A number of Christians today attend multi-site churches. Churches that make use of different buildings in different places and some that even live-stream the preaching into a worship service from another location. But this idea of a multi-site church is not a new one, even though the multiple locations Paul had in mind when writing to the Corinthians were somewhat different:
“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
Essentially Paul is saying that the Corinthian church dwelt in two different places. They were not only in Corinth; they were also in Christ. And like the Corinthian church, every local church today has to navigate the difficulties of residing both in the world and in Christ. Grasping this multi-dimensional nature of the church is vital if we’re to avoid falling into the same trap as the Corinthian Christians. In a number of areas, they were allowing themselves to be influenced more by their culture than by Christ.
Being in your culture presents challenges
Paul doesn’t ignore the fact that the church in Corinth had a physical location and faced particular challenges from the surrounding culture. Corinth, a cosmopolitan, thriving sea-port of roughly half a million people was a melting pot of different religions, cultures and beliefs. The ethics of Corinth flew in the face of Christian teaching. So to ‘corinthianise’ even became a verb, meaning to live a sexually promiscuous lifestyle (when the place where you live becomes a verb, you know that the local church is going to face challenges!).
Where Paul recognises that Corinthian thinking is infiltrating the church, he confronts it with authoritative apostolic teaching. So, for example, he challenges Greek philosophical ‘wisdom’ (1:20). He also tackles the cult of personality, where individual leaders were pedestaled. So some Corinthian Christians were following Apollos, others Cephas, others Paul (1:12) and this may have had its roots in the cultural practice of following men who led certain philosophical schools. Paul also needs to deal with a failure to recognise the body and sex as sacred, which is pervading their thinking (chapters 5,6,7).
Have you ever thought about what elements of your cultural setting might be influencing your own church? You might be surprised how similar they are to those in Corinth. What worldly wisdom do we need to challenge today? Do we rely on clever arguments to defend our faith, or put our trust in eloquent speakers, flashy showmanship, or worldly wisdom? Do we pedestal those leaders who have the most ‘successful’ ministry? Are our churches diverting from, or ashamed of, the authentically biblical teaching on sex and relationships?
Today, just as in Paul’s day, we each live and worship God in a culture which brings various challenges to the church. But now, like then, we have a wonderful remedy.
Being in Christ provides the solution
The Corinthian Christians needed to understand that they were not to be defined by the culture that surrounded them. Instead they were to be defined by their heavenly location.
Precisely because the Corinthian church was ‘in Christ’, so Greek philosophical wisdom could be challenged by the supposed foolishness of the cross (1:23). The cult of personality could be corrected by recognising that Christ is the head of the church, rather than mere men (1:13). And sexual immorality could be confronted by learning that the church corporate and the individual Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit (3:16, 6:19).
As in the 1st Century, there are biblical truths to meet the challenges that we face too. Whatever trials the church comes up against, whether the same as those faced in Corinth or different, our spiritual residence enables us to meet the challenges that living in this world presents. Because the Church doesn’t just dwell in earthly villages, towns and cities. No, it is a multi-site church. It also resides ‘in Christ’.
God’s word may confront your church in similar ways to those in Corinth. It can drive home the truth that the message of Christ crucified will be a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others. But we’re not to rely on clever arguments and human eloquence rather than proclaiming the message of the cross. It can challenge us that no Christian leader, however gifted they might be, is ever to be revered. To use Paul’s analogy, “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (3:6). It brings us face to face with the truth that sex outside of biblical marriage has no place amongst Christians and that we must flee all sexual immorality (6:18).
You might think your local church is more influenced by being in the world than in Christ. Maybe it’s struggling to stand out as distinctive to the culture. If so, then why not pray that you and the rest of the congregation will grasp the truth that your church has been ‘sanctified’ (made holy) in him. Pray for an increasing awareness that the church is located in Christ as well as here on earth. Pray for your church’s thinking to be shaped by the truth of God’s word, so that everyone can discern worldly thinking from Christian thinking. And no matter what ungodly influences your church is seeking to shun, you can celebrate the reality that it hasn’t been abandoned by Jesus. Far from it. The true Church is in Christ. That’s its eternal location.
The more that we grasp the reality that our local church is in Christ and seek to conform our lives to his word, the more we will stand out as distinctive in our culture and be able to speak into it. By not getting swept along with the changing tides and trends of our earthly residence, we show that we belong to a heavenly location. Our churches will look and feel more compelling, as we recognise that we all belong to a multi-site church in the true sense of that phrase. We just need to ensure that we get our teaching streamed from the correct location. That is from Christ and his unchanging word.