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.