How many Jesuses do you know? I mean the impossible-to-be-wrong-in-whatever-they-say Jesuses. I’m talking about the Jesuses that always teach the correct things. The Jesuses whose analysis of everyone and everything is always so accurate as to transcend any question or investigation. You know they are always correct because you heard them say it in such a compelling manner. No one speaks in such ways as these Jesuses. They even use some Bible verses to back up their statements or arguments. Those types of Jesuses. You know what I mean. How many do you know?
The Jesuses I’m talking about are those that speak or write so well that you can’t help but to believe on faith what they are saying or writing. The Jesuses that give you goose bumps whenever you read them or hear them. These Jesuses always have the perfect stories that undergird their points. They always have such powerful illustrations (or even demonstrations) that simply demand belief, agreement, and loyalty.
How many Jesuses do you know that have so gained your allegiance that you feel completely compelled to defend them to the hilt against all who would dare speak out against them in any way? How many Jesuses do you know that when someone says anything even slightly critical against them you are instantly filled with such righteous and holy anger you just have to lash back in their defense? How dare they have even the most minor negative thing to say against my favorite Jesus!
My friend and I have recently begun a study of 1 Corinthians and yesterday we discussed 1 Corinthians 1:10-17a. In that passage Paul is addressing a problem in the church in Corinth of divisions over preacher loyalty. They were saying, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
Granted, these are all very impressive people that are named here, and as far as Paul, Apollos, and Peter were following Jesus (the real Jesus), it’s not a bad thing to follow those men. The problem came from the attitudes of pride and divisions that came from such claims. That attitude is forbidden in the church no matter who you follow.
I believe, based on the size of the city of Corinth and the number of believers there, that it may be that these divisions were inter-home church divisions rather than divisions within a single congregation. Believers met in homes at that time and it would be natural for each smaller congregation to gravitate toward common beliefs. But Paul condemns this type of division. There are some things we need to separate over, but this was not one of them.
So what are modern day equivalents of this problem? In the final notes of our study of 1Co 1:10-17a from yesterday I address a couple of parallels that I see in today’s church in America.
This passage starts a major section of this letter (going through chapter 4) on a very serious issue within the Corinthian church, that of divisions. In this passage, Paul addressed the issue of divisions over loyalty to different preachers. The Corinthians’ pride had led them to value outward appearance and eloquence over the genuine work of the Spirit.
There is a serious problem in many churches today, that of what has been called pastor worship. In some churches leaders are not to be questioned; their words are to be accepted as truth without question or investigation. This is one modern-day example of the issue described in the Corinthian church, though usually it escalates to a cult-like status rather than internal divisions.
Another modern-day example is that many Christians like to follow their favorite speakers, pastors, or authors, and cannot accept any criticism of their teachings. They will defend their favorite teachers ad absurdum. When error is pointed out to them, they will swear to the end that their teacher’s interpretation of Scripture is the only correct one, even if they cannot understand or explain why.
In Acts 17:10-11, Dr. Luke commends the Jews in Berea for not blindly accepting what Paul claimed.
“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
Luke saw the Bereans as “more noble” in their looking to the written words of Scripture as their final authority, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. By commending this activity, Luke encourages this searching of the Scriptures as a pattern for all believers.
So, what teacher, preacher, author, or even creed (1689?) do you love enough to defend no matter what? Think about your favorite ministers for a moment. I can see the smile on your face now as you think of their writings, voices, and mental pictures of their faces. Now think of the most recent criticism you’ve heard against that person. If you haven’t heard any, imagine someone criticizing something they’ve said or written. Has that smile turned into a grimace of righteous anger or holy rage?
I believe that we all have our favorite go-to sources for spiritual truth—”after the Bible, of course.” But that’s the point, isn’t it? Are our favorite teachers after the Bible in our minds? Do we defend our favorite teachers and authors more rigorously or more often than we defend Scripture? Don’t answer “No!” too quickly. As humans, it’s easy to fall into that. The sense of loyalty can be very strong. I would ask you to consider it before answering. And then I would ask that we keep this in mind the next time we see or hear criticism of our favorites.
Our final and ultimate authority is not a favorite preacher or creed; our final and ultimate authority is Scripture and Scripture alone. Everything and everyone else is to be evaluated on that final authority. If I am to avoid error in my theology, and if I am to avoid the inevitable error contained in the teaching of any purely human author, I must have an accurate understanding of that ultimate authority. So must you if you are to avoid these pitfalls. Be in the Word every day. Read it and study it (two different practices) every day. It is only in Scripture that you will be able to stand on truth!