The Danger of Fan Clubs
Tim Temple


The middle portion of I Corinthians, chapter 1, has to do with what I am going to call “The Danger of Fan Clubs”. That may be an unusual title for a study of the Word, but let me illustrate it this way: Every four years thousands and thousands of adults get together in a major city somewhere in the nation and they wear funny hats, and they wave banners, and they yell and scream, and these gatherings are known as national political conventions. Usually those national political conventions focus around the names of one or two men who have risen to prominence in the party and whom the party hopes will rise to prominence and carry the party along with him to prominence in national affairs and become President of the United States.

Although there is a very serious side to political conventions, and I do not mean to demean the political process, it is kind of funny when you back off and look at those adults acting that way. There is a sense in which the focus is on a man or a few men and their ideas and what they can do and their methods and programs.

At the completely opposite end of the spectrum, another aspect to this attention to men, is the home of Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tennessee, which is dedicated to the memory of a dead rock singer. Every month twelve thousand people trek through that place and look at the artifacts that are there and remember him with varying degrees of warmth, people who apparently have nothing better to do than to think about a man who has already passed from this earth.

Even that may have some degree of legitimacy. I would have to search hard to find what that is, but when the mentality and the philosophy behind political conventions on the one hand, as legitimate as they are, or between the adulation of some rock singer or movie star or other prominent person is carried over into the spiritual realm, it can be ruinous to a church. It can be ruinous to our personal relationship to Jesus Christ. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul is writing about the various kinds of problems that can come into a church and keep it from having Christ at its center.

We have outlined the first chapter of Corinthians into three parts. The first part of the chapter, verses 1-9, is a commendation of the Corinthians. Then the second part of the chapter is a challenge to the Corinthians. We talked about that first part of the chapter, verses 1-9, and we began in our last lesson talking about this challenge to the Corinthians. The first part of the challenge has to do with the presence of divisions in the church in verses 10 and 11. But now in verses 12 and 13, Paul describes the problems of divisions. After all, what is really wrong with having differing points of view within the church? What is really wrong with divisions, because every church seems to have them? Well, in verses 12 and 13, Paul is going to describe the problems with those divisions.

Divisions That Glorify Men

Open your Bibles to I Corinthians, chapter 1, verse 12:

I Corinthians 1

12Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas [Peter] ; and I of Christ.

There is the statement of the division. The first problem that is brought out in verse 12 is that divisions–to gather around men and to focus our attention on this man or that man–deifies those men. Notice that it says, “…every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Peter.” Each of those men had a group of people there in Corinth who were gathering around that individual. Written between the lines, and no doubt the reason for Paul including this beginning of the letter, is that there was friction between the groups. Paul's followers had friction with Peter's followers; Apollos' followers thought both those groups were not quite what they should be, and there are all kinds of divisions there, gathered and centered around men. Paul said, “Listen, when that takes place, you are deifying those men.”

We don't have the time to do it today, but if you would take the time to read Galatians, chapter 2, verses 1-10, and compare that with Acts, chapter 18, verses 24-28, you would find that Paul and Apollos and Peter all preached the same thing. The difference was not in what they preached; they all had exactly the same message–that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of the Old Testament, that according to God's perfect will, He died on the Cross in payment for the sins of mankind, that He was buried, that He rose again, that He ascended to the right hand of the Father. All three of those men taught all of those doctrines, so the disagreement was not about what they taught; but the Scripture also taught that each of these men had a different personality, a different kind of background, a different kind of emphasis. All of these men had visited Corinth at various times, had spoken in that church, and as a result, people were beginning to deify the men, not on the basis of their doctrine. People in Corinth were beginning to separate from each other, not on the basis of which teacher was right and which teacher was wrong, but just on the basis of which one they preferred. For example, Paul said, “Some of you are gathering around me.” Incidentally, it is a real tribute and testimony to the Apostle Paul that he attacks this problem even though part of it focused on him. He was attacking his own fan club, if you will.

Think about Paul and what would have made people gather around Paul. For one thing, he was the founder of that church. We would probably all have a tendency to think, “The founder of the church is the most important man in the church.” But not only that, Paul had a tremendous ministry of reconciling Jews and Gentiles. He was the apostle to the Gentiles, he said, but when he went into a new city, his traditional method of approach was to go first to the synagogue. He had had a tremendous ministry of reconciling Jewish custom with Christian liberty, so he was attractive to Gentiles as well as Jews.

