“To the church in Corinth”

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)

The first nine words of this verse constitute a pattern that is consistent all throughout the New Testament writings: “The church… at such-and-such a place.” There is only one church-one universal Body of Christ made up of all those everywhere who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ-that is expressed locally according to the city in which the believers reside.

Tonight I was with a brother. He told a story about how an old friend of his whom he recently reconnected with asked him what church he is a part of. He responded, “the church in Portsmouth.” His friend replied, “yeah, but what is the name of the church?”  Apparently he couldn’t conceive of a gathering of believers which doesn’t have a name. It’s funny how in today’s Christianity you can’t refer simply to the church in the city without it sounding strange to the ears of most people, yet at the same time you can’t talk about the churches in scripture without doing so! Nowhere in the New Testament do you see anything other than the church in the city. Consistently, all you find is the one Body of Christ, locally expressed.

(The possible exception to this rule is the church in the home. For my thoughts on that check here.)

But at the time Paul wrote this greeting to the church in Corinth, things were coming apart. Divisions were springing up. Other workers had visited the city since Paul’s departure, and some of the saints were factioning off around their favorite apostle. “I follow Paul,” some would say, while others proclaimed their loyalty to Peter or Apollos. To top it all off there were some who boldly announced, as if to shun all the rest, “we follow Christ alone!” 

What was happening here? The church of God at Corinth was in danger of being practically divided. The unity of the Spirit between those who are in Christ will never be disannulled, for it is based not on what we do but what He has done, but in the purpose of God that oneness is to be given practical expression, and that expression can indeed be forfeited. Here in Corinth was one of the first cases where the unity of the church was teetering on the brink of total collapse.

Had Paul not stepped in with this letter, and the supply of the Spirit to bring the saints’ focus back onto Christ and His cross, what would’ve been the result in Corinth? 21st century American Christianity, that’s what! Had you strolled through the city streets you would’ve found a “church” built around Peter’s ministry at the corner of 1st and main, one built upon the ground of Apollos just down the road, a “Pauline” church three blocks over, and worst of all, a little house group who claimed fellowship only with those who were anti-sectarian! God help us!

Was the situation really that perilous, or am I making all this up? Well, it would appear Paul at least was up-in-arms over the whole thing. Any honest believer today will read the first chapter of 1 Corinthians and agree that the situation was not right and something needed to be done, but when you try to apply that same principle to the divided state of present-day Christianity, suddenly it becomes ok!

But there is a convenient cover for this mentality, and it stems from the congregational view of the church. We take 1 Corinthians and apply it only to the specific group of Christians that we meet with. As long as there is unity in our group we think things are ok and according to God’s will. Never mind the fact that other believers are meeting separately just down the road. Yet we forget that 1 Corinthians was written to the saints who made up the entire city. This is because the ground of the church is the city. Scripture never speaks of the church in a county, the church in a region, the church in a nation, or the church on a particular street. The boundary is never bigger or smaller than the city.

Apply that to Corinth, and you see that God’s people were about to forsake the unity of the one Body of Christ-made visible through the local assembly-and divide themselves up into rival sects that were based upon different men’s ministries. No wonder Paul was about to go through the roof.

Having said all this, what are your thoughts? In the first two posts on this subject we dealt with Old Testament foreshadowing regarding the ground of the church. Here we have looked at a practical example from New Testament times. View them together and tell me what you think. Don’t toss it all out the window just because it seems too idealistic. I hope to continue approaching this from different angles in the days to come in order to present a precise and thorough view of the matter, so keep checking back or take a minute to subscribe. In the meantime, feel free to share some feedback. 

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About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend. View all posts by Joshua

7 responses to ““To the church in Corinth”

  • Duane Czaicki

    It does seem like, if there is unity in the “church” I go to then God must be happy with us ( Tree of the knowledge of good and evil) and to make it worst we then talk bad about other believers down the road from us. We act as if we are the one true church. It is almost like there is a pride in christians today about the building they attend on sunday. It reminds me of some of my catholic family members who say “my dad was catholic, my grandpa was catholic, and his dad was catholic, so I will be catholic till I die” there is that same pride in many “churches today, Instead of opening the Word and studing it, we say, “the church iI go to has the correct teaching and yours dosn’t, ours is the true body of believers” I wonder if Paul was here what kind of letter he would write to my city of believers.

  • We’re united with ourselves… that’s all we need, right? | The Assembling of the Church

    […] Josh at “Called to Rebuild” has written an excellent post called “To the church in Corinth.” The post is primarily focused on unity in Christ, building on the first chapter of […]

  • Marshall Diakon

    the “little house group who claimed fellowship only with those who were anti-sectarian” is likely superfluous. sectarian think & groups don’t sincerely ply for fellowship with those outside their sect-range (though they may make some noise about their plans to it).
    The unity of the Spirit for those who are in Christ is based on what He has done, and isn’t this the hardest part to receive? Why hasn’t He “done” in everybody we know? Why do some (appear to) fall away? How did Corinth ever get so confused, or Sardis so dead?
    sectarian is not OKay because it prevents its adherents from walking, growing, living in Christ. Christ is not divided, and neither can/will He be.

  • lawdawg23

    It’s a good question, Duane. He’d probably refuse to get involved in the mess and just launch out instead to places where Christ has not been named. Seems he made a point to never labor on another man’s foundation.

  • lawdawg23

    Marshall,

    I suppose it is our limmited apprehension of what He has done which causes us to fall short of the reality. May the Lord give us eyes to see! If Christ is not divided then how can we be?

  • andrew wehrheim

    I am reminded of a Scripture in either first or second Corinthians where Paul says, “Divisions must come so that it may be revealed who among you is approved.”

    Paul was saying, “These divisions, thought terrible and painful, are in a sense necessary, that those who are approved- those who will hold to the ground of oneness and unity- may be made manifest.”

    We must say in whatever city we are in, “We are the Church in this city! And we are all of Christ. Even if you choose to separate from me, and forsake our unity, and call youself by “paul, or apollos, or peter”, yet I still say, “we are all of Christ!” We must stand for the unity of the body; take the proper ground of the church life; and hold to Christ as central and supreme! We must call the saints back to the centrality of Jesus and the ground of the local church, and stand on that ground on behalf of all the saints. Even the saints who refuse to see the reality. You may say to me, “brother, we cannot walk as one”, but may I never say that to any saint.

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