Text: I Corinthians 1: 1, 2.
No greater description could be given a group of disciples than that ascribed by Paul in addressing the Corinthians. “To the church of God at Corinth,” he said. Not only are they so put under the watchful care of the Almighty, but they are identified as in the stream of “The People of God.” For though they are Gentiles, and formerly “no people,” this term “the church of God” is the Greek equivalent of the expression regularly used in the Old Testament for God’s covenant nation Israel. Through the Jewish Messiah, these Gentiles have “found mercy,” and share in every messianic blessing, in this fulfillment-age prophesied to include “the nations.”
This being the case, it is good for us to understand what made this group the “church of God.” Many definitions and criteria have been given for a true church; let us approach the subject negatively first, then positively. We will see from these people, called by the apostle “the church of God at Corinth,” what does not make a “church of God,” and then what does.
I. What does not make a “church of God.”
A. It was not their “right name,” though Paul teaches them to designate themselves appropriately to what they really are. They are calling themselves “of Paul,” “of Apollos, “of Cephas,” as well as “of Christ.” For this Paul rebukes them, pointing out their relationship to Christ and the basis for a description that was true (1:10-13).
B. It was not their “good morals,” though Paul warns them about godly living. Chapters 5 and 6 show the ungodly state of some at Corinth. Based on their relationship with Jesus Christ, Paul warns them to avoid immorality and love holy lives.
C. It was not their “proper doctrines,” though Paul teaches them more perfectly and exhorts them to maturity of understanding. Chapters 8, 10, and 15 show some of the erroneous opinions held at Corinth, yet they still were “the church of God.” At the same time, the apostle corrects their errors and leads them into a fuller understanding of the truth.
D. It was not their “right organization,” though Paul uses their relationship with Christ to show how one member of the Body is related to the others. In chapter 12 the apostle shows that some thought too much of themselves and others too little. Proper organization” is for each Body-member to see him/her self as a functioning, needed part of the whole, and mutually to serve in interdependent roles as God has placed them.
E. It was not their “proper worship,” though Paul regulates their assembled behavior in the light of their union with the Lord Jesus and submission to Him. Chapters 11 and 14 in particular show many problems in the Corinthian “worship services.” The apostle begins with Christ to teach them how to edify each other and praise God together well.
II. What does make a “church of God.”
A. They had received the gospel testimony and it was confirmed in them (1:6).
B. They had believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8).
C. They were called to be saints, sanctified in Christ Jesus (1: 2).
D. They were given the grace of God, and called on the name of the Lord Jesus (1:2, 4).
E. They were waiting for Christ, to be blameless at His coming (1:7, 8).
“Right” name, doctrine, morals, organization and worship do not make a “church of God,” for Corinth was one and it missed every one of these goals. A “church of God” exists when a group of people hear the gospel and believe it, express that faith in gospel baptism as Jesus commissioned to be done, are set apart for God’s service, given the grace of God, call on Jesus’ name in worship, wait for His coming, and seek to be blameless in Him.
Such a “church of God” will seek to grow to perfection in all things, including those areas mentioned above. Their relationship with Christ both defines what is proper and impels them to move toward it constantly. Every truth is important, but it is possible to “get the cart before the horse,” even in defining what makes a “church of God.” Let us learn from Paul.