We all know there are no perfect churches because there are no perfect people. However, we should never use this as an excuse for giving up on the church or settling for mediocrity and dysfunction. Such a fatalistic attitude shows that we don’t understand God’s view of the church or appreciate the great cost Christ paid to make us His bride.
Although many churches today are having problems, the Lord hasn’t left us to solve them on our own but has given us guidance in His Word. The best example in Scripture of a church rife with problems is the one at Corinth. The apostle Paul spent 18 months there establishing the church and giving them a firm foundation upon which to build; but after he left, problems erupted. Eventually they sent him a letter informing him of divisions, immorality, and other issues that had taken root in the church. The book of 1 Corinthians is Paul’s response, and the answers he gives are still relevant to churches today.
If we tried to trace their problems back to one root cause, it would be an independent attitude. The result was a chaotic church that lacked unity and love because many were charting their own course and refusing to submit to one another. They began to listen to false apostles and adopted all sorts of aberrant beliefs and practices.
In chapter 12 of his letter, Paul addresses their independent spirit by describing the church the way God sees it—as one body with many parts that differ in form and purpose but work together for the proper functioning of the whole. In fact, we are the body of Christ here on earth, and He is our head. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He left His church to carry out His work. Many have likened us to His hands and feet as we follow His will for us both individually and corporately. And Christ as our head reveals His mind through His Word and His Spirit, who helps us interpret it.
The problem comes when we decide to follow our own agendas instead of listening to our head and living with each other as He directs. Philippians 2:3 tells us what kind of attitude we are to have: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.”
This was the attitude Christ displayed when He humbled Himself, came to earth as a servant, and died on the cross to save us (vv. 5-8). Yet the Corinthians lacked this attitude, as do many churches today, and the result was devastating.
First of all, they failed to recognize their unity in Christ and God’s sovereign choices regarding spiritual gifts. Paul reminded the Corinthians that Christ’s body is one with many members, and each member is baptized by the Spirit into the body at the time of salvation (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Their connection was based on who they were in Christ, not in how they served Him.
In fact, believers are not meant to function in the same way because each one has been created with a unique personality, physical attributes, and mental capabilities, and has been given a spiritual gift specifically chosen by the Spirit (vv. 4-11). In this way, God equips the church to accomplish the various ministries effectively.
Second, some of the Corinthians felt insignificant and unimportant. Instead of seeing the value of each spiritual gift, they began rating them according to apparent importance. However, in God’s eyes every gift and member is essential for the proper functioning of the church. Paul likened the situation to a foot claiming not to be a part of the body simply because it wasn’t a hand (v. 15). But a foot is essential whether it’s noticed or not. The same is true for those with less prominent gifts. Just because they aren’t up front preaching doesn’t make them less valuable or unneeded.
Third, others in the Corinthian church had an overinflated view of themselves and their spiritual gifts. They thought they didn’t need others in the church, but Paul said, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’” (v. 21). Can you imagine what would happen if your body parts started to act independently of one another? How could you walk if your leg and foot were each trying to go in opposite directions? The same dysfunction results when members of a church think too highly of themselves, act independently, and discount the contributions of others.
Clearly an independent spirit wreaks havoc in a church. When some members choose not to use their spiritual gifts whether through feelings of inadequacy or indifference, the church as a whole is robbed of what God placed them there to contribute. The result is a partially paralyzed body. And in a similar way, the church is crippled when members don’t value or submit to each other.
When all the members focus on their common union with Christ, follow Him as their head, and use their individual gifts to serve one another with an attitude of humility and love, the church functions properly, believers are blessed, and God is glorified. And that is my prayer for you and for your church