The larger question is this: what about my poor local church which I am more than sick of? What about a church which is about to take sides and split over something like how often and what kind of Lord’s Supper is presented, or whether the deacons can drink alcohol ever, or over a sort of popular makeover to appeal to a broader demographic?
What do I do then?
Listen: let me tell you that your problem is not a new problem. Your church’s problem is not a new problem. And the solution is not a solution which no one has ever heard of before. But the question is whether your church is going to follow its advice.
That is: are you personally going to follow that advice?
Here’s the advice, btw, which I cited in part yesterday:
- I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 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? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
... According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
Now, it might be useful for you to review Acts 18 in order to remember how Paul reached the Corinthians. But think about this: Paul, the apostle, is telling the Corinthians, “listen: you are called by God (1 Cor 1:2) to be saints, and to that end you are enriched by God with the right words and right knowledge. So when I hear that you are trying to follow men instead of Christ who saved you, I wonder what it is you think you are doing.”
And in all of Chapter 2 and all of Chapter 3, Paul is all over the litany of examples of people with circumcised flesh but uncircumcised hearts, and how men think they are wiser than God until God makes fools of them.
But Paul doesn’t end his concern with a sort of “you knuckleheads” dismissal of the Corinthians: he ends this section with what I would call a beautiful image of who they are if Christ has saved them: they are temples of God, a place where the Spirit “dwells”. Think about that: it’s the same word Paul uses a little later in 1Cor 7 for what a wife ought to do with her husband – that is, to make a home. The Greek verb actually comes from the noun “oikos” or “house”.
And think on that: what we are doing when we take up sides against our brothers and sisters in a local church is reproaching the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit.
Now, I hear the objections already: “Cent, these guys want to use a fire truck for a baptistery”, “Cent: these crackers want childrens’ church to be a fraud”, “Cent: these people want to let a woman speak from the pulpit.”
I hear you. I know what you’re objecting to because I object to these things. I reject those things.
I do not reject those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells who, in my local church, do not reject those things. That doesn’t mean they get a free pass and a piece of the budget to enact their ideas, but it does mean that I will approach them as if they have the Spirit of God living inside them.
Because you know something: the Bible tells me so. If my church starts siding up saying, “I’m on Pastor’s side” or “I’m on the Deacon’s side” or “I’m with you, cent,” or “By Gawd I am on the BUY-bul’s side,” that’s all trash. That’s self-important hogwash – it’s jockeying for position, which is ultimately what Paul is condemning in this first part of this first letter.
What Paul says here to the Corinthians is that what is critical is not to elevate yourself by association but to elevate others by association. That last part of this passage – “all are yours, and [all of] you are Christ's, and Christ is God's” – simply sends out a trumpet blast of clarity which you have to put into your theological orchestra. The question is not “am I part of Christ and a dwelling-place of God” (which is a high honor – a humbling honor, yes?), but “Aren’t all of us in Christ and a dwelling place for God?”
All of you. Even that person who can’t tell the difference between “oikos” and “oinos”. Even those of us who can. There is a dignity which is required in the house of God, and if we cannot demonstrate it, we condemn ourselves.
I have some more on this which I will turn out tomorrow. Until then, take care of yourself as you are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.