Christians. Saints by position in Christ who still act like pagans in sin. No matter how spiritual believers become, while in the flesh, the potential for relapse ever remains a threat.
In my role as a pastor, occasionally I take the heat for the local church body by receiving complaints about real and/or perceived breakdowns in its expression of community. These trouble me, especially the ones I cause by my own lapses into gospel amnesia that lead to legalism or license in my own life. I pray and labor to find ways to correct our imperfections.
I think a sermon series like The Graces of Gospel-Shaped Community like we are giving ourselves to for the rest of this year at OGC can tend to spur us on to greater heights and depths of community. Certainly I pray and labor for that in multiple ways. But the downside of such an emphasis is that it can serve to highlight our failures and weaknesses in community too. And that can lead to discouragement, if we don’t take care to keep things in perspective.
Something helping me in that regard is to remember the nature of the first century church. We really can’t afford to romanticize the experience of the New Testament church. That kind of thinking tends to reveal itself in comments like, If we could only be like the church of the first century, that would fix everything wrong with our church.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact that we have so many one-another passages in the New Testament is due to the fact that the assemblies of the first century experienced their fair share of sinful dysfunction and more. In fact, we wouldn’t likely have some of the precious one another passages of the Bible, if it weren’t for the troubles of a church like Corinth for example.
This Sunday’s text from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 illustrates this perfectly. The Corinthian saints got so out of whack in their fellowship that they abused one another in the taking of the Lord’s Supper. God got so miffed at them for their offenses that He judged some with sickness and death (v. 30)! If you want to know the cause of the Lord’s wrath on this occasion, don’t miss this Sunday’s sermon – The Grace of Waiting. I know, I have no shame, but I refuse to let the exegetical cat out of the bag before its time.
I could cite similar historical and contextual instances from other books of the New Testament, but I think you get the point.
So while we take seriously our failures in community with a view to allowing the gospel to shape us more thoroughly toward improvement, let’s remember that we have ample evidence from the New Testament that sinners living in community will trouble one another.
And that’s exactly why we need to be in community — gospel-shaped, grace-laden, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered community.