The church of the Lord is a called out body. It is called out of the world into a new and different relationship with God and with other believers in Christ. A church can be started under a huge variety of circumstances. Sometimes new churches are planted by existing congregations who see a need in a different area of the town or area where they live. Sometimes churches start because a group of people who are devoted to Christ see a need in a different area where they live or from which they commute to another congregaiton to establish a work closer to them and start a new congregation. Quite often a church is launched because some devoted Christian sees the need and begins to work to bring people to the Lord and a church naturally developes from that effort. All of these are excellent ways for a church to begin.
But there are other ways that churches are launched that aren’t near as noble. Often churches begin in an area because brothers can’t get along in the church they have been part of so a group goes into a different part of town to start a new church with one group of those who couldn’t get along with people in the other church. Even when churches start with such a ignoble purpose, they often turn into out to be devoted bodies for God and become true lighthouses to the community.
When you look at the different churches in the New Testament, especially those that Paul wrote letters to, most of them began through the work of Paul and the men who worked with him. Some, like the church in Rome, we don’t know how they started. Likely some people who had become Christians in other areas moved to there and started a church in their home. But it became a strong body for the Lord. But there was one thing true in all the churches that are written to by Paul. They all had a sin problem. Everyone of them had sin in the church. That isn’t meant to justify the sin in any way. Truthfully the reasons for Paul’s writing these churches was often to help them get out of particular sins in their lives.
Sin came in all kinds of areas and means to the different congregations. In Rome they needed to mark those who caused divisions and offenses contrary to the teachings of Christ. In Corinth there was doctrinal error and moral decay that was hurting them deeply. In Galatia the churches had turned from the gospel of Christ to a Gospel of works and law. They needed to return to the grace of Christ and allow the Spirit of God to lead them. In Ephesus they struggled with division. In Philippi some of the members were having trouble getting along. In Colossie they had allowed early forms of gnosticism to invade their teaching. In Thessalonica they had accepted false teachings about the second coming of Christ.
In most of these churches Paul didn’t just offer them correction for what was wrong among them, but praised the things that were good and right among them and encouraged them in their commitment to the Lord. Sin in a church didn’t mean that the whole church was off base or that one needed to get out of that church and start another one that doesn’t have a problem with sin. As long as churches are made up of people there will be a sin problem in them. But with God’s forgiveness and a devotion to his word to grow and turn from the wrong to the right any church can become what God means for it to be.
Truthfully, I don’t think I’ve seen a church that was as far off in their morals, teachings and character as the church in Corinth. Yet Paul addresses them as the church of God in Corinth, called to be saints, sanctified in Christ Jesus. When you read the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation two and three they had some serious problems, but even in the worst of them it is said “You still have a few names there that have not bowed the knee to Satan.”
It’s no wonder that Paul looked at the church in Corinth and thought about the teachings of Christ and said we have this treasure in vessels of clay or clay pots. We are the people of clay and the treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Any time a church or Christian begins to think that they have it all down right and are the epitome of Christianity, you can be certain that Satan is in control. Real Christians and Real churches recognize their frailties and praise a Glorious God that He can even use clay pots like us to do His work on this earth.
Instead of us trying to find a way to shine our clay pots to make them more attractive to the world, we need to be emphasizing the amazing treasure we have in the pots. Instead of people looking at the church they have membership in and thinking this church is so bad I need to go somewhere else so I won’t be contaminated, we need to think of what an amazing and graceful God we serve that can use even people like me that have so many failings in their life. It’s not the pot, but the treasure that matters.