Then there was Apollos. He is probably not as well known to us as the Apostle Paul is or as Peter is, but according to Acts, chapter 18, Apollos was very cultured and very polished and a tremendously eloquent speaker. Paul, in his second Corinthian letter points out that he, Paul, was not an eloquent speaker. He was not very impressive in his appearance, he said of himself. He was not mighty in worth, but Apollos was an eloquent, polished, cultured teacher, and then, as now, people identify with eloquence. In fact,someone said, “You know, the less we understand a sermon, the better it must have been.” There are people who operate that way, you know. “It must have been a good sermon; I can't figure out what he was talking about, so it must have been good.” Apollos was a tremendous preacher, and there were a lot of people who thought, “Now, that is what we need in Corinth; that is what ought to be exalted here.”

Then Cephas (Aramaic for “Peter”) was one of the original disciples. Certainly he ought to be exalted; he ought to be honored. He was older and, in that sense, more mature than either Paul or Apollos. He was a traditionalist. He went back to the very beginnings of Christianity. So Peter certainly had his strong points and reasons to gather around him and exalt him.

Probably the most pious group of all were those who said, “I am of Christ.” I can just hear them as they said it. They probably sat in their own little section of the church and thought they were a little better than everyone else. They probably thought that they were too holy to be led by mere men. They were only going to follow what Christ said. Maybe they were just imitating His life-style, trying to do what He did. At any rate, an interesting thing is that while they were saying that they belonged to Christ, in effect they were saying by their life-style that Christ belonged only to them. Their outward testimony would be, “We are Christ's.”, but a very subtle difference is that they were saying, “Christ is ours. He is not yours; he belongs to our little group; this is the Christ; this is the Jesus group.” So, there was great division in Corinth because people were gathering around who they thought was the best leader, who they thought was the best Bible teacher, that kind of thing. Paul said, “Divisions glorify men; divisions deify men.”

Divisions Dishonor Christ

Verse 13 points out another problem. Not only do they deify men, they dishonor Christ. To exalt a man is to dishonor Jesus Christ. Have you ever thought about that? How is that so? Paul points out three ways in which that is true. Notice in verse 13:

I Corinthians 1

13Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

First of all, these exhaltations of men, these divisions over men, these fan clubs dishonor Christ as to His unity. Notice what he says in verse 13: “Is Christ divided?” Is there something about Christ over which we would disagree? We know who Jesus Christ is. We know, if we are willing to go by the record of the Word of God, that everything that Jesus did is relevant to us. Is there any reason for followers of Jesus Christ to divide themselves if our focus is on Christ? He says that it is dishonoring to Christ to take sides with various men to form these fan clubs because that causes division among the group who says that they are worshiping Jesus Christ, and what is there to be divisive about in the worship of Jesus Christ? Is Christ divided? It is an attack on His unity. Then there is the point that it dishonors Christ from the standpoint of His unselfish sacrifice. He says, “…was Paul crucified for you?” To build a group around a man or even the philosophy of a man or a teaching style is to exalt that man above Jesus Christ.

Notice that he says, “…was Paul crucified for you?” It is significant that Paul is writing this himself, a great example of humility. When we begin to exalt a man, whether it be John Calvin or John the Baptist or whoever else it might be, we need to remember Who it was that died for us. Aren't we glad that Christ died for all of us as we talk about this matter of unity? Let me ask you today: Where would you be if Christ had only died for the intellectuals or if He had only died for the athletes? Most of us would be in big trouble, wouldn't we? Paul says, “Christ died for all of us.” It was not Paul; it was not Apollos; it was not Cephas; it was Jesus Christ who paid the price for our sins. So to deify men, to glorify men, to gather around men, is to dishonor Christ in his sacrifice.

Focus On Jesus Christ

The third way that divisions dishonor Christ is in His unmistakable Lordship. He says in the last part of that verse:

I Corinthians 1

13…were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

“When you were baptized,” Paul says, “into whose name were you baptized?” In fact, the literal wording of the Greek of this phrase is, “Were you baptized into the name of Paul?”, a wording that would have been much more significant to those first century Greek-speaking Christians than it is to us just on the surface because this was a Greek term of possession and loyalty, and it actually carried over into formal English. For example, in the Roman armies, soldiers were sworn in in the name of Caesar, or payments were made into the name of the merchant. Of course, technically that carries over into our society today. We write a check to the order of, to the name of, the person to whom we are making a payment. But Paul said, “Were you baptized into the name of Paul?”

