A Divided, Disjointed, Dysfunctional Church—And How to Avoid It.

In our REACH groups at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church , we are covering Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians.  Having only covered the first three chapters, we were amazed to find so many helpful truths for the church today.  The Corinthian church was a divided, disjointed, dysfunction church—with many of the same problems many of our churches have today.  The reason for this is comes down to arrogance and jealousy regarding varying rallying points many members of our churches come around.  If we aren’t careful, disunity will come forth very subtly, but will soon fracture a church right in two. 

Rally Around a Preacher (Past or Present) 

The Corinthian church had their members who had their preference of ministers.  Paul, Apollos, Cephas—each had their styles, giftings, and emphases.  Paul was a church planter and foundation lay-er.  Apollos was a gifted teacher (Acts 18).  Cephas (the apostle Peter) had a Type-A, action-oriented personality!

Every member of every church struggles with this.  We identify with a preferred preacher that suits our personalities and desires.  I find myself leaning toward preachers and teachers who go into great depth and background of the biblical passage.  Other friends of mine prefer preachers who are more motivational in nature, stirring hearts and souls and readying them for action. 

What struck me from 1 Corinthians 3 was this passage: 

“So let no one boast in men.  For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death of the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

This means that all these preachers (and the world, our lifespan, and time itself) are for our benefit.  Even if one preacher is a church planter, teacher, motivational speaker—if they all are preaching the Good News of the person and work of Christ, it’s all for our edification and encouragement.  They are all on the same team!  Relish in the diversity of God’s unifying Word!

Rally Around a False View of Christianity

In 1 Corinthians 3:1, Paul says, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.”  This is from the ESV, but in the KJV, Paul uses “carnal” instead of “people of the flesh.”  Thanks to the Scofield Bible and Charles Ryrie, a theory about the ‘carnal Christian’ has become quite prevalent.  Warren W. Wiersbe outlines this as follows:

[Paul] explained that there are two kinds of saved people: mature and immature (carnal).  A Christian matures by allowing the Spirit to teach him and direct him by feeding on the Word.  The immature Christian lives for the things of the flesh (carnal means “flesh”) and has little interest in the things of the Spirit. . . . The immature believer knows little about the present ministry of Christ in heaven.  He knows the facts about our Lord’s life and ministry on earth, but not the truths about His present ministry in heaven.  He lives on “Bible stories” and not on Bible doctrines. . . .  A mature Christian uses his gifts as tools to build with, while an immature believer uses gifts as toys to play with or trophies to boast about (Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, pp. 577-78). 

While I profit greatly from Wiersbe’s ministry, this explanation of what a carnal Christian is and saying they are believer’s is a slippery slope.  Romans 8 repeatedly says you are either in the flesh or in the Spirit—and if you’re in the flesh, you’re an unbeliever (1-17).  Even Satan knows facts (James 2:19) but that does not mean he is saved, yet the carnal Christian is according to this viewpoint. 

This mindset serves as a detriment to our churches.  How many have been caught in the snare of living “for the things of the flesh and [having] little interest in the Spirit” but still believe they are Christians—while not demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) which itself demonstrates they are branches connected to the Vine (John 15:5-8)?  How often do those who name the name of Christ spend their lives living for self, yet failing to recognize that following Christ entails a denial of self (Mark 10:45; Luke 9:23)?  This theory has brought in a lot of confusion to the church and taken the narrow road of following Jesus (Matthew 7:24-29) and turned it into an eight-lane superhighway. 

Paul’s intention in this passage is to warn the Corinthians that their divisive behavior is too much “of the flesh,” and they need to repent in this area.  We are not saved by our works, but we show we are saved by what we do and where our affections lay (James 2:13-25).  We must not take the ‘lordship’ out of following our Lord Jesus. 

Rally Around a Ministry in the Church

Children’s Ministry.  Youth Ministry.  Sunday School.  Senior Adult Ministry.  Small Group Ministry.  Evangelism.  Building Expansion.  Music Ministry. These and many others are used by the church to fulfill Christ’s intended purpose for the church:  making disciples (Matthew 28:19). 

God gives each of us gifts and desires for each of us to use in His church to fulfill His purpose.  Yet, Satan tempts our flesh to believe that our preferred ministry should be everyone’s preferred ministry—especially if/when funds are low.  Each ministry makes a great case for strengthening the church in the present and reaching others for the future. 

But hearken back to 1 Corinthians 3:22:  “All are yours.”  Each of these ministries work in lockstep with one another for one unifying purpose:  making disciples and being witnesses everywhere at all times (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8 ).  God gives those of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4) a variety of gifts and desires to plug into to help His church flourish and grow.  But when we begin to focus on the ministry area rather than the one for whom we minister, we add to the division, disjointedness and dysfunction. 

Rally Around a Time Period

Face it, everyone hearkens back to the time of their youth as an idyllic time.  Most music we enjoy listening to is music from our childhood or teenage years.  Most of the TV shows we enjoy are from that same time in our lives.  Even now, when I watch M*A*S*H or The Cosby Show, it takes me back to a wonderful, simpler time in my life.

I have a preference of worship from a very poignant time in my spiritual walk.  It took place later in high school and in college.  I enjoy worship with various instruments with solid words and lively music (guitars, light drum, keyboards—we must have a piano/keyboard in there—etc.).  I grew up with piano and organ, but that’s not my preference.  That’s not the era in which I grew up.

Southern Baptists (of which I am proudly and unashamedly a part) had a heyday in the 1950s.  Most in the South believed in Christian principles and morality, and even went to church for the most part.  Attendance and baptism and offerings were up.  But those numbers are dipping convention-wide.  Why?  Some say it’s because we’ve abandoned the way we did church in the 1950’s.  The fact is, many churches have not abandoned the 1950s, but the culture has.  It’s changed—big time.  It’s also changed from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as well (my ‘era’). 

Yet, look at 1 Corinthians 3:22 again:  “all are yours … present or the future.”  We learn from the past, but from our heritage in the Word and from mistakes.  We live in the present, because that’s where God has placed us and we can only minister to those who are here right now.  We look to the future, because God has called us to pass along the precious deposit of the gospel (1 Timothy 2:2; Acts 2:38-39).  But we must embrace each of these timeframes for our benefit! 

Rally around Relevance

This last rallying point is the other side of the coin of what was mentioned previously.  ‘Being relevant’ stands as a huge rallying point with many churches in our day.  By this, we mean to look at what is trending popular in the culture, then work to use that as a common point to bring folks in in order to hear the gospel of Jesus. 

Whereas those who rally around a past time period live in the past, those who rally around relevance risk rejecting and ejecting the past all together.  From changes in architecture, music styles, and technology—what is new and what is ‘in’ is what must be used.  The slippery slope?  What’s in style now will be out of style soon.  Efficiency was the watchword in the 1950s, now it’s relationships and informal worship.  Fire and brimstone preaching or oratory preaching (depending on what part of the country) was ‘in,’ now it’s more conversational in tone. 

My point is, we cannot eject the present for the past, nor can we eject the past for the present

Who Do We Rally Around?  Christ!

Paul exclaimed in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  This is how Paul stayed so focused

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