Deeper Life

A Deeper Life in Faith, Family and Finance

A CHURCH IN DELUSION

 The following paper was submitted as an assignment for a course that I am taking to complete an undergraduate degree at Horizon College & Seminary. The course I am taking is B263 1&2 Corinthians tahght by Adam Z. Wright Ph.D (Cand.).

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Introduction: The Corinthian Delusion

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines delusion as: “something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated” Other words in the dictionary that portray the same idea are illusion, hallucination, and mirage and they all mean basically the same thing: “something that is believed to be true or real but that is actually false or unreal”.[1]

In the New Testament we find a group of Christians that believed that they were wise and knowledgeable when it came to following the “way” of Jesus Christ. When we read the epistles to the Corinthians, we become painfully aware that this was not the reality. The apostle Paul, who founded the church, wrote two lengthy letters addressing several obvious areas of concern. Among others issues, there was an attitude of enlightenment in which the ‘men of the Spirit’ at Corinth placed a lot of emphasis on wisdom (Sophia) and knowledge (gnosis). They measured these qualities by the secular standards of the day, whereas the message that Paul preached, the gospel of Christ crucified, made these standards look foolish.[2] The Corinthian believers had deceived themselves into believing an illusion that they had somehow “arrived” spiritually.

Self-deception is the common fate of those who mistakenly fancy themselves wise; deluded in this, they are deluded in many other matters also…In Corinth the particular danger is that men (even within the church) may delude themselves into thinking that they are wise, because they estimate wisdom by the wrong standards. Such men need to take new standards and reverse their judgements[3]

We live at a time that is not that very different then the period of the early church. In our day we have become an increasingly “enlightened” society with vast amounts of “knowledge” (information) at our finger tips (acquired through the use of technology and the internet). We find ourselves living in what has been termed as the “Postmodern” era, where we profess a “greater understanding” of things. Truth that is defined in the bible is considered primitive or no longer relevant due to our modern advancements and sophistication.

Perhaps the church of today has fallen victim to the attitude that prevails in our world. Perhaps we have developed an exaggerated sense of pre-eminence. We have become deceived supposing that we are wise “by the standards of this age” (1 Corinthians 3.18). We have become proficient in the “eloquence or human wisdom” (2.1). The apostle Paul would respond, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1.20); “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1.18). Perhaps like the church in Corinth, we are in danger of becoming a church that is deluded and deformed?

When the apostle Paul became aware of the problems in Corinthian church he initially responded by writing a letter known today as 1 Corinthians. In this letter he uses a metaphor of a building to re-establish the correct view of the Church of Christ (Read: 1 Corinthians 3:10—17).[4] In this passage he defines three components of this building: The builders (3.10), the foundation (3.11), and the structure itself (3.12—15). By examining these three components we will have a better understanding of how and what the church of Jesus Christ should look like and hopefully avoid the delusions of our day.

The wise (master) builder: (1 Corinthians 3.10)

In this passage of scripture Paul introduces three classes of builders: (1) those who are truly wise; (2) those who are unwise and introduce wrong material but do not leave the foundation; and (3) those who are fools and try to destroy God’s temple.[5]

The wise builder is one that depends on God’s wisdom as he labours to establish the work of God. Paul instructed the Corinthians that each one that labours must do so knowing the plan that God has for the building: “[we] speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2.6—8). He goes on to say that these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God (2.10).

The wise “master” builder is wise because he possess “spiritual” wisdom. The “spiritual truths” of God can be understood only through the Holy Spirit, just as human wisdom needs the human spirit to understand it.[6] Others that build on the foundation of Christ and attempt to use the wrong materials do so with a warning that they may suffer loss when their labour is tested. Those that attempt to build on a different foundation are considered fools for there is no other foundation in God’s building other than Jesus Christ.

