Yesterday’s lesson pointed out two opposing views about regenerate people. When you put this dispute between the two camps in the context of what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 3, it is not all that difficult to reconcile them. First, what Paul is saying is that these Christians in Corinth were acting like unbelievers. I ask the question: don’t you know of Christians who act like unbelievers? Of course you do. They are worldly; they act in a carnal way. That doesn’t mean that there is a second, separate category of Christians, consisting of those who act in a way they should not be acting. What they have to do is get out of that. They do have to change, and if they are really born again, they will change.
You may ask, in what way are they acting like unbelievers? Paul spells it out. They have shallow teaching – that is, they think the world’s wisdom is great. They do not know any of the deep things of God. Paul says they have divisions in the church, which grow out of their own pride. I would say that that characterizes much of the modern evangelical church. Within today’s church you find shallow doctrinal teaching, divisions based on rivalries among men and parties, and pride in the world’s wisdom. Perhaps that is why the church is so weak. That is why the church has been failing to make a stronger impact upon the world. And yet, it is a true Church of Jesus Christ. The kind of things that Paul says in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians can certainly be said about it, and it does not do any good to say, “Well, it’s not a true church.” What you have to say is, “Come on, those of you who are really believers, start acting like believers and stop acting like the world.” That is precisely what Paul is writing this letter to get them to do.
Then Paul goes on to discuss Christian ministry. The reason he talks about the ministry is that part of their worldliness has been evidenced in divided loyalties within their church. The splits have come between those who prefer Paul and his teaching and methods, or Apollos and his teaching and methods, or perhaps Peter, or Cephas, for his teaching and his methods. If we look at what these men taught, we can see that there were certain differences among them. Paul himself acknowledges certain differences in saying that he came to lay a foundation, and Apollos came to build on the foundation. That has something to do with the doctrines that are taught. But the point Paul is making here when he talks about Christian ministry is that the ministry is one, and that these divisions are therefore wrong.
The first thing he says about ministers is that ministers are servants. Harry Ironside, in his discussion of this passage, says that that idea alone should rebuke the Corinthians and rebuke any people today that divide up among loyalties to different teachers, or pastors, or leaders within the church. He says, imagine a large family that has a lot of servants. The family divides because some of them prefer one servant, and others prefer another servant. He says that is just ludicrous. And yet, that is what happens in the church when men and women line up against one teacher in favor of another.
In the history of the church, there have been various approaches to this matter of ministers and their relationship to congregations. John Stott discusses this very carefully in one of his books called One People. He says there is an error on the one side that he terms “clericalism,” where the ministers run the show. It is their church and they do whatever they want to do. That view has historical roots. Clericalism probably grew out of a tendency in the early church to try and pattern the Christian ministry on the Old Testament priestly system. Certainly that is where the Roman Catholic Church got its ideas of the priesthood because in the Old Testament system, the priests alone had the right to offer the sacrifices. In Catholicism it was assumed that the priests alone had the right to offer the mass, which was conceived as a sacrifice. So, the priests took that to themselves and because they could dispense the mass, they could dispense salvation. A whole body of theology grew up to support this kind of clerical approach. Tomorrow we will look at the remainder of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 3 about ministry.