11It has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
“Has Christ been divided?” Every translation of which I am aware has this as a question, but the Greek manuscripts don’t have punctuation marks and it’s possible that this is simply a statement: “Now I say this: because each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ ‘But I belong to Apollos,’ ‘But I belong to Cephas,’ ‘But I belong to Christ,’ Christ been divided!”
I don’t wish to go against the consensus of scholarship, but I am curious how reading the text this other way heightens the impact of Paul’s words. It is not just that it is wrong to divide the Christian community; it divides Christ. Division into parties within the church is more than unhelpful; it pushes the saving work of Christ off the stage in favor of the prestige of the church’s various preachers. Christianity becomes a school of thought, rather than a way of life. We choose up sides rather than take up the ongoing work of Christ in the world. We claim superiority in our teaching or tradition and are more invested in being Lutherans or Catholics or Baptists than we are in being Christ in the world – or we claim to be superior to all that because we are non-denominational.
The Corinthian congregation had twisted the faith so it was about me and my spirituality rather than about Christ and the world. When I make the faith about me, Christ is divided, chopped up into little pieces and worthless to the world.
And it is not just about the big divisions between church bodies. It is about all those groups within the church who want this or that style of worship, this or that sanctuary design, this or that program emphasis, this or that focus for our mission support or this or that stance on some issue of public or church policy. Such balkanization of the congregation robs the world of the message of the cross. It robs the world of the redemptive and transformative work of God.
Nothing in Paul’s letter suggests we ought not have differences of opinion, only that our disagreements cannot be about ourselves. We are not groups competing for attention and privilege in the church; we are Christ in the world. When we are divided, Christ is divided. When we are not united in the mind of Christ, we are lost in our own minds. We become rags flapping in the wind rather than a sail filled by the wind of the Spirit; we become waves tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.
A human body that is “divided” – that has open wounds or sores – is ‘unclean.’ It cannot serve the purpose for which it was made. And so a community that is divided is unclean, unfit for God’s use, unable to fulfill the purpose for which it has been set aside. But a community that is whole, that shares the mind of Christ, that is united in its service to the world, such a body is ‘clean,’ ‘holy,’ an acceptable vessel to bear Christ to the world.
Disagree we will; divide we cannot without dividing Christ.