Looking over the Corinthian ekklesia as we find it in scripture, or the average church for that matter, “Would we say that there were at least a few problems that existed among those called saints therein?” Would it seem readily apparent that a deep unity exists or rather chaos?” I trust that we all know the appropriate answer.
Looking over these various groups of people, those appointed as the elders regularly decide the most appropriate manner in which to deal with the continual onslaught of selfishness and every other sin so readily apparent among the younger set. Most have all but given up dealing with those hidden sins and focus primarily upon what is so evident among the assemblies. Is there a specific manner in which people’s sins are to be addressed or is this solely up to those given the charge among the saints?
Knowing the content of the state of these Corinthians beforehand, I marvel at the fact that Paul addresses these carnal believers as those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all whom in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Corinthians 1:2, 3] Have you ever thought about why he addressed them so? I think I know why.
Reading on in 1 Corinthians we find these statements:
- (1:4) the grace of God given you in Christ Jesus
- (1:5) the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you
- (1:6) that you are not lacking any (spiritual) gift
- (1:9) God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship
It is quite plain that he knew these “facts” based upon personal interaction with these believers despite their current problems. Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 4:15;
“For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel”
Immediately after these truthful declarations above (which didn’t exactly seem to be readily apparent) he launches out into the issues at hand making one in particular the priority in 1 Corinthians 1:10;
“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and same judgment”
Considering the circumstances that prevailed at that time among them, that seems like the most ridiculous statement Paul could have possibly made at the time. Seriously Paul, “Do you really think they are capable of that with all the prevailing chaos?”
There is a very valuable lesson to be learned here. Regardless of who we are, what we have done or our present circumstances, the commands of God are just as vital and necessary to be obeyed regardless. I find value in his initial indictment of them being segregated with him saying “each one of you”- equally distributing the blame for their sectarian attitudes. He calls them out for what he sees as sin in them, all the while reminding them of what has united them (unity and fellowship in the name of Jesus alone). Of all the criticism and correction Paul brings before these Corinthians, his primary answer is stated outright- their unity in Jesus as the basis of moving forward.
One doesn’t have to look far to find evidence of disunity among various groups of believers. Those who support or cling to any name other than Jesus as a means of a bond can never be united to other believers practically. That stems from the wisdom of this world to which every true Christian has been positionally crucified in Christ. Paul is only asking them to die to the sectarian allegiances to men from which they had previously been released from through their union with Christ. He was calling them out on their divided allegiance between the men that had influence upon them and Christ Himself. He goes on to minimize the contributions of men, including himself (And what is Paul?) and magnifies God who causes our spiritual growth to occur.
THE DETRIMENT OF MEN
It is a fairly common occurrence for those who have initially influenced us spiritually to hold some sway over us in subsequent years. We have been taught by our own “fathers in the faith” what to believe and how to live those beliefs out. It is not a surprise that we become reliant upon these people for our spiritual direction and even sustenance if we neglect our own devotion to Christ as a person. We’ve often been taught that to reject or stand opposed to our spiritual fathers is tantamount to standing against God Himself.
There is a very real fear that accompanies the thought of being disconnected from a particular religious persuasion or a group of people. We have been taught to trust these people and to believe that they are genuinely looking out for us. To be stripped of these religious moorings can have quite the adverse and traumatic affect upon some people. They need to find a safe place where they are welcome among other believers.
FREE TO BE ME
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” [Galatians 5:1]
Although the verse above is primarily a warning about returning to the yoke of attempting to be justified through the law and how this amounts to being enslaved, it also speaks to other aspects of the law which also bind people to religious traditions that no longer apply in the New Covenant of His blood.
Under the Old Covenant God called specific priests to be the mediators between God and other men. These men would receive a word or message from God and then address the congregation with what God had spoken to them. This sounds fairly benign, except under the New Covenant God no longer operates with men as mediators- for today there is only one mediator between men and God, the Lord Jesus Christ. To reject this or to remain under the Old Covenant practice is to be enslaved all over again. This is what Paul warns us not to do.
Many other examples could be given, the entire book of Hebrews delineates the differences between the old way and the new and better way of the Spirit. Part of this better way is the manner believers are called to fellowship together- what constitutes a proper expression of the local assembly of saints.
