Issue #251 -------
May 27, 2006
Friends will not only live
in harmony, but in melody.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
I recently received an email from a reader in the beautiful state of California who informed me that he was teaching a class at his congregation on Biblical Hermeneutics. Having taught this myself in my last three congregations, I can testify to the fact that it can be a rather controversial topic. Part of the reason for this is because it tends to spotlight the fact that few disciples of Christ ever fully agree in their interpretations of the text. Most often these differing interpretations among members of a congregation are simply never mentioned so as to promote a sense (at least on the surface) of oneness of mind. This glosses over the fact of our differing perspectives and perceptions, however, and borders on an atmosphere of denial, which can be very unhealthy in the life and development of a group. The stark reality is: we differ. Always have; always will. We don't think the same; we don't speak the same; we don't act the same; we don't look the same. We are as diverse as day and night. Yet, in the face of such diversity, we are nevertheless One Body. We are Family.
Some disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ have an extremely hard time reconciling this! How can we be one when we differ so dramatically from one another? How can there be unity in diversity (a phrase some regard as "heresy")? Their minds have difficulty grasping this concept. Therefore, they tend to promote uniformity over unity, very often confusing the former with the latter. In an effort to justify such a rigid theology, several passages of Scripture are typically tendered as proof-texts, chief among them being 1 Corinthians 1:10. The above-mentioned reader from California wrote, "One elderly brother pointed out to me that 1 Corinthians 1:10 was justification that we all have to agree on every issue, and if we don't then we are divided and in violation of the apostle Paul's command that there be no divisions among us. His position was that we must agree, else one of us is wrong and in jeopardy of losing his or her soul." This brother petitioned me to please do an in-depth study of Paul's actual meaning in this admittedly rather difficult passage. This present issue of my weekly Reflections will be an effort on my part to respond to that plea.
Diversity of Translation
Let's begin by noticing the text itself (1 Cor. 1:10). Paul starts by saying, "Now, I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (KJV). Other translations use the term "exhort" or "appeal" or "beg" or "urge." The Greek word employed is parakaleo, which "can have the note of appeal as in 'exhort' or 'encourage,' or the stronger emphasis of 'implore' or 'entreat.' It is this latter idea that best fits the context here" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 192). Paul's appeal to these brethren is also through the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ; he speaks for Him. "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us" (2 Cor. 5:20). Thus, the appeal made by the apostle Paul is in actuality an appeal to these disciples from the Lord Himself. "Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God" (1 Peter 4:11). Yet, Paul does so with very gentle hands and artful finesse, although he still makes his point boldly and firmly. Regarding the above Greek term: "This word is tactful and brotherly" (R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of First Corinthians, p. 38). And what exactly is the nature of his appeal to these brethren?
Misuse of the Passage
Prior to examining the authorial intent of the passage, it might be informative to the reader to see some examples of just how this passage is wrested from its context and misused by some ultra-legalistic disciples today. As noted earlier, this passage is frequently employed as textual proof that conformity of thought, uniformity of practice, and singleness of speech is essential to fellowship and salvation. Unless we are all in absolute agreement -- speaking the same things, thinking the same things, and practicing the same things -- then souls are in jeopardy, and indeed the non-conformists are to be cast from the midst of the "faithful." Of course, the question is: Who gets to decide what everyone must think, speak and practice? Each faction has its own patternistic list (which they will never provide, if you should ask for it ... but they know the specifics of it), and all others are judged either saved or lost by how well they comply. There are scores upon scores of such schisms among siblings in the Family of God, each demanding all others "speak the same things" THEY DO. The result, of course, is the sad reality of a grossly dismembered Body, instead of a unified, functional whole. To demand of diverse disciples of Christ that ALL of them must fully agree in thought, speech and practice with the most vocal and narrow-minded among us is a guaranteed formula for factionalism! We see it all around us, and it is shameful.
Bro. Homer L. King (1892-1983), the former editor of the Old Paths Advocate, which is a publication of the One Cup, Non-Sunday School schism of the Churches of Christ (and to which I subscribe), and his son Don King, who took over that publication, frequently appealed to 1 Cor. 1:10 as justification that all must adhere to their brand of orthodoxy or be regarded as apostates. In an article titled "Can't We Agree On Something?" [Old Paths Advocate, November 1, 1983), Homer King wrote, "Where in the New Testament do we read about Bible college, instrumental music in the worship, the Sunday school with its human literature, classes, the modern pastorate, the multiplied societies to do the work of the church, and a plurality of drinking cups? Are not these the major things over which we are divided? Did the church in the first century have these things?" King then declared that all who differed with their abstention from such were in violation of 1 Cor. 1:10.
