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Saying the Same Thing

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How do we deal with the Babel of "Christian" teachings we hear today?

Saying the Same Thing 1 Corinthians 1:11-18 If there is anything that plagues the church today, it is the myriad of voices spouting all sort of “Christian” teachings. Christians are separated from each other by walls of doctrine. If it was ever true, the claim of a unified church which all Christians say the same thing everywhere and always certainly is not applicable today. Everyone has a teaching. Some are more “orthodox” than others. Some teach outright heresy, a gospel, as Paul says in Galatians, that is “no gospel at all.” We look at the church in the early chapter of Acts and wish we could be that church. They were saying the same thing. They were all of one heart, soul and mind. There was power displayed in that church. The Book of 1 Corinthians is especially useful in informing us that despite the original unity of the church just after Pentecost, this unity was soon challenged. This is especially true when the Gospel spread from the original Jewish context into the Gentile world. Even the church in Acts 6 (also Acts 15) had to deal with issues that threatened to tear the church apart. In the first case, the division was along internal Jewish lines, between the Aramaic speaking Jews and the Hellenistic Greek-speaking Jews. In the latter, the church had to decide the conditions of Gentile acceptance in the church. Paul first came to Corinth on his second missionary journey around 50 AD. He had seen and heard in a vision a Macedonian call upon him to preach there. The initial response to the gospel in Macedonia was discouraging. Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned in Philippi and then thrown out of the city. Leaving a fledgling church. Troubles arose in Thessalonica and Berea as well. Paul was treated with scorn in Athens. Paul had suffered much and seen little fruit. He did not have time to properly ground these churches. 1 and 2 Thessalonians were written to address the imperfect understanding of the Christian faith, some of them very serious. But Paul had quite a bit more time he could spend in Corinth. At first, it looked like the same persecution which had followed him previously would hound him here as well. But God comforted Paul in a dream, and told him that He had many people in the city. So Paul had a year and a half to minister there. Many were converted there. After Paul left, Apollos felt the call to come from Ephesus to Corinth. As he was a learned and eloquent speaker who was able to refute the attacks of the Jews, he had an effective ministry there as well. Obviously, Apollos was well respected there by many. Others who came from Judaism thought well of Peter who is mentioned by his Aramaic name. We shall see that many of the believers thought of Christianity as a philosophy rather than a way of life. This can be unserstood, seeing that the Greeks were proud of their philosophy, The philosophers tried to create an intellectual system which encompassed all of life and reality. Many systems were created. By themselves they seemed logical. The problem was that they all to some extent refuted each other. This created conflicts among the members of rival philosophical camps concerning who had the right answer. This, of course, is not new. Human history is full of factions, whether it is over sport teams, politics, theology, or as here, philosophy. So the new Christians in Corinth saw Paul, Apollos, Cephas ans even Jesus as being the heads of rival philosophical camps. The result was chaos in the church. Paul got word of this through the household of Chloe. Paul writes 1 Corinthians to them to deal with this. He starts out peacefully enough with a warm greeting and reminder to the church who they are and for what purpose they had been called. This was a tactful approach, and it also frames Paul’s confrontation. A standard needs to be established before one tries to correct things. Paul tells them they are united to each other as well as to all the other churches who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. Now Paul measures where the church was then in light of what it had been called to be. This is good for us also. Do we resemble the church described in 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, or are we more like the church we are describing this morning? And what do we do to bridge the great gulf we find? Paul starts his admonition by telling the Corinthians to have a unified message. The church needs to emphasize its common unity over schism and factions in the church. Church battles do not make for a good testimony to the world. The world is full of division and strife already. They don’t want to come to church to find more of the same. The true Gospel is centered upon the person, the teaching, and the words of Jesus Christ. Our unity is not an empty one. Faith has content. Paul seems especially indignant about those who said “I am of Paul.” The Greek pronoun “Ego” is added to make this emphatic. Even though this extra pronoun could be applied to the other three factions, it is clear by his rhetorical questions “Was Paul Crucified for you?” and “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Paul was no philosopher, he was a called apostle of Jesus Christ. Cephas and Apollos had also been called to proclaim the Gospel. The party who said “I am of Christ” were technically correct, but there may have been theological pride involved on the part of this camp. Instead of understanding this truth as a means of unifying they church, their attitude was pitting Christ against Paul, Cephas and Apollos. What Paul emphasizes is that Paul, Apollos, Cephas and Christ were on the same team, rather than rivals. Even though there might be some