Sunday, January 23, 2011

1 Cor 1

It is Christian unity week. The second reading is one of the classic texts on Christian unity.

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
This is a classic text where people simply see what they want to see and ignore what they want to ignore. Catholics point out that protestantism is full of people who say "I follow Calvin" or "I follow Luther." Isn't that exactly what Paul is condemning here? Sure it is.

But protestants point out that Paul does not point to the same answer as Catholics do. He does not say Christians should unite around Peter. In fact, he mentions Peter, as Cephas, but lumps him in with everyone else. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the papacy.

That does not really hold up as a exegetical out. If scripture says don't do X then you don't do X. The fact that scripture does not directly prescribe the best method of avoiding X is not excuse for not using that method and engaging in X anyway. If scripture says don't do it you don't do it. No excuses. No rhetorical tricks. Just obey.
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
So what does Paul suggest? He suggest focusing on Christ. Protestants get that. But how? He rambles on about baptism. That is where protestants stop listening. Focusing on Christ in a sacramental way is not where they want to go. They want to focus on Christ in a doctrinal way. In fact, the model of  "wisdom and eloquence" that Paul rejects sounds like the typical protestant scenario. Some guy comes out and has a new teaching that is allegedly a more correct understanding of scripture. But there is also a charismatic leader involved. Much of the success of protestant leaders have nothing to do with exegesis and reason. Eloquent presentations and magnetic personalities are at least as important.So the protestant model is anti-biblical. It is precisely the opposite of what Paul says we should do.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 
It is interesting that it is in the context of Christian unity that Paul goes into the topic of human wisdom and God's wisdom. That there will always be people who seem smarter than the apostles and their successors. There will always be people whose message is more appealing to one segment of society or another. But the key is to preach Christ crucified. Isn't it interesting that protestants don't like to use the crucifix as a symbol? Catholics put an image of Christ being crucified right in the center of their worship space. Protestants are not comfortable with that.

They would never accept that they are not preaching Christ crucified. I know I never dreamed protestantism could be thought of that way. But as a Catholic I can clearly see it. No Stations of the Cross. No sorrowful mysteries. No sacrifice of the mass. No uniting your suffering with the suffering of Christ. No Ash Wednesday. No celebration of martyrs. No penance. So many ways the preaching of Christ crucified gets replaced by something else.

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