As part of the deeper issues of why factions are developing in the Corinthian church, Paul tells us he’s grateful that he baptized few people in Corinth. His discussion gives us a window into the place of baptism.
In the first major section of 1Corinthians (1Corinthians 1:10-4:16), Paul speaks to the issue of the factions in Corinth. Some have decided that Paul lacks wisdom in his speech and Apollos is a much more impressive speaker. This creates 2 problems. The smaller problem is the factions themselves which Paul addresses in 1Corinthians 1:10-17. The larger problem is their rejection of Paul’s apostolic authority, which he addresses in 1Corinthians 1:17-4:16.
Who’s disciple are we?
Since we follow a teacher who is no longer physically present, the question of “who’s disciple are we?” has surfaced throughout church history. Since we are taught by secondary teachers and pastors, we face the temptation to rally around them.
How do we prevent that problem? 1) As teachers, we must be very clear that it’s not about us, it’s about Christ. 2) As listeners, we must clearly understand the gospel and be able to discern false gospels from the true gospel. And, we listeners must value the content of the message more than style, charisma or entertainment.
- Paul says, you can’t be my follower because I’m teaching you to follow Jesus. You can’t be my follower as opposed to Apollos because Apollos and I preach the same message.
- A “disciple” is a student or one who learns from someone else.
- There is a natural connection between being someone’s disciple and being baptized in their name.
- John the Baptist had his own disciples but he taught them to look for the Christ.
- John’s disciples are concerned that more people are being baptized into Jesus’ name than into John’s name, because of this relationship between the symbol and the teacher.
- The name into which you are baptized indicates the name of the teacher you follow.
- By not performing baptisms himself, Jesus is preparing us for the time when he is no longer physically present.
- Jesus is preparing us for the idea that other teachers will be authorized to speak for him.
- His apostles and his disciples do in fact teach his message and they can baptize in his name.
- Jesus makes it explicit that his disciples will make disciples in His name, not for themselves.
- Notice the connection between these three ideas: becoming a disciple, being baptized and being baptized a particular name.
- Paul is glad he didn’t baptize many of the Corinthians so that they wouldn’t mistakenly claim they were disciples of Paul. Given the climate in Corinth, that might have increased their confusion.
- Christ did not send Paul to baptize – he did not send Paul to make disciples of Paul.
- The goal is to repent and believe. Once they believe, they were baptized, but Paul’s calling was for gathering believers, not numbers of baptisms.
- 1Corinthians 1:17 – “cleverness of speech”: Paul says Jesus didn’t send me to be clever, eloquent and create something original – he send me to faithfully proclaim his message. It’s not his job to “sell” or “spin” the gospel. His job is to clearly and accurately proclaim it.
- 1Corinthians 1:17 – “so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” – The cross is offensive to people. If we repackage the gospel to make it less offensive, we have to omit the cross. Then we are not preaching the gospel.
3 views on baptism
- Baptism is a sacrament. We are told to be baptized because the ritual itself has some kind of power and that you cannot be fully saved unless you have gone through this ritual. If this view is correct, I find it difficult to believe Paul would be grateful he baptized few people in Corinth.
- Baptism is an ordinance. Salvation is not dependent on this ritual, but we are commanded to do it. We should obey as a matter of obedience. This view makes more sense to me, but I opt for #3.
- Baptism is a culturally understood ritual that symbolizes the reality of belief. We have been commanded to believe the gospel, to repent of our sins and to become disciples of Jesus. Baptism is a ritual we do that symbolizes the reality of coming to faith. Without saving faith, the ritual is meaningless.
- That said, I would encourage new believers to be baptized.
Is baptism necessary?
- Obedience is in the belief. Baptism symbolizes the fact that you have believed and embraced a new way of life. Is baptism a necessary part of the process of bringing people to faith?
- Most of the time that question is not addressed because belief and baptism always come together. People believe and they get baptized. That’s how it’s done.
- 1Corinthians 1:13-17 is one of the few passages that separates belief and baptism. I think Paul implies faith and repentance are the essentials. Baptism is a non-essential.
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