What Paul was advocating in these first four chapters of First Corinthians—not gathering around gifted personalities—is light years away from how we think about doing church today. We’re perfectly content to conduct ourselves in the very way that so greatly alarmed Paul. Consider how we regard those who preach in our churches. When our pastors deliver a message, we rate them on their performance—their ability to speak. It’s just how our system works. In general, those who are stellar in this capacity have large, notable churches, and the less talented ones do not. We want people to join our group because of the teacher’s or pastor’s ability to express himself effectively according to fashionable awareness of our culture, the same way the Corinthians did in their first-century Greek context. For them it was Greek oratory. For us, it’s preaching skills, culturally clued-in humor and affability. Regardless of style, the point is that Christians should not divide over the speaking styles and abilities of certain talented individuals.

This is all backwards, according to Paul. He wrote here that if we emphasize and concentrate on how well we speak in order to gather people around us, the cross of Christ may be emptied of its power. Again, “And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5 NLT).

All this attention on how good the preacher/teacher is and the resulting attendance at a certain church group because of that preacher’s ability is, I’m discovering, upside down. Perhaps I’m using the expressions “backwards” and “upside down” too gently. It’s in perfect contradiction to what Paul teaches. This state of affairs greatly concerned Paul for these five reasons:

It’s divisive.

It may result in the destruction of God’s temple, His local church.

It causes Christians to boast in men.

It robs the cross of the power of God.

It causes the congregation to be infants, “of the flesh” and “behaving only in a human way.”

We, the contemporary Western church, are the church at Corinth in this regard. We are divided on the basis of personalities, of exceptional individuals. Because of our adherence to certain men due to their gifted speaking abilities, we may have been involved, shockingly, in the divisive destruction of local churches. We have boasted in men. We have, in some measure, emptied the cross of its power.

We are infants.

And we’ve been the church at Corinth for a very long time.