I guess the most obvious place that we see this kind of thing today is the requirement that people need to be baptized before they can become a part of a particular local church. After all, what is baptism? Are you being baptized into a particular church, located at a certain address, or are you being baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? To gather around a man or a group, to insist that we be identified with a certain title, those kinds of things dishonor Jesus Christ. It is He who is the Lord; it is into His name we are baptized; it is He who died for us; it is He who died for all of us. So these kinds of things dishonor the Lord Jesus Christ. It is basically a matter of what our attitude is whether baptism is involved or not. Paul, a little farther down, is going to use baptism as an illustration. But this same kind of attitude can be generated even when we are not talking about a denomination or a particular local church.

We live in a fascinating time in the Body of Christ; we live in an exciting time in the Body of Christ. My family and I were talking about this last night. The fact that right here in our city, and this is true of most cities of any size, because we have Christian radio stations, we have access to six or seven of the leading Bible teachers in the world today. We can hear all of those men every day, and that is wonderful. I am sure that if you listen to any of those men, you have your preference as to the one who ministers most strongly to you, and that is all right. The danger comes when we begin to say, “You know, so-and-so is the teacher to listen to; the others just don't have it like he does; he is the best Bible teacher there is.” We are getting very dangerously close to saying, “I am of Paul, or Chuck Swindoll, or John MacArthur.” We have the privilege of hearing many voices. God ministers to us through many different channels. We should praise God for that, but we should be extremely careful even though we may have a legitimate preference for one or more of those men. Even though we may prefer one over the other, we need to be extremely careful that we don't focus our attention, that we don't focus our loyalty, that we don't focus the authority of our hearts on any one man. We need to focus all of that on Jesus Christ. Because we do live in such an advantaged society, because we do live in such an advantaged time of the Body of Christ, we need to be all the more careful about that.

An Attitude of Heart

We are talking not just about denominations or formal groups, we are talking about an attitude of the heart. The Holy Spirit, writing through the Apostle Paul, wanted the Corinthians to realize, and God wants us to realize that to do that dishonors Jesus Christ. He is our Lord; He is our head. The most obvious illustration of all of this and the thing that hits most directly is the whole system of denominationalism. All of the various denominations go back at some point to this kind of philosophy, exalting one man and his teaching and his system above all the others. The original Christians, someone has said, were like a bottle of medicine with many ingredients but no label. They practiced baptism, but they weren't Baptists. They believed in election, but they weren't Presbyterians. They believed in the Holy Spirit and saw the demonstrations of signs and wonders, but they weren't Pentecostals or charismatics. They didn't use those titles; they were just believers in Jesus Christ. They were the church at Corinth, or the church at Philippi. There were many different kind of doctrinal focuses within those churches, but they were followers of Jesus Christ.

The official biography of John Wesley is a book called John Wesley, the Burning Heart . In that biography of John Wesley, he tells about a dream he had in which, as he was thinking about this kind of issue, he went to the gate of Hell and he looked into Hell and there he saw a great number of Baptists whom he knew, Presbyterians that he knew, and Methodists that he knew. In that same dream he went to the gates of Heaven and looked in, and all he saw were Christians. While on earth, those Christians had had various kinds of labels. Let me tell you something: If you believe that you are part of a group that is better than some other group, whether that be focused around who is the best Bible teacher or what is the best denomination to identify with or what is the best mission to support–any kind of a focus on men or methods–you are going to be very surprised and probably a little disappointed when you get to Heaven because there are going to be all kinds of other people there. Even though we bungle it so badly, it is Jesus Christ who died for us, and it ought to be Jesus Christ around whom we focus our attention, even though we may appreciate various kinds of people who minister to us.

Since I have mentioned the denominations, let me carry that one step further. I hope you will listen even more carefully to what I am about to say. We are talking about an attitude. I have mentioned that already, but we are talking about an attitude here, and thus nondenominational groups like ours can be just as guilty. It is very easy for us who are in nondenominational churches to say, “Well, really we are the best. We are not part of those groups who divide and who honor men and who take the name of a man.” That attitude is just as bad. We need to be very careful that we don't say that we are only going to have fellowship with other independent churches. That is wrong. Or to say that we are only going to have fellowship with churches that emphasize teaching. It is wrong. Or in some cases we Bible church people have a tendency to say that we are only going to fellowship with churches or groups that emphasize a certain method of teaching. That is just as denominational as any denomination that you can name. That is just as Corinthian as the first chapter of Corinthians.

The only Biblical position is to say that we will have fellowship with any one or with any group who accepts the Bible as the Word of God and is willing to operate or attempts to operate on the basis of the principles of the Word of God. It should not matter what denominational name they carry. We may think that they should come out of the denomination or that kind of thing, but to say that we are not going to fellowship with someone just because they have a particular denominational title is just as bad as to insist that we be a part of that group. It is a very easy trap to fall into, and it dishonors Jesus Christ.

The Example of Baptism

Now, we have seen the fact of the presence of divisions in Corinth and in Abilene and everywhere else and the problems that those divisions create. The third part of the section of this chapter is in verses 14-17, the proper attitude about divisions. What should be our attitude about these divisions? These verses demonstrate the proper attitude by means of an example. I want you to think carefully with me because the example that Paul uses is water baptism. That is a controversial example, especially in Abilene, Texas. Let me just remind you that Paul chose that example; I didn't, so if you think I have quit preaching and gone to meddling, take it up with Paul or take it up with the Lord and tell Him to take it up with Paul. He chose the example, not me. But let's think about this example that Paul uses. It is important to remember in the context that Paul is using baptism as an example. This is not all that the Bible has to say about baptism. Paul is not attempting to teach the doctrine of baptism in these verses, but he is using water baptism as an example of this matter of exalting men over Jesus Christ and gathering around men rather than around Jesus Christ. In verses 14-16, he gives us the personal example of baptism:

I Corinthians 1

14I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
15Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
16And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.

Incidentally, I often think when I read that verse how many people must have been disappointed if Paul baptized them and he didn't even remember it. There are bound to have been some others whom he baptized, but he didn't even remember them. But there is this personal example of baptism. Again let me say that Paul is not, and we must not be downgrading baptism in these verses. He is not downgrading baptism. He clearly says that he practiced it; the people to whom he preached who accepted Christ under his ministry, he baptized them. Some have said that Paul is against baptism. No, he was not; he practiced it. More importantly, we know that Jesus commanded it.

Let me digress from the track that we are on and say that if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you have not been baptized, you should be. Jesus told us to baptize those who accepted Him. Therefore it obviously carries that you who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior should be baptized as a testimony to your faith in Jesus Christ. If you have never been baptized, you need to pray through whatever the problem might be. Ask God for wisdom if there is some problem. If it is just that you have never bothered to do it, if it has just never occurred to you to do it, then you need to put that on the agenda to be baptized as soon as possible if you know that you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior. It is a very important doctrine of the Word of God. I should have mentioned I Peter, chapter 3, verse 21, which I think is a good summary of what baptism is:

I Peter 3

21The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

Your conscience really can't be clear about your relationship with Jesus Christ until you have been baptized. Notice carefully what I said. If you have listened to me very much at all, there is probably no need to say this; but in the context let me say that I Peter, chapter 3, verse 21, does not say that you are not completely saved until you have been baptized. It is that Jesus told those of us who accept Him as Savior to be baptized, and if you have not been baptized, then it is either your teacher's fault or your fault. Peter says that baptism is the answer of a clear conscience toward God. It is something that Jesus asked us to do, and we ought to do it. We can't really have a clear conscience that we have done everything that Jesus asked us to do until we have been baptized.

Effect of Improper Emphasis

Notice the proper emphasis on baptism in verse 17:

I Corinthians 1

17For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

Do you see what he is saying here in verse 17? He says an overemphasis on baptism, an emphasis on who baptized you, or an emphasis on how quickly you were baptized after you accepted Christ, or something like that and any other doctrine, because this is just an example, can make the Cross of Christ of no effect. Do you know that there are people who question the salvation of other fellow-believers in Jesus Christ because they do not agree with them about when we were chosen in Christ or about how many human beings were chosen by God? They disagree about that, so they question their very salvation. There are people who are fellow-believers in Jesus Christ who break fellowship with each other or who do not have full fellowship with each other because they disagree over the name of the group with whom we associate. That makes the Cross of Christ of none effect because do you know what else happens? There are people who hear the message of the Gospel and they question it because they see that kind of thing going on in the lives of people who claim to be Christians.

I think the world gets a good laugh many times at the way we who believe in Jesus Christ treat each other. Paul says, “If I had emphasized baptism, it would have made the Cross of Christ of none effect.” He is illustrating the fact that if I were doing like you Corinthians and exalting Paul or Apollos or Peter, it would make the Cross of Christ of no effect. It can actually stand in the way of the preaching of the Gospel. Verse 15 undergirds that. It causes divisions.

