Puritan pastor Richard Baxter took an old Latin phrase and popularized it in his day, in English. It is simple, but profound: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Why was Baxter so concerned to see Christians publicly, charitably, doctrinally unified? Baxter, writing in 17th century England about the evil effects of division in the church, made this observation:
Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). I was thinking this past week about cases where a person who has been a professed believer, maybe even a well-known Christian leader, falls into public sin or even apostasy, walking away from the Christian faith. Sadly, there have been many such cases in the news lately.
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2). Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is an epistle written to straighten out a church with a host of serious problems. Yet as such it is helpful and enlightening and inspiring to see how Paul the theologian addresses his deep, rich theology to specific, messy, practical issues as Paul the pastor.
I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting (1 Corinthians 9:15). What is the ground for Paul’s boasting? It is the “gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12). The gospel of Christ is centered on Jesus Himself—His perfect humanity, His full deity, the salvation that He perfectly fashioned on the cross. When Paul glories in the gospel, he is glorying in the good news of Jesus Christ, not just of “salvation” as though separate from Christ.
Why should I be concerned with doctrinal nuances? Isn’t that stuff just for preachers? This is a common question, or at least a common attitude, with which I have come into contact as a pastor. The richly diverse and meticulous language of Scripture, and a careful theology of Scripture, is often seen more as professional jargon for clerics than every day food for the souls of every day people. But nothing could be further from the truth.
We live in a mobile, global society. I am reminded of this as a pastor, with people who constantly move into our city for school or work, and simultaneously others who move away for the same reasons. Yet, as a pastor, I feel an obligation to help those who are leaving our church in Ohio to find a healthy home for their soul in whatever new place they may be landing. Just in the past year, I have tried to help people transition to Japan, California, China, Florida, Texas, Germany, and South Korea.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). In the middle of this famous chapter on spiritual gifts, Paul makes it clear that partaking of the Spirit of God is something that every Christian experiences. The physical baptism we experience in the church is a symbol of the spiritual baptism of every believer by the Spirit!
Imagine you are about to move to a new area. Not just a new location, but a whole new part of the world—surrounded by a new culture and new faces, and without any familiar friends or contacts. Besides the personal, emotional challenges of such a move there would obviously be some significant spiritual challenges to anticipate. Whatever spiritual habits you have in place will be changed or challenged; the fellow Christians by whom you’ve been encouraged and to whom you’ve been accountable won’t be nearby to help you.
What does the church of Jesus Christ really look like? Of course, I am not talking about the architectural style of the building in which it meets, but what a local body of believers looks like. We know the church should be sound in doctrine and zealous in proclaiming the gospel. But how does a sound church really function?
Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity (1 Corinthians 16:12). Even our very best plans often meet with significant snags. Many variables can conspire to derail our plans, but one in particular often proves a great help or hindrance in our efforts: people. Planning would be so easy if it weren’t for other people with other opinions! Pastoring, marriage, child-rearing, and evangelism would all be a cinch if you just didn’t have to
Paul in Ephesians 1:23 describes the church as the body of Christ. And in Ephesians 2:20 Paul goes on to explain that Jesus Christ himself is the cornerstone of the church. As if this were not enough, Paul further insists in Ephesians 3:10 that the manifold wisdom of God is being made known, through the church, to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places. In 1 Timothy 3:15 the church is said to be “a pillar and buttress of the truth.”
Greet one another with a holy kiss (1 Corinthians 16:20). Before we titter nervously like preteen school boys at Paul’s exhortation to kiss, consider this: a kiss in New Testament times was used as a warm greeting between those of the same sex. Many countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East still kiss on the cheek or on the forehead as a part of greeting one another affectionately. How is this exhortation still relevant to us today, in America?
From a negative standpoint, the neglect of Christian history reflects the incorrect assumption that we have all wisdom in our day and there is nothing to learn from wise men of the past – in effect, that the Holy Spirit has been inactive for the last 2,000 years. Our generation is among the worst when it comes to what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” infatuated with the newest thing and suspicious of anything that is old.