Posted On March 8, 2015

The danger of the cult of personality has ever been with us. Paul warned the Corinthian church:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name (1 Cor 1:10–15; ESV).

Perhaps fundamental problem of the Corinthian congregation was the division between “haves” and “have nots.” The specious doctrines of the “higher life” and “second blessing” did not originate with the Montanists in the 2nd century, with the Anabaptists (1520s), with Cane Ridge (1801), nor even at Azusa Street (1906). The Corinthians were beset with the theory that there are spiritual “haves” and “have nots,” which notions manifested themselves in all manner of divisions. On of those manifestations was the development of parties organized around various personalities. I take it that Paul is not being hyperbolic but rather that he is listing for us actual groups. What the Corinthians did not seem to understand is that Paul, Apollos, and Peter were mere ministers, sent by Christ (hence apostles) with genuine and even remarkable but ministerial authority. I say remarkable because, contra Rome, the various neo-Pentecostalists, and primitivists, the apostles had authority and powers and an office that ceased with them. They raised people from the dead and put people to death. They healed and survived attempted assassinations and other threats that gave repeated evidence that they were endowed with particular gifts, powers, and authorities that—all claims to the contrary not withstanding—do not exist any longer. As Warfield noted long ago, the claims to renewed apostolic gifts collapse under scrutiny. In that respect, “Pentecostal” is a misnomer. Were the actual gifts of Pentecost in evidence we would not be debating their validity. They are really neo-Montanists, who were the first to try to recreate the apostolic era. Like the Montanists they cheat by re-defining the ordinary things that happen to them as if they were apostolic. Of course we should not concede easily the equivalence.

In Paul’s analysis, the outward divisions among the Corinthian Christians were symptoms of a most serious underlying condition: unbelief. He explains:

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? (1 Cor 3:3; ESV)

Paul, Peter (Cephas), and Apollos were mere workers in God’s vineyard. They tended but the Holy Spirit made the church grow (1 Cor 3:5–9). The divisions among them, he wrote, were “necessary” so that by them it would become evident who among them were “approved” (δόκιμοι; 1 Cor 11:19). Assuming that he was not being ironic then one infers that those who not participating in the schisms demonstrated that they were not building their own little empires within the church but recognizing that the church is Christ’s, that he is the Savior, he the Lord, and we are his.

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