“The Main Thing is the Main Thing” (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

My favorite professor in Bible College was not generally the favorite Bible/theology teacher with most of the other students. He was decent on covering the meat and potatoes of whatever book of the Bible/doctrinal class he was teaching through, and everyone appreciated the basic clarity. But he had a habit of getting really wound up about certain subjects that would take him down one rabbit trail after another of passionate proclamation, replete with screaming and yelling and pounding the lectern. Clearly, he had lived through some debates with people of a variant theological persuasion, and he was fully convinced that he was correct and that they were in error. I agreed with him, as I continue to do so to this day.

These rants were totally awesome and full of fantastic information. But most students were frustrated by them and would drop their pens (yes, long before computers were invented) and wait for it to pass and for him to return to the subject at hand. Frankly, the best stuff he delivered and the most important teachings I came to understand were in the rants … and they tied into the subject at hand in important ways that were not immediately obvious.

I really loved this guy so much, and a large part of my desire to ultimately attend Dallas Theological Seminary was because that is where he had gone to grad school. If you made an effort to get to know him, he was actually a wonderfully kind person that was not at all like the lectern-pounding prof that most merely knew in that way.

Diana and I had him perform our wedding nearly 42 years ago. I’ve often said, “I’m of McGahey.”  (His last name)

There was another professor who was much-loved because of the organization of his materials. He would pass out notes that were very clear, and then he would teach through them in a methodical and likeable way. You never got lost. It was predictable. If you failed his tests, it really was your own fault. And though I liked this prof and his teaching just fine, and while there was much commendable about it, I found it to also be a bit mechanical. But many students would identify themselves as “I am of Showers.”  (His last name)

Yet another theology professor was very deep, and, very old. He certainly knew the Scriptures and had apparently been at the college even before the Apostle Paul was saved on the road to Damascus (or so it seemed). Every student was required upon entrance in the college to purchase two large notebooks of his Bible and theology notes – whether you were going to be in his classes or not. He talked like he personally knew every theologian since Martin Luther (and looked like he might well have).

Not a particularly cheerful fellow (think of Bernie Sanders as a theology teacher – yes, that’s a stretch), he was rather intimidating in class. He would randomly call upon some student to pray, which was a terrifying experience – that is because he would critique your prayer when you were done. He might say something like, “Don’t pray like that ever again and stop telling God over and over who he is; HE KNOWS WHO HE IS!”

Yet some students especially liked this professor because of his deep roots into the history of the school and the history of American theological education. And they could say, “I am of Mason.”  (His last name)

So, who was correct of those students?  Who was the best professor to follow?  Well, the answer would be, of course, that each of these professors brought different perspectives and variant strengths to the classroom. It was not so much that one was better than another; they each had a role to play in making the Bible/theology department excellent. There were fantastic things to be learned from the passions of all three (and a collection of other instructors not included in this already-extended illustration).

But that is not how the Corinthian church appreciated their varied leaders. Instead of seeing diverse strengths and shades of gray, they only saw their leaders in complete black and white, right and wrong, strong and weak. And they also wrote off people who would not follow and join their assessments and viewpoints.

In 1 Corinthians 1 and 3, Paul addresses the first of a host of problems in the church – confronting the various divisions that arose in the church community. Imagine that! Divisions in a church!  Yes, churches old and new can be known to have such challenges. And so much of the problem is that we have divisions because we have diversity; and we allow the diversity to be seen as a weakness, when in fact it is a strength!

Paul writes …

1 Cor. 1:10 – I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 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.”

When Paul makes his appeal here that they “agree with one another,” the original wording has the literal sense that they all speak the same thing.

And when he writes of his desire that they be “perfectly united,” this has the literal Greek meaning of restoring something to its proper condition. It was the word used in Matthew 4:21 when Jesus came upon James and John “mending” their nets. So picture a tangle of ropes needing to be sorted out. And that is what the Corinthians needed to do about this division in their midst.

The story that had filtered to Paul was that they were essentially divided into four camps around four teachers/viewpoints … Paul, Apollos, Cephas/Peter, Christ. We’ll speculate in chapter 3 about how they may have perceived these teachers and divided in this way. But Paul goes on to say …

1:13 – Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 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.

Paul asks a series of three rather ridiculous questions… to which the answer for each was “of course not!”  Christ is not divided; Paul didn’t die on the cross for the Corinthians; baptism is not in the name of Paul (or any other mere preacher).

The further remarks that Paul writes might seem to indicate that some of these faction followers aligned themselves particularly around who had baptized them. And Paul says he was glad that he himself had not done that much baptizing. To show that this was not the big thing, he tells them that he couldn’t really remember who he had baptized (I can relate to that forgetfulness!).  The big issue was their salvation from darkness to light by the power of the gospel, and that was accomplished only by Christ – the same fact for ALL of them. This is the big common denominator.

