Hope for the Church (3)
Watch, stand fast in the faith … 1 Corinthians 16.13
Interesting, but Christian?
You could hardly say the Corinthians were standing fast in the faith.
Oh, undoubtedly they all professed faith in Jesus. They surely sang whatever Christian songs were current at the time when they gathered for worship, and they no doubt looked, for all appearances, like most churches of their day.
But they were not practicing the faith as they should have. They tolerated divisions in the church, turned a blind eye to scandalous sin, fought with one another over material possessions, tried to lord it over the consciences of weaker brethren, and turned the worship of God into a platform for spiritual showing-off.
They had become stunted in their growth, compromised in their witness, and chaotic in worship. They were struggling because they had not watched themselves closely and were not standing fast in the faith.
As J. Gresham Machen wrote of the liberal churches of his day, what the Corinthians were practicing may have been unique, interesting, well-planned, and appealing to many; it just wasn’t the Christian faith as they had learned it from Paul and the Word of God.
It’s possible that many churches in our day are in the same predicament.
Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to stand fast in the faith is a timely one for churches today, and that with respect to two key aspects of the Christian life.
First, in the practice of our Christian faith: Christian faith, as we read of it in the New Testament, demands certain basic commitments of its followers. Living a Christian life takes discipline. Christians must root and ground themselves in God’s Word and prayer (Col. 3.16; Lk. 18.1). From that starting-point they are to take up the pursuit of holiness in the fear of God and devote themselves to good worksof various sorts (2 Cor. 7.1; Tit. 3.1, 8).
Further, each believer has been given spiritual gifts which he or she is expected to put to fruitful use in the ministry of building the church (1 Pet. 4.10, 11).
But is this, in fact, what we see? Hardly. Spiritual disciplines are not taken very seriously by American Christians. For many believers today, a life of holiness is difficult to wedge into their getting-and-spending-fun-for-all-look-at-me lifestyles. In the local church, ministries follow a kind of 80/20 rule – 20 percent of the people do all the work and give most of the money while 80 percent wait to be served. It’s not perfect, to be sure, but it also may not even be Christian. We don’t structure our churches like New Testament churches did, and we don’t pursue the work of making disciples according to the model of Christ and the apostles.
But we still call ourselves Christians and our congregations churches. We’re not standing fast in the practice of our faith, but we continue to use Biblical terms to describe things which are quite different from what we see in Scripture.
We are not practicing the faith of Christ as it is clearly taught throughout the Word of God. Instead, we have substituted a kind of “suit-yourself” Christianity for the “take-up-your-cross” calling the Scriptures plainly demand. Rather than standing fast in the teaching of Scripture and pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus, most Christians and churches today are settling down in their personal comfort zones and tuning in to the status quo for the long haul.
Nor are we standing fast when it comes to proclaiming the faith the way believers did in Paul’s day.
The American Church today has become increasingly non-evangelistic, preferring to use its Sunday morning worship as a honey jar to attract the seeker bees in the community. As my friend Bob Lynn explains, we have exchanged the “go/tell” model of the New Testament for a “come/see” template more to our liking. Most churches do very little in the way of outreach to their communities, and the vast majority of Christians have never shared their testimony or the Gospel with another person.
What’s more, the gospel we do proclaim, when we proclaim it at all, is not the Gospel of the Kingdom, such as Jesus and Paul announced, but a message of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and going to heaven when we die. These are certainly partof the Gospel, but they are not the Gospel of the Kingdom, to which we have been called and with which we are charged (1 Thess. 2.12; Matt. 6.10, 33). Rather, the message as we most often hear it today is a form of “near Christianity” which, is not the Gospel of the Kingdom but another gospel, and therefore not the Gospel at all.
It’s difficult to see how we could describe ourselves as standing fast in the faith when our practice of it is inconsistent, at best, and our proclamation of it is incomplete.
The American Church will continue to struggle against a growing secular consensus unless and until we begin to take seriously Paul’s charge to watch and stand fast. We will struggle to survive against the rising tide of secularism, materialism, and narcissism unless and until we begin restoring sound practice and faithful proclamation to the churches of the land.
We are not free to define the faith of Christ on our own terms. We cannot stand fast in the faith taught in Scripture and the faith as we prefer it. You cannot serve God and Mammon. The Corinthians thought they could do so, and they struggled to hold their churches together. Paul’s charge to them to stand fast in their commitment to Christ and His Word is a message we need to hear today.
Twelve Questions that Could Change Your Church
What can we learn from Celtic Christians?
I’m asked that question from time to time, and if you’ve ever wondered about what Patrick, Colum Cille, Columbanus, and other Celtic Christians can teach us, I encourage you to subscribe to our twice-weekly teaching letter, Crosfigell. In it you’ll hear from Celtic Christians and come to see how those people, whom God used in a revival that lasted nearly four centuries, can help us in our walk with and work for the Lord. We’re currently involved in looking at Celtic Christian culture, and how the Gospel of the Kingdom led those ancient believers to turn their world upside-down for Jesus. Read a few issues by clicking here, and use the pop-up to subscribe. It’s free.
“They were to be watchful, in case they were secretly attacked in their faith. They were to stand firm, being bold in confessing what they had been taught. They were to be strong in both word and deed, because it is the right combination of these which enables people to mature.”
- Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles
Please prayerfully consider sharing with The Fellowship of Ailbe through your giving. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.
T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).