

I struggle with this passage, and even more so with many commentators. First and foremost, I don’t see anything in the passage that indicates that Peter was guilty of hypcrisy. Perhaps it could be generously stated that he behaved in a manner that some would be tempted to interpret as hypocritical. Of course, perhaps he DID do something wrong, but if he did, the text doesn’t clearly indicate it. After all, adapting to the culture of those you are ministering to is considered a good behavior, not bad. Behaving as a Gentile with Gentiles and a Jew with Jews could arguably be described as good missiological practice. In fact, Paul did exactly that at times. Now some would argue that the fact that it is in the canon of Scripture it must indicate the truth that Paul’s charges are completely correct and Peter was completely in the wrong. However, often godly principles in the Bible are revealed through stories that are in themselves contrasting rather than supporting godliness, or containing ambivalent behavior. Also, the point of the story was that “all people are justified equally before God” NOT “how I was completely right and Peter was completely wrong.”

Secondly, even if you feel that the context suggests that Peter did something wrong, that doesn’t mean that Paul was in the right. In fact, even if you feel that the story must accurately indicate a failing of Peter (and don’t we all have failings?), there is nothing explicit (or I would argue implicit) in the passage that the Holy Spirit found Paul’s behavior without fault.

Instead of arguing that one must be completely right and one completely wrong, is it possible that both were right… and both were wrong? Real life is often muddy that way. Only rarely is one side of a disagreement completely right and blameless and the other side completely wrong and deserving of all blame. If this story is real, as the text indicates, most likely such muddiness exists here as well. And I have to wonder if one or both of them would have liked to have a rewind.

I might imagine such a rewind as being something like this:

Paul came over to where Peter was dining and said, “Brother can I speak to you on a matter privately.”

“Of course,” responded Peter. They went outside to a quite place and Paul spoke.

“Peter, I see you separating yourself from the Gentiles for at the love feast just now. In the past, you joined with all Gentiles and Jews to eat. I felt that you provided a great example to all parties that God is not a respecter of persons— all are equal before Him. But now associates of James from the church in Jerusalem visit and suddenly you are separating yourself off from the Gentiles. It seems hypocritical to me.”

“Paul, I don’t really see it as hypocritical. Here in Antioch there is a strong culture of accepting each other regardless of our background. That is something I really love about this place. But the church in Jerusalem is not like that. While all of the leadership understand that we are equal before God, there is still a strong sense that being Jews is a key part of their group identity. Many of them still go to the temple regularly and participate in many of the festivals and activities of the Jews. Perhaps their attitude is immature, but sometimes one has to adapt oneself to the immature because they are not ready yet for the more challenging things. It is not hypocritical to feed a baby, while expecting an adult to feed himself. One needs special care and another doesn’t.”

Paul responds, “Peter, I see where you are coming from. But I think you need to know something about Antioch and many of the churches that are up here. They are not as mature as you think. They struggle like a yoke of oxen with each ox trying to go in a different direction and a different speed. There is a lot of tension between Jews and Greeks, Rich and Poor, Slaves and Masters, and more. One thing I appreciate in the love feast is that it models, symbolically, what we are and what we are meant to be— one family of one God and Savior. You may be acting in consideration to our brothers from Jerusalem, but there is a cost. That cost is the confusion it causes here in Antioch.”

“Paul. I did not know the challenges you and Barnabas and the rest have here in Syria. I will talk to our brothers from Jerusalem. I think I can explain it to them in a way they would understand. This may be a good time for them to learn not just through words, but through actions.

Peter and Paul returned to the love feast and had a joyous time.

Frankly, I like the sound of this story better. Now you may not feel the same. You may feel it is unrealistic because people tend not to deal with disagreements in such a tranquil thoughtful manner. But I can’t help but think that Paul and Peter would have preferred this rewind if they thought about it. That is because in the first story, arguably, both Peter and Paul were wrong. Peter was wrong in that he adapted culturally to a small number of people from Jerusalem without understanding that it would be interpreted by people in Antioch as either hypocritical, or supporting a racist or separatist perspective in the churches of Syria. This would be quite consistent with the impetuousness that seems to be part of the personality. of Peter. He could definitely act in ways that failed to consider the repercussions on others. Paul, on the other hand, has issues with anger. That anger sometimes leads him to lash out. (Let’s be honest, telling Galatian church members that they might want to consider emasculating themselves certainly points to someone who struggles with anger management.) Paul sees Peter respecting the feelings of the churchmembers of Jerusalem while undermining, intentionally or not, the work of the leadership at Antioch. So Paul publically lashed out at Peter.

Both were wrong, but both were right. Muddy… just like real life.