I had taken a hiatus from this series for some period of time as other issues were pressing. Also, as this had become an exhaustive survey it was then clear that soon it would require additional work. The most interesting and comprehensive studies on what constitutes a church are just now before us as we begin to look into the first letter to the church at Corinth. So now being some better prepared, well look briefly at the concluding remarks in Romans and then well start an examination of the Corinthian letter.
Please look at Romans chapter 16 where last we noted Phoebe and her role given through the church at Cenchrea. In this chapter you will also find mention of gentile or churches of non-Jewish converts; and also of an assembly that was meeting in the home of Pauls friends Priscilla and Aquila (in verses 3 through 5). So much for the notion that churches are real estate or that they require real estate.
Concluding this chapter we find the following admonition to the church there (recall that the letter is written to all the saints in Rome, even though apparently only one congreagation is being directly addressed concerning the particular issues): “Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you. Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”
This passage delineates duties in requiring and maintaining discipline within the assemblies. Paul clearly is ordering the church in Rome to avoid members who teach divisive and contrary things. The implication then is that the members must be knowledgeable enough to recognize these types of things and that when recognized they also must then be avoided. He is not talking about the church down the street that is teaching falsely either, he is talking about those within the assembly addressed. And further: not everyone or everything is acceptable to God or should be to the churches, where the duty of maintenance of teaching and of the members lies within these local assemblies and within its membership to both police and protect their own selves from false teaching or apostasy. Additionally, it is clearly stated that those who teach these contrary things are not serving God but rather are serving themselves.
Now let’s begin to turn our attention to the first letter to the church at Corinth with its myriad instructions to the assembly there. This letter is in the first part used by the apostle to identify some problems within the assembly at Corinth and amongst some of the members, to answer some inquiries that were posed, and secondly to examine proper carriage during the assembly on the Lords Day. I am going to dispense with the exhaustive listing of each occurrence of the words for church and assembly because if you should miss that this entire letter is concerning this church, its problems, and the apostles instruction to them you would surely then be missing the point. So while I will use the occurrence of these words to springboard the comments, it will probably not be an all inclusive listing. You are encouraged to read the text through before continuing.
The first usage of the words for assembly and church occur in the opening address to the church there as listed in chapter one and verse 2. Notice here that as was the case in Rome that the church is made up of saints: the sanctified, meaning those who are in Christ, participants and believers who have been baptized into Christ – so, we can conclude that the living members of the assemblies are these saints and Paul is not penning some memorial message to the dead.
The first chapter is an encouragement to avoid factions. Some there were putting stock or were seeking to gain some status by listing who had baptized them or who had been their teacher – and so they were following the instructor rather than the instructions. This has been and is an all too common occurrence. And as with Paul, that is exactly why Jesus himself never baptized anyone, for if he had done so, some of that group would likely have made some attempt to raise their own status within the churches. I can just hear it: “You know I was baptized by the hand of the Lord, but you werent!”
Some later disciples eventually put certain teachers up on a pedestal because they had allegedly been taught directly by an apostle, regardless of whether they even got it right or not. That the cult of the preacher was then alive and is now yet alive and well is beyond serious dispute. There are some today as then, intent on letting everyone know how many generations of their forbears have been in the church, weilding such things as a club, as if that has had some efficacy or should have something to do with their salvation. Some act the same concerning acknowledging who did the immersing, or who they listen to and who they don’t, with the point being that some will inevitably seek preeminence or control and status through such things. When it is carried to an extreme, or when used as a tool to indicate some caste or class distinction that should be acknowledged or honored, this becomes exactly what the apostle here enjoined against. Don’t get me wrong on this, legacy can be good when teaching is sound and it is never wrong to honor those who have helped us along our way. But it is never the important thing. The apostle here points out that such things have no relevancy to the truth and that when used as a weapon then they serve man’s purpose and not God’s. Only obedience is relevant to God. The apostle here counsels all saints to avoid such things and to do as the angel had told the apostle John: to “Serve God.” Anything else leads to error.
In the next installment we will examine some of the particulars of the letter including its summation as found in chapter 14 in verse 33: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” and in verse 40 with “Let all things be done decently and in order.”