Leadership. It seems impossible to talk at any length about the Bible or the Church without the topic of leadership being discussed at some point. Rightly so. The men and women in Scripture who did great deeds for and with God were, indeed, leaders. Therefore, it is imperative for us to investigate the thoughts concerning leadership from a man who, except for Jesus Himself, is justifiably considered the greatest leader in the New Testament: Paul. From his perspective, what was the position and function of leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ?

A little background.

In the opening chapters of First Corinthians, Paul addressed a significant, troubling crisis in the church at Corinth. It was so momentous that Paul tackled it first, in preference to dealing with the issue of a man who was in an incestuous relationship with his father’s wife. This is a sin so heinous that many of us would have put it at the top of our list of priorities for church discipline. However, the problem that concerned Paul more than this man’s scandalous transgression was that there were divisions in the church—an issue which scarcely causes most of us in the contemporary church a moment of discomfort.

What were the house churches in Corinth divided over? Theology? Practice? No. They were divided over which leader the people had attached themselves to. They had separated over personalities—and one group of believers apparently had detached themselves from everyone else. So, directly after his introduction, the distressed apostle wrote,

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12).1

Immediately following this, Paul told them that he was glad that he hadn’t baptized many of them. “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name” (1 Corinthians 1:14–15).

Why would he do that here?

Let’s talk about this for a moment. Water baptism is about repentance and entering into the death and risen life of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-4). However, there is also an identification with Jesus and His body, the Church, at baptism. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). When we are baptized, we are changing allegiance from the former group we were in, which was “not a people,” to a new allegiance to the people of God, into one body. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). J.E. Towes writes, “Baptism negates a past life and incorporates people into a new reality that transforms existing relationships.”1 Our relationship is now with Jesus Christ and His people, not with those who are still walking in darkness and under the dominion of Satan, of whom Paul wrote, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

In a related way, baptism is an identification with another leader who has been appointed by God. Paul makes reference to Israel being baptized “into Moses.” “For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). When Israel passed through the Red Sea, it was becoming a nation, a people with a new identity, no longer slaves under the dominion of the Egyptian Pharaoh, but the people of God under the leadership of Moses as he was led by their Deliverer. James Dale wrote, “…the baptism of Israel into Moses expresses their full subjection to his controlling influence.”2

A similar baptism occurred after Moses died, when Israel—in much the same, crossing-on-dry-land way—passed through the Jordan River (Joshua 3:14-17). It was a new era. Now they were coming under Joshua’s leadership, finally entering into the land which God had promised. In both cases, by these figurative baptisms, Israel “…experienced a change of dominion.”3 When born-again believers are baptized in water, we are also experiencing a change of dominion—from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom; from the rule of Satan and the death of sin to a full subjection to Jesus’ controlling, life-giving influence—into the land of God’s promises.

When Paul expressed his thanks to God that he hadn’t baptized many people, he was stating that it wasn’t his heart or intention that the Corinthians become groups gathered around certain gifted men, not even himself, followers who were under that particular leader’s controlling influence. Israel had been baptized into Moses, under his leadership, as they became a new nation with a new identity. However, that new controlling leadership influence, of which Moses and Joshua were but types, was now Jesus. Paul didn’t want people to be gathered to him in that way. We could paraphrase what Paul wrote with, “I have been informed by Chloe’s people that there are divisions among you. Some say they’re of Paul, some of Peter, some of Apollos. So I thank God that I baptized only a few of you, so you wouldn’t think that I was trying to gather a group of people to myself and attach themselves and be loyal to my leadership.”

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.