Among the writings of Paul, 1 Corinthians is the letter which teaches the church what it means to be a Christian community.
This was drawn to my attention by Hans Conzellman.
One of the remarks in his commentary is that “The criterion of conduct is found in the nature of the community”.
Though he makes this observation about one verse (ch6 v1), it seems to me that the same thought holds good for most of the letter.
At the beginning of the letter, Paul describes the nature of the church, and that provides the criterion for what he later says about the church’s
One follows on from the other.
Defining the church
- ch1 vv1-9
So this first thread is about the nature of the church.
We learn from Paul that the church is a “gathered assembly”, an EKKLESIA.
The church is a gathered assembly of people who have been called by God.
The church is a gathered assembly of people called to be saints.
The church is a gathered assembly of people called into fellowship with Christ.
The church is a gathered assembly of people waiting in faith for the “Day” when Christ will be “revealed” to the world at large.
The calling and the cross
- ch1 vv17-25
Then we move on to considering the “calling” of the church, and its implications.
In this passage, the message is that our calling comes through the event of the Cross, in a way which conflicts absolutely with the world’s
understanding of wisdom and power.
That is because our calling comes from God, and not from the world.
The calling and the Spirit
- ch2 vv6-13
For exactly that reason, we cannot understand the message of the Cross by human wisdom alone.
Our understanding of the Cross comes only by the agency of the Spirit of God.
Therefore the calling of the church is something which only becomes possible by the Spirit.
The calling and the teachers
- ch3 vv5-15
If our calling cannot come by human wisdom, but only by the agency of the Spirit, that puts human teaching in its place.
Human leaders are nothing more than subordinates, because they are not the source of our calling.
Our calling comes only from God.
The saint and his holiness
- ch6 vv9-20
The next theme follows through the implications of the claim that believers are “called to be saints”.
In other words, they have been set apart as God’s property.
Therefore they need to keep themselves detached from everything that is not God.
So the individual saint needs to keep himself clear from the behaviour which typifies the world.
Since his calling has called him away from the world, the separation needs to be maintained.
The saints and the sinner
For the same reason, the church as a body needs to be vigilant in dealing with relapsing members, in order to guard against the danger of
Since their calling has called them away from the world, as a body, the separation needs to be maintained.
The saints and the idols
- ch10 vv14-28
Their separation from the world will necessarily including separating themselves from the gods worshipped by the world.
They must avoid idolatry and even the appearance of idolatry.
The fellowship and the common Spirit
- ch3 vv16-17
If they are called into fellowship with Christ, they are also called into fellowship with each other.
A large group of people cannot come close to a central figure, without at the same time moving closer to one another.
As a community, the church is the location of the Holy Spirit, and that is why breaking the unity of the church is an offence against God.
The fellowship and the gifts of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is also the source of their ability to serve one another.
The fellowship and the Supper
- ch11 vv17-28
The Lord’s Supper, when properly understood, is a sacrament of unity.
The believers who meet in the Supper are in fellowship with Christ and in fellowship with one another, and the event should be an expression of both
kinds of fellowship.
They are the body of Christ, and the body of Christ should not be meeting in disunity.
They need to be celebrating the Supper as the act that brings them all together
The fellowship and its love
Paul has already told us that the church is unified by its fellowship with Christ and unified by the presence of the Spirit.
Their love is the effect and expression of that unity.
The waiting and the resurrection
Finally, the church was defined as waiting for the Day when Christ is revealed to the world.
This expectation carries with it a promise of the resurrection of believers.
Paul explains how assurance of the resurrection is necessarily included in the faith of the gospel by which they were first called, and how the one
cannot stand without the other.
A church following the blueprints
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to give a concrete example of any one Christian community, among those calling themselves “churches”, living up
to everything Paul is describing in this letter.
And the world-wide Church as a whole certainly does not do so.
But you might like to stop for a while and reflect on what such a church would look like.
Now, what can we do about that?