How do you start a letter to a church that is out of control? What would you say?
Imagine you’re a leader of a group of churches. Maybe a denominational CEO, a bishop, a district superintendent, a conference minister. You are responsible for the spiritual health and vitality of the many pastors and congregations under your care. To stay in touch, you visit them once each year or so.
You start hearing some strange stories from one particular church. Apparently their worship services are wild. People are interrupting one another, pushing each other out of the limelight. And at communion, one group is gobbling up the food and drink, leaving nothing but crumbs for the rest. But it’s not just wacky worship. You hear stories of incest, inappropriate sexuality, and people suing one another in court. There are stories that some of them might be saying that your central teaching is being denied. Resurrection is impossible, they say. There are factions in the church. You love these people, but you have to admit, they’re a mess.
You know you need to write them a letter. Well, better yet, you know you need to visit, but a letter will get there quicker. So you get a scribe and begin.
But you stall, not sure what to say. These people are dealing with intense pressures. They live in a town where the pressure to conform is great. They number maybe 25-50 in a town of half a million or so. It’s a very religious town, with multiple temples, but it is an ungodly place, where the religion is basically sexual expression. No wonder this church is struggling. Following Jesus is so different from their culture, especially in the area of sexuality. How can you help them without just saying “Stop it, you idiots?”
What would you say? How would you start your letter to actually get their attention, so they would take you seriously?
That’s our task this Sunday. We start a series studying Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth. It was a tough place to be a new church, but the descriptions of Corinth are eerily similar to American culture in our day. With all the twerking, sexting, porn at our fingertips, and just plain old regular TV, it is hard to be a faithful follower of Jesus in our day. Especially in the area of sexuality. As a father of teenagers I think about what to tell them, how to lead them. I want them to be pure, but I admit I hardly know what to say sometimes. “Just be pure!” I just want them to get it, to buy into it, to see the emptiness of our hyper-sexualized culture easily. But it isn’t easy. It is deceptively difficult. I don’t have it all figured out, but I see Paul begin his letter to the Corinthian church is a very thought-provoking way. We’ll take a look at his intro 1 Cor 1:1-3 to see how he starts his letter to a very troubled church.