Intro: What is the nature of the church?
There is an article I came across recently that perhaps captures the state of the church in Kenya. The article is written by renowned Daily Nation columnist Josaya Wesonga titled ‘The Devil on the Cross: How the Church in Kenya lost its Religion’ It was published some time last year and it had the following to say about the church:
In Kenya Christian lexicon, “getting into ministry” is one of the most abused terms. “Getting into ministry” can be likened to a get-rich-quick scheme, with many broke and busted types taking this ministry route, not to fish for man, but for mammon…
Nowadays, politicians have taken the rule right out of Moi’s handbook; they have made it a habit of attending church services on Sunday, kneeling on the altar and being anointed, even if the previous day they were on a hate-mongering murderous mission.
When a leading minister was asked in 1992 which party he supported, he replied that the Bible instructed him to support AGIP, which was an acronym for “Any Government in Power”. However, supporting AGIP – aka Kanu – was a quid pro quo arrangement. In return for their support, these ministers and their ministries got land, miscellaneous state favours, unchecked access to State House, cash handouts and money during church-building harambees.
According to Josaya and indeed many observers of the Kenyan church scene, the church has been on the decline. No longer is she the ‘pillar and foundation’ of truth or indeed the custodian of national values or its conscience. The same pursuit for power, wealth and fame that is found outside the church seems all too familiar inside.
There is no doubt that the church has been infiltrated by all kinds of imposters, false teaching, fascination with power, miracles and what is falsely known as knowledge or wisdom. In the letter we are starting today, we come across a church that was very much like the Kenyan church today. One that was riddled with false notions of power, divided over leadership, spiritual gifts and immorality among many other issues.
What does the Lord to say to such a church? today, we open Paul letter to the Corinthian Christians and see God’s view of the church.
- The church is called by God, belongs to God and is sustained by God.
It is easy to imagine that the church is just another social institution more or less like government, civil society organisation or even business. After all, it has structures that are somewhat similar to those institutions. When Paul says in Verse 2 ‘The church of God’ the idea here is one that ‘belongs to’ meaning that church is established by God to display His grace and power through the Cross. We must call to mind that the church does not exist by the will of man or the goodwill of any government but rather by the will of God. Two reasons are clear from the passage:
- It is His because he owns it: Our Lord Jesus said in Mark’s Gospel that he will build his church. He bought it at a price and it firmly and surely belongs to Him. In Acts 20:28 Paul admonishes the Ephesian elders to: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
- It is His because He called it to being. God called the church into being. He is the primary and indeed the only actor in the establishment of the Church. Elsewhere in 1 Timothy 3:15 we learn that the church belongs to him and it is to be the pillar and foundation of Truth: if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
- It is His because He feeds it. He calls the apostles to feed the church and in this passage we see Paul is called, by the will of God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. He is sent to proclaim the message and the Lord uses that as a foundation for the church in Corinth and indeed all over the world. Paul therefore has authority to teach us how the Church should look like, how her communal life should be and how those who belong in the church should live. We will be well advised to listen to him in the coming Chapters.
On many occasions in history, the church has been under serious threat both from inside and outside. Persecution in the Roman times threatened to extinguish it but the church thrives on. False teaching was a threat even in Paul’s day but the Church of Jesus Christ thrives on. The dark ages nearly extinguished the candle of the church but the Lord preserved the Gospel. Islamic expansion threatened the church with the sword but the church lives on. Western thought during the enlightenment dismissed the church as old myths of darkness but the gospel lives on. Communism threatened the church in China and the Soviet Union but today China has over 100 Million Christians. Brothers and sisters the church of Jesus Christ is no human institution.
The church is not ours. We cannot begin to imagine that we can own it or sustain. What a joy then that he uses mortal and feeble people to bring about His glory in the church. Let us not be anxious about the church. God himself is at work in His church and He will sustain it.
- The church is made up of sanctified people, called to be holy and united under the Lordship of Christ.
We find in verse 2 that the church is made up of sanctified people in Christ Jesus. The Church is called holy ‘set apart for the Lord’. There is an expectation for those who belong in the church. We are to be holy as the one who has called us is Holy. Paul addresses Corinthians as those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus. This speaks volumes about who belongs in His church.
It is striking how Paul in Verse 2 very specifically addresses his letter to an immediate audience in Corinth and to a wider audience all over the world. The people in Corinth were not random people, they were a real people who gathered in a real place in the Greek city of Corinth. The secondary hearers are you and I and others all over the world who call on the name of the Lord.
Two applications from this;
- The church is local. There really is no such thing as a churchless Christian anymore than there can be a bodyless person. One must belong locally somewhere among a body of believers and play an active role in the welfare of the whole body. There is no room for spectators in the Church, we are all players. One cannot belong to some online community and call it church, or subscribe to some TV channel and call it their church. The Bible envisions a real community of sanctified people who gather regularly, in a given place for common worship.
- The church is universal. The Lord is at work all over the world and throughout all generations reconciling people to Himself through Jesus Christ. We are united with others all over the world who call on the name of the Lord.
- All are called and not just a few. There are really no special people in the body. There will be different roles but certainly the same Lord. Our distinguishing mark as Christians is not our denominational labels, style of worship, order of service or gift. The common denominator is this: Those who call on the name of the Lord. We can get the wrong idea about calling as being for a special few: Those who speak in tongues, those who preach, those who have had a very unique spiritual experience etc but that is not the case here: all Christians are called and sanctified in Christ Jesus as their Lord.
- The church is founded and sustained by grace and peace from God.
Paul prays for grace and peace for the Corinthian church in verse 3. This is what the church in Corinth so badly needed. When we think of what is to come in the rest of the letter, we cannot help but see how badly the church needed grace and peace from God.
We see the outworking of God’s grace in calling and sending the apostle (v1) who then founded the church as we read in Acts 18. Even more importantly we see this grace in Christ Jesus. It is striking that in the 3 verses Jesus Christ is mentioned at least 4 times and that should call us to attention.
There is no church apart from the grace of God which is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Cross Ref: [For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich… ] 2Cor 8:9
He himself, Jesus Christ is our peace. He has bridged the gap between us and God and made us into a community of God’s people. The gospel is indeed the foundation of all things Christian.
Ephesians 2:14-22 (NIV)
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
A few points to apply here
- We are in by the Grace of God. It is purely by God’s goodness that we are His people. If we are not sure whether we are His, we can call upon His name today and be saved.
- We are sustained by the grace of God. Paul’s prayer for Corinth is His prayer for GracePoint (those everywhere who call on the name of the Lord) – that Grace and Peace from our father and the Lord Jesus Christ may abound to us. Holiness will not be possible without the grace of God present among us and the peace from our God. If you are struggling in your walk with the Lord, you can call upon His name. His Grace is available to you.
- We are to be a community of grace and peace. As those who have freely received grace and peace (reconciliation) we are to be a community of grace – loving one another, nourishing one another, submitting to godly leadership, united with one another, lovingly disciplining one another and together looking forward to the resurrection of the body.
Let us call upon the name of the Lord.
Rev. Harrison Mungai Macharia.