However, 1 Cor. 1:10 is not just the private property of the One Cup, Non-Sunday School wing of the Churches of Christ. Virtually every other legalistic, patternistic segment of this faith-heritage has also adopted it as their personal proof-text. Time and space would fail us if we were to quote the countless times it has been dragged out by the Non-Institutional brethren in their various publications and Internet "discussion" groups, or the ultra-conservatives who write for the Spiritual Sword and Contending For The Faith and other such religiously restrictive publications. The sad reality is: this passage is frequently misused and abused by just about every faction within the Family of God. Perhaps Dr. Leroy Garrett has gone to the heart of this matter better than anyone, writing, "Does this passage enjoin believers to see everything in the Bible alike? Does it teach that we must see eye to eye on all points of doctrine, that there can be no honest differences of opinion?" ["That You All Speak The Same Thing," Restoration Review, May, 1976]. Sadly, too many disciples believe the answer to these questions is YES! Bro. Garrett continues, "The truth is that 1 Cor. 1:10, as abused in this manner, never has been, is not now, nor will it ever be consistently practiced by any believer. The reason is simple: it is impossible" [ibid].
The Problem in Corinth
God never designed His chosen children to be mindless, regurgitating, goose-stepping robots! Had this been His intent, He could have created an "original," and then just cloned the rest from that perfect model. This He did not do. He gave us minds with which to think, free will with which to act, and individual personalities to motivate us in our Christian journey. That all men and women in the church must of necessity think, speak and act exactly alike is contrary to our divine design. We are created to be different in countless ways, even in our perceptions and preferences, and this divinely designed diversity is, in fact, the very KEY to the successful functioning of the universal One Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. After all, "If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?" (1 Cor. 12:17-19).
Those who have read all 16 chapters of 1 Corinthians -- and if you haven't, stop now and do so! -- are well aware that there was significant diversity among the members of the church in that city. Indeed, that diversity was applauded and celebrated by Paul. The problem in Corinth, however, was that the members were becoming so focused on their differences, rather than rejoicing in that which they shared in common, that they were beginning to separate from one another into feuding factions. "For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you" (1 Cor. 1:11). The Greek word for "quarrels" is eris, meaning "strife, disputes; a contentious disposition." In 1 Cor. 3:3 it is declared to be a disposition of the fleshly nature [see: Gal. 5:20].
They were contending with one another over personal preferences. "Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, 'I am of Paul,' and 'I am of Apollos,' and 'I am of Cephas,' and 'I am of Christ'" (vs. 12). The party spirit was raising its ugly head in the church in Corinth. Disciples were beginning to rally to the side of mere men; elevating one ministerial mission over another; taking human ideas and promoting them to divine precepts. This can only result in "schisms" in the church (the very term used in 1 Cor. 1:10), which is the Greek word schisma, meaning "a splitting apart." The Pulpit Commentary makes the following observation: "Their 'contentions' are defined to be equivalent to 'religious partisanships' ... none of them were wise enough and spiritually-minded enough to hold aloof from parties altogether. They prided themselves on being 'party men'" (vol. 19, p. 5). Paul mentions four "splits" in the church at Corinth at this time:
But, it wasn't just diversity of preference with regard to personalities. There was also a tremendous amount of diversity of understanding among the Corinthian brethren as well. For example, much of this epistle deals with questions that were sent to Paul for resolution. "Now concerning the things about which you wrote..." (1 Cor. 7:1). Paul then talks about marriage and divorce issues, idols, spiritual gifts, the resurrection, the collection for the saints, and the like. There were problems associated with the Lord's Supper, and there was a case of immorality in their midst that would have made a pagan blush! Even when discipline was finally practiced by the congregation, it was not done with unanimous agreement ("...this punishment which was inflicted by the majority" -- 2 Cor. 2:6). With regard to the practice of spiritual gifts, not all had the same gifts, but each exercised what gift he or she had. We do not have to be identical twins to be brethren! Perfect agreement on all things is not only unrealistic, it is unachievable. Not only that ... it is undesirable! But, perfect agreement in all things is NOT what Paul was calling for in 1 Cor. 1:10.
