If I had lived back then, and known then what I know now, I probably would have distanced myself from them.
If they were the only church in town back then, I’d probably have either started my own church with those of “like mind” or just worshiped at home with my family on Sundays.
If they weren’t the only church, then I’m pretty sure I’d go to a church where my church would never have invited their congregation over for an inter-church potluck fellowship. Where their elders wouldn’t have been asked to participate in the local ministerial. Where their bloggers wouldn’t have ended up on my feed.
In short, I’d probably wouldn’t have wanted to be associated in any way with the people from that church, the First Church of Corinth.
Thank God I’m not God. ‘Cause God calls them My people.
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. . . . And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are My people.”
(Acts 18:1, 8b-10 ESV)
We know from Paul’s letter to the believers at Corinth that those saved in Acts 18 eventually became pretty much a textbook church. A textbook on how NOT to do church. How not to maintain unity, creating partisan schisms within the church. How not to maintain purity, overlooking sin under the banner of grace. How not to maintain good visibility in the community, as they sued each other in pagan courts of law.
And the list goes on. Dabbling with idolatry in the world. Recklessly promoting drunkenness and derision around the Lord’s table. Though they were to be one body with many gifts coming together for one purpose, instead, during meeting they acted as self-promoting lone rangers creating chaos and confusion. Like I said, probably not a gathering I’d want any association with, much less want to attend.
But as I read in Acts this morning I was struck by the Lord’s instruction to Paul. Stay with these baptized believers, the Lord says. Hang with these redeemed souls who, by faith, have believed and received the message of the Christ crucified. Instruct those forgiven through the once-for-all atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
Paul, there’s no more important place for you to be over the next 18 months (18:11). No greater work you could be doing than to love on them and teach the word of God among them.
Why? Because they deserved it? Because of how well they’d turn out in a couple of years? Because of how they’d model the victorious Christian life? Nope! None of these. But because, says the Lord, they are My people.
Paul got it. He leads with it in his letter.
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus . . .
(1Corinthians 1:2-4 ESV)
This rag-tag bunch of slow learners were the church of God. They had been set apart as holy, robed in the righteousness of God’s Son. They didn’t need to earn their stripes, they were already called saints, already adopted as children, and already sealed with an eternal guarantee that what God had begun in them God would complete in them. It was grace that brought them safe thus far and grace would lead them home.
For all their faults they remained faultless in Christ. For every blunder, for every insane maneuver, for every cockamamie implementation of how the church should function, they remained the bride of Christ. One day to be presented to their glorious Bridegroom “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).
Not to say that they were given a pass on growing in faith and maturity. Not that they would be excused from bearing witness for Christ in how they gathered. In fact, they were corrected. They were rebuked. They were disciplined. Some even “slept” and had been taken home. But even that, because God had already, at great cost, claimed them as His own. Declaring them to be forever more, My people.
O that the church would love the church . . . the whole church. Those who get it and those who we think not so much. Those who align with our systematic theologies and ministry philosophies and those who don’t. Those who do Sundays like we do and those who do it different.
Maybe, because God has claimed all believers, even those like the Corinthians, as My people, perhaps I too need to see them more as my people.
Because of grace. For God’s glory.