It would do the average professing Christian to consider their present weekly practice or service and then compare that to this:
“What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. let all things be done for edification. ” [1 Corinthians 14:26]
Earlier in chapter 12 Paul talks about the resources we use in edifying one another as coming from the Spirit of God:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries (services), and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all these things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” [1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11]
When assembling with other Christians, each individual has a responsibility to learn to share their particular gift(s) with the other saints who are present. The only restriction is that what we share is edifying to the other believers who are present.
Considering the chaos that was present with these Corinthians, that doesn’t stop Paul from encouraging them to follow these guidelines, even after he called them men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. Why did he call them such? “For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” [1 Corinthians 3;3, 4] Once again, the command to share their spiritual gifts is not negated nor retracted due to their infancy in Christ. They are not told to grow up first then share their gift, but to simply act as the Holy Spirit leads them.
Now for the more mature among us, this is a real test before us is it not? Is it a coincidence that immediately preceding the chapter upon prophesy and assembly instruction that a whole chapter upon love is stated to be a priority. That despite what gifts we might possess, that if we fail to love our brothers and sisters that our gifts amount to exactly nothing? Consider this list prior to one’s next assembly gathering:
- Love is patient
- Love is kind
- Love is not jealous
- Love does not brag
- Love is not arrogant
- Love does not act unbecomingly
- Love does not seek its own
- Love is not provoked
- Love does not take into account a wrong suffered
- Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness
- Love rejoices with the truth
- Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
- Love never fails
The truth be told, we trust each other so little that even a small misspoken word is often corrected in an instant. We’re so selfish we can’t even let a brother finish a few sentences without interrupting. That’s the proof of how important we think we are among the saints.
Love is: Love is a state of being from which one is commanded to perpetually operate. One cannot try to be patient, try to be kind or try not to be jealous. One either is or isn’t depending upon the degree of Jesus present in their lives at any moment.
Love does not: Love does not is indicative of the choices we make regularly in our lives. We either choose to not be provoked or we do not. We choose to take into account a wrong suffered or we do not. We choose to not seek our own or we do not. This is not a present state of being, though that present state does affect our willingness to obey these very specific commands.
Love never fails: You cannot go wrong loving others or do what is wrong loving others. Love never fails and triumphs where all else cannot succeed.
FEAR OR LOVE?
Since our inception as a “hangout ekklesia” (obviously not the best terms) the present participants have both considered and invited other likeminded believers among us. Some check the group out, a few have visited and on rare occasion somebody sticks around. Like any group of believers, as they get to know one another various conflicts or differences in discernment and judgment are likely to arise among the saints and that’s exactly what has happened with us. This is fairly common with any group of believers, which is why three very important things should be considered from the onset of new groups (ekklesias) and the mutual interaction of the participants with one another:
- For what purpose am I here?
- What constitutes participation? (For each person and new people)
- How are decisions made among the group?
Rest assured, if these are not discussed beforehand and decided upon by the initial participants there is bound to be trouble ahead. It’s vital that a basis for trust is established and that is what the answers to the above questions will accomplish among any group. They are not meant to be rules that govern the group, but these questions will arise sooner or later so it may be best to address them before any group becomes to big.
I left my participation in a Sunday hangout because although I thought that most of us were agreed in Spirit upon how to answer the questions above, the actions of some proved that in reality we were not. Although no participants bothered to give their reasons to me when asked, here are my answers which you can compare with your own in private.
Question #1 I originally participated in Sunday hangout because I was invited by an individual who I believed was building spiritually in the same manner that I was. Through this individual, I was introduced to several others who also were very likeminded in the things we were being shown by God and the nature in which we lived those things out. Over the first few gatherings I was convinced we were all going in the same direction and had the same intentions. I am no longer convinced of that. I believe God desires me to participate with Jesus in building a local ekklesia where I live and to help others in their locales do the same. Obviously there were other benefits, like developing lasting friendships with whom I could remain accountable; nonetheless, I would consider the former to be the primary reasons why I participated in hangouts.
Question #2 What I believed constituted participation in the hangouts were two things. First, that a participant is genuinely born again and not living in active and perpetual sin. Second, they have the above interest (question 1) at heart and have written or speak along these lines regularly and who refuse to act in any manner that willfully contradicts scripture. This practice often echoes New Testament Christianity and includes a rejection of “church” and all that includes for the better way in the Spirit found in the book of Hebrews.