Speak the Same Thing
So, what was Paul calling for in this passage? Let's examine it in more detail. The first statement he makes is: "Now, I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing..." (KJV). The problem in the city of Corinth was that the disciples there were making some rather divisive declarations -- "I am of Paul ... I am of Cephas ... I am of Apollos," etc. A sectarian spirit was taking control not only of the hearts and minds of these brethren, but of their tongues as well. "This expression is used here because the Corinthians were saying different things (1 Corinthians 1:12), and Paul seeks the abandonment of such party slogans" so that there might be no divisions among them (Dr. C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 42). B. W. Johnson, in The People's New Testament with Notes, states that this expression simply means the Corinthians were to have "no distinctive party declarations," and that the concept of being one in speech is "violated in the modern sectarian symbols and confessions."
When disciples of Christ are so focused on proclaiming and declaring their own party positions and patterns, their declarations are devoid of that "one heart and one voice" of which Paul speaks. There is one family! One Lord! One Father! One common hope of a common destiny! We are a people of a shared Savior ... shouldn't we all be voicing this, instead of our countless sectarian shibboleths?! Paul longed to hear of his fellow brethren "standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" (Philp. 1:27). There is indeed something that binds us together, but it is not our personal perceptions, preferences or patternistic practices. It is the glorious good news of God's grace poured out upon us in the life and sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. What is the key to understanding 1 Cor. 1:10? It is 1 Cor. 1:9 --- "You were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." That which binds us together as one, which elicits from our hearts the praise of a united voice, is JESUS! When we cease proclaiming HIM, we cease "speaking the same thing," and begin proclaiming OURSELVES! "I am of Paul ... I am of Cephas." I am One Cup ... I am Non-Institutional ... I am Non-Instrumental ... I am Non-Sunday School. Brethren, it is time for our voices to unite in a common declaration: "We are one in Christ Jesus!" "We are in fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ OUR Lord."
Same Mind -- Same Judgment
"It is evident that, while the Corinthians had not separated into various churches, they had formed several parties within the church" (B. W. Johnson, The People's New Testament with Notes). Bro. David Lipscomb, in his commentary on this epistle, wrote, "The divisions which existed in Corinth were not of the nature of hostile sects refusing communion with each other, but such as may exist in the bosom of the same congregation, consisting in alienation of feeling and party strife" (p. 26). Therefore, Paul urges these brethren, "be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment" (NASB). There is something lacking that needs to be made complete -- their oneness IN CHRIST JESUS. The aged apostle John indicated that his joy would "be made complete" when all enjoyed sweet fellowship with one another, "and our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3-4). This, again, takes us right back to 1 Cor. 1:9 -- we are all "called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ OUR Lord." Our fellowship is not based on our agreement with one another, but upon our union with Him.
"Mere harmony and agreement is not Paul's ideal, but a unity of right understanding and of judgment" (R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of First Corinthians, p. 40). Lenski also points out that Paul was not really thinking "about doctrinal unity" when he urged that the Corinthians be made more mature in mind and judgment. The Corinthians needed to come together in unity of purpose, rather than being split apart by a host of party preferences. Paul wrote to the saints in Philippi, "make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose" (Philp. 2:2). We need a common focus as the people of God; a common love; a common purpose. When each disciple is intent upon promoting his own agenda, schisms form. However, a genuine harmony and oneness is enjoyed when we set aside such party preferences and focus together on simply sharing Jesus with those who do not know Him. Our views and opinions about Jesus are not redemptive; it is when HE is lifted up that men truly find healing and cleansing.
On one occasion, Jesus turned to Peter and said, "You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's" (Matt. 16:23). Being of the same mind is simply setting our collective mind upon GOD'S interests. "For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5). We are told that the "enemies of the cross of Christ" are all those "who set their minds on earthly things" (Philp. 3:19). We, as disciples of Christ Jesus, are to set our minds on the things which are above, and not on the things of this present age (Col. 3:1-2). The disciples in Corinth were setting their minds on the things below, and it was causing strife. Their unity, harmony and oneness were being quickly eroded. Paul feared he would find "strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance and disturbances" (2 Cor. 12:20) when he came to visit them. Therefore, he urged them, "be made complete ... be like-minded, live in peace!" (2 Cor. 13:11).
