Robbing the Cross of its Power
1 Corinthians 11:17-22
When the Corinthian believers came to Christ their pagan religious practices naturally overflowed into their fellowships. It was the natural result of their pagan mindset. It was all they knew—chaos reigned. Paul writes to them about their chaotic fellowship.
1 Corinthians 11:17-22
17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! NIV
The Corinthians witnessed God’s presence as they spoke in tongues and exercised their supernatural spiritual gifts. God was present. The Corinthians had everything needed to build a spirit filled fellowship.
1 Corinthians 1:4-9
4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way — in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. NIV
Yet, chaos reigned.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16(Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. NIV
The fellowships were doing more harm than good. Those at odds with each other were not challenged to start new fellowships as followers of Apollos or Peter. They were not even told to leave their wine skins at home. Some were told they might be better off to stay at home.
Corinthian believers were lining up behind their favorite leaders touting their spiritual wisdom, gifts and oratory skills. It was common practice in the Roman world to line up with the greatest orators. Great orators were actually paid by their listeners for their wisdom and skill. This mindset bled over into the Corinthian fellowship.
Impotence reigned. They were powerless to cross socio-economic lines to simply share their food in Christian fellowships. Drunkenness, egos and immorality reigned. Their worldly mindset reigned.
1 Corinthians 3:1-4
3:1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly — mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men? NIV
The Corinthians were much like the Hebrews in the wilderness. The Hebrews had visible signs of God’s presence. They ate manna as God led them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Yet, they brought their Egyptian mindset and their idols with them.
They were always looking for a new leader or another idol. So it was with the Corinthians. They fell behind in no spiritual gift; it all was a sign of God’s presence. Yet, they were endanger of dying in their spiritual wilderness.
Paul’s letters to the Corinthians sought to place Christ in the center of their fellowships. He mentions the name of Christ 104 times. Paul sought to place Christ in the center of every problem. Of course they believed in Christ. They were sanctified and justified. Christ was the foundation upon which they stood, yet chaos reigned.
According to the second Corinthian letter Paul’s instruction worked--unity was restored. Amazingly, many of our postmodern churches can’t read the Corinthian letters today without dividing. For many—the books raise more questions than we seem to have answers. One can only wonder why Paul’s advice brought healing to the Corinthians and brings division to the postmodern religious movement.
Today’s Religious Smorgus Board
The problems going on in the Corinthian fellowships are prevalent today on a much larger scale. Religious division is at an all time high. The religious smorgasbord of today seeks to make the church appealing to individual tastes. Apparently our religious tastes are running wild as evidenced by the multitude of strip mall churches springing up. It’s not much different than the Corinthians who were initially seeking to follow their favorite leaders. They followed those who appealed to their personal desires and tastes. No doubt they were seeking to fit the message of Christ into their preconceived mindset of the kind of leaders, and religious atmosphere they desired.
The postmodern religious world is much like the Athenians who were very religious; they were continuously on a religious quest for something new and exciting.
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. NIV
The Athenians remind me of the new churches springing up in strip malls all across the country. The inscriptions on their signage describe a quest for something new and more exciting—more meaningful. Sadly, most only discover new and exciting ways to be religious. It is usually only a temporary diversion until the excitement wears off and the pursuit begins anew. Many tiring in their search to find something new and more exciting are simply dropping out. Others simply settle for a new way to be religious failing to move beyond religion.
Now there is a new church movement afoot to form “organic churches” for those tired of the postmodern religious movement. This is an excerpt from one website.
“Word on the street is that people out there are fed up with organized religion. Rather, they are longing for a genuine connection with "the supernatural" and with a community of friends.
‘The typical answer provided by the church falls short among most people in our postmodern culture. The church says, "OK…come to our religious building. We'll give you a religious program and you'll get to hear a religious person talk in religious language about religious topics. After it's all over, you can go home."
‘‘No thanks,’ comes back the beleaguered response, ‘I'd rather stay home…’
‘In light of this, maybe we ought to think about taking church to the people instead of bringing people to the church. Maybe we ought to think about planting churches where people live and then cooperate with God as he brings about the growth.” (This quote is from http://www.missionspokane.org/globalocal_organic_church_planting.html)
Could it be our idea of building churches somehow runs counter to the message of Christianity? Has the message of salvation been lost in the message of the church? Is there a vast difference in preaching Christ to build a church and preaching Christ to salvage lives?
I was visiting a church over on the coast of Florida a few months ago. They were collecting money to establish “mission” churches. They mentioned how they had started a “mission” church in the city where I live. I turned to my wife and said, “That’s all we need another church, there is already at least one on every block—two and three on some blocks. I think they really desired to clone another church like themselves.
