Monday, August 07, 2006

the brotherhood of all believers

Today's reading is from 1 Corinthians 3.
Don't you know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him, for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3.16-17
One of the Corinthians' issues was divisions or factions in the church. Back in chapter 1, Paul wrote
My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 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." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?
1 Corinthians 1.11-13
and Paul picks this up in chapter 3: What, after all is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants.... I planted the seed, Apollos watered, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (3.5-7) Paul wants the Corinthians (and us) to understand dthat the church, and all who are in it, belong to God. It's a Bad Idea, in other words, to obsess with being allied to a particular faction in the church.

Does this mean that it's wrong to talk about Saddleback as "Rick Warren's church" or to Willow Creek as Bill Hybels's? Not necessarily. When I talk to members of other congregations, it's quite natural to ask about service projects or whatever "at your church" for example.

The issue, I think, is when we indulge our competitive urges or try to accentuate differences.

Which reminds me of a Christian student organization I was involved with some years back, and a student wo asked about the differences between the groups. At the time, this particular campus had at least five Christian groups. The staff guy in this one group declined to say how his group's emphases differed from those of the other groups. "No matter what I say," he remarked, "it'll sound like 'we're doing the job, and they aren't.'"

I had wanted to give the kids something by by way of comparison so they could have some idea of how to pick a group to get involved with, but I later saw the wisdom of Jon's words.

One more comment on this chapter. I once heard a Bible teacher apply 3.16-17 (at the top of today's entry) to sexual purity. He was using a translation that rendered this verse ambiguously (the NIV rendering is clearer: "Do you not know that you yourselves are God's temple...?"), but his sermon still surprises me, because in the context it's clear that he's talking about the church, divisions within the church, the health of the church, testing of the church.

The NIV editors think this way, as do the the authorities in the New Bible Commentary Revised, and the Wycliffe Bible Commentary.

Why did I tell you about that? I buess because I'd like for you to look at the text and interpret it yourself -- not to accept something as gospel truth (!) just because a famour Bible teacher (or an infamous computer engineer) tells you that's what a passage means. Bible teachers aren't a bad place to start, but we all make mistakes, so I hope that you and I will read and try to understand the text for ourselves, and not rely completely on others to interpret it for us.

Because it really is God's loving communication to us, and we do well to hear his words afresh.

I wrote most of that on August 7th, but looking at it now (8/13) I think I should add something. Since (as we see from the above) God loves the church and won't stand for its being attacked (whether by false teaching or gratuitous divisions), I need to be very careful about how I discuss the ministry of our church. I may not agree with the way things are done, with certain emphases or ministry philosophies, but as I read somewhere "If you like what you see, tell your friends; if you don't like what you see, tell them!"

May God help us to support our pastors and leaders, and to work for unity in our churches. Amen.

posted 8/13

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