A dear elder friend and mentor of ours pointed out something interesting about the Apostle Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth. Paul wrote First Corinthians to one church. He wrote second Corinthians to the same one church.
I didn’t get how big that was at first. Probably because these days bodies of believers split up over hurt feelings, opinions, the wrong kind of music, boring Bible classes, stale preaching or because the services are too long.
These guys back then were dealing with:
- division (ch. 1)
- incest (ch. 5)
- suing each other (ch. 6)
- lust (ch. 6)
- marriage and divorce (ch. 7)
- idolatry (ch. 8)
- disorderly assemblies (ch. 11-14)
They had some major issues. Yet when it came time to write the next letter, Paul didn’t address it to the North Side and South Side church or the church of Paul and the church of Peter. No these first Christians heeded Paul’s warning and stuck together.
I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. 1 Cor. 1:10
No divisions. One mind. United in thought and purpose. Now that’s hard stuff.
Paul didn’t stop there. We are one. Each part of the body (the church) is necessary. In fact necessary is too weak of a description. Each member has been hand-picked by God and graphed into the body by the blood of his son. Just as God forms the physical body in the womb (Ps. 139:13), he forms each individual body of Christ.
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.
Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. (From 1 Cor. 12)
How many times a day do we tell one of our eyes, “I don’t need you!” ? Or how often to you find your arm saying, “I don’t need all the strain this body puts on me. I’m outta here!” Ah… that’s right NEVER! If that is the case with your mortal, physical body how much MORE critical is the unity of Jesus’ spiritual body.
We cannot divide what God has put together without serious repercussions. Why? Because God did it and he said don’t mess with it.
I know it’s hard. It’s hard to suck it up when we get our toes stepped on. It’s hard to overlook someone’s rude comment when we are having a bad day. It’s hard when we don’t think we are being offered the best bible classes for our kids or the most fellowship. It’s hard for me when I feel betrayed or misunderstood. It’s hard for me to put my thoughts and feelings low and lift my brother’s and sister’s high. But that’s just what I am called to do. That’s what you are called to do.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Col. 3:12-15
We are called as members of one body to simply live in peace- together. And guess what… that’s hard too.
Have you ever thought about how big of a deal it was that Jesus made one church for Jews and Gentiles? The only relative comparison I can make in our culture is that if someone went to Mississippi in 1950 and decreed, “There will be no more white churches or black churches. We are all now one body in Christ.” That is hardly done in America today all these years after the Civil Rights Movement. But the truth is not even racial or cultural lines should divide the body of Christ. That’s how serious “one body” is.
He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. Eph. 2:15-16
So I guess the original question remains. When CAN I leave my church? Well, the New Testament never mentions it. That’s right. The bible never talks about it. I think that’s pretty significant.
Now, there are circumstances that sometimes require amputation. Paul tells them in 1 Cor. 5 that there is a terrible sin spreading among the body. That situation of incest where a man had his father’s wife and they were bragging about it. Paul’s words cut like a knife.
You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns. 1 Cor. 5: 4-5
How serious do you take being one body? Do you believe that the body should be cut up? Are you OK with a little nip and tuck here and there? Or are you as committed to your local body of Christ as Christ is to you? Will the only thing that divides you from a church be unrepented sin? Our admonition from Paul is sure.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord… 1 Cor. 15:58