Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. What I mean is this: that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? Thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name! Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanas too. Otherwise, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else. Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning.1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (CEB)
I think we can all safely agree that we are living in incredibly divided times. We are divided by political party; we are divided by sports teams; we are divided by race; we are divided by gender. We are divided by so many things we are even divided by what Jesus we follow: a Lutheran Jesus, a Baptist Jesus, a Catholic Jesus — all these different divisions are everywhere we look!
It’s almost as though we humans are so good at creating divisions that we start to care more about them than we should! Oh wait, that’s exactly what happens! Look at the sheer number of expressions of Lutheran-style Christianity in American alone, not even counting the innumerable expressions across the world. We are disturbingly divided.
When Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he expresses his dismay at all these divisions saying, “Has Christ been divided?” Note up above, when I talked about the different Jesuses we follow; of course I don’t mean we all follow a different God, but in practice — whether intentionally or not — we act as though we do. Like the Corinthians, our divisions become more important than what unites us..
We see this in almost every area of our lives: politics, economics, race, gender, sports, video games, hobbies; we build up communities that allow us (and even more worryingly, compel us) to create in the “other” a villain of the worst standing.
(I do want to be clear, there are times in our lives when we encounter someone who actually is a villain to us. If you are in a situation where someone is causing you harm or abuse, that is absolutely an appropriate “division” to make; there are friends and services out there who will help you in that situation. Wisdom comes in helping us discern who is actually a villain, and who we are vilifying unjustly.)
So when Paul expresses dismay at the divisions in Corinth, I don’t think he’s saying to throw out Apollos’ distinctives, or throw out Peter’s (Cephas’) or throw out Paul’s; I think he’s instead calling us to remember that we have a higher unity — that which is found in Christ. Or to put it in modern terms, we don’t need to be rid of Luther or Calvin or McPherson or Wesley, but instead remember that, while we choose to be Lutheran Christians, we are above all chosen by Christ.
But this plays out in more than just the church. We can celebrate differences even while refraining from divisiveness. No matter our race, gender, class, or whatever else; we can almost always find unity together, celebrating that which makes us different, to work for all of our good.
Pastor Mike Galica
Holy Cross Lutheran Church