Brothers and sisters, for those of you who have studied Corinthians at some depth, you will vouch for the fact that if ever there was a congregation that was deeply divided, the Corinthian church was it!
There was wide and deep divisions among the members of the Corinthian church
There were the more conservative Jewish Christians who clashed with the liberal Greek Christians.
There were those who insisted that true spirituality was eminent in the speaking of tongues; and then there were those who insisted on simply, purely, in language that all could understand, speaking about the love of Christ Jesus.
Some were followers of Paul; others Peter others still, Apollos.
I think it would be fair to say that their were more session and church meetings… than church services; and there was more talk about what the right way of doing things was, than considering the wonderful gospel of the Lord Jesus.
And as we say that this morning, we do so with a bit of a smile in our hearts, don’t we?
Especially the last bit, about their being too many meetings and too little loving action…
We’re not like that, are we?
Well…maybe it is a good thing to check on this. Maybe we should make sure that we are not like those Corinthians.
And maybe, depending on the outcome of our personal testing, maybe we should do what the church at Corinth did, and write to an expert, spelling out to him the situation as it is in our local congregation, and ask him his opinion and advice on how best to go forward. If such a letter already exists, of course, we might simply refer to it as we seek answers to our questions as to whether we are divided and how to go about healing the rift, so as to function as a unified body again.
That, certainly, is what the Corinth church did…they wrote to Paul!
And the reply that this congregation got is what now constitutes 1 Corinthians Chapters 12-14. Which is the body of text from which we will take our text this morning: 1 Cor 12: 14
Please note that I am not making a generalized statement here this morning that this church is divided! I suppose what I am suggesting as that we roll play the situation in Corinth and apply our roll playing to reach a conclusion as to the character and spirit of the church – the church as the body of Christ with its many members – that is what I hope to achieve this morning. We will be speaking of the church in general, of what it means when Paul calls the church - the body of Christ.
That is what I believe is the main idea about this section of the letter to the Corinthians: The test of the true character of the body of Christ – the Church.
But before we do that, we might find an illustration of what a divided church may look like in a little roll play.
Lets go back in time…
It is about 15 years ago, and the congregation in Pancosmo, has just received a new Minister; The name of the minister is Rev Paulson.
Rev Paulsen is a dynamic man! Under his guidance and leadership, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the congregation is growing into a vibrant church.
Rev Paulson is brilliant theologian. He is able to teach complicated topics like justification by grace through faith alone. By all accounts, here is a great theologian.
Unfortunately, to be honest about Rev Paulson, he is not exactly much of a preacher.
He is not the world’s greatest speaker and he lacks charisma.
Actually, come to think of it, most will agree, he is not exactly great at pastoral care either. His focus is the gospel!
Fortunately…or sadly (the congregation has mixed feelings on this one) Reverend Paulson has informed the congregation that he has accepted a call to another Church, in New Zealand.
And so rev Paulsen, leaves the congregation.
The congregation is fortunate to find and successfully call a new minister in a short period of time.
(These are the days when many young men still feel themselves called to the ministry, and Geelong, through the work of the Holy Spirit, produces enough ministers to supply established churches and the new congregations that start up, easily.
And so the new pastor arrives in Pancosmo …reverend Apolloson!
Now this minister, as far as dynamic preaching is concerned, is dynamite. Here is a minister who can really preach!
He get the congregation all fired up on Sundays, and the topics of his sermons are discussed deep into the week …well actually, his preaching is discussed deep into the week, and sometimes, only sometimes, the conversation will actually include the topic of his sermon.
And when it is, many remember the depth of knowledge and understanding of Rev Paulson …and some, as they compare the two ministers, even openly admit that they actually miss Rev dry-as-a-bone Paulson.
Now whether Rev Apolloson picked up on this division in judgement among the church members, or whether for another reason, the truth is, rev Apolloson did not stay too long before he also left to go to another congregation. Even less than five years..
The next pastor the Sydney congregation was blessed with was reverend Peterson.
Rev Peterson was a conservative minister, who believed in doing things the old way: he seldom had the congregation singing songs from ReJoySingII; he preferred the hymns of the BoW. Rev Peterson was not too keen on the fact that it was a full band, with drums and a guitar and even a flute joining in to accompany the congregation as they sang. No, a church organ was all you needed …and that was that!
