CHAPTER 1, AS CONCERNS THE CHURCH
1. My dear Sillius, shepherd of the flock at Gorpo,2 faithful if sometimes daft brother in our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom, I, Cornelius Quintus, am the least minister and bond slave.
2. Dispensing with the rest of the apostolic salutations, I must forthrightly explain that I am disquieted at the latest report from our brother Stephanas, who was with you but a short while ago. 3. Upon his return to me, Stephanas told of your renaming the church that I, laboring in the Lord, so dutifully planted only a handful of years ago to see it flourish as a mustard tree, which, once grown tall and broad doth become a home for all God's creatures great and small.
4. Now Stephanas reports you have tagged that local body with the monstrous moniker "Gorpo Living Springs Fellowship Center."
5. This, brother, ticketh me off.
6. It is an all-too-prevalent thing these dreadful days. It seems fellow ministers of our Lord will call their congregations anything but a church. It's "Such-and-Such Christian Fellowship" or "Name-that-Town Christian Center." 7. A smattering of examples from the very town which the Lord has deemed it good to place me includes: "Horizons Ministries," "Grace Harvest Fellowship," "Vine Life Ministries," "Gospel Lighthouse," "Abundant Life Fellowship," and "Times of Refreshing Ministries." 8. As the local rabbi would say, "Oy vey!"
9. As with the local bodies listed here, you didn't have the decency to include "Christian," as our precious faith has been called since Paul's work in Antioch.
Wrestling with the problem
10. There is one very absurd example only a few miles hence. This body of believers simply calls itself "The Rock"謡hich, unless your head has been tucked inside your toga for the last few years, you know is also the name of one of the most popular gladiatorial champions in Rome, where he is known for his bulging muscles and crowd-pleasing wrestling skills. 11. Not that this is thoroughly reproachful by itself. You'll remember from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians that he was an athlete. 12. But the confusion of propitiation and pugilism is lamentable indeed.
13. So, why must we call ourselves something other than "church"?
14. If it were for fear of Rome I could understand the desire, however misplaced, to obscure the nature of our assemblies. While the whip and lash are not with us at this present time葉hanks be to God庸ew can forget the persecutions, and lions are ample reason for many to change names every second day. 15. But these days the lions are filled with different meats, and Caesar tires of using Christians to light his gardens (only novel for a season, the blood-curdling screams of our dear brothers and sisters made evening strolls unnerving, even for him).
16. So I venture it is not for your fear of persecution that you misname the body of Christ, as do so many others; rather, I fear, the reason for avoiding the word "church" is that our minds are numbed in these more pleasant days to what the church really is.
The meaning of church
17. Far from the ever-popular mutual admiration societies, clubs, guilds, and friendship circles, the church is a distinct institution on earth. 18. It is God's chosen vessel to administer his Word by preaching, discipline believers in love, aid in sanctification by the Spirit, bring believers together for edification, honor the Lord in worship, and administer the sacraments.
19. Certainly a group calling itself by any other name can do all of these things. 20. Preaching can be done a "center." Believers can grow in unity at a "fellowship." The deserts are fine for worship. Pot lucks can administer the bread and wine, and the local bath house can baptize, but, my dear Sillius, isn't that just the point? 21. Any one of these majestic and wonderful things can be done under any number of common and mundane names, but is that not the wonder of the church, the fact that it is unique in the world but distinct from it?
22. Why use just any word to describe the beauteous assembly of fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord?
23. Paul so frequently writes to "the churches." Why when he was raptured to the third heaven, if another word be preferred, did not God and his holy angels give it to him? Surely they would have, and is God a man that he should forget such a weighty matter? 24. If there were a better word, I believe we'd have it.
25. I fear, brother Sillius, that the relative wealth and peace of Gorpo has lulled you sleep in this matter. I can hear your snores from here. 26. But do not think I am being overly harsh on you, brother. No, I merely want to see a vibrant church for our Lord, and I am afraid that you have allowed your faith to dull as your circumstances shine all the more.
Clubs don't merit death
27. When Rome was so viciously on our backs, we were fired with the Gospel, we were ready to defend every little point of doctrine, and we knew well our faith. After all, no one wishes to stare down an arena of tigers over a religious quirk or shallow fling with faith. 28. It is much easier to abandon a poorly grasped faith than one that quickens the very soul and fills the heart and mind. 29. And, remember, we were not rounded up and sentenced to die because Rome did not like our club.
30. Maybe the reason Caesar pays us so little attention is that so many of our churches are nothing more than clubs, harmless assemblies where we meet to show off our gold-trimmed togas, Bavarian Cart Works chariots, and padded-insole sandals. 31. If such is the case, then it is little mystery that we no longer call ourselves the "church." 32. We do not act as if we are.
1. With apologies to Calvin Miller.
2. Recent archeology suggests this was a mildly posh suburb of Corinth.
- Joel Miller