Lessons From Achaia

We need to draw some conclusions from the fact that there were Christians meeting in small groups throughout all the province of Achaia. These saints were addressed in the letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians. In drawing our conclusions, we must not forget the fact that both 1 & 2 Corinthians were addressed to “all the saints who are in all Achaia” (2 Co 1:1).   With this in mind, we consider all the exhortations of 1 & 2 Corinthians in view of the fact that the two letters were written to individual Christians throughout the province, encouraging them to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Since the message of 1 & 2 Corinthians was directed to all the saints in all of Achaia, which saints were meeting in numerous houses in the many towns, cities, villages, and farms throughout the province, then we must consider the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 1:10 in this context. If 1 Corinthians 1:10 teaches anything, it teaches that there was to be no such thing as an independent and exclusive function of any group of disciples among all the Christians of Achaia.

When Paul exhorted that all the disciples in Achaia be united, his exhortation far exceeded the limits of some autonomous single group of disciples. His exhortation was to be heeded by the “church of the Paulites,” “church of the Cephites,” and “church of the Apollosites.” In fact, it would be quite preposterous to conclude that either 1 or 2 Corinthians was directed to one specific assembly of disciples. The fact that the Christians in Corinth alone were meeting in many different homes throughout the city, would validate the conclusion that the letters could not have been written to any one group, but to all the saints.

Paul wrote “that there be no divisions among you [as individuals], but that you be perfectly joined together [as one body] in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Co 1:10).   What exactly would this statement mean when understood in view of the fact that the church throughout Achaia was multiple in the assembly of the disciples?

Since it would be natural for those who met together on a regular and weekly basis to draw closer to one another with the possible neglect of others, then we would understand that Paul’s exhortation would be directly against forming cliques of disciples who would call themselves after different personalities as Paul, Cephas or Apollos. It is not wrong to call a particular group after a specific location. But churches need to be careful in identifying their assemblies with unique names in order to separate themselves from one another.

Some of the problems of division in Achaia rose from individual disciples calling themselves after at least three different personalities. The novice disciples in Achaia evidently suffered from “preacheritis.” Their denominating after personalities seemed to be only natural since all the saints in Achaia lived in a very idolatrous society.   They needed to connect with someone as their leader, and thus, they naturally connected to the only person who initially delivered the gospel to them. The disciples possibly took pride in the one who baptized them (See 1 Co 1:14-16). They had forgotten that the more one follows a favorite personality on earth, the less his faith is dependent on the personality of Jesus in heaven. The more one seeks on earth a mediator between himself and God, the less he depends on Jesus Christ as his only mediator (1 Tm 2:5). This is the emotional background upon which Jesus made the statement, “And call no one your father on the earth, for One is your Father, He who is in heaven (Mt 23:9).

In the case of Apollos and Cephas, these two may have personally baptized some of those who had divisively given allegiance to them. In order to correct this denominating among the saints, Paul said, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius … also the household of Stephanas” (1 Co 1:14,16). The occasion for some of the division, therefore, was that allegiance was being given to different preachers who baptized them. And because of this, Paul was thankful that he had baptized only a few, lest a group follow him to the exclusion of others (1 Co 1:12).

The problem was that those who were calling themselves after men denominated the church over their favorite preacher, which preacher, had no intention of ever drawing away disciples after himself (1 Co 1:12). So when Paul exhorted that they be perfectly joined together, and that there be no divisions among them, he was speaking in the context of different groups forming their own sects after their allegiance to a favorite preacher, and subsequently, forming independent groups that were identified by a specific personality. 1 Corinthians 1:10 must be understood in reference to the individuals being united, and thus, correcting the dividing into independent groups. If the individuals corrected their relationships with one another, then the groups would naturally be united. Since this is a contextual understanding of the statement of 1 Corinthians 1:10, then certainly it is a statement against anyone establishing himself as the preacher around which a church of disciples is formed or ruled. This is the very problem Paul addressed in the context of 1 Corinthians 1.

