In the city where I live, there are still some who remember a famous pastor who served at the First Christian Church. P.H. Welshimer became the minister at this church in 1902, and served for decades1. As a result, as I talk with various people who have lived in the area for a long time, I still occasionally encounter those who were married by Welshimer, or were baptized by him. Most of these people are eager to share this detail, and given the number of souls that were brought to salvation during Welshimer’s career (saved by Jesus, mind you, not by a pastor), that is indeed an honorable history to be a part of.
However, the person who married us, baptized us, or even liked our latest social media posting isn’t someone to build our spiritual maturity around. Yes, we should appreciate those who give us a head-start in our walk with Jesus, whether through telling us about Him, or helping us along the way (see Galatians 6:6). Those people are just messengers, though, passing along Jesus’ message and introducing lost people to His salvation.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus who was super-famous in a lot of churches (both in the first century, and throughout history), had some words for people who were getting caught up in this. When some Christians were getting hung up on the person who had taught them or baptized them (whether “taking sides” or just bragging), Paul was trying to refute this behavior.
(Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.) For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.
1 Corinthians 1:16-17 NLT
I like how Paul mentions this family (of Stephanas), as sort of an afterthought. It is wonderful that this household chose to follow Jesus. Like those who were introduced to Jesus by P.H. Welshimer and his ministry, we celebrate when anyone moves from a path of sin and death, to one of joy and life. But, the way that Paul mentions this emphasizes that the fact that Paul baptized them (rather than another follower of Jesus baptizing them) is no big deal.
We might not brag about who introduced us to Christ (although that can be a great testimony), but there is a risk of getting too fixated on the pastor of our church, or a teacher / author that we really like. We might have an allegiance to a person (like Martin Luther or John Wesley) who made a significant contribution to the history of Christianity. Or, we might take a little too much pride in a given congregation or tradition, rather than in the One who we worship within our selected environment of fellow believers.
While we celebrate those who have made a difference in our lives (and those of others), and it’s fun to have a brush with fame, no human being saves us except Jesus Christ. Any loyalty to a group, party, denomination, creed, or congregation that supersedes the lordship of Jesus is a dangerous distraction.
May our goal be to make sure that as many people as possible hear (and see) the love that Jesus has for them. If some of His followers have a more direct impact on introducing people to Jesus, and help them take the step of faith required to give their lives (and their eternal destinies) over to Him, that’s something we can celebrate. However, each of us is called to be a servant of Jesus – to give the credit and glory to Him.
So, if we ultimately point people to anyone else besides Jesus, we’re missing the point. Feel free to refer friends to good writing and good teaching (based on God’s Word). Go ahead and invite people to church, or another event where they can hear a fellow Christian talk about God. Look for ways to serve others in Jesus’ name; whether by yourself, or as part of a team. Just never forget that only the Head of the church, Jesus Christ, is going to change lives for eternity.
Be thankful for those who teach us about Jesus, and honor them by doing God’s will. But, whatever you do, don’t worship those who are just serving Jesus. Worship their Lord (our Lord), instead!
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.