Paul finished this section by affirming that the calling to preach the gospel is not a call to the best eloquence and (alleged) wisdom. This does not diminish the value for excellence in style and communication, but the real issue is the substance. You don’t have to click around the radio or TV dial long to find preachers with great style, but little substance!  And the Corinthians were too focused upon style, personalities, diversity … all rather than on the gospel message.

It is inevitable that we may all like one preacher or style of presentation over another. That’s rather human. But forming alliances around one or another would be wrong and a focus upon the wrong value. And we’ve thankfully never had much of this sort of thing at TSF, even while being the unusual church that features a variety of speakers. The primary teaching here is the reminder that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing = the gospel message.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

2 thoughts on ““The Main Thing is the Main Thing” (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

  1. We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. (2 Cor. 10:12 NIV)

    He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (1 Tim. 3:7 NIV)

    (This is one of the qualifications listed for an overseer.)

    Randy you far excel me in many areas, like leadership, teaching ability, probably love to others in the community, and many other areas that I don’t have the brainpower to fathom or time to collect my thoughts to compile a more complete list.

    However Dallas Theological Seminary isn’t (and I know you’ll find this difficult to accept) at the cutting edge of any intellectual developments that I’m aware of.

    You grew up listening to and being impressed by “screaming and yelling and pounding the lectern” and I did too (for several years anyways) listening to tirades given by Herbert W Armstrong (a sem-populist styled radio preacher, cult-leader…).

    Scripture warns that “He who is quick tempered acts foolishly.”

    An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins. (Prov. 29:22 NIV)

    Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered,
    or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared. (Prov. 22:24-25 NIV)

    17 A quick-tempered person does foolish things, and the one who devises evil schemes is hated. (Prov. 14:17 NIV)

    Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. (Prov. 14:29 NIV)

    It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel. (Prov. 20:3 NIV)

    My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
    20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
    (Jas. 1:19-20 NIV)

    I do not think anymore of Herbert W. Armstrong as a man of God. His yelling and screaming was an act. As a matter of fact in his autobiography he laid out that in his days prior to being religious an incident where he was giving his nephew advice upon entering a speech contest at his school.

    In short his advice went like this. There are ten entrants and they are all going to give smooth polished speeches, you are not good at that, but even if you were as good as them your odds of winning would only be one out ten. However, if you find some despicable topic and attack it “Billy Sunday style” then the judges will be left with one of two styles which they prefer. The smooth style or the aggressive style. If they like your style best then you win. As it was his nephew won the speech context at the school and then went on to win the state speech contest.

    I’ll spare you my negative thoughts on the person of Herbert W. Armstrong for they are many … and quite irrelevant to what you are discussing.

    However I’d just like to remind you that scripture warns against being quick to become angry … and it at least slightly dings for me how I perceive your “favorite professor in Bible College.”

    I’m not prepared to say anything other than “slightly dings” because as you pointed out he was a really nice person in person. And I won’t say the same thing for Herbert Armstrong. The highest personal compliment I ever heard about him personally, like him doing something (not talking about some foundations he set up) is that he would dry a sink after using it. He had a penchant for quality. The fantastically well kept campus of Ambassador College was noted. At one point one leading Japanese executive asked his assistant “Have you ever heard of Ambassador College or the Ambassador ‘Foundation?” And his assistant replied, “Yes sir, That’s the place where they polish the stones on the top and the bottom.” Queen of Thailand came to visit it and called it “like heaven.”

    If you know me, you know I’m not particularly impressed with all that stuff .. at least now.

    So, my comment is nothing more than a gentle reminder, that “we all stumble in many ways.” Also there are great thinkers in many Christian religious traditions. William Lane Craig is great at debate, it has been said, (and I’ve read this from his atheist opponents!) and Mother Theresa showed love for the poor. (I’m entirely ignorant of most of the field of Christianity … ) there is a guy that I’ve sometimes heard on the radio “A few minutes with Tony” “The Urban Alternative” “Tony Evans” if I get the name right and he was really good at taking some lesson and using some short analogy to make a good spiritual point. Several other radio preachers are also very interesting to listen to.

    So, in my opinion, Dallas Theological Seminary, which you so much respect, may do a fairly good job of getting some basic doctrines right and teaching people to become ministers.

    Have they produced people who can change the world? Have they produced people like Stephen who could debate well? Are they at the forefront of integrating scientific thinking into modern apologetics? When archaeologists say they disprove the Bible and go on to sell many books … is it Dallas Theological Seminary that has the answers and responses? I’m not aware of how they defend the archaeological record.

