If you listen to people talk about churches they have been part of in the past or maybe even are still part of now you get an interesting variety of descriptions of the church. One may say, “I used to really love the church at such and such a place. They were really on fire and reaching out to bring people in but it’s different now. Often such conversations lead to the person saying, “I’m looking around for another congregation to attend now. I just couldn’t worship God the way I felt I should in that church.” I wonder, if there were any perfect churches, do you think they would allow you to become part of it? Honestly, I know for certain that if a church was perfect they would have no use for me being part of it. Many years ago when I was just starting as a preacher one bit of advise that Brother Gus Nichols gave me has influenced my thinking about working with churches since then. I was telling him about some problems and mentioned the thought of going to some other church that seemed to have things together in a better way. He said, “If a church had no problems they wouldn’t need you as a preacher. Always look for a church that has troubles and work with them to solve them and you will be useful in the kingdom.”
I think Paul must have felt that way about the church. One of the best statements regarding the church is found in I Corinthians 1:2 which says, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – theirs and ours.”
If you read the letters of I and II Corinthians it quickly becomes obvious they had worlds of problems. They were struggling with division and had many different parties that were separated from the others. They had problems with members not growing up as they should have. There was immorality in the church that was worse than even named in most places. They had members taking other members to court over matters that should have been solved inside the body. There were all kinds of problems with marriage and questions about what to do about them. They couldn’t agree on whether or not it was right to eat meat that had been offered to some idol. They disagreed on paying the preacher. They had problems on the conduct of women, especially when groups came together to pray and study. They had problems about the taking of the Lord’s Supper and problems in the use of spiritual gifts especially with tongue speaking. They had serious problems about the resurrection from the dead thus cutting the legs out from under their own faith without realizing it.
With all these problems, God still had Paul to address them as “The church of God that is in Corinth.” If a church existed across town that had all these problems today, would you regard them as the Lord’s church? Would you be willing to fellowship them and call them brothers in Christ? Truthfully we can determine that a church has fallen when they have one or two such problems as Corinth. I’m not sure what we would call a church that had all of the problems they did. But I doubt it would be “the church of God”.
Notice the phrase, “the church of God in Corinth”. shows that it is both a church belonging to God in heaven and a church that was part of a local community or city. The reason different congregations of the Lord’s people were different from each other doesn’t go back to their connection with God but to their connection with the local community they are part of. The city of Corinth and it’s problems affected the church in that city as was the case with every other church in any other city. Always in looking at the church in any place we need to identify it in its relation to God and the universal body of believers and with the local area they are part of. While the church in a huge metropolitan area will have the same basic teaching as one in a rural area in Alabama, Mississippi or Arkansas, there will be cultural differences and attitude differences that are obvious to anyone who looks at both. The ministry they carry on will be different since they are meeting different needs and hurts in each area.
He described those who made up the church of God in Corinth as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” This word and the words “saint” and “holy” all come from the same root word. It is the same word used in the model prayer for “Hallowed be your name.” It means to be separated, to be distinct or set apart for some special purpose or use.” The place where one is set apart for God’s use is in Christ Jesus. In the Old Testament era, Israel was the sanctified or set apart people for God. Today it isn’t a physical nation but those who are part of the church of God. Later in I Corinthians 6:9-11 he said, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers, not male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor greedy nor drunkards, nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” When one is washed in the blood of Christ at the time of their baptism into Christ they are made clean before God and seen by him as ones who are innocent from all sin. A process begins in that persons life that will go on as long as they live for God. It is the process of setting them apart for God’s use in the world. God’s church and every member of it is to be set apart for God to use as He sees fit.
The church of God and each of its members is called to be holy along with those everywhere who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours. It’s pretty common to hear people talk about their calling as a Christian. Most of the time they are referring to some area of giftedness in which they can serve God before the crowd. Most of the time in the New Testament when there is a reference to being called it has to do with the character or godly life of the one who is called. He calls us to walk as he walks, follow his example and to be one yielded to God to the degree we are ready to go where he wants us to go when he wants us to go and how he wants us to go.
The primary aspect of God’s calling is for us to be holy as are all those who come to him. Peter will later say, “Be holy for I am holy says the Lord.” Instead of just thinking of how you are set apart think of the fact it is along with people everywhere who call on his name. The church is universal with headquarters in heaven. It is local and part of the community that it shares. It is worldwide being made up of people all over the world who call on the name of the our Lord Jesus Christ, theirs and ours.
One of the challenges we face as a church in any place is to forget some aspect of who we really are and who we are meant to be by God. We can become so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good and so earthly minded we are of not heavenly good. We need to see the church in its relation to God. It belongs to him and follows his guidance in everything. We need to see the church in relation to it’s community so that it works to help with problems, concerns and challenges in each area. A church that isn’t involved with anything going on in its community will not have have much influence on the people in the area. Every church should look around to see what the peculiar problems and hurts are in the local area and set out to solve them with God’s blessings. Finally, each church of God is connected to other churches in every place who calls on the name of the Lord. There are many great works that are too big to be carried out by any one congregation. But we can do like the churches among the Gentiles did in the first century and work together to meet a need much bigger than what any single congregation could accomplish. Gentile churches took up a contribution to help the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Often there are needs that must be met in the same way in our own time.
The church is a theirs and ours body. The Lord over the church is the lord of churches in all parts of the world who are loyal to him. He is no less the lord of the church meeting in Africa and India as he is the lord of the church in Arkansas. We need God and fellow Christians to be what God calls on us to be as His children.