Robert Jeffress - How To Blow Up A Church
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Nothing destroys the effectiveness of a church any quicker than mindless bickering over controversial topics. And if you don't believe me, just look at the church at Corinth. Today, we turn to 1 Corinthians chapter one to discover both the cause and the cure for dissension in the church, and then we'll have a practical discussion on how to avoid these common pitfalls. My message is titled "How To Blow Up a Church" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
We had some very good friends involved in a wedding in Fort Worth, so we drove to Fort Worth and attended the wedding, but as I was watching the wedding, I couldn't help but think of some words written by Karen mains in a piece entitled "The brawling bride". And in that piece, she talks about a climactic moment in a wedding ceremony. As I watched this wedding ceremony unfold, I couldn't help but think about that one. She writes about the climax of the wedding this way. "Down front stands the groom in a spotless tuxedo, handsome, smiling, full of anticipation, shoes shined, every hair in place, anxiously awaiting the presence of his bride. All the attendants are in place, looking joyful and attractive. The magical moment finally arrives as the pipe organ reaches full crescendo and the stately wedding march begins. Everyone rises and looks toward the door for the first glimpse of the bride.
Suddenly, there is a horrified gasp. The wedding party is shocked. The groom stares in embarrassed disbelief. Instead of a lovely woman dressed in elegant white smiling behind a lace veil, the bride is limping down the aisle. Her dress is soiled and torn. Her leg seems twisted. Ugly cuts and bruises cover her bare arms. Her nose is bleeding. One eye is purple and swollen. Her hair is disheveled. Does not this handsome groom deserve better than this"? Asks the author. And then the punchline. "Alas, his bride, the church, has been fighting again". You know, nothing tarnishes the image of Christ's bride, the church, any more than the back biting and the bickering that goes on in so many congregations today. I imagine tonight most every one of us could name someone we know, a Christian who became disillusioned, fell away from the church, even fell away from the faith, because they were involved in a church fight somewhere, at some point. Nothing causes more damage to the reputation of Jesus Christ than when his bride, the church, is brawling.
Now, that was taking place, by the way, at the church at Corinth. They were involved in bitter divisions, and because of that, the church at Corinth was in danger of losing its witness, and because of that situation, the apostle Paul wrote some very strong words in 1 Corinthians 1, to that church at Corinth, words we would do well to pay attention to tonight. If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to 1 Corinthians chapter one as we look at a case study of how to blow up a church. 1 Corinthians chapter one.
Now, remember from last week, Paul had a special interest in the church at Corinth. He founded the church on his second missionary journey. He stayed in Corinth for 18 months, and afterwards he went on to Ephesus. And while at Ephesus, he received word that the church was having problems, and the leaders at Corinth went to Ephesus and delivered to Paul a letter with some specific questions, and Paul wrote back to the Corinthians to respond to the situation there. We saw last time how Paul, first of all, reminded these Corinthian Christians, in spite of their actions, they were saints. They had been sanctified by Christ, set apart for a special purpose. And then after reminding them of their position in Christ, they were set apart for a special purpose. Paul reminds them of their wealth from Christ. Because God had selected them and saved them, he had given them forgiveness from the past, gifts for the present, and a hope for the future.
Now, after those introductory words, beginning in verse 10, Paul begins addressing the variety of problems in the Corinthian church, and he begins by talking about the problem of divisions. Look at the fact of divisions in the church in verse 11. Paul writes, "For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you". Now, we don't know much about this prominent woman in the church, Chloe. She apparently sent word to Paul that there were problems in the church at Corinth, namely divisions. Now, Chloe and her family were not like a lot of Christians today. You know people like this. They'll come up to you and say, "You know, there's a problem here, but please, whatever you do, don't use my name when you address it".
You know people like that? Or other people who will come to you and say, "You know, pastor, you know, Sunday school teacher, you know, superintendent, director of a department? People are saying thus and thus and thus and thus and thus," and you ask, "Exactly what people are saying"? "Oh, I can't tell. I'd better not say". Chloe wasn't like that. She didn't mind her name being used. She said, "There is a problem here, a problem that needs to be solved". She said specifically, "There are divisions in the church". What is it that is the root, what is the cause of divisions and factions in the church? We find the answer to that in verse 12. Before we look at verse 12, let me mention to you three unstable foundations for any church to be built upon.
Number one, some churches are built upon the foundation of traditionalism. Traditionalism. You know the seven last words of the church? We've never done it that way before. That will be the death knell for any congregation. We've never done it that way before.
