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A Struggling Church (Hope for the Church, Part 1)

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love. 1 Corinthians 16.13, 14

Two failures

The Church in Corinth in the days of the Apostle Paul was a struggling church, not unlike many of our churches today.

In his first letter to the believers there Paul addressed the problems that were threatening to tear the church apart and bring disgrace on the Gospel. Essentially, the Corinthians were guilty of two failures: they failed to obey the teaching of Scripture they had received, and they were beginning to go beyond what the Scriptures require or permit in certain ways. They weren’t living up to what they’d been taught, and they were making up the rules about being a church as they went along.

They’d reached the end of their rope. Schisms, scandals, lawsuits, misguided teaching on marriage and spiritual gifts, and a service of worship that had become a platform for parading individual “spirituality” – all these problems were threatening to split the church and compromise their witness for Christ.

The Corinthians sent messengers to Paul, explaining their dilemma. Paul’s assessment of the situation led him to call for repentance and return to the true teaching and practice of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Our text represents his concluding charge to the Christians in Corinth, and sums up his message for struggling churches in every age.

Appearances can deceive

Such as ours.

At one level, the Church in America would appear to be anything but struggling. Everywhere we look new churches are beginning, mega-churches are flourishing, older churches are holding their own, and a Christian subculture of music, media, and more is thriving.

Christian schools abound, and abundant resources are available for Christian parents who choose to school their children at home.

The numbers look pretty good, too, with nearly 72 million Americans professing to have been born again through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Opportunities for Bible study, ministry activities, prayer groups, and mission or service projects can be engaged with a phone call in most communities; and, on any given Sunday, church parking lots would seem to indicate that all is well with the City of God in America.

But this is an illusion. For wherever you look in the Church in America today, it’s not hard to find areas where the plain teaching of Scripture has been set aside, or at least, badly compromised, and the influence of the world and its man-centered ways is well-established, and growing.

Are we even aware?

The Corinthians were struggling and knew it; that’s why they sent messengers to Paul, explaining the problems (some of which he’d already heard) and seeking his help in sorting things out. But the American Church seems scarcely aware of its plight. While there are doubtless problems and disappointments in every church, most Christians in this country today appear to be fairly content with the state of things. They would perhaps echo the sentiments of the Laodiceans in Revelation 3, “We are rich, we have prospered, and we need nothing.” If the unbelieving world would just leave us alone, we’d be fine, thank you very much.

But Jesus, I believe, would conclude otherwise.

The Church in America is struggling to find itself – or perhaps I should say, not to lose itself. Increasingly, and in many cases without knowing, churches are straying from faithful obedience to the plain text of Scripture, setting aside whatever strikes them as inconvenient to focus only on what draws and keeps the crowd.

At the same time, in many churches we are going beyond the teaching of Scripture, looking to the world and its ways for how we grow the church, worship the Lord, make disciples, and more. Many churches today are seeking their welfare not in the all-sufficient Scriptures, but in the ways of the world.

As a result, appearances notwithstanding, the American Church is struggling, and we could stand to reflect deeply on Paul’s concluding charge to the Corinthians.

Next steps

How confident are you that everything your church is doing is according to the teaching of Scripture? Is any aspect of the life and ministry of your church guided more by the spirit of the age than the Spirit of God? Talk with a few fellow church members about these questions.

Additional Resources

Download this week’s study, Hope for the Church.

Sign up for ViewPoint Leaders Training and start your own ViewPoint discussion group.

Need vision for a revived church? Order a copy of T. M.’s book, Preparing Your Church for Revival, from our online store.

And men, download our free brief paper, “Men of the Church: A Solemn Warning,” by clicking here.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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