As previously mentioned, we are drive around our vacation spot and cannot help but notice there is a church building every few blocks in the cities and about every couple miles in the country. I don’t know the history of why this is but cannot help wondering if this is a sign of division. Even the same denomination might have two churches within shouting distance of each other. Are these congregations like the ancient church in Corinth?
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.” (1 Corinthians 1:11–12)
The book I am using for devotions says this is a problem of authority in the church. They were divided by religious loyalties. Some considered Paul as their leader, the one who stressed justification by faith and Christian liberty from the bondage of law. Others sided with Apollos who was a teacher filled with knowledge of Scripture. Still others followed Peter, an original disciple with a great love for Christ and a concern for the principles of the law. Also, some looked at the rest and announced that they simply followed Christ as if they were above the rest and were keeping Christ all to themselves.
Throughout church history, disputes have divided God’s people. Some of them were far less important than theological differences. Sad as this is, it happens and Paul’s answer to the Corinthians is the same for all:
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. (1 Corinthians 3:1–7)
It does not matter what the arguments are about. What matters is that they come from our selfish, sinful old nature. The cure for this is first recognizing and confessing our sin. After that, we need to reconcile our differences. This is not about compromise or ‘agreeing to disagree’ but about finding and restoring the unity we have in Christ. People who are filled with the Spirit of God cannot behave in divisive ways.
Jesus gave the disciples one criteria by which the outside world could judge them. He said,
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35)
While I realize a revival would fill and overflow all of these church buildings, seeing so many churches still troubles me somewhat and makes me wonder what those outside the church think. Do they assume that most of their neighbors are Christian people, or do they wonder why they cannot worship together? Is this a God-thing? Or is it a human, fleshy thing?
Lord, my questions are not likely to be answered, but I realize I need to give them to You and pray for Your will to be done. Forgive us for all our silly spats and differences. Restore those who argue, whatever it takes. Sometimes churches come together in times of disaster. That is a good thing and shows that the divisions and differences are not important. It’s just sad that unity needs that kind of pressure before it appears so we get along and are able to glorify You with the unity You have given us.