Now, I need to say there's a difference between tradition and traditionalism. Traditionalism, or tradition is a good thing, okay? Tradition is the living faith of those now dead, but traditionalism is the dead faith of those still living. Big difference. A lot of churches are frozen together, not by tradition, but by traditionalism. Traditionalism is when a church is cemented in practices and there is no freedom to move away from those practices. We always take the offering at this point in the service. We always sing the doxology at the beginning of every service. Things that we do, and there is no freedom to move whatsoever away from those traditions. And when you ever find a church that is rooted in traditionalism, here's what inevitably happens. New leadership comes along, changes occur in the church, and the church divides, because the foundation of the church is starting to shift, and so when things change, this church begins to splinter.
Other churches have built their church on the foundation of denominationalism. That is, they get their identity from the denomination that they're a part of, and their attitude is my denomination, right or wrong. I don't care what the church does, the denomination does, I'm going to be loyal to that denomination. But here's the problem. What happens when that denomination begins to change and shift? We see it happening all around us. What happens when a denomination that was once firmly rooted in scripture begins to accept same-sex marriages or ordained homosexual clergy, or begins to doubt the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture? What happens is the church begins to fracture. Some people say, "We're going to stay with the denomination regardless". Other people say, "No, we need to stay true to the Bible," and you have these schisms in the church. No, denominationalism is not the foundation for any congregation.
Thirdly, some people have built their church on the shakiest foundation of all, the pastor. There is no more unstable foundation on which to build a church than the pastor, because what happens if the pastor falls into sin? What if he gets sick? What if he leaves? What if he dies? The church again crumbles. Unfortunately, that's what was happening at the church at Corinth. They were dividing because they had built their congregation upon the personality of the pastor. Look at verse 12. Paul said, "Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, 'I am of Paul,' or, 'I am of Apollos,' or, 'I am of cephas,' or 'I am of Christ'".
Some people in the Corinthian church were still loyal to the founding pastor, Paul. He had founded the church, and you understand the affection they would have for Paul. Other people said that they were followers of the new pastor, Apollos, who was probably a more gifted speaker than the apostle Paul was. Some people, probably the traditionalists in the church, were saved under the preaching of the apostle Peter in Jerusalem. They said, "No, we'll always be faithful to Peter. He's the one whose ministry saved us". And then there were those in the church who said, "I am of Christ". These are the people who really didn't want to follow any human leadership, and so they said, "We don't get direction from anybody except Jesus", translated, "We'll do whatever we want to do, and don't you try to tell us how to behave". Paul said they were dividing according to the personality of the pastors.
Now, what's the remedy for division in the church? Look at what Paul says beginning in verse 13. First of all, he said to heal divisions in the church, you have to have a proper understanding of Christ. Look at verse 13. Paul asked the question, "Has Christ been divided"? Has Christ been divided? That word divided literally means has Christ been quartered? That's a horrible thought, when you think of tearing apart the body of Christ. Has Christ been quartered and a little piece of Jesus' body been given to Paul and another part to Peter and another part to Apollos? No, that's a hideous thought. By the way, Christians, church members, when you engage in gossip and back-biting and division in the church, you are guilty of dividing, quartering the body of Jesus Christ. It's a serious offense against the body of Christ. Have a proper understanding of Christ. He is not divided, and neither should we be divided. But secondly, there needs to be a proper understanding of the servant of Christ.
You see, these Corinthians were making the same mistake that a lot of people in the church today are guilty of making, and that is focusing on the servant of Christ, rather than on Christ himself. In many churches, people are fixated on the pastor. They either focus on his strengths, he can do no wrong, or they're focused on his weaknesses, he can do no right, and either attitude is lethal to your spiritual health. Don't focus on the servant of Christ. The power is not in the messenger. Look in verse 13. Paul says, "Paul was not crucified for you, was he"? That is, Paul is being very blunt. He said, "Now think about your salvation. Am I the one who crawled up on the cross and died for your sins? No, I am just a servant. I was not crucified for you. Or were you baptized in the name of Paul"? That word baptized means to identify with. When you were in the baptismal of waters, did you identify with the apostle Paul? No, baptism is our identity with Jesus Christ.
When we are baptized, it's our way of saying to the world that we identify with Jesus Christ. He is the one who is our Savior. Look at verses 14 to 16. Paul says, "I thank God that I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name". Paul purposely did not baptize many people. He didn't want people identifying with the apostle Paul. He said, "So that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas: but beyond that, I don't know whether I baptized anyone or not". He doesn't remember who he baptized, and it was immaterial, not because baptism is not important. That's not what he's saying. Baptism is very important. It's our public identification with Christ. He said the one who does the baptizing is unimportant.