The phrase "be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment" was not unique to Paul. "This expression was used in political circles to urge groups to compose their differences. This, most likely, is the sense in which it is to be taken here" (Dr. T. R. Applebury, Studies in First Corinthians, p. 20). There were differences in the church in Corinth. Paul urges them to settle those differences and make his joy complete. Differences are "settled" NOT by one side defeating the other, or by compromise, but by accepting one another in love. As clearly seen in the teaching of Romans 14, Paul is not advocating a forced uniformity (which is the "solution" of the party spirit), but rather unity in diversity, which is attainable IN HIM. True unity will never be found in uniformity of compliance to legalistic tenets or patternistic practices or party perceptions; genuine unity is only to be found in loving acceptance of all those in union with Jesus Christ. We are called into fellowship WITH HIM, a by-product of which is our fellowship WITH ONE ANOTHER.
From a New Reader in Texas:
Dear Brother Maxey, Please include me on your e-mail subscription list for Reflections. I am an elder at the ------ Church of Christ in Houston. Thanks for your thoughtful spirit.
From a Noted Brotherhood Author:
Bro. Maxey, I continue to enjoy your essays. Your research and writing fill a void left by Carl Ketcherside, R. L. Kilpatrick, and the aging Leroy Garrett. Thanks!
From an Elder in Virginia:
Dear Brother Maxey, After reading your excellent challenge to a legalistic patternist [Issue #200], I was intrigued by your "List of Essentials" [Issue #200a]. Unless Jesus was teasing us, or demanding the impossible, in His prayer for unity (John 17), He must have intended, as you suggest, that we unite on something other than everything taught in the NT writings. At the risk of being pedantic, I suggest that even your list of essentials for unity and salvation goes beyond NT teaching. You suggest, for example, that items on this list should include repentance, confession and immersion. Although we often list these as "essentials" for unity and salvation, virtually none of us truly believes this, for most of us are quite confident in the salvation of unrepentant or unbaptized infants and young children, mentally incompetent adults who are functionally equivalent to young children, Jews who are promised salvation based on God's covenant with them (Rom. 11:25-27), godly people who live and die without scriptural revelation (as intimated in Romans 2), and perhaps others who are similarly situated. And if any of these are saved, then they too must have an inexplicable unity with others of us who are also saved. Undoubtedly, salvation comes only "through Christ," but we must not limit Christ in ways that He has not limited Himself. I do believe that there is no basis on which we may teach a sentient adult other than that he must repent, confess and be baptized for remission of sins, but we ought not confuse what we should teach with what Christ, in His grace, may grant. Thanks for your valuable ministry, brother, and for this opportunity to correspond with you!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, the latest Reflections on "Help Thou Mine Unbelief" was a jewel. Instead of copying it to all of the members of my men's group, I think I shall instead simply use the passage in question (all three Synoptic versions) as an occasion for us to learn how, as laymen, to exegete a text both faithfully and fully. I know that the skill that you brought to the task is uncommon, and a result of good training and practice, but that is no reason to suppose that a suitably committed layperson cannot come to grips with the essentials of these challenging texts when he approaches it with diligence, humility and the support and help of like-minded brothers. Thank you for taking such care with these texts that we can catch a glimpse of "how it is done." It is magnificent, thorough and inspiring -- would that I could do the same! All the best to you in the Land of Enchantment.
From a Doctor in Alabama:
Thank you, Al. There have been many occasions when I was convinced that God was speaking directly to me through one of your Reflections articles, but never more so than today. Your article on faith and doubt was exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it. God has seen fit to put my faith to the test recently. I believe that He has done this for my own good, so that my faith will grow stronger, but it is a stressful and even painful process. My worries were making me lose faith in my own faith! The doubts and fears began to overwhelm me. I found it difficult to pray at all, and, when I did, I felt that my prayers were falling on deaf ears. But, I finally realized that I couldn't get through the ordeal without God to sustain me. So, in spite of my doubts and fears, I decided to put my trust in God, and to pray, "Thy will be done."
Just this morning, I was praying about it, asking God to strengthen my faith and to quell my doubts and fears. In fact, I was begging God to forgive me for even having those doubts and fears. Then, this afternoon, I checked my e-mail, and read your article. Needless to say, before I had even finished reading, I was thanking God for answering my prayer through your article. Now that I sit here and reflect on God's answer to my prayer, I realize that I shouldn't be ashamed of having doubts and fears, because, without them, I wouldn't even need faith -- it is because of my doubts and fears that I am compelled to turn to God for strength and comfort. And that realization, coupled with the way that God providentially used your article to answer my prayer, has done more to allay my doubts and fears than anything else that has happened since my crisis of faith began. Thank you, Al, for once again being the instrument of God. Congratulations on your 30 years of ministry. I hope you have at least 30 more years of service in God's kingdom. People like me are depending on you.
