Epistle Corinthians 1:10-18

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

In our Epistle reading this morning, St. Paul touches on a very significant aspect of the life of the Christian Church—Her unity, Her One-ness. St. Paul is addressing a specific issue in the Church in Corinth, an issue that seems kind of silly to us perhaps. The members of the Church are vying for position based on who administered their baptism; as if baptism by Paul would somehow be “better” than a baptism by someone else. St. Paul immediately shows them how insignificant this debate is, and he beseeches them that “there be no divisions,” but that the Church would be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (v. 10).

He then goes on to explain that the Church must be one and undivided because Christ is one, there is no division in Christ (v. 13). Only Christ died for mankind, and all members of the Church are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, per the command of Christ. So the local community in Corinth must be one—of one mind, undivided—because Christ is one, and His Church (His Body) is one. This is the number for the Fathers—one. Everything is one, united, undivided. One Christ, one Church. The Orthodox Church takes a lot of criticism for this stance, that there is only One Church, only one Body of Christ. But this is clearly the teaching of the earliest Christians, and it’s the teaching of the Scriptures. The existence of many Christian groups that we see today is the way of the world—everyone doing what they want to do and saying that everyone can be right. St. Paul addresses this directly—“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” (v. 18) Our only choice is to proclaim the Truth as it’s been passed on to us by the Saints.

In the Creed we profess One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. When we say One Church, the single Body of Christ, what exactly are we expressing? I’ll steal from Met. HIEROTHEOS’ book The Mind of the Orthodox Church for our answer. He begins by logically stating that since Christ is one, there can only be one Church. A head can only have one body, not many. The Church is the Divine-human Body of the Godman Jesus Christ. He goes on to write, “In speaking of the oneness of the Church we have two basic things in view. One is that in spite of the plurality of the members, there is one body, and secondly, that [the Church] is the unique place of man’s salvation” (p. 52). Notice, in the vision of the Orthodox Church he doesn’t even feel the need to address the fact that there is only one Body which can call itself the Church.

For the first point—no matter how many local Orthodox Churches exists, no matter how many members are part of those Churches, there is only One Church. Christ shows us this with the image of the shepherd and his flock—the many sheep follow the one shepherd, but the many sheep make up one flock. The many do not negate the reality of the one. We also see this perfectly illustrated in the Eucharist—we all receive communion, but we all receive the one Christ. The Fathers say that Christ is indivisibly divided among the faithful; we all partake of the one Christ. The unity of the Church is internal, it comes from the relationship of the Body with Christ, and the relationship of individual people with Christ that makes them to be members of the Church.

The other point that Met. HIEROTHEOS makes is that the Church is the place of man’s salvation. Now, this doesn’t mean that all of humanity isn’t offered salvation; everyone is offered the chance to be joined with Christ. There are seeds of the truth all around, but all of these seeds are joined together and offered to us in the Church. The Church is given to mankind as the ideal place for our relationship with Christ to develop. The Church maintains all of the revelations of God to man—the law, the prophets, Christ, the Apostles, all of the Saints—everything revealed by God to humanity for our salvation is preserved and taught in the Church. People who are not joined to the Church don’t detract from the unity of the Church—they are separated from the Church. This is the same reason that the Orthodox Church doesn’t speak of re-uniting separate Churches—the Church is one, has existed continuously since the day of Pentecost, and we find ourselves either in that Body, or separate from that Body. The gates of hell, the Scriptures promise, will not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18).

With such a vision of the Church, what a silly thing it is to be arguing about who was baptized by whom.
Every local parish, ourselves included, we have to watch out for these types of temptations that can cause arguments and separations within the manifestation of the Body of Christ here. The vision of the Christian Church that we have to present here is of unity, of singularity, and as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment, with no division.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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