Thursday, October 5, 2017
It is 64 A.D. Thirty-four years prior, Peter preached that first sermon on Pentecost (Acts 214-41). My father was a member of Pilate’s guard. He was the one who peaked my interest in the Galilean called Jesus. He spoke of how he and other soldiers had ridiculed Jesus, spit on him, struck him, and put a purple robe on his shoulders (Matthew 27:27-31). They derisively called him “King.” My father’s description of Jesus’ demeanor was entirely different from his tales about other prisoners he had punished. My dad confessed that he, with other soldiers were so awe struck by the events at this man’s crucifixion that they all uttered the same statement, “This man truly was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). Their confession shocked them. But only my father took it to heart!
I was in the streets on the Jewish Pentecost when people began running to the Temple courtyards. Even at the age of eighteen, I was driven by curiosity, so, I followed. I heard Peter, one of the Galilean’s apostles, as he stood up to speak. I was as impressed with his oratory as the one who shouted, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Although I did not respond, I continued to be impressed by things I heard some say about this Messiah. I learned that one of Jesus’ apostles had visited with Lieutenant Cornelius. They had become followers of Jesus (Acts 10:44-48)! My father knew the Lieutenant and since he had become a follower, we began investigating this Jesus which Cornelius called, “Savior.”
Shortly thereafter, our family was posted to the garrison at Corinth in Greece. As far as we knew, there weren’t any who knew about this Galilean in the city other than our family. We would study from the first covenant scriptures, especially those that pointed to the Messiah. We encouraged one another in those devotionals, as well as each day. One day we heard that a group had come from Antioch, referred to as “Christians.” There was a man lecturing by the name of Paul. He was a Roman and a Jewish scholar. We came to understand that a “Christian” was a believer in the Messiah (Acts 11:26; 1 Peter 4:16).
Through Paul’s teaching, we decided to die to sin and be buried with Jesus into his death. We rose from that burial to the new life Jesus offered (Romans 6:1-6). After God added us to the saved, we joined ourselves to the disciples in Corinth as Paul had done with the disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26).
We had not been members of Jesus’ saved body very long until problems developed at Corinth. The major schism originated among members according to which teacher they admired most. Some followed Paul’s teaching. Others followed Apollos’ instruction. Some preferred Cephas. Some preferred what Jesus had taught, which they had heard when Jesus was still living and they had visited Jerusalem. This four-way division was an undercurrent detouring the church from its God intended goal. It affected our assemblies, relationships, cheapened our love, ruined our hope, and promoted continual confusion. The church had its inspired prophets, just as Adam and Eve had their walks with God, but both strayed.
The Chloe family hoped Paul could help, but mail delivery was slow. Preacher worship never edifies the devotees! Four assemblies began to form into infant denominations. “Holier than thou” attitudes developed and destroyed. Pride took over. Elitism flourished. Doubts developed. Disappointment reigned. Faith faltered. When news spread that the Chloe family had contacted Paul, everyone wondered if he would commit us to hell as a group that no longer was the true church? With all our doctrinal, immoral, ethical, and other problems, surely, we could no longer be in fellowship with those who were practicing perfect obedience?
Then, Paul’s letter came! We held our breath as a member of the Chloe family broke the seal and open the scroll. What was expected was not there. The announcement of losing our fellowship with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, other churches of God, and Paul was absent!
Paul addressed us as “the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:2). He referred to us as “brethren” (1 Corinthians 1:10-11; 2:1; 3:1 etc.)? We are the only congregation that Paul wrote to and specifically referred to us as, “ye are the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). He said we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (6:19). He told us that we had been “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified” (6:11). ALL that despite our terrible doctrinal error, lack of morality, and other sinful practices! It was almost unbelievable. We were still “the church of God.” Before any correction, we were still “the church of God.” We were still in fellowship with the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, all other churches of God, and Paul! In fact, rather than inform us that we had been withdrawn from and we had lost all fellowship, he instructed us to only withdraw from one brother (1 Corinthians 5:1-11)! For months, we had been void of perfect faith, perfect knowledge, perfect understanding, perfect practice, and perfect obedience, yet we did not lose our fellowship with God or brethren. We were not decommissioned as a church of God because of our imperfections. We were not condemned to hell. In fact, Paul treated us in the same way that Jesus treated the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:11).
We learned that Jesus is perfect and we share in his righteousness. We learned that none of the congregations were perfect and most were being corrected for one thing or another. We were without perfection as individuals and congregations, yet we experienced God’s love, patience, mercy, and grace. Although we of the first century were still in God’s fellowship as imperfect congregations, it would become a belief hundreds of years later, that churches must be perfect to be classified as “the church of God.” Isn’t that “another gospel”?