Being the Church

Today I want to begin by talking to you about the church.  Not about this church or other churches in the area, but about the church as a body of believers.  We are going to go back to the beginning of the church system today and there we will discover that things are not much different than they are today in many regards.  It’s a tough road for any group when they gather together in the name of Christ.  Today I want you to turn to 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

This is the first of Paul’s two letters to the church in Corinth, a church that he himself founded on his second missionary journey.  Corinth is an ancient city in Greece that has been built and destroyed many times before Paul visited and many times in modern history as well.  It is located about halfway between Athens and Sparta, which led it to be a popular center of trade to both major cities.  He began the church here, then went on to Ephesus and began that church there.  It was on his third missionary journey that Paul arrived back at Ephesus and received news that the church in Corinth was struggling.  Paul thus penned this letter to the church before eventually visiting them personally. 

Because this church was new, and fairly uneducated in the ways of Jesus and the Jewish background, they were struggling to maintain solid teachings of God in the face of the Greek philosophies and religions of the time.  Along with the geographic and demographic struggles, they struggled to find an identity and were confused by the multiple missionaries and apostles that visited the area.  Basically they had too many ideas and leaders among them to discover their own identity.  To use an old phrase, too many chiefs and not enough Indians.

So Paul is trying to correct this problem.  He brings us this passage, and really this entire chapter, in an attempt to squash out the factions and groups that were forming among the congregates in the church.  The church was splitting and it was up to Paul to stop it.  If this sounds like a problem of today’s churches as well, you are absolutely correct.  Churches split apart every single week in this country, and we are left to worry about why it happens.  As a pastor, I am acutely aware that churches split all of the time and I pray that I am never a part of a congregation that does so, or even worse, that I am the catalyst for such an action.  But I also know that everyone that holds a church dear to them has the same fears.  No one wants to split up a body of believers, yet it happens all of the time. 

Its important to remember that God never once spoke to us, or through any prophet that is recorded in scripture, to ever build structures and places in our communities that are dedicated to His worship.  We talked a little about this on Wednesday at Bible Study.  In the beginning of the Jewish faith, there were specific instructions on the building of the Tabernacle as the Israelites wandered through the desert for 40 years.  Later, King Solomon took those same designs and, with the help of his council, translated those instructions to become the permanent building that was the Great Temple.  After it was destroyed by the Babylonians, cities began to build their own small versions of the Temple in their hometowns and they called them Synagogues.  These synagogues became the norm for most common Jewish people and the idea of them laid the foundation for Christ’s church beyond Jerusalem, which was set up by the Apostles.  This is why we have this building here today and this was the same basic type of building that Paul had set up in Corinth, at least in spirit.

But God was not interested in the building.  God cared about the people and Paul’s message here is meant to remind those people of that.  Their congregation is in turmoil, their spirits are divided by their loyalties, but Paul reminds them that their faith in God is what is truly important.  The leader they follow or the building they are in are trifling factors when compared to the message of God’s salvation for their souls.

The message here is a simple one, but one that is often forgotten among the world today.  We are all one body.  We are all one church.  Theologies, history, practices, and sacraments should be the things that distinguish us, yet unchecked by leaders, they become the very things that divide us.  Jesus did not intend to set up a church full of denominationally different parts and pieces that refuse to work with one another.  He intended one church with one focus: God.

I’ve told you all before about when I coached Track, but there’s one part of that experience that I absolutely loved that reminds me of this today.  One of the cool things about a track team is the diversity of events that are all a part of the sport.  There’s long distance running, there’s sprinting, there’s throwing events, and there’s jumping events.  While some athletes were capable of participating in more than one area for the team, it was rare.  Usually a person who was a thrower only practiced throwing.  Long distance runners didn’t compete with the sprinters.  So we had multiple coaches on the team and we split up our practices among our specialties with almost no overlap.  I coached sprinters and what I spent my days doing was vastly different than what the distance or throwing coaches spent their times doing.  It was almost like we had several teams all practicing at once.  Often times we even ended practice at different times for each group.  However, when meet day came, we were all on the same team.  We cheered for each other’s events.  As coaches we helped one another in prep and warmups.  And most importantly, we were scored together as one group. 

You see, despite the fact that our daily workouts were vastly different from one another, we were all on the same team.  When it came to being held accountable against others, we were one unit.  The church is losing this aspect of camaraderie.  Too often churches are pitted against one another for attendance, giving, programming, and outreach.  Even within the church itself, individuals are competing for prominent roles or positions among the bodies to help their own individual status.

There are over 40 churches in Huntington alone.  These congregations all compete for membership and money so that they can keep their doors open another year.  People we are all a part of just one church.  It doesn’t matter if we follow Paul or Apollos, or John Wesley or John Calvin.  If we are Baptist or Catholic.  Any church that proclaims Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is on our team, no matter how different they look for one another.  In my track team pictures, when the throwers stand next to the distance runners, you can notice how different they look from one another.  Churches, just like people, have personalities, strengths and weaknesses.  However, the point of all of the churches is the same; to grow closer to God and spread the Gospel.  We are all one church and one body with Christ at the head.  It shouldn’t matter who is up front planting the seeds or watering your spiritual crop.  It only matters that it is God that causes growth.    

If you are torn or confused by all of the happenings in the world among churches or even among your heart, know that as long as God is at the center of your faith, nothing else matters.  It doesn’t matter which building we attend or what name is on the front of it.  What matters is the building that is inside each of us that we build out of faith.  We are the church, regardless of our building or our name.  It is our faith in God that binds us all together with every other Christian in this world.  So when we go out there into the world, remember that we are all on the same team.  Treat others the same way that you treat the people that sit in the pew with you each week.  Remember that, as we take God into the world, that we are not alone in our mission and we have teammates all around us, wanting to help our team win.