    My uncle once told me that in a herd of bison (is it bison or buffalo … I forget the difference) that there was on main guard who would stand on alert and if it ran, only then, they would all run. A man who wanted to kill the herd would therefore shoot the main guard buffalo and then start shooting all the other buffaloes. According to my uncle, the other buffaloes would look at the guard buffalo and since he isn’t doing anything they didn’t feel they should either. They didn’t realize he was dead.

    Is Dallas Theological Seminary dead in some ways? They have to be. Are they being persecuted and slandered?

    i mean the early church for a little while after Paul’s conversion had a period of peace. Evangelicals as a whole are arguing about “definitions of marriage” and abortion. And I’m not saying there is no validity. But the church is dead on the topic of a massive 22+ trillion dollar theft from the next generation. And across the board the church is silent while we promise more money in the future for things that I can’t see being paid for. Some say the amount is something like 220 trillion, Called “Unfunded liabilities.” So the church is dead on some issues that pertain to keeping our country going for another generation.

    In the field of apologetics and archaeological research to investigate Bible History and defend it … when the truth is there .. clear … we don’t even point it out. We YAWN.

    Sorting through truth and error, wheat and chaff, wheat and tares, is very time-consuming. There is a parable that Jesus gave where basically the land-owner let the field grow with weeds in it … just because it would have been an impossible mess to sort out.

    5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
    6 Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. (1 Cor. 4:5-6 NIV)

    I like how you carefully worded your thought. “he was fully convinced that he was correct and that they were in error. I agreed with him, as I continue to do so to this day.”

    It would have been easy to write, that “he was correct” rather than “he was fully convinced that he was correct”. And you wrote “I agreed with him, as I continue to do so to this day.” Again accurately stated. Much like Peter “With the help of Silas, **whom I regard as a faithful brother**, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” (1 Pet. 5:12 NIV)

    Something measured about the way you write and think that limits unnecessary friction.

    Many people might have written something along the lines of “everything this professor taught was correct.” And to me, that would have been presumptuous.

    I think I’d have a very hard time attending a church where the minister didn’t write well (or carefully)!

    A couple weeks ago, you quoted a thought someone raised, “If God doesn’t punish the United States, he should apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” We each may see something different going wrong. Arrogance, debt, pride, aggressiveness (living by the sword), large scale national ignorance, a house (or country) divided against itself, … On almost of these issues alarm bells should be sounding. Eisenhower warned of the “Military Industrial complex” (and he was a very successful general—not a peacenik) and he advocated for national vigilance to keep the military from getting to much power. Vigilance? America? Now every time an American leader tries to make a step to de-escalate a military situation the media that opposes him brings on some retired general to argue against the idea. Rarely or never, do they point out the retired general is now making money working for some big military industry. It would be like asking a representative of the food industry what they think of “fasting.”

    The precarious nature of things … people don’t get it. We are barely avoiding an economic collapse. Various major fault-lines in California are quite overdue… the Cascadia fault-line of Washington State could erupt with a massive quake. Small chance but a major quake like at the New Madrid Fault system would disturb a lot of infrastructure (gas pipes etc). And the world is underestimating the impact threat from asteroids … probably in the range of one to three orders of magnitude (in the current risk situation).

    As strange as this sounds, some evidence indicates that people with a lot of power, shifted the election to Donald Trump. His main opponent wanted to shoot down planes of a nuclear super-power in the MiddleEast. Call it a no-fly zone to defend Alepo.

    Alarming divisions developing. Political divisions, wealth divides, world-view divisions.

    Whole branches of government are failing. Something like 70% of Americans are overweight and some 40% or so are obese? The best scientists in the world here … it is as if a magician has held everyone captive while he does something sneaky with his other hand. Yet I can’t help but think that maybe the obesity problem will turn out to be a good thing. Iran, Russia and China could probably shut off much of our power-grid with a cyber attack. Your average marathon runner can survive a month on his fat, before burning muscle, many other people could survive much longer in a food scarcity situation. (Maybe your few extra pounds are a good thing Randy!) (Even better for Tim Lester!)

    • I probably portrayed him too much as “angry” when it would have been more accurate to describe his tirades as “massively passionate.” He held his viewpoints strongly, though I’m sure that around even those of the opposite viewpoint, he was ultimately personable and kind, even while holding his position passionately.
      Dallas Seminary is the “Harvard” of such schools in evangelicalism. The brilliance of so many coming from that place and teaching there cannot be overstated. It has been a gem and asset for the church of Christ over the past century.
      Also, Tony Evans was a classmate of mine at DTS and a ministry associate in Dallas. My church where I served as minister of music was much involved with supporting Tony and his church and the organization associated with that ministry in particular – called Black Evangelistic Enterprises at that time.

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