I’ve noticed when a church has problems (or more often before problems) they try to figure out what to do to make things better. Mind you, that might be fine. If a church has money issues, it might be a good idea to examine spending habits and prepare for the future.
Thing is, some of the problems are specifically spiritual but folk try to contrive a fix using the flesh. Now, what I mean by that isn’t what the modern ear would hear. I’m not saying “things that have to do with our internal faith have to be dealt with by praying or other faith-things instead of using our physical selves to deal with it.”
I mean that we can’t deal with these situations, whatever they may be, using the methodology and empowerment of the old system we’ve been rescued from. Church gossip might be addressed by saying “stop doing this” or “gossip hurts people” and then maybe having get-to-know-one-another-parties: but this is based more on what the world values in the Flesh System than what God has revealed as valuable to deal with these issues.
I suggest examining the thought model offered by Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth.
The assembly is rife with problems. There’s incest and pride (5:1-3); lawsuits (6:1); sexual immorality (6:16); spouses are depriving one another (7:1); they ignore the weak (8:9); the women are forgetting gender identity (11:13); the Lord’s Supper is doing more harm than good (11:17); there is confusion about the Spirituals (12:1); there’s confusion about the resurrection of the dead; and throughout it all there’s divisions (1:10-17). They seem to prove James’ point: where there’s envy and division there’s all types of sin (James 3:16).
But Paul doesn’t go back to a method. He doesn’t tell them to have smaller group meetings to get to know each other better, or to have larger group meetings to function in unity. He doesn’t offer team building exercises nor does he offer empty moral platitudes like “Christians should be united.”
An honest examination of this thought model would reveal four key Spirt-driven principles that I think should have direct application on how the modern assembly should function spiritually.
See the people of God through a divine perspective. More often than not we tend to view Christians as sin filled timebombs ready to explode wickedness and leave the faith in their wake. Paul, on the other hand sees the Corinthians as God sees them: they are holy (1:20); enriched in every way (1:5); not lacking any of the spiritual gifts (1:7) and concerned about them (12:1); people concerned about prayer (11:2) enthusiastically so that sometimes they spoke over one another (14); loved meeting together; keepers of the Lord’s Supper and fellowship meals; eager to give (16:1,3). Look beyond the problems and see the purchased person.
Note how Outsiders Deal With the Gospel. We tend to preach the Gospel to outsiders and preach moral platitudes to Insiders (church goers). Paul, though happily preaching to outsiders and arguing with them for many hours, notes that it is against outsiders (1:18-25). The Gospel instead exposes them to their stupidity, their wickedness, and ultimately their impending judgment (2:7-9, 14; 3:18-23). The Gospel is most effective in another sphere.
Reapply the Gospel to Insiders. Throughout the letter to the Corinthians, Paul goes back to the Gospel. I’ve attached a chart in the pdf below that shows how the Gospel is repeatedly emphasized throughout the book although I skipped a couple of chapters to let the reader examine the passages for themselves. It is why instead of saying “incest is wrong” in 1 Corinthians 5; he can be more upset with the assembly for not judging by saying “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us therefore keep the feast of unleavened bread.” This is a Gospel imperative that relies on Christ actually dying and being our paschal lamb. It is why Paul would tell the Corinthians that the Gospel is of first importance in 1 Corinthians 15: we need to reapply it to the insiders and show all the ramifications in different situations (here too).
Underscore God’s Gospel. Referring to the full argument in 1 Cor 2-4 we’d see the importance of this message being God’s message. This is important since it reveals how all our methodologies and wisdom falls short. We can’t even praise this worker over that worker as more effective since they’re both God’s tools in God’s field. Indeed, we can’t really even appraise our own work since he ultimately judges. In all of this, the assembly as a whole is functioning as God’s temple containing the mind of Christ. This is not to say that the Church comes up with what is important, but the Spirit of God indwells the Church and has taught her the thoughts of the mind of God: it is his prerogative and he knows best.
I think we can rightly say that this is, as Paul tells Timothy, doing the work of Gospel Applier. Preach the Gospel, says Paul. In season and out of season. And by that I think he is surely saying “To believers as well as unbelievers.” I’d have to go through 1 and 2 Timothy to tighten these last couple of comments but that lies outside the boundaries of this post.
(I imagine I’d get the charge simplistic. I think that ignores the power of God’s proclamation and totally misses the boat on the vastness of the message.)