Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 72: Keys to Unity – One Lord
1 Corinthians 1:10-13
April 22, 2012
We begin this week in the book 1 Corinthians, were we will be spending the next three weeks.
* This Sunday I get to preach on something I deeply believe in but have never addresses – I am really excited.
Scripture reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
One Crazy City
The city of Corinth was a wild city. It was a major sea port and located at the crossroads of Greece. Basically think of it as the Las Vegas of the day and you won’t be too far off.
The place was known for luxury and sex. At one time, one of the local temples had 2,000 prostitutes. In fact, Plato used the term “Corinthian girl” to mean prostitute. And “corinthizing” came to mean “fornicating.”
So Paul came into this city and spent 1 ½ years building this church. These become people he deeply loves. He calls them his letter of recommendation.
* But not surprisingly, this church had some real problems.
All about unity
Corinthians deals with things like drunken communion services, a guy banging his mother-in-law, Pentecostalism on speed, people denying one of the core doctrines of the church.
Q With all that, what do you think is the main issue Paul addresses, again and again? Holiness? Order? Righteousness?
Unity. They have divorce, sexual immorality, and all sorts of the “big” sins, according to most churches, and Paul is spending the lion share of his effort on unity.
Q Why unity?
Sarah was sick at the Seder a couple of weeks back, and we were afraid to get sick, so we tried to get enough sleep, eat right, and take vitamins.
* If we take care of our bodies, they usually do a great job healing themselves.
When we are a unified body under Christ, each doing our part and putting each other first, so many of these problems will be worked out naturally.
* These problems do not naturally disappear, but a healthy, unified body is able to work together to fix them.
Following Paul’s major theme, we will spend the next three weeks talking about unity. Next week will be about unity in the face of different takes on disputable matters, and the last week will be about unity through serving as we are wired.
* This week is the core of unity: We all have the same Lord.
A call to unity
After the opening greeting, which is a standard part of Greek letters, Paul gets right down to business:
1 Corinthians 1:10-13 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?
Typically sermons about unity talk about our unity as a body, and I will focus on that in the next two sermons. But this week I want to first look at unity on a higher level.
In Paul’s standard greeting, he says something he doesn’t say in any other opening:
1 Corinthians 1:2 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 – their Lord and ours...
Paul pulls their attention to their unity with the “all those everywhere.”
* Let’s talk about unity between churches and denominations, not just within this church.
* This is a great sermon to ask questions!
Highlighting other churches
The timing of this sermon, the week after Jeff spoke, is perfect. His message was really good – I was a little jealous.
Getting to know Jeff as forced me to reevaluate many of my perceptions about Adventism. I knew I might raise some eyebrows with having and SDA pastor.
I really love being able to demonstrate the unity of the Body of Christ. As Jeff quoted:
Ephesians 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
I love going to the pastors’ luncheon and talking about it on Facebook. I love my ongoing connection to His Place, I loved preaching at Turning Point.
Teaching away suspicions
* Our generation is getting rid of a lot of the suspicion and barriers between churches.
I remember as a kid going to a Lutheran church with a friend and being terrified by how different it was. I was afraid that it was some sort of cult. They had responsive readings, took communion at a weird time and the pastor wore a robe.
* I kept praying God forgive me it I did anything heretical.
The funny thing is that my parents hadn’t taught be not to think that way. They had never said “Ours is the only proper way of doing church.”
* But they had not taught me otherwise either.
Kids tend to assume what they grow up with is the only right way. I want parents actively teaching our kids that other church’s are the same body.
* I want to be teaching you the same.
As a kid, I remember learning the Nicene Creed at my Christian school. We got to the line “I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church,” and I started freaking out again.
* The teacher said that “catholic” just means universal, that we are all part of one church.
I do think that God’s ideal is that there only be one church. If we could really have just one Holy Catholic Church, without the Roman part, that would be the ideal.
1 Corinthians 1:10 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.
In America today, there are over 200 different denominations, and between 30,000-40,000 independent churches. Is that the picture of being “perfectly united in mind and thought”?
* Obviously not – we have fallen short of God’s ideal in yet another way.
Several years ago, the Evangelical artist Michael Card and the Catholic artist John Michael Talbot did an album together called, “Brother to Brother.”
The opening song is called “One Faith” talking about unity of the Church. I was really curious how they would handle their different views on the Church:
But some of the shepherds,
Have pastured themselves on their sheep
So He has come out against them;
And scattered His people of faith.
But there still is one faith,
One hope and one baptism,
One God and Father of all;
There is one church, one body,
One life in the spirit
Now given so freely to all.
The problem is not with God’s ideal but with our human inability to keep that ideal.
* We are spiritual lazy which leads to corrupt worship and beliefs, and easily corrupted by power.
Last week Grace was and I were talking about Catholics...she said that someone could pretend to be the pope and tell people to do the wrong things. That basically describes the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages!
The Reformation Luther and Calvin brought was necessary, but they wished it would be avoided. I don’t view the Reformation as a good thing, but like a divorce from an abusive husband.