“To build upon”, refers primarily to the task of preaching and teaching that happens within the body of Christ. This undertaking is not limited to the leadership of the church (the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers), since they are given to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11—12; cf 4:16, 29). Each member of the body “must use fit materials and follow the plans of the architect (who is God, not Paul) and the building code.[7]

The True foundation: (1 Corinthians 3.11)

There is one true foundation and that is the person of Jesus Christ. The knowledge and experience of Christ crucified forms the basis of Christianity. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;  But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22—23; KJV). And again in chapter two, For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (v. 2). Jesus himself is the foundation of the church that bears His name.

This revelation is something that would easily have been understood by the first followers of Christ. They witnessed His ministry and authority as He healed the sick and raised the dead. They saw firsthand His death, resurrection and glorious ascension into heaven. They experienced the powerful arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost when everyone present was filled with the Sprit and spoke in other languages (Acts 2.1—4). These living eye-witness accounts glorified Christ and paved the way for a solid foundation for the early church to build upon.

However, it would also be easy to confuse those who bore the first testimony of Christ as the actual foundation of the church; they demonstrated a powerful witness of the Spirit’s power (Acts 4.33; 1 Corinthians 2.4). This has been the case in the tradition of some, who have exalted the apostle Peter and have misunderstood the promise given by Jesus that he would build His church on “this” rock. Jesus did not intend that Peter or any man would ever be a substitute for His divine purpose as the foundation and exalted head of the church (cf Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18; 2:19).

The Permanent Structure: (1 Corinthians 3.12-15)

“The quality of the superstructure must be appropriate to the foundation”.[8] The permanent structure is composed of good materials that are imperishable, as compared to those that will not endure when burned by fire. Paul compares incombustible materials such as gold, silver and precious stones, with combustible things such as wood, hay and straw.

A Day of Judgement is coming and fire will judge the quality of materials used in the construction of our building. In this warning Paul is reminding us that a day will come when the quality of our work will be exposed and rewarded. For some there will be no reward and they will suffer loss (v. 15). “At the final judgement, all such building will be shown for what it is: something merely human, with no character of Christ or His gospel in it”.[9]

What are the materials that we are using today to build the church? What and how are we building our churches with? Will these modern day materials result in a lasting structure and eternal rewards? Let us examine two building materials that are common in today’s church assembly:

The contemporary “worship experience”. We live in the day where music is the predominant force behind the corporate worship service. Over the past 2 years I have visited countless churches and I have observed that the vast majority of people are not engaged in the singing aspect of the service. People have become more interested in attending the Sunday “worship concert” and listening to a performance, rather than worshiping Jesus; they are more interested in singing a song about Jesus rather than directing their worship to Jesus.

We are at a worship crossroads between two models of worship leading: Congregationalism: a model of worship leading that views the engagement of the congregation as integral to the success of a worship service. And Performancism: a model of worship leading that views the engagement of the congregation as incidental to the success of a worship service. This is about substance. It’s more about the “And so?” and less about the “And how?” It’s more about the heart of the leaders and less about the preferences of the worshippers.[10]

If we desire to be a church that has an “eternal purpose” we must ask ourselves some important questions pertaining to the substance of our contemporary worship services:

  1. Are people engaged in the worship of the saviour? If not, then why are they not participating in worship? Is this not the purpose of corporate worship?
  2. Does our worship times focus primarily on the singing of songs? Are there ways to express our adoration to God other than singing songs?
  3. Are people looking for a music experience? If they are then how can we steer them away from the “concert” mentality and towards a deeper communion with the Lord?
  4. How can we as leaders provide instruction that will build up the body and encourage worship that is done in “Spirit and truth” (John 4.23)?

