Saturday, June 14, 2014

1 Corinthians 3: Human Allegiance is Carnal

1 Cor 3:1-11 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Here Paul addresses the issue of allegiance to human leaders rather than to God. In the church at Corinth, there were divisions because some gave their allegiance to Paul while others gave their their allegiance to Apollos. Paul was a solid teacher and so he appealed to one faction. Apollos was an engaging and charismatic speaker and so he appealed to another faction. This tendency towards factionalism is a manifestation of the flesh, not the Spirit: "For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving in a human way? For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not being merely human (NKJV: carnal)"? So we see that carnal Christians are not spiritual: in fact, they are "infants in Christ" (v.1). Factionalism is a sign of spiritual immaturity.

And this carnal manifestation is not limited to first century Christians. Denominationalism is also a kind of factionalism: the Presbyterians claim allegiance to John Calvin; the Methodists claim allegiance to John Wesley; the Lutherans claim allegiance to Martin Luther; the Catholics claim allegiance to the Popes; while Anglicans claim allegiance to the Thomas Cranmer, author of the Book of Common Prayer. While there is nothing wrong with denominations as historical institutions, denominationalism is quite different, for it prides itself as the only Church faction that has got its doctrines and practices completely right.

This carnal attitude is not limited to traditional churches. Even contemporary and charismatic churches show this tendency towards factionalism. We either claim allegiance to certain brand of doctrine and practice or we claim allegiance to a particular pastor's teaching as the complete "revelation" of God so we don't even need to check out the Scripture any more. Factionalism is motivated by spiritual pride whereas the spirit of Christ is humility and teachability. Humility recognises that we all know in part and no one has got our theology and practice perfectly right. We have to remain humble and teachable to learn from one another. Every denomination or church has something to contribute to the larger Body of Christ, but it is not self-sufficient.

Factionalism--whether as denominationalism or as pastor-worship--is a manifestation of the flesh (sinful nature), not the Spirit: "Now the works of the flesh are obvious:... strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions..." (Gal. 5:19, 20, NET).

Father, deliver us from factionalism so that we may remain teachable and open to reason. Amen.

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