Divisons in the Church

Written by Joel on January 27th, 2011

Jan 23, 2011
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
1 Corinthians 1:10-18

No audio this week, I had some trouble with the portable mic.


Can you think of a single group of people in which there are no divisions? That are perfectly united in mind and thought? The apostle Paul instructs us today that this is how the church ought to act.

We heard last week about the problems which existed within the Corinithian church. In our second reading today Paul addresses head on the first of the problems in the Corinthian church: division.

It seems that it is in our very human nature to be divisive. There is that old saying that if you have three people in a room you get four opinions. And yet Paul calls the church to be perfectly united in mind and thought.

What is the division he is speaking against? Paul has heard reports of a particular kind of division in the Corinthian church from an aquantance of his. This division is manifesting itself in the form of factions forming within the church. The various church members are taking sides, or you mgiht think of like choosing teams. I am on Paul’s team, I am on Apollos’ team, I am on Peter’s team, I am on Christ’s team.

Paul is the one who planted this church and perhaps some members may have fond memories of those earily days. The energy, the hope, the excitment. Perhaps the spiritual experience of their conversion marked a profoundly important mile marker on their spiritual journey. And so these Christians may have naturally been drawn to Paul, and so naturally identify with him.

After Paul planted the church, Apollos maintained it; discipling the new Christians and teaching them more about Christ. Paul, describing the situation, later says that he planted and Apollos watered, but of course God made the Christians grow. Perhaps the Christians who choose to declare themselves on the Apollo team valued this deeper sense of discipleship which came after the intial newness of Christianity.

There were other Christians claiming to belong to Peter. Perhaps these Christians were drawn to the Jewish roots of Christianity wanting to maintain that connection. Still others going straight to the source and claiming to belong to Christ himself.

We are all different, we remember that God created us male and female – different. And we are all drawn to different aspects of our deep faith, including different traditions and different spiritual practicies. But, the case in the Corinthian church went further than this affinities for various aspects of the faith. It turned into faction, division, and schism. The Pauls, Apollos’, Peters, and Christs groups claimed superiority to one another; they lost sight of the fact that they did not belong to individuals or ideas; they blong to God and to one another.

But, why is this division a problem? The church is universal, but we are not all meant to be exactly the same. God made us different after all. But it is when these groupings within the church become more important than our allegiance to Christ that division is problematic.

In the fire service there is some good healthly rivalry. And most of the time it benefits everyone. There is pride in who has the best equipment, there is pride in who does the best job so the various companies train in order to serve the community better – it is thier purpose. There were two fire companies whose service area bordered each other at an intersection. Everytime there was a wreck or fire alarm on that insection, the company who got there first got some bragging rights. And of course getting resources to the scene quickly is good for the community too. But there was firefighter who was more interested in who was best than in serving the community. He got into an arguement with the rival fire company about who would be first to arrive at another border area. He was so proud of his own service and proving himself that he called in a false alarm to put the two companies to the test. They got there first, but there was a real fire across town while they were out on this wild goose chase for pride’s sake. The house burned to the ground.


Paul, asks “Is Christ divided?” And we know that no! Of course Christ is not divided. But what a troubling image. Christ divided. That what we do as a church and as Christians in our division is cutting up Christ into tiny little pieces.

The week of prayer for Christian unity (different North and South). This has been a challenge and a problem which Christians have been facing for a very long time, very clearly manifest in the innumerable denominations. It seems Christians continue to claim allegience to reformation founders, styles of church government, or spiritual practices, even Christian groups claiming to be “of Christ” in our modern day and yet continuing to be devisive. For the most part, Christians recognize that this division is problematic and strive for unity. We call this effort ecumenism. In fact, we just finished the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity…well, that’s the week of prayer in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere it is prayed during Pentecost – we can’t even agree on when to pray for our unity, much less the date of Easter, among other issues of difficulty.

What kind of unity does Paul expect? He calls us to end divisons, and to be perfectly united in mind and thought. How can this be possible in the church with so many seeminly incompatible theologies? And I certainly don’t have the magic answer. But I do see signs of hope. Even here in this congregation, being United Church of Christ and yet calling a pastor from a different traditional background. How many of you have come from other Christian traditions before finding a spiritual home here? I believe that Christians everywhere are called to avoid ways of thinking that make the factions more important than Christ and the Church. It takes a great deal of humility, and sense of purpose, and the submission to the work of God.

In one of my favorite sports movies, Miracle, coach Herb takes a group of college kids and forms them into the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team who will face all-professional Russian Hockey team which won 4 consecutive gold medals. During practice coach Herb asks players randomly “What’s your name?” and “Who do you play for?” One team member would answer with the name of his school where he was recuited from “I play for Boston,” “I play for University of Minnesota.” Fighting broke out among the team members and there certainly wasn’t a sense of unity on this team. During one particularly nasty and divisive practice coach Herb lines of the team on the line and makes them skate the rink back and forth to exhaustion. Again and again and again he makes them skate back and forth. Until finally a team member shouts out his name. The coach stops and asks “Who do you play for?” The team member shouts with as much energy as he has left “I play for the United States of America!” The coach sends them home.

Is Christ divided? Who do you play for?


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