differences in how they presented the Gospel, it was the same Gospel they were proclaiming. Paul’s approach to the Gospel was predicated upon his preaching to Gentiles, many of whom had little or no knowledge of the Hebrew Scripture. Jesus used Rabbinic methods to teach Aramaic-speaking Jews in Palestine. Yet, as Herman Ridderbos noticed, when the message of Paul and that of Jesus are compared, they were speaking at heart the same message. Apollos had to deal with Greek-speaking Jews called Hellenists. He had to frame the Gospel in light of Jewish opposition. But he was preaching the same Gospel. If one looks at the sermons of Peter and Paul in Acts, one should see the similar elements in the message. There are not 4 gospels, there is one gospel adapted to the recipients of the message. The same Holy Spirit is the author of all. Paul is not belittling baptism when he says that he was not called to baptize but to preach. One must understand the context. Baptism implies discipleship. We see this in the Great Commission when it mentions baptism followed by being taught everything Jesus taught. The nations (Gentiles) were to be discipled. That is the main verb in the sentence, and baptism is a substantial part of the message. But if people thought that being baptized made one the disciple of the baptizer, this would be a serious error. We do not make disciples of ourselves, we make disciples of Jesus Christ. There were many in Paul’s day who held to John the Baptist, even after John’s work was completed by introducing Jesus. Some of his disciples became indignant that Jesus’ disciples were baptizing more than they were. Their understanding was that Jesus was properly a disciple of John the Baptist, despite John;s protestations to the contrary. The fact that all four Gospels have to deal with the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. We would do well to remember ourselves that we do not baptize in the name of John Wesley or the United Methodist Church or any other Christian leader or denomination. We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity. Paul now emphasizes thet the Gospel is not a philosophy. It is not the words of human wisdom. Jesus is not another Aristotle, Plato or Dr. Phil. The world has enough philosophy, and philosophy has utterly failed in the end. This is because the philosophers thought the problem with man was an intellectual problem. People were ignorant and needed their instruction. But ultimately the system comes crashing down. Plato seemed like he has “the” answer to everything until we read his pupil Aristotle. And Diogenes made cynics of everyone. Postmodernism has replaced our intellectual system. The world can not find a metanarrative which unifies existence, so each one is on his or her own to find one. This leads to anarchy. As the Bible says: “In that day there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” The Book of Judges miserable illustrates what that kind of anti-philosophy comes to. There is nothing new under the son. All of these systems have been tried before. They might seem to work for a while, but they all eventually collapse. The Bible does not see the problem with humanity as an intellectual problem but a moral and relational one. The problem is not that people are ignorant. Ignorance is not the cause but the result of depravity. It is because Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. It is a problem of sin. They were promised enlightenment and received ignorance and death. The problem cannot be solved by education, but only by God. The Gospel is not that God sent an enlightened philosopher to Israel. It is true Jesus taught, but teaching only comes after transformation. The world gets Jesus wrong when it looks at His teaching as the means of salvation. It is the result of salvation and the process of restoring transformed sinners. The message starts with “Repent and believe the Gospel.” It is the preaching of the cross of Christ which is the true power. To reduce Christianity to a philosophy is to empty the cross of its power which is the only means of salvation. All human wisdom is reduced to foolishness. The dispciple of Christ need to know this. All philosophies rise and fall in time. At one time, the “sophisticated” hold to one for a season. Then some other philosophy becomes sophisticated and they follow that. They think they are following something new, but it has been tried before. If Christianity is treated as a philosophy, it will suffer the same fate. Not too long ago, one could not be elected to office in this country unless “he” was a “Christian.” Now it is becoming difficult in many places to be elected to office if one is a Christian. Maybe Christendom will come back into vogue again. But it will fail again if it is only a philosophy. The trouble with a “Christian” intellectual system is that it tries to incorporate human philosophy alongside Christian doctrine to make a unified system. At first, this seems to be impressive. We can use philosophy as a bridge to lead people to Christ. It is as impressive as the statue in the Book of Daniel. The head is pure gold and the body of valuable silver. But it stands upon legs of mixed iron and clay. One tap of a hammer on the legs brings the whole statue down. The same happens when we mix perishable human wisdom and the wisdom of God proclaimed in the cross. The philosophical part of the new intellectual system gets tapped, and the whole system crashes. We must then not be so easily allured by human wisdom. Rather we must continue to preach the cross which offends Jews and seems so foolish to the sophisticated, many of whom still attend church. We must also realize that we must proclaim this same Gospel in whatever culture we might find ourselves. Paul, Apollos and Cephas were all on team Jesus, and so must we.
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