The wisdom (Sophia) of the day that emphasises church growth techniques. There is a prevailing school of thought today that believes that it is acceptable to pattern a church after the felt needs of unbelievers. The mission of the church becomes centered on growing “big” churches and its success is measured by how many people are attending the meetings. The function of the church then becomes “pragmatic” and focused on the shallow purpose of growing numbers or “purpose driven”:

Pragmatism is the practice of relying on methods or techniques rather than our Sovereign Lord for results. Pragmatism is the notion that meaning or worth is determined by practical consequences. It is the philosophy that looks to the world’s marketing methodologies or poll results rather than Biblical examples or mandates. When determining how to “run” a church a Bible-based pastor will ask the question “what most honors God or is clearly revealed in Scripture” while the pragmatist will take a survey.[11]

When church leaders obtain their inspiration from the world this should be a warning for those who want to uphold and practice biblical truth. Many church leaders today have been influenced by these secular marketing techniques. “They believe that in order to be successful, we must target and appeal to our audience. This is the same concept used in advertising to market a product. Entertainment is how the world sells their products; should we advertise the church as a better product than the rest?”[12]

The Apostle Paul states that the purpose of the church is to be “eternal driven” for on the day of judgement, fire will test what has been accomplished (the building) and “If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss…” (1Corinthiams 3.14—15).

What are the good and lasting materials that we are to build with? The central element that will stand the test of fire is good doctrine (teaching) that is centered on Christ: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (I Corinthians 1:18). Another vital building material is the example of good leadership: Leaders that work together in serving God (3.6—9), who are servants and stewards of the gospel of Christ (4.1—2), and are good examples of selfless humility (4:6ff). Through these instruments the “building” of Christ is being erected; keeping in mind that ultimately the source of growth comes from Christ who is the foundation, “From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4.16).

Conclusion: A holy dwelling place for God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 3.16-17)

The description of the building is now completed by a picture of the ultimate purpose of the church: To be a holy dwelling place of God’s Spirit. “Paul here is reflecting on the church as the corporate place of God’s dwelling, who, when gathered in Jesus’ name, experienced the presence and power of the Lord Jesus in their midst”.[13] The definitive outcome of the construction of Christ’s local body of believers is that it is a residence of the manifested presence of a living and holy God.

One of the desperate needs of the church is to recapture this vision of what it is by grace, and therefore also what God intends it to be. In most protestant circles one tends to take the local parish altogether too lightly. Seldom does one sense that it is, or can be, experienced as a community that is so powerful indwelt by the Spirit that it functions as a genuine alternative to the pagan world in which it is found. It is perhaps not too strong to suggest that the recapturing of this vision of it’s being, both in terms of it’s being powerfully indwelt by the Spirit and of its thereby serving as a genuine alternative (“holy in the most holistic sense) to the world, is it’s single greatest need.[14]

Paul concludes the building metaphor with a final warning: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (v. 17). “God in his justice and holiness cannot allow part of his holy work to be damaged without bringing retribution. Here is a fitting warning to every Christian minister and worker”.[15]

[1] Merriam-Webster.Com, “Delusion.” Accessed November 8, 2014. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/delusion.

[2] F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 261.

[3] C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013), 93.

[4] The bible version used will be the NIV unless otherwise stated.

[5] Paul A. Hamar, “The Complete Biblical Library,” Study Bible, Romans-Corinthians, Vol. 7, ed. Ralph W. Harris and Stanley M. Horton (Springfield, MO: World Library Press Inc., 1989), 291.

[6] W. Harold Mare, “The Expositor’s Commentary,” Romans-Galatians, Vol. 10, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 202.

[7] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 115.

[8] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 140

[9] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 145

[10] Jamie Brown, “Worship at a Crossroads: Congregationalism versus Performancism,” Worthily Magnify (blog), September 30, 2014, http://worthilymagnify.com/2014/09/30/worship-at-a-crossroads-congregationalism-versus-performancism/.

[11] Brian Jonson, “An Examination of Rick Warren’s Teaching on “Exponential Growth”,” Monergism (blog), Unknown, http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/questions/ RickWarren_growth.html.

[12] Mike Oppenheimer, “The Growth of a Purpose Driven Church,” Let Us Reason Ministries (blog), 2009, http://www.letusreason.org/Popteac24.htm.

[13] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 147

[14] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 149—150

[15] Mare, Romans-Galatians, 208

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