From a One Cup Minister in Missouri:
Brother Al, Every part of your article "Thirty Years on the Firing Line" was exactly what I needed to hear! As I have been sailing over the sea of life, I have experienced a lot of rough waters. I have even been thrown overboard by some of my fellow shipmates. I must rejoice, however, because Jesus was right there to pull me out of the raging sea, gently placing me in a much more sea-worthy vessel than the one from which I was cast. As a young minister, I need to learn and reflect upon the lessons you taught in the above mentioned article. We are all sailing the same sea, headed for the same port of rest. It's a shame that we have to take so many different boats. There is plenty of room for everyone on the S.S. Immanuel. Maybe one day we will all abandon our feeble little life rafts, which we so desperately cling to, and get on board that One Ship captained by Jesus Christ Himself.
From a Minister in Australia:
Al, It has been a little while since I last contacted you. I felt that with a mailing list of over 10,000 readers that your mail load would be just so great that I should give you a breather. However, I cannot let 30 years of ministry pass by without saying a hello. Your Reflections continue to hit the spot with me. Thank you, and well-done! You are a "good and faithful servant" of our Lord and Master. I can just imagine that the Lord is echoing those very words! Thank you for this ministry, and thank you for the hours of work that you put in to spread the Kingdom and to assist in the restoration of Christian unity! May the Lord continue to bless both you and Shelly.
From a Minister/Critic in Alabama:
Al, I sure hope God will help you with your unbelief!! You probably have received a "strong delusion" by now. You need to repent and return to the faith you once preached.
From a Reader in Michigan:
Brother Al, I really enjoy your Reflections. I have a question -- what can I do to help push unity among the Restoration churches?
From a Reader in Alabama:
Bro. Al, We tend to see unity as an ideal that will likely never be reached. Paul sees unity as a gift -- a present reality received by grace (cf. Rom. 15:5) -- so that division within the body contradicts very fundamental principles, indeed, the gospel itself. After all, if we recognize that we are saved by grace, we have no basis for claiming superiority over others, and hence no grounds for division. This kind of division, considering some Christians superior to others and thereby dividing, is damnable. Those who divide the church by teaching legalism rather than grace are like wolves in sheep's clothing. Paul warns us to mark them and remove them after a first and second warning. These men are to be given the opportunity to repent, but the primary, most urgent need is to protect the flock. We might struggle with a member addicted to alcohol for months or years so long as he doesn't spread his sin among the congregation and so long as he is trying to overcome his addiction. However, the removal of a divisive person is urgent! We cannot let the problem linger, as division within the Body destroys our testimony about Jesus! Al, I appreciated your article about church discipline [Issue #245]. It's an extremely important and often ignored teaching!
From a Minister in California:
Al, I just finished reading all the positive responses included in the Readers' Response section of your most recent Reflections. Obviously, these responses are representative of a huge number of believers in Churches of Christ desperately hungry for a voice like yours preaching grace, harmony and unity. You are making a difference!! Bless you, brother! I am now off to lunch with a couple of local Church of Christ preachers (I preach for the First Christian Church here). They are both subscribers to Reflections, so we share a common passion for fostering peace and harmony in the Body of Christ. We meet for fellowship monthly and share our common faith and love for Jesus. We will reflect together on His wonderful grace over a shared meal. Yes, God is at work -- and when God is allowed to do His thing, good stuff always happens!
From a New Reader in Oregon:
Al, Thank you for adding me to your mailing list. My son (a minister) has talked a lot about your publication, and so I thought I would give it a try. I am a former elder in California (in the 90's), but have since moved to the Northwest, and now reside in Oregon. I have been reading some of your back issues of Reflections in the archives this evening. It appears we are very close in our thinking about the church. We, in Churches of Christ, are way behind in recognizing our common life in Christ with those in the Christian Church. I am looking forward to reading more of your thoughts!
From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:
Al, I sat down at the computer at 3:30 a.m. to finish up some lesson notes and catch up on some email. Your article "Thirty Years on the Firing Line" was one still to be read. As usual, I was blessed by it. I have been privileged to serve on the Master's ship for over 45 years! What a blessing! Once a month, two or three of us Church of Christ preachers have lunch with the preachers of a nearby Christian Church. Two weeks ago, one of their preachers filled the pulpit in my absence. I remind you, this is up here in the Northeast where the "brethren" in Texas feel the Church is "weak." Our problem here is that they keep coming and trying to plant "Texan" churches in our area. Could you invite more of them to come to New Mexico instead?!!
If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: