Loyalty to an individual leader is not a basis for unity Patrick Henry Reardon, senior editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
Few pastoral mistakes, over many centuries, have more seriously damaged the unity of the Church than the occasional attempt to make personal loyalty the basis of that unity. The disposition to make this mistake lies, I suspect, in the nature of the pastoral office itself. In many cases, a persons conversion to Christ involves, as well, a lively relationship with some pastor or preacher of the Gospel. That is to say, the converts familiarity with divine grace is closely associated with the ministry of someone other than Christ our Lord.
Although the two relationships are logically separable – Christ and the pastor – they are tightly entwined in ones actual experience: in learning to trust Christ, the believer also develops a distinct and personal loyalty to the pastoral figure who facilitates his introduction to Christ. There is nothing wrong with this in principle, but heaven save the pastor who endeavours to exploit that arrangement for the sake of personal power.
Divisions in Corinth
Holy Scripture provides an early instance of the danger: towards the end of the year 49 Paul began his mission at the city of Corinth, where he ministered for the next eighteen months [Acts 18.11]. Paul had started by teaching in the local synagogue each Sabbath, sharing the Gospel not only with the Jews, but also with the local Gentiles that were attracted to many features of Judaism [18.4].
When the Jews at the synagogue opposed and cursed what Paul was saying, he finally broke off any further discussion with them. From that point on, along with a few Jews, the Gentiles gathered separately under Pauls tutelage [18.8-17]. This was hardly the end of the strife, because the Christians met in a home that was right next door to the synagogue
[18.7]! When Paul left Corinth, the parish was pastured by Apollos, a recent convert. Some of the older members wanted nothing to do with Apollos and the new people that he brought to the congregation. After all, Apollos had just been baptized right before he came to Corinth [Acts 18.24-8]. Most of these Corinthians had been Christian longer than their new pastor! We know that Paul deliberately preached to the dregs of society, people without education or secular advantage [1 Corinthians 1.26; 6.9-11].
These people were added to the original core of the parish, the religious Gentiles and few Jews that had worshipped together in the synagogue. Already there was the possibility of conflict. To these were added the more intellectual and educated converts brought into the Church through the ministry of the learned Apollos.
Finally, yet another group was introduced into the congregation at Corinth by Simon Peter -‘Kephas! Thus, within five or so years of its founding, the parish at Corinth was already torn by strife and conflicts based solely on misguided personal loyalties. We see this situation in Pauls comment: ‘Now I say this, that each of you says, J am of Paul,’ or J am of Apollos,’ or J am of Cephas.”
Fortunately, none of these pastors attempted to exploit the situation. Indeed, we know that Paul and Apollos were embarrassed by these blind, uncritical loyalties.
Heaven help those Christian leaders who make loyalty to themselves the source of church unity. Because this abuse is intrinsically schismatic and sinful, it will bring only further divisions, rivalries, and animosity. Believers must find their true and proper level only in Christ. It is the water level of the baptismal font.