A couple attended a class designed to introduce them to a particular religious group. The leaders of the class spent an hour defining their group. They explained their take on certain religious issues. Yet, the couple came away with the idea they were as interested in exclusion as inclusion. It was as if they thought they would nip problems in the bud, before they got a foot in the door. Just eliminate those who might disagree with them to minimize problems. To them, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
I understand what they were doing. Some of those attending the class were disgruntled religious people. If they are running from problems elsewhere, it probably want be long until they become a problem wherever they go. Yet, prevention is not a cure. Too often religion deteriorates into a controlled atmosphere that drives as many away as are gained.
Some call the church movement of today Churchanity. We definitely live in an age where the paramount issue is how to build churches. It is as though the word “church” and the word “Christ” have become synonymous. We believe preaching the message of the church is synonymous with preaching Christ. Christ is preached for the purpose of building churches.
Thinking people are fed up. They are looking for something more. I can only wonder if reinventing the church is it. After years in the ministry I must confess. I wouldn’t know how to start a church that would be much different than what is already available on the religious smorgus board in most communities. Building new churches isn’t the challenge. The challenge is becoming Christian.
The Samaritan woman came to Jesus inquisitive about the right place to worship.
19 "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."
21 Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
25 The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." NIV
Is it this mountain or that mountain? Jesus said, neither. Today, if we asked Jesus, is true worship taking place in this church or that church. He would give us the same answer. He would say “Neither, the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
It reminds me of Joshua coming face to face with the Commander of the army of the Lord as he was about to lead God’s people into Canaan against Jericho.
13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?"
14 "Neither ," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?"
15 The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so. NIV
Joshua asked, are you for us or for our enemies? The Commander replied, neither.
It is not about taking sides. It is not about whose side God is on. It is about realizing we are standing on holy ground. We don’t seem to know much about holy ground. Paul reminded the Corinthians they were standing on holy ground. He reminded them they were standing on a holy foundation—Jesus Christ. We need to take off our shoes. But wait! We don’t want to turn taking off our shoes into just another religious ritual. Imagine, a church with signage reading “Take off your shoes church.” Don’t laugh—it is no more ridiculous than other signs we read.
Let us fall down in reverence and ask, “What message does my Lord have for his servant.” Now we can take off our shoes for the question in and of itself places us on holy ground wherever we are standing.
The Corinthians were not only standing on holy ground their bodies were also the temple of the living God. They were not just standing on holy ground; they had the holy ONE desiring to come alive in them.
1 Corinthians 3:16
16 Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. NIV
This meant God desired to live through them. He desired to exert his influence in their world through them. He sought to manifest himself in every relationship. He wanted to glorify himself through their lives. This is true worship. We can’t imagine such a humble God. This maybe why we have trouble going beyond religion. God wanted the world to get a taste of his power through their lives. They had wisdom, knowledge, spiritual gifts and everything they needed, but a crucial element was missing.
The message for Joshua was to lead the battle in a way to demonstrate God’s power to a heathen world. The world needed to get a first hand view of their God. Joshua conducted himself in such a way that the world had no choice but to attribute his success to the power of Israel’s God. Amazingly, the walls and the giants fell by the power of God. It wasn’t the result of Joshua being brighter or smarter. He simply allowed God’s message to lead him to victory.
There is a message in this story for believers today.
Jesus walked out of the synagogues into a world starving for something more real than the vanity of religion as he preached the message of salvation. Christ challenged his world to look beyond religion as he pointed them to a new way of living. He walked into their lives through demonstrative preaching. He exemplified a new way of life—a new way of thinking—a new way of living. He wasn’t afraid to cross racial or social barriers.
The Jewish leaders were always taking issue with Jesus’ disciples for failing to observe their religious practices. Jesus’ message challenged religious leaders of the Jewish community. He challenged the mere observance of holy days, washing hands, washing cups and platters, fasting and tithing. Jesus had this to say to them.
8 "'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"
23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do , for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. NIV
Religion often ties up heavy burdens to place upon our shoulders to make us look religious. However, the message of Christ begins with Christ as we seek to emulate Christ. Jesus proclaimed a way of life in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s the message Jesus gave to the religious people of his day to salvage their lives. It was a brand new way to study the Old Testament. He introduced a new hermeneutic as he crossed every “T” and dotted every “I” of the law in that short sermon. He summed up the law and the prophets concisely in one sermon. The foremost principle being to seek one another’s highest good. It was precisely the message Paul gave the Corinthians.
It is sad, but many seeking the real thing today may be forced to look beyond self-proclaimed religious leaders to find truth—the real thing. The religious world is very confusing. Even John the Baptist came to Jesus asking, “Are you the one or should we look for another?” The religious atmosphere of his day was confusing. It’s is shocking since he was the one who heralded the coming of Jesus.
We use the Corinthian letters to establish church practices—Lord’s supper—a gender hierarchy—giving of our means, a doctrine of the resurrection, etc. The trouble with our approach to the Bible is that too often we only seek to duplicate their practices. Paul wrote the letters to teach the Corinthians on how to be a Christian as they stood on holy ground.