Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Coming Back To Corinth

1 Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -- 1 Corinthians 1:1–3 (NASB95)
You could find every kind of philosophy in Corinth. And, you could find every kind of immorality in Corinth. The church at Corinth lived in the midst of an alien culture - both geographically and spiritually. -- Dr. Paul M. Elliot
To add to Paul Elliot's comment, I think it would be fair to say that one might find all those philosophies and immoralities in the church at Corinth. It was a troubled church. Perhaps we might say that the church at Corinth had more problems, more serious problems, than any other church in the New Testament, including the seven churches of Asia addressed in the book of Revelation.

And yet.  The Christians in Corinth were still a church. Paul wrote to them, addressing them as the "church of God which is at Corinth", as "those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus", "saints by calling", and along with Christians elsewhere, they were people who "call(ed) on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ". That's a pretty impressive list of terms for a people with so many troubles.

Today's church isn't much different. Christians have just gotten better at covering our tracks. Some churches will hire PR consultants and spin-meisters to frame communications with the public, especially when there is the possibility of some negative news leaking out that might embarrass the church.

I've known Christians who took the position that they no longer committed any sin. One of the reasons they did that was to look better to outsiders. But that warps reality. The truth is that Christians as individuals, and Christians as a collective (a church), sin, get things wrong, misbehave, struggle knowing what to do, and sometimes have the same or more problems as any non-Christian around. You won't find a lot of Christians comfortable with that statement or admitting to it.

This creates at least two problems (there are more) that spell trouble for the church. Let me explain what I see.

First, this faulty idea that churches are pretty near perfect, is trouble for outsiders. How do you preach the gospel of Jesus to sinners, tell them that God will forgive their sins and make them better people, then turn around and deny that God needs to do anything about the sins still present in believers? Outsiders see through this fakey faith. They hear us say one thing but live another. If they are really after a solution to their sin problem, they won't look for it among people who can't own up to reality. I think outsiders would rather see people struggle honestly with sin and find forgiveness from a merciful and gracious God than to see supposed believer act as if they didn't really need a Savior in the first place.

Second, this same faulty idea creates trouble for insiders. One of the plagues on today's church is that many Christians keep looking for the perfect church. They too see the reality of sin, problems, lack of maturity and spirituality, etc. But instead of acting like the family of God we're supposed to be, a great number of people engage in church hopping. I've heard it too many times. "I've decided I'm going to church "B" because ________ (fill in the blank with some problem, sin, or disappointment). The thinking is that church "B" doesn't have these problems. Really?

I've always wondered why Paul didn't write to the church at Corinth and tell the faithful to get out of there and start another church. There isn't anything resembling how we modern Christians treat one another remotely suggested in the Bible. There are some honest new church plants, but everybody knows that a great many churches begin because disaffected people just wanted to leave a troubled church.

Don't assume I'm writing from some lofty, I've-never-thought-this-way point of view. No, I've had exactly the same temptations. But I keep coming back to Corinth. If the Corinthian church was across town, nobody would want to have much to do with it. And if we (you and me) belonged to that church, we would probably be working behind the scenes to gather a subversive group together to go plant our own church and get out of that mess.

But here's my problem (thought it might not be yours). I keep coming back to Corinth, and I keep reading Paul's words. "church of God", "sanctified in Christ", "saints by calling", and just like Christians in every other place, call(ing) on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ".

What term will I then wear that makes me a better Christian than those at Corinth? Is it not a spirit of legalism that suggests I do something better than they, therefore I am in better standing with God? Isn't it to miss that if either of us is right with God, it's not because we're better than the other, but because of God's grace and mercy found in Jesus? How else could Paul call that bunch of sinful, divided, philosophically and spiritually misguided people "the church of God", "sanctified in Christ Jesus", and "saints by calling"?

There are no perfect Christians, and when you lump us together we don't make perfect churches.  Most of us are a bit messy, and the rest of us are more so. Perhaps it's time for us to learn how to live our faith, love our brethren, and learn how to help one another grow to be more like Jesus. We say we don't want to be like the church at Corinth. Fine. But you need to know that some of the problems there were spiritual pride, philosophical arrogance, and division. If we're not careful, the very same problems will infect us, but we'll just ignore them, pretending we're not like that church.

We need to come back to Corinth occasionally. Especially when we think we see imperfections in our brothers and sisters. We might be looking at ourselves.