Is there really a proper way to “do church”? Can’t I do church alone in my room, or on the golf course with some buddies, or simply by hanging out with a group of my irreligious friends who grew up churched and are just sick of it so we meet up for a brew and talk about spiritual stuff? Isn’t this all the church? Or maybe it’s even a better expression of the church then what I grew up with? Aren’t the old rules of what is church or not church archaic? Isn’t that old expression of church just a place where ‘good ol’ boys’ create rules? Or maybe it’s just a place where we can collectively join and organize in doing good things for our community?
What makes the church the Church?
The church is the Church:
- BY the power of God and NOT the wisdom of man I Cor. 1 vs17-25
- FOR a demonstration of God’s glory not man’s ingenuity I Cor. 1 vs 26-31
In I Corinthians 1:17-31 Paul is deeply concerned about what has been passing for church at the Church of Corinth.
Several times in the first half of this book Paul uses the phrase “It has been reported” as he begins to tackle very strong dysfunctional issues in the church. The reports have both been told to him and in some cases are known through out the community in which they live.
The issues range from:
– a vicarious living of their spiritual holiness through the words and works of ‘celebrity’ leaders (a kind of inflated wisdom being passed off as true holiness).
– an inability to deal with blatant sexual sin and attitudes towards sexuality in the church (a twisted version of tolerance as they brag about how they allow people to just be themselves)
– an inflated understanding of their own personal rights expressed in taking each other to court
This all results in the Church at Corinth trying to be ‘Christian’ in name but just like the world in function. Paul’s response is that the church is not merely a christianized version of the world!
Maybe some or all of these are the same reasons people in our culture give on why they DON’T go to Church. “Why do we/you even care about that? Why are these even being brought up? I think it would be easier to just live my spirituality out on my own and make my own rules. Adjust my own behaviour as I think I might need to in the moment. Why can’t I just live and let live as a Christian? Can’t I just connect with God on my own and in my own terms with out the rest of this kinda judgemental crap that goes around the church?”
The short answer, to the original question above, from this particular passage is ‘No’. You can’t live out church on your own, or with a group of buddies who just hang out and talk about spiritual things AND you can’t live in a church that is like the Church of Corinth. Neither of these are what makes the church the church.
A couple of quick things to consider as you start looking at what is the church- and this is what Paul points to:
We need the Gospel to be the church. Not merely our opinion of the Gospel or a truth that you once affirmed by a sincere prayer- but a Gospel that is understood and functions from God’s perspective. [What does God think of the Gospel?] In a nut shell the gospel is the full story of God’s redemptive work in both our world and in the lives of His people. It includes the truth that God created all things to reflect HIS glory, which entails all of us. The powerful truth is God WILL get glory from our lives. The redemptive work of God is His receiving glory from our lives because we have been placed into a true relationship with Him.
The Gospel from God’s perspective is a demonstration of His righteousness (God’s right standing of being fully Holy). Romans 1:16 is a familiar quote of many of those who grow up in churches, and I whole heartedly agree; But often the thought stops there, with the goodnews of Christ coming to be my substitute on the cross so that I can gain a transformed life. Paul goes on to describe for us the Gospel from God’s perspective. Romans 1:17-18 and then further Romans 3:21-26 describe for us that the Gospel demonstrates to humanity God’s righteousness, His complete ‘other-ness’, His Holiness! Where in the Bible do we see the greatest demonstration of the Holy wrath of God, because God is SO holy? Adam and Eve being kicked out of Eden? The terrible judgement at Noah’s flood? The earth opening up to swallow up the opponents of Moses? The dreadful instruction to Israel to purge the land before taking up residence? NO. At the cross of Jesus (the Gospel) God puts on full display His righteous wrath for the sin of mankind. And Christ becomes the ‘propitiation’ (the wrath bearer) in our place.
According to the first few chapters of Romans this is what is revealed about God at the cross. He is ‘OTHER’, completely Holy and His actions at the cross are the actions of a righteous God.
This is the powerful truth that Paul is reminding the dysfunctional church in I Corinthians. It is not the clever opinion or argument that brings us salvation. It is not the wisdom of man that results in an authentic holiness (a holiness we hold in our head but not in our life). “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Do you see the connection? The righteous wrath of God has been displayed and appeased at the cross. God’s wrath fully poured out on His Son on the cross- for the satisfaction of His glory and as an invitation of receiving this as God’s gracious gift to us. In a word- redemption. It is not through the wise words of spiritual leaders that we are made holy/complete in Christ. It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4) and the through the folly of the cross that God opens up the doors for “the foolish in the world to shame the wise”.
Now the power of God is to be at work and put on display in His Church. The Gospel power of God in the Church is seen when those who are His kids display His righteousness by living out this understanding of the Gospel in a community of Christ-centered relationships! Yes we need the Gospel of Christ to be made holy but we also NEED the community of Church (even when it’s messy) to apply this holiness in transforming ways.
SO… JOIN A CHURCH… that LIVES the GOSPEL!