DEEPER HOPE

Deeper Hope:

An Abiding Virtue

This book explores the meaning -- and application -- of Christian Hope. It takes the fuzzy concept of Hope and reveals it in everyday settings

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Lessons from a Bad Church

One of the reasons I like watching the “reality shows” on TV is that compared to those people my life seems pretty squared away. It’s too bad that there aren’t any shows like that about churches, so I could compare the “reality church” to my own congregation.

Actually, there is a place observe struggling churches that don’t have it all together. It’s the New Testament. This history book of the early church shows things the way they really were, complete with greedy people, religious crazies, hurt feelings, and racial prejudices—and these are the good guys! It’s one of the reasons I love the scripture so much: it casts a cold hard stare on its subjects.

For example, take the church in Corinth. There are plenty of Biblical resources available if you’re interested in a real “reality show.” The church in Corinth was a crazy mix of spirituality, worldliness, excess, and beauty. In others words a church very much like the most churches in North America today.

The church in Corinth started off with a bang, God himself spoke to the apostle Paul in a vision: “Don’t be afraid, and don’t give up on this town,” God said. “I have a lot of people here.” (Acts 18: 9-10)

So “Apostle Paul” unpacked his suitcase and became “Pastor Paul” for a year and a half. Can you imagine having Paul of Tarsus, the towering colossus of Christianity as a pastor? This church must have been a model church right? Well, not exactly.

Paul invests 18 months of his life in these people, and then moves on to continue planting churches. Imagine the quality start the church in Corinth received: a year and a half of the very best in ministry, miracles, and teaching. But after he leaves, Paul gets a note from the folks who meet at Chloe’s house, “Paul, there are few problems here we’d like to ask you about.”

A few problems? Let’s make a partial list:
• Believers in Corinth were “choosing sides” concerning who was the best spiritual leader: some said Paul, some Peter, some Apollos, and the really spiritual people said, “I only follow Jesus!”
• A regular attendee of the church was sleeping with his father’s wife (yikes!). Everyone who attended the church knew about it, but no one was doing anything about it.
• Church members were racing each other to courts of law because they couldn’t settle their disputes between one another inside the church.
• There were major arguments over who should eat what kind of food, and why.
• People were getting drunk at communion or the equivalent of a church “pot luck” dinner (I know that sounds hard to believe, but you can look it up: I Corinthians 11: 20 -21).
• And we haven’t even touched on problems like worship services that were pretty strange: spiritual gifts, spiritual pride, arguments about dating, and incorrect views of the resurrection!

I don’t know where you go to church, but even the worst church in my town doesn’t come close to this list of problems in Corinth. If I want to gawk at a bunch of immature believers, I don’t even have to leave home. I can just open up my Bible and read about the church in Corinth.

Now, you might think that Paul wouldn’t have anything good to say to these believers. He had labored hard for a year and a half, and this was the fruit? What kind of words would he have for them?
“I always thank God for you . . .”
“You have been enriched in every way . . .”
“You do not lack any spiritual gift . . .”
“He will keep you strong until the end . . .”
And these words are just from the greeting in the letter—the first nine verses. Perhaps Paul was just “being nice,” or diplomatic—except this is Paul writing Holy Scripture, and I don’t think the Apostle Paul told polite white lies.

What lessons can we learn from a terrible church?

For one, Paul didn’t give up on them. There was a lively correspondence that lasted for years. Paul was committed to them the rest of his life.

Second, even though they questioned Paul’s position and authority, Paul responded with a passion that reflected his true fatherhood. “You really are my children,” he said. Even though they were unfaithful to him, he remained faithful to them.

Next, Paul continued to teach patiently. Even the greatest church-planter in history had things to fix. If someone like Paul can produce a church like Corinth, perhaps we should cut some slack towards pastors who don’t rise to the level of super apostle.

Finally--and this is the most challenging to me--Paul let them continue to operate even though they were making mistakes. If I had started a church that later went crazy with spiritual gifts, I think I would have been tempted to write to them: “Everybody stop! You’re doing it wrong! Just cut it out until I get there, then we’ll talk about it.” But Paul said, “Tongues are good, prophecy is good, and don’t forbid them.” Even though they were doing it wrong! The answer to the misuse of spiritual gifts isn’t to shut them down; it is to teach them up.

The church in Corinth is reality-TV written down for us in the Bible, and if they can go down in history (and scripture) as a that church God loves, a church to whom God speaks, and God nurtures, why can’t our churches be the same?

Reader Comments (3)

So the Creator of the universe works for six days creating a habitat for his most prized possession...us. And the best thing He can come up with to keep us together untill He comes back is the church. The mystery of the human body, our placement in the solar system to the sun and surrounding planets, and we are to come together and do this church thing? He did not leave enough directions. He did not say that we should be exactly alike, so we could move from gathering to gathering and it would be the same. Not even all the books that give at least some direction to what we are supposed to do say the same exact thing. There are letters to churches that are hurting. Churches that are doing it great, and there is a chapter in one book that says they are not as good as warm spit.

The church reminds me of grace. We screamed through the ages untill the only thing left for Christ to do was die for our sins. He did so whether I want it or not, or believe it or not. I, wheter I admit it or not need you to be with me to worship, praise, glorify, heal, cry, scream, toil, endure, shout with exceeding joy.... That is what Christ knew about me, to live this life, to follow Him closer each day, I would need you.

February 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTerry

I really like this blog. These themes are very encouraging, and should keep us from bashing 'those' people who go to 'that' church, at the least; and I find the insight that Paul-Super-Apostle planted a mediocre church simple and uplifting. I bet that truth could help leaders not judge their own people or themselves in their struggles. Good word, Ray.

February 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSammy

So the Creator of the universe works for six days creating a habitat for his most prized possession...us. And the best thing He can come up with to keep us together untill He comes back is the church. The mystery of the human body, our placement in the solar system to the sun and surrounding planets, and we are to come together and do this church thing? He did not leave enough directions. He did not say that we should be exactly alike, so we could move from gathering to gathering and it would be the same. Not even all the books that give at least some direction to what we are supposed to do say the same exact thing. There are letters to churches that are hurting. Churches that are doing it great, and there is a chapter in one book that says they are not as good as warm spit.

The church reminds me of grace. We screamed through the ages untill the only thing left for Christ to do was die for our sins. He did so whether I want it or not, or believe it or not. I, wheter I admit it or not need you to be with me to worship, praise, glorify, heal, cry, scream, toil, endure, shout with exceeding joy.... That is what Christ knew about me, to live this life, to follow Him closer each day, I would need you.

July 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTerry

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