23rd January 2023

As the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity comes to an end, I am reminded that disunity has been a stumbling block since the beginning of the church. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul had to confront the rise of personality cults that were dividing the church at Corinth. Some of the believers said “I follow Paul”, others “I follow Apollos”, others followed “Peter” (1 Corinthians 1.12). Paul had established the church at Corinth (Acts 18); Apollos, an evangelist also known to us from Acts 18, had preached in Corinth after Paul; perhaps Peter had visited Corinth too. The church had started to fragment as believers identified with those different leaders and their personalities.

Paul challenged this disunity with two vivid images. He asked them whether Christ had been divided into pieces, with each group apportioned just a part of Christ. Then he asked whether it was he, Paul, who had been crucified – of course not, it was Christ alone who died for them.

The way back from such disunity, Paul wrote, was to remember the gospel that they first believed. Their faith did not rest on clever words or wise teaching. It was not founded on creeds or articles of faith. They did not sign up to follow an organisation or a rule book.

The foundation of their faith was Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2.2). Baptized into the name of Jesus, their allegiance was to him alone.

What would it take to be united with our Christian sisters and brothers solely on the basis of faith in Christ – nothing more, nothing less?

Ian Waddington