Paul doesn’t mince words as he gets started in this first letter to the church in Corinth. He immediately gets into the core of his message to the church about unity – something he will return to time after time in this letter. But the words here are especially striking as he lays it out powerfully speaking against the ways that people were choosing to “follow” people other than Christ. In verses 10-13 he writes:
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
I can imagine how some who were hearing this might have felt as they were in the Paul Camp or the Apollos Camp or the Cephas Camp. I wonder what Paul might say to us today in the church. Might he say, “I follow Pope Francis” or “I follow Joel Osteen” or “I follow Hillary Clinton” or “I follow Donald Trump” or “I follow liberals” or “I follow conservatives” or a host of other divisions before speaking of our following of Jesus Christ.
I took this picture earlier this summer as I was driving back from a sunrise photo shoot in North Dakota. I saw these two groups of cattle – black and white – divided by this fence line and it really spoke deeply to me about the ways in which we in the church are often divided over so many different things – theologies, ideals, politics, gender, skin color, sexuality, and so forth. What a tremendous difference it would make if our first step was not to focus on the flesh-and-blood person we were following or the ideology that we hold to so dearly and instead focused on our common faith in Jesus the Christ.
It is so easy for us to fall into a trap of following a person that we can see, touch, and feel in the here and now. Its like the story I remember about a child crying out to parents in the middle of a thunderstorm. When mom and dad came in, they said, “Don’t worry because God is here for you.” The child responds, “I know, but I want someone with skin on.” We do want someone with skin on, don’t we? Yet, we are called to follow the one who continues to be alive through his followers and through the Spirit that continues to move.
I often experience the love, grace, mercy, and truth of Christ through my sisters and brothers in faith and for that I am grateful. But what I dearly hope for is that each of them are not the ones who I point to for faith but instead are the ones who direct me to faith.