In the previous post, we looked at how the Christians in Corinth were pridefully dropping the names of their favored teachers or leaders as a symptom of their divisiveness. Some insisted “I follow Paul” (literally, “I’m of Paul”) over against those who claimed instead to be followers of the more articulate Apollos, or Peter, or even Christ himself. (The latter remind me of those who coolly get the last word by saying, “Be my guest and do things your way. We’ll just do things God’s way.”)
It would be too much to say that name-dropping caused division; more likely, name-dropping reflected a larger culture of self-promotion and prestige-seeking that naturally put them at odds. They were following social habits developed long before they became believers. It’s important to recognize this, lest we think that not being overt name-droppers lets us off the hook. There are other ways to let pride and status corrode community, ways we have learned from our culture and may not even notice in ourselves.
I imagine that Paul would have cringed to hear his name was being used that way. He may have been even more disturbed to hear that people were saying “I belong to Christ” in a way that had nothing of humility to it. Paul responds by pointing them directly back to the source of their unity–Jesus, who died for all of them on the cross, and into whose name they had been baptized:
Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? Thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name! Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanas too. Otherwise, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else. Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning. (1 Cor 1:13-17, CEB)
This doesn’t mean the Corinthians were actually claiming to have been baptized into Paul’s name, or Apollos’–the question “Were you baptized in Paul’s name?” expects a sheepish “Well, no. . .” for an answer. Paul’s rhetoric implies that the Corinthians were not only lining up behind their favorite leaders, but taking pride in the status of the person who had baptized them. You were baptized by the youth pastor? How nice for you. But I was baptized by the senior pastor–you know, the one with the syndicated radio program and all the books. Just saying.
Paul is reminding them into whose name all of them were baptized, using a bit of hyperbole to make their divisiveness seem silly. In one of the funniest passages in Scripture, he blurts out, “Thank God I didn’t baptize any of you! That way, you can’t say you were baptized into my name! Well, there was Crispus and Gaius. But that’s it! Oh, wait–and Stephanas. And his household. If there was someone else, I don’t remember.” Stephanas was apparently with Paul when he wrote the letter (1 Cor 16:17), and may have had to tap the apostle on the shoulder: “Um, Paul? You baptized me, remember?”
In saying that Christ didn’t sent him to baptize Paul is not, of course, devaluing baptism itself. But given that the rite had become a point of contention, he pushes behind it to the gospel it represents. Jabbing at their fondness for sophists (see previous post), he insists that the measure of his own preaching is not the cleverness of his words, but the very power of the cross itself.
It makes me wonder: what do we mean when we walk out of a worship service and say that we’ve heard a “powerful” message? What are we listening for, and why?