When reverend Peterson left after five years, as was the tradition then, there was a quite a lengthy time that the congregation could not find a new minister … no one knows exactly why…
What we do know is that the committee tasked with calling a minister, was, for the biggest part, a jury that was still out. They could not agree on what kind of minister to call.
Some members asked for someone like Rev Paulsen; others someone like Rev Apolloson; another group, surprisingly, even someone like Pastor Peterson.
The divisions grew, and so finally the committee informed session of their differences of opinion and session decided to call a congregational meeting.
Then a really surprising thing happened – the whole congregation actually turned up!
Everyone came to give their point of view on who they should call – ironically, it was at this meeting that many realized that in spite of the differences in opinion among them, they were actually unified as a body – they were all there, plotting the course of the church together … but of course, they were not really unified in their thoughts.
But, they were unified at that moment in their presence at that meeting.
As they started speaking at the meeting, however, each one expressing his own view – then you just knew there was a real problem – they were not unified at all – not in the way a church, the true body of Christ, the gathering of the saints, should be!
Let’s Eavesdrop on the meeting…
There’s the first speaker now, approaching the lectern… (Please let me acknowledge that I got the ideas for these dialogues from a couple of sites from the world wide web)
“What we need is a preacher who will speak the truth, the biblical truth, boldly! What I am about to say, Mr Chairman, I say with respect to everyone, including the gay couple that comes to our church…
I feel myself in opposition to those who condone this kind of behaviour …
I am a Christian. The Bible is a guide for my daily life. In the Bible, in the book of Genesis it is clear to me that God designed the world so that there is male and female, that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. It is clear in the Old Testament that God condemns same sex relationships and same sex marriages. Leviticus 18:2 clearly states: “You shall not lie with a male as a woman. It is an abomination.” The New Testament clearly states that God condemns same sex relationships and same sex marriages. Romans 1:26-27 says, “Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men also gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another.
Yes, we Christians are called to love the sinner but we should not stop hating the sin.
Speaker two is up almost before speaker one sits down:
I am sorry, but I do not agree with what you have just said. We are clearly divided on this issue. I too am a Christian and love the Gospel and the Bible.
But, when the Bible was written, its authors believed many things that we no longer believe today.
For them, the earth was flat, slavery was endorsed, women were inferior, and homosexuality was automatically condemned.
But the world has changed from those ancient days. We now know that the earth is no longer flat, that slavery is wrong, that women are different than men but equal.
And homosexuality? Well, for my brother and many like him, homosexuality is like being born left-handed.
He was born with it.
Jesus invites us to love all people, including loving those people whom society often condemns such as gays and lesbians.
Don’t ask me not to love my brother. Don’t ask me to condemn him as a sinner.
If you call a minister that does not endorse this view, I will leave the Church.”
Speaker four stands:
“I too am a Christian. I love the Gospel. The Spirit of Christ lives in me, but sometimes I too find it hard to be forgiving, to be loving.
I agree that we need someone who will preach the truth of the bible and the gospel. What worries me is the loose stand we sometimes take on abortion.
I know for sure that abortion is an abomination in the sight of God. Do you realize that hundreds of thousands of fetuses are being murdered, and under our second minister we the church are doing very little about it? The Bible is so clear. God in the Old Testament says, “I put you together in your mother’s womb. When your bones were being formed and carefully put together, when you were growing secretly and silently within her, I knew that you were there. I saw you even before you were born.” God is aware of our humanity before our birth.
I wish I could justify it that easily, but I know that abortions are sometimes necessary. My daughter got pregnant. She was way too young. She had been on drugs. The fetus could have been severely retarded. My daughter couldn’t handle the pregnancy. We weren’t ready to rear the child for her. I am a Christian. I love the Gospel. The Spirit of Christ lives in me, and I advised my teenage daughter to get an abortion. I didn’t sense it was right, but necessary. I am glad that we had the legal right to do it and didn’t have to have the abortion illegally which we would have done. There is forgiveness with God. YOU!!! (pointing to person III) need to be more understanding and forgiving of people like me and my daughter who are caught in this nasty situation. Don’t throw stones until you have had a daughter in a similar situation.
