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.” Is Christ divided?
-1 Corinthians 1:12-13 (ESV)
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
-1 Corinthians 3:16 (ESV)
I’ve enjoyed reading N.T. Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God series because Wright regularly looks at texts, including biblical texts, and asks, in a very focused and thorough way, setting aside what we’ve always assumed this to mean, what does this mean? That question is rarer than it should be in theology and biblical studies. One recent instance struck me: Wright’s case that Paul’s image of the temple in 1 Corinthians is a weighty argument for Church unity.
God is one; God has one temple; we are that temple; therefore we should be one (and we should be God’s). Here’s how Wright puts it:
…the point is this: there is one building, one Temple, one place where the living God has chosen to live. It consists, now, of all those who belong to the Messiah, all those who are indwelt by his spirit. God has planted that Temple in Corinth, as he has in city after city. The appeal for unity is based on nothing less than the Messiah himself, who in turn gains his being, his meaning, from the one God: “So don’t let anyone boast about mere human beings. For everything belongs to you, whether it’s Paul or Apollos or Cephas, whether it’s the world or life or death, whether it’s the present or the future–everything belongs to you! And you belong to the Messiah; and the Messiah belongs to God.”
-N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, p.392, including a quote from 1 Corinthians 3:21-23
There’s only one temple, and we are it. That’s a bold (almost brash) claim, but it seems to be the bold-almost-brash claim that Paul (and, boldly-and-brashly again: The Spirit) is making. If you find it too brash, you can conclude it’s not true. However, if it is true, we have no choice but to conclude that we are responsible to seriously pursue unity.
How might we pursue unity? By examining our hearts for the things that divide us, and also by searching our world for those from whom we are divided. Encountering one another won’t mean instant unity, agreement, or even enjoyment, but it will be a first step in pursuing the unity for which we are responsible.
The pursuit of unity will stir up the Church, yes. It will bring to the surface unpresentable realities among us and in each of us. Yet, we are witnesses to Christ. We could show the world that Christ’s people try to pass themselves off as perfect like everyone else, but better to show that we’re willing to change by the grace of God. We could show the world that for Christ’s people, unity is not worth the effort, awkwardness, and confusion, but better to show that it’s our joy for God’s joy. We could show the world that Christ’s people are divided because God is divided or God is at a loss or God is a figment of our imaginations, but God is not, God is not, and God is not–better to show the world that we are trying to be one because our God is one, because He has made us one, and because He is forming us into one temple in which His Spirit dwells.