Importance of Baptism

Incidentally, while we are in this passage, I have to point out, to be faithful to the teaching of the Word of God, that this is one of the best possible defenses against baptismal regeneration. This is one of several passages that teach that you do not have to be baptized to be saved. Notice the distinction that he makes here in verse 17:

I Corinthians 1

17For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

You see, Paul makes a distinction between preaching the Gospel and baptizing. Christ sent him to baptize, but He sent him first to preach the Gospel. We could correctly translate this, “For Christ sent me not only to baptize, but to preach the Gospel…” You see, he puts those in complete different categories.

A second thing from this passage that shows us that baptism is not necessary to salvation is that Paul obviously did not baptize everyone who accepted Jesus Christ under his ministry. In fact, it apparently was so distinguished in his thinking from the preaching of the Gospel and the acceptance of Jesus Christ, that he didn't even keep records of who he baptized. We would assume that he had no written record, and he didn't even try to keep it in his head. As I say, there were probably some people who were very disappointed to read, “I don't remember whether I baptized anyone else or not.” He probably did, but he didn't remember because the most important thing is to remember that Jesus Christ died for your sins. You should be baptized. We have already talked about that, but Christ sent Paul and He sent me and He sends others to preach the Gospel. Then in obedience to His instruction, as a testimony to that, you should be baptized. So these verses are very significant from that doctrinal standpoint.

Having looked at that technical, doctrinal standpoint, let me remind you that he is not just teaching about baptism, he is using baptism as an example of the kinds of things that Christians can let come between them. So as we conclude our thinking in this lesson, it goes without saying that every one of us can think of examples of the fact that there are differences of preferences among Christians. If God had wanted there to be one church, one pastor, He would have made it that way. The very fact that there are other Bible-teaching, Gospel-preaching churches indicate that that is not what God wants. People have different preferences. In fact, God gave us spiritual gifts that differ so that everyone can be ministered to. It is very easy because of that to group ourselves around those who appreciate the same things we do. This passage very clearly teaches us that those groups should never break our fellowship with other believers or cause us to lose appreciation for people in the other groups. It is just natural that we are going to have to break into groups. There is not a building in this city big enough for all Christians in this city to worship together. If that is true of a town this size, how much more true is it of bigger cities? It is just natural that we have to break into smaller groups, and it is a perfectly natural and legitimate thing to group together with people who have like preferences as we do, but Paul is saying to not ever let those preferences become the focal point. Don't ever let those preferences become a point of fellowship and divisiveness and downgrading of those who have a different set of preferences than you do.

The Place of Preference

One last question: What can we do about those with whom we disagree about peripheral issues? By peripheral issues I mean those things that are just a matter of preference. The Scriptures speak very clearly about what it means to be saved. The Scriptures speak very clearly, as we have pointed out several times today, about the doctrine of baptism. They speak very clearly about various doctrines that we would consider basic doctrines. But what about these other kinds of peripheral issues? I am not going to name any because I would surely either name the one that is very touchy with you and offend you, or I would leave out one that is important to you and offend you. We all know that there are various peripheral issues, and what should we do about fellow believers with whom we disagree? We prefer a different teacher or pastor than they do.

Well, there are two things. First of all, you remember Philippians, chapter 2, verses 5-11:

Philippians 2

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Don't insist on your rights and preferences. I am bordering very closely on offending someone here, but let me just say that I know of people who have come to visit our church, and it is not exactly like the church they came from in some other town, and they visited other churches, and they never could find a church that was just exactly like the church they came from, and so they just don't go to church. That is sinful. We have people who leave this church. Occasionally they will come back and say, “You know, we just can't find a church like this one anywhere.” The problem is when we let our preferences become our point of fellowship, and only Jesus Christ should hold that place.


What we should do about those who are not exactly what we would like for them to be is to pray for them. James, chapter 4, touches on this. We don't have time to turn there, but in James, chapter 4, verses 1 and 2 say:

James 4

1From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
2Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Let me say this very pointed word to you. If this church is not all that you would like for it to be, do you know the very most effective thing you can do? Pray for this church. If this pastor is not all that you would like for him to be, I would beg you to pray for me. It may be that I am not what you would like me to be just because you have never asked God to make me that. That may not be the case, but it is possible. Pray for me if I am not all that you would like for me to be. Pray for this church, for some aspect of this church that is not all that you would like for it to be. It may be that you have been fighting and striving to make this church what you would like for it to be. God says through James that you could have it if you would just ask for it, but you are just using your human means to get it. Jesus Christ is not divided. Jesus Christ is the One who died for every one of us who have accepted Him as Savior, and He is the One who deserves our praise, our attention, and our worship.

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