Speaker four again: God would have given your daughter the strength and wisdom to handle what the world calls “an imperfect child.”
And YOU arranged for a premie baby to be murdered in order to protect your middle-class happiness.
And so the meeting continues, with a counter opinion for every opinion, one step forward, two steps back, and at the end of the evening what is clear above all else, is that the church, ideally the body of Christ doing the tasks of love that Christ commissioned it to do, is highly divided. This is no body – it is a bag full of disjointed body members. Here we pull out a foot, there an ear…as we shake out this bag, hands and legs and eyes and toes fall onto the floor… and in that state, it is clear there is no body that can function as a body should – and none of the disembarked body parts can function as it was intended to as part of one body.
That night it became clear, there were many Christians at the congregational meeting who knew and loved the Gospel - but didn’t know and like each other very much.
Can I ask us to do a little test here before we proceed… please don’t answer aloud or put up your finger or fingers to indicate the answer/or answers/ to the question… the question is this…In your mind as we sit here this morning, how many people in this congregation do you actually not get along with all that well? How many people can you name that have angered you, or irritated you, or are just not the kind of people you would associate with? How many people here will you make sure or at least try your level best to avoid this morning as we walk out of church?
You see, all the speakers in our role play felt their own point of view was the right one, what is more, it was the one that God agreed with. Just like our own, isn’t it?
Sadly, there were more divisions in that church than was discussed at the meeting!
Some wanted their members to excel in a spirit filled prayer life; others wanted their members to excel in speaking boldly for Christ.
Some wanted the congregation to do more evangelism; others said that evangelism starts at home, within the congregation.
Some wanted the congregation to give a tenth of their monthly offering to the work of the church; others said they break up their offering to share it among the needy they come across in daily life and in medical research and in prison care, with a part going to the church..
And of course, everyone with sincere conviction, everyone thinks that the Spirit inside of them, the spirit guiding them, is the correct one.
What to do?
Well, and again in a moment of rare true unity, the congregation decide to write to someone they respect, to that great Theologian, reverend Paulson.
The gist of Rev Paulsen’s letter was this:
There is one Spirit, but a variety of gifts.
There is one Lord, but a variety of ways that people serve.
There is one God and Father, but a variety of ways that people work for the kingdom.
God gives different gifts to different people.
Some, a passion for peace;
Others, a passion for political freedom.
Some, a passion for life and its sacredness,
Others, a passion for forgiveness and mercy.
Some, a passion for a more closed interpretation of the Bible,
Others, a passion for a more open interpretation of the Bible.
Some, a passion for evangelism,
Others, a passion for justice.
All of these people who spoke to you this morning are working for the common good.
Each and every one of these people this morning are inspired by the one and same Spirit, the Spirit who gives to each person their unique and different perspective.
For just as the human body is a unified whole, composed of millions of different parts, so is Christ and his body.
The human body is miraculously complex,
With 60 million cells,
With 36 million heart beats every year,
With 300 billion red cells produced every day,
With 60,000 miles of blood vessels in each body.
Just as the human mind cannot begin to fathom the complexity of its own body, so it is with us, with the body of Christ. Our minds cannot comprehend the complexity of the body of Christ.
Christ is a living body, composed of billions of parts, miraculously complex, with billions of members, located in millions of different settings, with thousands of different languages, with thousands of unique cultures and billions of expressions of the true faith…throughout all the centuries of recorded time.
The human mind cannot begin to fathom the complexity of the body of Christ, anymore than the human mind can imagine the 60,000 miles of blood vessels in one’s own physical body.
If you have these gifts, if you have these passions in your heart, these workings, these ways of serving God’s kingdom; but if you don’t have love inside of you for your brothers and sisters who think and feel differently than you, you are nothing. The greatest gift that God has for you is love. Love for people who don’t think like you. Love for people who do not share your point of view on specific issues. You are to make love, your goal, your aim, your greatest purpose for life.
And so, the words from Pastor Paul-son were read to the church in Des Moines, on that special day when all the diverse members of the church were together. On that day, the church members at Des Moines realized that they were part of this mysteriously complex, living organism, the body of Christ. They all drank from the same Spirit, and were joyful and glad, that they were one, one in the Spirit of the Living Christ who unified them in love.