Is Church An Event? A Bus? Rowboat?

Taken from Tim’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 12 on 23 June 2019.

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Depending on how long you’ve been around church for, you’ll probably have a slightly different perspective on what church is. So for example, I can think of at least four different paradigms we might have to think about the church.

1. Church Is An Event

In this paradigm, church is the place we come to sit in the audience and watch a show. With few exceptions, the paid ministry professionals are the stars of the show, and everyone else is just a spectator. In this way of thinking, church is a static event that happens once a week but that’s about it.

2. Church Is A Bus

The strength of this paradigm is that it recognizes that the church has an identity and a purpose outside of the static event. That being said, the church leaders continue to be the ones who do all the work in this paradigm. Cause they say to people, ‘Welcome aboard, grab your tickets at the door and then take a seat’. So church is basically a spiritual sight seeing tour, where knowledgeable tour guides show you around.

3. Church Is A Rowboat

The strength of this paradigm is that it not only recognizes that church is going somewhere, it also recognizes that in order to get there we need lots of people to work together. So when people get on board they dutifully grab an oar and start rowing. Now, they may not have any idea where they’re going, and they may not be rowing in time with anyone else, but in general, they’re happy to jump on an oar whenever the roster tells them.

4. Church Is A Body

This is the paradigm of church that Paul introduces in 1 Corinthians 12, because it’s the primary paradigm we’re supposed to have when it comes to thinking about the church. Now we’ll get into some of the details of it in a moment, but one of the things I love about this paradigm is the way it highlights the unity and diversity of the different members within the one church, and the way that we each work together in various ways to help the church move forward.

So let’s come to our passage and start by reading verse 12:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.

So Paul begins by introducing us to the metaphor of the church as a body, which he’s going to continue to use throughout the rest of the passage. He says in the same way that one human body is made up of many different parts (like arms, legs, hands, feet, head and torso), so too is the one church made up of many different parts (or members). Now you may notice that at the end of verse 12 he doesn’t say, ‘So it is with the church’ but ‘so it is with Christ.’ That being said, the context makes it clear that he’s talking about the ‘body of Christ’, which is one of his favourite metaphors for the church.

So he goes on in verse 13 to explain the source of our unity in the church.

For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The word baptism simply means to be engulfed by something. So in the context of water baptism, it obviously means to be dunked or engulfed in water. But Paul here is talking about a Spirit baptism. We touched on this last week, so I won’t major on it for now. For today just note that baptism with the Spirit is simply a reference to what happens when somebody becomes a Christian, because that’s when God pours out his Spirit upon them. But according to Paul, the fact that Paul has done that to each and every Christian in this room, means that we’re not only united to Christ but we’re also united to one another.

Notice the emphasis on the one Spirit. We’ve each been baptised by one Spirit. We’ve each been given one Spirit to drink from. Because there’s one Spirit, we each form one body. Nevertheless, as Paul affirms in verse 14,

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

And so our unity doesn’t destroy our diversity. I think this is the major difference between viewing church as a rowboat and church as body. In a rowboat, aside from the person steering the boat everyone pretty much has the same job. You grab an oar and you pull it. If you want to be useful, that’s pretty much the only thing you can do. Anything else and you’re just dead weight. But with the human body, there’s all sorts of different roles that need to be performed. For example the eyes see, the ears hear, the nose smells and the hands touch. They each play a different part, but they all work together to help the human body function at its best. It’s exactly the same with the church! Church is a body with many gifted parts.

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Taken from Tim’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 12 on 23 June 2019.