Forming Faith Blog

Divisions in Church? (Acts 18, 1 Cor 1)

As shocking as it might seem to us (sarcasm), the church Paul helped found in Corinth experienced divisions and arguments. While diversity is good, divisiveness can threaten our unity and witness in Christ.

Two women sitting together but facing apart, showing divisions.
Photo by Anna Shvets on
The Easter Season So Far

Believe it or not, these readings mark the fifth week of the Easter season. Since the women left the empty tomb, the apostles have been commissioned, Peter has demonstrated the ability to heal in Jesus’ name, and Paul has founded a church in Thessalonica. We have found that the Book of Acts tells many stories of God—via the gift of the Holy Spirit—working in and through Jesus’ followers.


Since we last left our hero of the faith, Paul has traveled south along the Aegean coast and now has stopped in the Roman colony of Corinth, located on a narrow isthmus between the main Greek (Achaian) peninsula and the knob of the Peloponnesus. At its narrowest point, the isthmus is only four miles wide and—even before a canal was built in the late 19th century—provided a valuable shortcut for commerce travel back and forth between the Ionian Sea and the Aegean.

Corinth was a very diverse place with settlers from different socio-economic classes, cultures, and religions. In fact, archaeologists have identified at least two dozen shrines and temples to a variety of deities in Corinth. Clearly, the place had enough Jewish settlers to support a synagogue.

Paul in Corinth

Acts 18:1-17 describes part of Paul’s time in Corinth, though only the first four verses are in today’s assigned readings. Paul was comfortable enough that he decided to spend a year and a half there. He supported himself as an artisan, a maker of tents (and perhaps other leatherwork) and made friends. He started his ministry, like usual, in the synagogue among the Jews with whom he shared a culture, Scripture, and the promise of a Messiah. Some were convinced that Jesus was this Messiah, others were not. After the predictable conflict with the synagogue leaders, Paul moved next door (literally) to minister with the Gentiles. [Note: Please be cautious around Paul’s angry statement in Acts 18:6, if you cover it, as it can be misused to support antisemitism.]

Serious Divisions

After Paul left, the Corinthian church continued to grow. And surprise of all surprises, disagreements and arguments arose within the community. We know that an influential woman named Chloe was so concerned about these growing divisions that she sent people across the Aegean Sea to track down Paul and ask him to intervene. We see later in the letter that some of the divisions arose from economic and educational differences, but here in chapter 1, these quarrels are about (or at least dressed up as) pastor groupies.

Belonging to Whom?

The report Paul received told him that the people in the Corinthian church divided themselves into camps around their favorite visiting preacher. We don’t hear that there were theological differences between the preachers, so it might be that or just a “cult” of personality. One group rallied behind Paul, another behind a preacher named Apollos, and another behind Cephas (Peter). And then there were some who told everyone that they were for Christ, though the cynical part of me thinks that they were just being self-righteous.

This is enough to make Paul yell, or at least that’s how I read verse 13.

Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

The obvious answer is “no” to each of these questions. And I would guess that most, if not all, of the people in this church knew the answer. Perhaps they never thought their conflicts in that way, or perhaps they always knew that they were all united in Jesus, but the other groups had the wrong interpretation of what that means. We wouldn’t know anything about that type of thing in our modern churches (and denominations), right?

The Power of God

Our faith—and identity as the Church—is based around Jesus. When Paul talks about “the message about the cross” (v. 18), he is not just talking about Jesus’ death. It is shorthand for the entire work of God in Jesus, as you cannot separate the significance of Jesus’ death from the significance of his resurrection (and neither from the significance of his birth and ministry). The power of God that this message represents is not just a power of self-sacrifice and death, but a power that overcomes death and triumphs as new life.

Unity in Diversity, not Uniformity

It doesn’t take long to identify groups in conflict with each other. Whether they are cliques at school or work, fandoms, political parties, or church music styles, boundaries between people are everywhere. But as we are teaching, we need to hold two things in apparent conflict. On the most important end, we are all united, all children of God, and (in a church setting) all followers of Jesus. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that our groupings and diversity are bad.

We are friends with some people and not others. We are fans of a sports team, book series, or TV show, and therefore we have something in common with other fans. We hold to a certain set of values and political views that fit with one party or another. We prefer one style of worship over another. These aren’t bad things, and we shouldn’t try to erase them. But what’s important is that these differences don’t create conflict or lead us to dehumanize or hate people different from ourselves. It is our common identity as image-bearers of God and followers of Jesus that is actually important.

In the love of the risen Messiah,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the “Prayer Tent” activity from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th) NL Year 2 (2023-2024) and NL Year 3 (2024-2025) curriculum. This activity can be done with children, youth, intergenerational groups, and even adults!

Order Faith Formation Resources

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Introducing our newest Learning Together unit: Created to Care! Wonder at God’s creation and learn about what we can do to protect and heal it in these five lessons, intended for children and intergenerational groups, family or churchwide events, or Vacation Bible School. This curriculum is published in collaboration with BibleWorm, a weekly Narrative Lectionary podcast, to accompany their summer series on Creation Care.

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