As to invites, we politely asked the other participants and occasionally recommended other people. For the most part those recommendations were trusted by one another.
Question #3 Decisions were made among the group by a consensus of all the participants together regarding every issue. Unless we were entirely in agreement about a matter, we waited until that agreement could be brought about by God. In recent weeks one of the participants beliefs became a concern and some restrictions were enacted (with the participants participation) so as to not cause dissention or confusion among the ekklesia as a whole. Despite this, a growing concern about this person and their beliefs ensued- to the extent that one of the participants labeled this person either an “apostate” or an “unbeliever,” both descriptions in which I entirely rejected and disapproved of. The truth is, unless one knows this to be factual and that fact is corroborated by witnesses, it holds no merit, nor should any of the other participants treat that individual as if the criticism was factual. The result of this difference in discernment ultimately led to the “restricted member” being blamed for dividing us up, (a situation God used yes) although I do not agree with the aforementioned conclusion.
I left said hangout because despite our obvious practical and spiritual commonalities, we are not all going in the same direction, nor do we have the same long term intentions. Here are the exact reasons why I believe that to be true:
- Not everyone among us wants to believe another’s profession of faith in Christ despite overwhelming evidence at present. Personally I want to accept others’ professions of faith until their actions prove otherwise. I want to give others the benefit of the doubt.
- Not everyone wants to trust others to speak as from God. Just because we sense a problem doesn’t give the others the right to cut someone off because they don’t like what they are hearing. Unless a doctrinal error becomes present, isn’t it better to address these other concerns after the gathering?
- Not everyone present has the same intentions or long term goals for our fellowship. Whereas I believe all fellowship should ultimately be directed toward cooperating with what Jesus is building locally and representative of one spiritual body, some of you likely disagree.
- Not everyone believes we are led by the Spirit in the same manner. This stifles the participation of the gathered saints because they fear to offend some of the participants (by the way, that’s the same type of spiritual oppression that exists in modern day churches)
- Not everyone is listening to the specific concerns of the other saints because they are not being adequately addressed in prayer. For the most part they are being ignored or neglected.
The only valid reason we would not extend trust to one another is if our words or actions as individuals amounted to sin. We are not talking about an occasional fleshly contribution, getting off subject or interrupting others too often. We’re all going to fail each other on occasion, though none of these things amount to a crises, they are only as big of an issue as any individual chooses to make them or not make them an issue. Just because someone speaks out of order, doesn’t entirely conform to my or your doctrinal standard or has lots of baggage does not make them a heretic or an apostate- especially someone who has shown an entire willingness to be subject to the assembly and a willingness to be corrected. In my opinion, that’s just plain poor judgment on behalf of some of us.
This is the last post I will write that concerns my participation in the Sunday hangout. I do not want to stir up any more controversy, nor am I looking to blame anyone in particular. I write these concerns publicly for I have nothing to hide, and want anyone who is considering meeting others online to consider these thoughts before they do.
I want to express my concern for all of the hangout participants- to each of you who contributed to the unique experience we often shared over the past few months. I remain a supporter of these type of online fellowships provided their aim is to support what Jesus is doing locally. I’m sorry if I failed to express to some of you my exact calling or intentions during the time we shared together and how my drive toward those ends among you was occasionally seen as controlling or intimidating. That is not and has never been my intention.
As you all know, I have not and will not reject any of you as my friends or as co-laborers in Christ. I desire more than anything for that to be a defining attribute of my life for the few years that remain. From the beginning of our fellowship one to another, I have made known how this was the greatest regret of my entire life- my failure to stay in touch with the few wonderful saints I’ve met upon my heavenward journey in Christ. I regret none of those despite what the future holds or how the Spirit of God may lead each of us in the future.
Let’s be true to what God calls each of us to be and do in Jesus. No friendship or relationship can take preference over that if we are to remain truly faithful in Him.
Please pray for me and for the representative “thousand” I believe my Father has called me to find. It is for these I sacrifice my time, my life, my everything. I’m grateful that despite our differences, that you all are among them.
I trust you believe my words to be true, or in the least my intent to be genuine.