Christian teachers come in all theological shapes and sizes, as the Corinthians of St. Paul’s day discovered. Some spoke with unadorned plainness, like Paul himself, who was determined to forego the fancy rhetoric fashionable in his day, and to know nothing other than Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (see 1 Cor. 2:2). Some spoke with great elegance, like the erudite Apollos of Alexandria. Some spoke with the authority that came from being one of the original Twelve, like Cephas. The Corinthians had their preferences (which was okay), and these preferences soon turned into factions (which was not). Each faction, it would appear, had their battle cry: “I am of Paul!” “I am of Apollos!” “I am of Cephas!” Some, it seems, wanted to be free from accountability to any human teacher, and raised the battle cry, “I am of Christ!” (1 Cor. 1:12f). It is not too unlike the situation of today, wherein some cry, “I am of Schmemann!” “I am of the Elder Cleopa!” “I am of the Elder Ephraim!” Plus ça change…
As Paul forcibly reminded the quarrelling Corinthians, such factionalism was “not on”. For one thing, it was not consistent with their first experience of the Gospel, for no one for baptized, for example, in the name of Paul, becoming the disciples of Paul. For another thing, it gave the impression that Christ (that is, Christ’s body the church) was somehow divided, which was impossible. In actual fact, the Corinthians did not have to choose between Paul, Apollos, Cephas, or any human teacher of the Faith. All of these teachers belonged them – along with the world itself, and life, and death, and things present, and things to come, even as they all belonged to Christ, and Christ belonged to God (1 Cor. 3:21-23). What were Paul and Apollos anyway? Not gurus, or founders of rival philosophical schools, but simply servants of God through whom the Corinthians came to faith, as the Lord in His providence provided. Each teacher had his own contribution to make – Paul planted, and Apollos, coming after Paul, watered, but God was the One behind it all, the One giving the actual growth (1 Cor. 3:5-7). These servants and teachers would have their reward, but what mattered was the church on which they laboured, the sanctification of the lives of all of God’s people.
St. Paul reminded the Corinthians of all this so that they would cease quarrelling. Paul had laid the foundation for the church in Corinth, and other teachers would come to build on it with their teaching, and all these teachers were to be valued. But – and this is an important “but” – each teacher must take care how he builds on it. “For,” St. Paul reminded them, “no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). With this word, St. Paul directs the Corinthians to beware of anyone that tries to base his teaching upon a cult of personality. The message which all teachers must proclaim must be consistent with the foundation on which they build. They must preach not themselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord. Anyone teaching otherwise was building on the foundation with wood, hay and straw, and the fire of the Day of Judgement would reveal its worthlessness by burning it up. Those teachers would be saved, but barely – they would be like men rushing from a burning building, saved “only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15).
This column is entitled “No Other Foundation”, because it aims to offer teaching consistent with the apostolic foundation of the Church, which is Jesus Christ. Drawing closer to Him, building our life on Him, is the only thing which ultimately matters.