My Thoughts. . .
In May 1957, I often heard preachers talk about restoring the New Testament church. Usually, they were speaking about the restoration of the Jerusalem congregation. As the years went by the center of attention was diverted from that “mother” congregation. None of the first century congregations were perfect. So, the center of attention became the collective instruction of correction that was given to first century congregations to set them straight. That instruction became the pattern of restoration sought to produce a truth New Testament church today.
To be a copy or clone of the New Testament church, that congregation must be one that God did not classify as “apostate.” It had to be in fellowship with Him. He would need to continue calling it His assembly, and members continued to be in possession of the miraculous gifts of God’s Spirit. Most were blind to it, but there was a congregation in scripture that enjoyed all of those blessing and more. In fact, they were blessed with two letters from Paul. He thought so much of them that he instructed them as a body of believers to withdraw their fellowship from a wayward member. The Holy Spirit gave us our model despite our blindness and refusal to recognize it. We need to restore the Corinthian “body of Christ.” So, why is today’s response the usual, “No way”?
1. Was the assembly in Corinth not referred to by an inspired apostle as “the church of God” (1 Corinthians 1:2)? If so, did Paul lie (1 Corinthians 12:27)? Will you, as an uninspired individual, set yourself against an inspired apostle by refusing to acknowledge Corinth as the true body of Christ? Since it was the true body of Christ, don’t we want to be acknowledged in the same way by God? It is true that they were not perfect, but are we (1 John 1:8)? We are woefully short of reaching that status. If we think we are better than Corinth, and we need to be their copy to follow, are we not guilty of accusing God of making a mistake by called them “of God” rather than “apostate.”
2. The church in Corinth had inspired prophets, language speakers, interpreters, prophetesses, and other Spirit gifted individuals (1 Corinthians 12 & 14). If you or the congregation you attend must be perfect in order to be the New Testament church, you will never be it. If you are going to argue that you are closer to perfection than the Corinthian church was, you may believe your own deception. Free will is granted. Being “close” does not make one perfect! Without that perfection, God continued in fellowship with Corinth. If you disagree, you pit yourself against God.
3. God instructed His church in Corinth to withdraw fellowship from only one member (1 Corinthians 5:1-11). Why? Because he was sleeping with his father’s wife. That was NOT a good example to pagans. Although we focus on Corinth’s numerous errors and practices, God’s fellowship continued because of Jesus’ payment (1 Corinthians 6:20). Modern judgments would condemn God for being too soft and too slow in dealing with the sins of Corinth. God’s view on “soundness” is not necessarily today’s church view on that topic. Are we leaving out God’s grace and love when we deal with the shortcomings of the modern-day church? Is God’s grace and love our pattern, or do we believe our practices are superior? If so, who is actually practicing “soundness,” God or us?
4. Although the congregation in Corinth was divided, God did not withdraw His indwelling from them nor negate His miraculous outpouring upon the church. When we divide and establish what we identify as “a sound congregation,” are we following the same course God did with the church in Corinth? Do our actions make us better than God since He continued His fellowship with them, and we would not? Is there a modern congregation that is worse than Corinth? Apparently, there is because of the outrageous number of divisions among believers.
5. Even those who did not believe in the resurrection, those who denied Paul was a real apostle, those who thought they were better gifted than others, those who went to court suing another member, those who thought they were more spiritual than others, and those who thought Paul, Peter, or Apollos was better than Jesus, did not cause God to withdraw from them. In fact, they were the ones He commanded to withdraw from the member in chapter 5.
6. The other first century churches did not withdraw from Corinth nor threaten to do so. If they had, they would have refused fellowship with a body of believers who were indwelt by God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Corinth was not perfect. Yet, they were in fellowship with God. So, why not use the Corinthian church as our pattern for restoration of the first century church? We may not be guilty of the same shortcomings they were engaged in, but perhaps we believe we are holier than they were? Don’t we believe God continues to fellowship us even though we fail to be a perfect congregation? They may have been slow in correcting their error, but that did not seem to make God lose his “cool.” How quickly are we in solving our shortcomings? Is there any church that can rightfully claim perfection? Has our foot dragging caused God to throw up His divine hands, shake His heavenly head in disgust, and in a huff withdraw His Holy presence from us? He did not do so with Corinth! Corinth was “the church of God” and “the body of Christ.” So, how do we get around not being perfect, yet claiming we are what the Corinthians church failed in being? God’s definition of “sound” may be different from ours?
Did Corinth need to correct a number of things? Yes, they did. Since no twenty-first century congregation is perfect, are we not in the same condition as Corinth was? Do you consider the church of God in Corinth to be a true body of Christ (1 John 1:8)? If so, would you not be in fellowship with them? God was! How perfect must a congregation be, in order to be in fellowship with God? If your congregation has reached that perfection, you have accomplished what no other assembly has. Congratulations! Your congregation will be our model for restoration.