I had barely begun reading First Corinthians recently when a particular phrase caught my attention. Paul identifies his addressees as “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2). The Greek text behind this phrase uses a participle and the phrase literally means “the church of God as it exists in Corinth.” God’s ekklesia or assembly is not composed of local churches or congregations but of individual men and women worldwide, and these Corinthians were part of it. What makes any group of people “the church of God” as it exists where they are? What are some things that do not?
This much is certain: whatever made the Corinthians “the church of God” in their first-century city is the same thing that makes us part of the universal church of God today. It was not their single-minded allegiance to Christ alone. They had actually divided into denominations named after favorite preachers (3:3-9). It was not moral superiority–the pagans beat them in that regard (5:1-8). It certainly was not flawless understanding. Some Corinthians thought idols were real gods (8:1-7) and others supposed that the resurrection had already occurred (15:22-28).
The Corinthians became part of the church of God by the things God had done and was doing on their behalf. He sanctified them and made them holy (1:2). He called them to be saints and they called on his name (1:2). God gave them his grace (1:4), enriched them with spiritual gifts (1:5-7), and promised to sustain them to the end, guiltless for himself (1:8). Because they were the church of God as it existed in Corinth, Paul wrote them this letter filled with reproof, correction, and instruction. God’s ekklesia is a work in progress. He is not finished with any of us yet.