And that's why in our Baptistry, you see a variety of people baptizing. You don't have to be ordained to baptize somebody, set apart by the church. The baptizer is not what is important. It's the person you're identifying, Jesus Christ, that is important. Verse 17, Paul says, "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void". That's a hinge verse that leads us to the next passage next week, but what Paul is saying is this. The power is not in the messenger, but in the message. And we would do well to remember that in the church, especially when we get focused on spiritual leaders, whether they're pastors or Sunday school teachers or other leaders. The power is not in the messenger, but it is in the message.
I was talking to one of our members this afternoon. I'm trying to recollect the series of events, because I remember this as a child early in the 1960s. There was an evangelist, and I bet some of you remember who it was, who came through here and led a series of evangelistic meetings, a revival. A multitude of people were saved during that revival. Later on, it was learned that his character was less than admirable. He went to the next city, and ultimately was placed in prison. He was a complete fraud, it turned out. And people in our church begin wondering, especially those who were saved, "What about my spiritual condition? I was saved under this man's preaching, and now it turns out of he's a fraud. Is my salvation illegitimate"? And there had to be a great deal of counseling that went on in our church, because of people who had been saved under this fraudulent minister's ministry.
Listen to what Romans 1:16 says. Paul said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, both to the Jew and then to the Greek". The power of the gospel is in the message itself. It is the gospel by which we are saved, not another human being. We need to remember to focus on the message, not on the messenger. Now, what's the application of this passage about division for us here tonight? Let me leave you with two principles that we would all do well to remember. First of all, to be united as a church, we must share a common foundation. If we're going to be united as a congregation, we have to share a common foundation. Go back to verse 10 for just a moment. Paul begins this section by saying, "Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree".
Now, that phrase, all agree, literally means that you all speak the same thing. Paul said, if we're going to have unity as a congregation, we must all be saying the same thing. We must agree. Now, he's not talking about minor secondary, tertiary, doctrinal issues, like, you know, millennialism or Calvinism or all of these other things. What he is saying, though, is on the basics, we must all be saying the same thing. We must all agree. What is the same thing on which we must all agree? That Jesus Christ and his word will have the final say in what we do individually and together as a church. That must be the common foundation of our congregation, that Jesus Christ and his word have the final say in everything we do.
If we find ourselves in a difficult marriage, we're going to remain in that marriage, because that is what Jesus has commanded us to do. If we are encouraged to engage in dishonesty in our job, we are going to refuse to do that, because that is what Jesus has commanded us to do. If there is immorality in our life, we're going to root it out, no matter what the cost, because that is what Jesus has commanded us to do. If we're called upon to speak for the truth, regardless of the cost, we are going to do that, because that is what Jesus has commanded us to do. Jesus Christ and his word have the final say about everything we do. That is the common foundation for a church.
Secondly, to have this unity of spirit Paul writes about, we must also share a common attitude. The second part of Paul's exhortation, look at verse 10, was that, "There be no divisions, factions among you, but that you be made complete," underline that word, "Complete in the same mind and in the same judgment". Paul said there should not be any divisions, any factions. Instead, he wants us to be complete. That Greek word, complete, katartizo, is a word that refers to the mending together of a broken net, or the mending together of broken bones. Paul says, "I don't want there to be any factions in the church. The only way that is going to happen is if you are complete, mended together by the same mind, the same attitude".
There are factions in the church today. Paul Billheimer was right when he said, "The continuous and widespread fragmentation of the church has been the scandal of the ages. It has been Satan's master strategy. The sin of disunity probably has caused more souls to be lost than all other sins combined". Factions ruin the reputation of Jesus Christ. What is the cause of factions in the church? What's the cause of factions in your home, in your friendships? Listen to what James said in verses one and two of chapter four. He asked the question, "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures, that wage war in your members? You lust and you don't have: so you commit murder. You're envious and cannot obtain: so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask".
From the day we're born, our number one inclination is to look out for number one, to make sure we get our way, regardless of the cost, and whenever you have two people, each of whom is intent on having his or her way, when you put those two people in a marriage, when you place them in a friendship, when you place them in a church, the result is going to be friction and factions in that church, in that friendship, in that marriage. What's the remedy to divisions? The remedy to divisions, Paul says, is that you be made complete, mended together by the same attitude, the same mind. What is that attitude, that mind, that mends us together, rather then tears us apart? It's the attitude Paul described in Philippians 2.
Listen to what Paul said in this well-known passage, beginning with verse four. "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, he did not regard his equality with God a thing to be grasped, held onto, but instead he emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross".
Instead of putting your interests at the top of the list, put the interest of others before you. You know, that attitude would have healed the divisions in the church of Corinth. That attitude will prevent divisions in our church. Having the mind of Jesus Christ, putting other people's interest, preferences before your own is the key to healing divisions, divisions that may occur right now in your friendships, in your marriage, and in your church.