* The Church had to be divided, but it was not a good thing.
And from that fragmentation has come greater and greater fragmentation, where Lynden has a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Christian Reformed Church.
Q What’s the solution?
There are two wrong ways to deal with all of the denominations:
1. Minimize the differences
Around the time I graduated from high school, one of the top songs was “Free Your Mind,” all about being color blind and there was the whole “Love is color blind” things.
* I never really liked that statement because it seemed to say, “To love you I have to ignore a integral part of who you are.”
I see attempts to ignore the differences between churches like that, as if we need to just ignore the differences.
Jeff’s church believes it’s important to worship on the original Sabbath, i.e. Saturday. We don’t think the day matters much. Some churches think Christians can’t drink, we think they can.
These differences matter to us; whenever someone says, “differences don’t matter,” they usually mean is “Only the things that are important to me are really important.”
* I think the “one church” ideal is impossible because we disagree on some important things.
Back in Paul’s day, if they had some doctrinal issue that would prevent them from working together, they could just email Paul and ask him for the straight scope. We just have to do our best.
Another problem is that sometimes the differences are too big to ignore.
Imagine two guys meeting at a party, finding out that they are both doctors, but one is a surgeon and the other a witch doctor. The surgeon may be very accepting and tolerant, but he still won’t let the witch doctor operate with him!
There are some churches out there that claim to follow Jesus, but are on such different pages we are not on the same team; the difference are just too great.
* Mormons believe you can become a god someday, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe Jesus is God.
2. Maximize the differences
Of course, the other wrong way is to maximize the differences and make them incredibly important and be nasty about them. Rather than being distinctive we hold, they become differences that divide us.
1 Corinthians 1:11-12 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.
Look at how insane this is – rather than being all about Jesus, they had divided up into a bunch of sects: The Church of Paul, The Church of Apollos, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd church of Peter.
These groups were based on styles: Paul was popular with Gentiles, Apollos was eloquent, Peter was perhaps more Jewish in flavor. Perhaps the “Christ group” were pseudo-purists like we have so many of today.
We continue to see this among Christians in their hero worship: I follow John Piper, I follow Rob Bell, I follow Mark Driscoll, and I follow Josh Kelley (a much, much smaller group).
Jesus and _____
The same thing happens with doctrines, making it all about with denomination or special teaching you have.
* The more nuanced your church is the greater of a danger this is, whether as Pentecostals, Calvinist, SDA, or Messianic.
What ends happening is that churches can become about “Jesus and _____”: Jesus and tongues, Sabbath, reformed doctrine, not drinking, etc.
* This is a temptation that many of us face – we want something to make us a little more special than other Christians.
Q What is your “Jesus and _____”? What makes you think that you are a better Christian than others?
It’s all about Jesus
The one proper response to the differences between all the groups is to keep it all about Jesus:
1 Corinthians 1:13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?
Jesus is at the center. He is the one who died for us. He is our Lord. Keep him the center and let the less important issues stay less important.
* Major in the majors and minor in the minors, and our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and raised to life is the major.
This truth need to influence both 1) how we communicate to the world and 2) how we work together.
On the same team
Working at Starbuck, there may be managers I enjoy working with more and better fit my style, but at the end of the day, I don’t work for them, they don’t sign my check. I work for Starbucks.
* As churches we are all on the same team, and as we remember that, we can learn to value each other’s strengths.
We do some things better than others, some things worse than others, and some things we don’t do at all. I am grateful for the churches that make up that gap.
* It is not our job to worry about the methodology of other churches.
I am in the unique place of having been both at a really big church and a really small church. I really, really prefer small. I love the community that this offers. I love that I can do a baptism and know the people I am baptizing.
* But I have also seen the great things God has done with large churches and I am not going to condemn that.
By working together, we can help fill in each other’s gaps. We can work together and take advantage of each other’s strengths.
* As I said, I think God’s ideal is one church, but since we can’t have that, we can value the unique role each plays.
* Please text “Sunday School Teacher” ; service is almost over
Speaking well of each other
At the same time, there are churches that we will not be able to work with – our beliefs are too different, even though they are Christians.
Q How can we still be unified with them?
Guard how we talk about them. Even if we can’t work together, we can still love them and show that love to the world.
John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
When we speak to the world, we should do our best to focus on the central things we agree on rather than the smaller stuff we disagree on. Let the “in-house” disagreements stay as “in-house” as possible.
Q How do you talk about other churches to non-Christians?
Q How do you respond to criticism of their churches?
Q Do you mitigate your criticism of other churches?
Unity as a church
To wrap this all up, I want us to be a church that demonstrates the unity of the Body of Christ. Some churches (especially cults) try to create internal unity by being critical of everyone else.
* Unity by exclusivism works, but is very unhealthy and dishonors God.
A better, healthier, more godly way of building both internal and external unity is to do what I have been saying – keeping Jesus as the center.
Q & A