Though neither Paul, Apollos nor Cephas had any intention of starting their own independent party of adherents that was separated and identified to be independent from other groups, it was a simple fact that disciples often like to do this type of thing regardless of the wishes of their leader. We like our favorite “kings,” and thus, we have a tendency to call ourselves after our favorite preacher. But if we understand 1 Corinthians 1:10 correctly, then calling ourselves after different leaders on earth is divisive among the disciples. It is carnal behavior in that our focus is turned from our total allegiance to Christ alone as our King to some fallible man on earth.

1 Corinthians 1:10 is a passage that is directed specifically to any group (church) of disciples who would form their own autonomous group that would separate individual members of the one body from one another. Paul’s mandate in the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 1:10 was to correct the dysfunctional fellowship that individual members had with one another. In order to discourage the division that persisted through their establishment of unique groups, he corrected the relational behavior of the individual members with one another. If individuals ceased denominating themselves into groups by calling themselves after different personalities, then there would be no common basis for any group of disciples to cluster around one another to the exclusion of others.

Paul’s argument is that we not individually propose either a personality, tradition, unique name, or race by which we would assemble ourselves together as an exclusive group. We can understand why the only name used in the New Testament in reference to disciples is “Christian” (1 Pt 4:16). If there were any other name, then different groups of disciples would select different names in the New Testament as the banner under which they would establish their unique identity. And by identifying their group to be unique because they had chosen a unique name, they would isolate themselves from others whom God had added to His body throughout the world. Churches are not identified by printing up common sign boards and hanging them around the necks of those we would seek to huddle together into their favorite denomination.

Since the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 1 is to cease using unique names by which we would denominate ourselves from one another, then certainly individual members must never do such. They must not call themselves after any name than Christ, lest they denominate themselves from one another by calling themselves after a different name. If everyone claims to be “of Christ,” then we are Christians only. And being Christians only means that we must accept anyone whom God has added to His family upon their obedience to the gospel.

Those groups who would declare their independence from other groups in a region because they called themselves after a unique personality, doctrine or name need to take another look at the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 1:10. We see many efforts of different churches throughout the world who have called themselves after different preachers or pastors, and subsequently, assigned a unique name to their groups. We would exhort every saint, therefore, to review 1 Corinthians 1:10 in view of the fact that we must be one body of Christ. Every individual disciple is a brother or sister to every individual disciple throughout the world. We must never allow ourselves to be called after any name than Christ. Our first step toward unity, therefore, is to banish the denominating names from among ourselves and be Christians only. God expects unity among all those who would be Christians only. Since we are baptized in the name of Christ, then we are blessed with unity by the One who gave Himself for us (1 Co 1:13).

This point might be easier to understand if we viewed it practically. What if a storm came through and blew down the church house on Monday that was the common place of meeting of the Christians? If out of necessity the saints met in many homes of the members the following Sunday, would there now be many autonomous “churches” in the city, the number of which would be determined by the number of homes in which all the saints had to meet? Would we then need to erect a common name on every house in order to determine those of the common fellowship who were before the storm assembled under the same roof? Or, would the church in the city simply be one church as it was before in meeting under the same roof, regardless of the number of assemblies that were conducted the first Sunday after the storm? If after the storm we hung a different name over the disciples who were meeting under different roofs, then we are on our way to being denominated as the Achaians. We must remember that the Holy Spirit moved the hand of Paul to tear down any name of man that would denominate the sheep of God from one another. Christ is not divided.

The church was one in Acts 2 on the first day when the first person was added to the body of obedient believers. The advantage that the Jerusalem disciples had was that there were no constructed walls within which disciples could separate themselves and no unique names that separated them from one another. They were the one church in the city of Jerusalem the following Sunday when the 3,000 began to meet under different roofs throughout Jerusalem.   They did not move into being autonomous from one another the first Sunday after Pentecost, and neither did they when they moved into all the world.

[Next lecture:   November 3]

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