An issue that arises in this first chapter is the way in which factions have developed within the church, each seeking to ally themselves with a different teacher. Some follow Paul, others, Apollos, Cephas, or Christ.
This may have reflected ethnic divisions in Corinth, with the Roman contingent in the city preferring the Roman citizen, Paul. The Greeks identified with the Greek, Apollos. Jews with Peter, here identified with his Jewish name, Cephas. Ken Bailey writes:
Breaking into ethnic enclaves is unacceptable. Furthermore, loyalties to individuals is not an excuse for breaking the unity of the church. Their leaders are not adequate centers for primary loyalty. (Emphasis mine.)
We still fall into this trap of lifting individuals up into a role that is only properly filled by Jesus Christ. That is a clear emphasis of Paul in chapter 1: Jesus Christ is who matters more. Did Paul die for you? Were you baptized into Paul? No. Jesus Christ, and he alone, has died for you and could do so. Being indentified with Christ is what is greatest importance and he is whose name we call upon and whose name is placed upon us. After all, we’re called Christians.
Again, Bailey sums up the issue well and very succintly, “The question is not ‘Who is my leader?’ but rather, ‘Who died for us?’” These divisions are problematic, but the solution lies in turning to the cross, which dominates the next section of 1 Corinthians.
Today I saw this article on the front page of Christianity Today that I thought (was going to) fit perfectly on this topic. It’s titled ‘Our Unhealthy Obsession with Pastors,’ by Luma Simms. The article does do a good job of hitting on this point that we can focus too much on a local church leader, and Simms writes, “Many of us have come to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that the man standing up front every Sunday is the only one doing real ministry.”
Of course that is not true. Pastors are just one group among the whole royal priesthood of God’s people. While we need to be cautious that we are not idolizing the man or woman that stands behind the pulpit, we need to at the same time lift up the varied work of the whole church.
I said that I thought this article was going to be a perfect fit, but it went from being a critique on the celebrity culture that seems to trace itself from 1 Corinthians 1 to today and became more an article about making sure that people don’t idolize the pulpit so that women don’t covet that sort of leadership. It is as though the greatest concern here isn’t a pastor taking attention from Christ, but that a certain group of people thought to be disallowed from the pastorate are sinfully drawn to it.
There is a better reason to not idolize the pulpit, and it is so that Jesus Christ remains as our focus. And we have no reason to fear a woman leading, as this letter of 1 Corinthians itself will give us examples of both men and women who exhibit leadership as they prophesy in the church.
Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 71. ↩