Troubles in the Local Church
1 Corinthians 1:1-17
In the eyes of many people today, local churches are synonymous with the word “trouble.” On one hand, I agree with them. It is not necessarily true about all churches, but it is true of many. Many churches are not operating on the Lord’s principles, they only use his name to promote their own selfish interests. On the other hand, the presence of trouble alone is not an indicator of the health of a church. How the trouble is dealt with says a lot about the pastor and the church. Churches must contend with the powers of darkness and the selfish tendencies of human beings, and this warfare assuredly creates conflict. Conflict is not a bad thing when it stems from holy men and women moving against that which is unholy. It is problematic when it is being caused by sinful behavior and it is being tolerated, ignored, or mishandled by those in the church. Conflict can be healthy. Conflict does not drive people away from churches as much as the chaos that results from conflicts that are mishandled.
There are many nominal Christians, as well as lost or misguided preachers, that provide a false impression to the world of what Christianity is. As it has well been stated: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." Some people that claim to be Christians, and some church people, are some of the most unreasonable, unkind people you will meet. Why is that? Bad theology has a way of leaving people comfortable in their selfish ways while convincing them that all is well with their souls. I’ve been around these people, tried to reason with them, and have been the target of some of their vitriol.
It is also true that sometimes the criticism of certain church groups is unfair. Some churches are genuinely seeking the Lord and attempting to keep the church pure, being obedient in their stance against sin, calling on people to repent, and since sinners don’t like being reproved, they find fault with the church. In other words, some of the criticism is unfair because it comes from people that don’t want anything to do with holiness anyway. But in many cases, the criticism is right on target. Even some churches that started well, or who were brought into subjection to the Word of God by faithful laborers, have had problems arise, for whatever reason, and they did not deal with a problem appropriately, and trouble ensued.
Some people really are searching for a biblically sound, obedient body of believers to associate with and serve with, even if they don’t interpret all matters of doctrine the same. But instead of holy groups of people who share each other’s burdens, they see fighting and hypocrisy. Instead of hearing scriptural preaching and logical reasoning, they hear preaching that contradicts reason, and contradicts reality, and that makes God seem unfair, arbitrary, and uncaring. Those who avoid churches are not always rejecting Christianity and Christians (though this happens), they are rejecting make-believe Christians that give a false impression of Christianity. They aren’t rejecting churches, as much as they are rejecting unbiblical churches. They aren’t rejecting Christ, as much as they are rejecting wrong ideas about Christ that have been created by bad theology and bad behavior by those who claim to know God.
Problems and conflicts in churches have been occurring since the first century. The Corinthians had to deal with carnality in their midst. I do not believe the teaching that there are two classes of Christians – spiritual and carnal – as if there are obedient Christians and disobedient Christians. Christians are obedient followers of Christ. They may give in to temptation, and may temporarily disobey, but the Spirit will lead them to repent. If they refuse to repent, I believe that apostasy is possible. So, of course, it is possible for a genuine Christian to get caught up in something he shouldn’t, like David and Lot, but if he doesn’t repent, he will end up like Judas and Saul.
What was happening in the church in Corinth? Some were defiling their bodies through sexual immorality and others were tolerating it, some had inflated egos, some were suing each other in worldly courts, some had wrong ideas about marriage, some were not dressing appropriately in public, some had made a mockery of the Lord’s Supper, some were misusing the gifts of the Spirit, and some that were able were not assisting the poor. Every church that claims the name of Christ is accountable to God and will be judged - not by how many people they get to attend, not for having a fancy building, not for the amount of money they raise, but based on whether or not God’s commands were followed.
One reason churches become like the church in Corinth is because they are not being fed the whole counsel of God by the preacher. Many preachers don’t spend time in the Word mining out truth, they spend their time chasing career, financial, or leisurely pursuits. Many do not want to ruffle the feathers of the parishioners because they are afraid to lose their position with its benefits. Paul’s inspired letter to the Corinthians deals with some issues that can certainly ruffle some feathers, but God uses his Word to separate the wheat and the chaff. The Lord Jesus said: “My sheep hear me, and they follow me.” Do we have ears to hear what the Spirit has to say? Do we approach the Word with humility and a hunger for righteousness? We ought to be eager to hear from God. Unfortunately, in the institutional church setting, these traits are often missing.
The church meeting is supposed to be a precious time, a holy time, a chance to hear from God as he uses his Spirit taught pastors and teachers to feed the people. It is a chance to learn and grow and to be blessed through Christian communion. The Corinthians were given several messages from God and their response as individuals would determine if they would be blessed or chastened, or, they could have hardened their hearts toward God and forsaken the path of obedience altogether.
The call to be a Christian is a call to be holy (1:1-3). Christians have a holy calling in Christ. Being a Christian is about more than being forgiven of past sins, the Christian is set apart for God, meaning he is sanctified by God. Paul called them “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Some claim that sanctification is merely a position that we have in Christ and our lives cannot affect our sanctification. When I read the Bible, I am convinced that a person is not a Christian just because he claims to believe in the deity of Christ. A person becomes sanctified in Christ Jesus when he turns from his sinful, self-ruled life and he submits to Christ to follow him in obedience. So, in this sense it is an instantaneous sanctification, but it is not complete. It is progressive in that the more we learn and apply to our lives the more like Christ we become, yet we can abandon the walk of faith and stop short of the inheritance that awaits the faithful Christian. There is no such thing as a habitually unholy Christian (though even a Christian can momentarily be unholy), but a Christian does grow in holiness. God wants to work in and through his followers, and he means to bring us together as groups of believers to do his will. Christ must be Lord of your life. He must be Lord of your church.
When a church is functioning in submission to Christ, God will enrich the people with knowledge and spiritual gifts. The lost live in ignorance of God’s truth. They cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. It is not a matter of inability. They cannot hear because they are not open to hearing. They do not have ears to hear - they cannot hear while they continue in their rebellious state. But those who have received Christ as Lord can learn the truth and be blessed with the things of the Spirit. We can learn, and we can use the spiritual gifts that the Lord bestows upon us (see 1 Corinthians 12-14). God gifts Christians for the good of the church and the evangelization of the lost. His gifts are consistent with the truths of his Word, yet some people think that God will use them in a way that is contrary to his Word (see Deuteronomy 13:1-3). Much confusion is caused in churches because people ignore God’s Word and set up their own rules and practices.
Christians have been called into the fellowship of Christ (8-9), meaning we have been called into partnership with the Lord Jesus Christ and his churches. This means his resources are available to the two or three that meet together in his name. This is why we must protect the churches, not only from defilement (sinful behavior), but also from division (10-13). I think some people that have genuinely had an interest in the things of God have gotten soured by the self-serving antics of some church members. Sowing discord in the church is not something to be taken lightly (Prov. 6:16-19). There is a way to handle differing opinions when it comes to church matters, and sowing strife is not the way. If church people have the same mind, the mind of Christ, then the church can be a haven from the world no matter what comes along.
Paul asked the question: is Christ divided (10-13a)? Divisions, revolving around different preachers, were causing problems. Paul did not minimize the importance of God’s pastors, he said follow me, AS I follow Christ. If he was following Christ, or Apollos was following Christ, or Peter was following Christ, they could be trusted, and should be trusted as God’s shepherds. But the emphasis must be on Christ as Lord, not who the preacher is. Paul was a blessing to them because he followed Christ and preached the Word of God to them. Only Christ is Lord, and there will be no competition or divisions between those who have their eyes on him, instead of on their own selfish pursuits. When two people are following him, even if they do not agree on everything, they can follow him together.
Most churches that fold are destroyed from the inside, not from external attacks. They are destroyed from within by defilement and division.