A Tale of Three Churches

A Tale of Three Churches Part I – The Carnal Church
by Shawn Brasseaux

[28 February 2010]

If you recall several months ago (July to October 2009), we had three series of discussions regarding the Christian life. Those series—“Grace Lifers,” “Reflection,” and “Psukhē”—focused on the Christian lifestyle of an individual. Now, in this three-part series, we want to build on those previous series by looking at the Christian life on the local church level. What characteristics does a God-honoring and God-serving church have? Please remember, when the Bible uses the word “church,” it never refers to a building or place. “Church” always alludes to the body of believers, the group of individuals who are God’s people.

* * *

The Corinthian church is the first church we want to discuss. Corinth was a seaport in Greece, about 50 miles west of Athens. The first time Corinth is ever mentioned in Scripture is Acts chapter 18, when the Apostle Paul goes there on his second apostolic journey. Remember, prior to the conversion of Paul, God had been dealing almost exclusively with His covenant people, the nation Israel.

Imagine Paul going into this city of Gentiles who had no idea of the one true God, JEHOVAH of Israel. Paul was the first man God sent to Corinth (2 Corinthians 10:14-16). Once Paul preached the glorious Gospel of the Grace of God, a small portion of Corinth was saved and became members of the Church the Body of Christ! For 18 months, Paul taught these Jewish and Gentile believers in Corinth the sound doctrine they needed to practice and believe (Acts 18:11). Apollos, a believing Jew and one of Paul’s ministry helpers, taught Corinth as well (Acts 19:1).

We do not hear of Corinth again until the book of 1 Corinthians. Some time has passed since Paul’s initial visit. The Apostle Paul has heard of the pitiful state of Corinth, so he has to hurriedly write this epistle (1 Corinthians) to warn them of their careless and shameful lifestyles and behavior:

  • Divisions and quarrels among the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:11-13; 3:4-6; 11:18-19).
  • Fixation of human wisdom and philosophy (1 Corinthians 1:18–2:5; 3:17-20).
  • Incest; a believer having sexual relations with his father’s wife—sadly the church was commending his behavior, not reproving it (1 Corinthians 5:1-6).
  • Suing their fellow believers in the pagan courts (1 Corinthians 6:1-6).
  • The Lord’s Supper was made into a drunken party (1 Corinthians 11:20-22).
  • Spiritual gifts such as tongues were being abused and exploited (1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14)—these believers were more interested in emotional experiences than spiritual growth and maturity.

What went wrong in Corinth? What happened to these Corinthian believers that made them live as though they were still lost in paganism and mythology? Why were they not living lives that reflected God’s grace and sound doctrine that Paul had preached to them all those months?

Corinth’s problem was “carnality,” or worldly and immoral living (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). They were indeed believers, but they had never grown spiritually. They never put into practice those grace doctrines taught to them; in fact, not even the lost pagan Gentiles living around them led this shameful lifestyle! They failed to apply the sound doctrine to their lives, so their lives were no different from the lost Gentiles still worshipping idols.

We need to consider that Corinth was a fairly large city for its time (population 80,000). Like us Christians today, these Corinthian believers were being negatively influenced by the world. They lived amongst pagan neighbors, friends, and family. Instead of letting God’s Word “effectually work in them that believe” (as 1 Thessalonians 2:13), they failed to believe that sound doctrine, which is why God’s Word was not working in their lives. They were being conformed to the world, and not being transformed in their minds by God’s Word (Romans 12:1-2).

They did not have to let Satan defeat them and rob them of their joy and acceptance in Christ. You can hear and read sound doctrine and right division day in and day out, but it will do you no good if you do not place your FAITH in it. If we do not let the Holy Spirit perform His work in us to transform our inner man with sound doctrine, we default to living in the flesh (the natural, sinful habits we have inherited from Adam). This is what the Bible calls quenching/hindering the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

Do you care to be a carnal Christian? Do you enjoy incest, bickering, lawsuits, drunkenness, and unreliable emotional highs? Would you feel comfortable in an assembly where there was nothing but worldly behavior? Remember, as ambassadors for the risen Christ, we are the Body of Christ. The world cannot see Christ, because He is seated in heaven at the Father’s right hand; nevertheless, they can see Christ living in us via the Holy Spirit, bringing glory and honor to Him, and not to ourselves.

Yes, we need to hear sound doctrine being taught and preached from God’s Word rightly divided. Still—and this is not being judgmental—I see many saints who rightly divide leading lives that reflect that of the Corinthians; beloved, this should not be so. We hear the sound doctrine, but our lives do not always demonstrate that sound doctrine. I admit that my own life does not always reflect sound doctrine, but I am putting forth an effort by building myself up in the Scriptures.

Are you struggling with carnality? God is not mad at you, but it is His desire for you to understand and enjoy your position in His Son, Jesus Christ. You do not have to be a vessel of reproach and carnality (1 Corinthians 9:19-21). Of course, like all the saints who have gone before, you will lose your popularity with man if you live for the Lord Jesus Christ. If your loved ones abandon you because of the cross of Christ, so be it. You are different, set apart from the rest of humanity forever, and you will always be different inside because of Christ.

Remember, whenever you act, consider God’s reputation. Your testimony is what you have to prove to the world that the grace life is the greatest life a human could ever live! The lesson from Corinth is one to be learned: fortunately, the Apostle Paul later wrote a second letter to Corinth, hearing from Titus that Corinth had repented (changed their mind), and that repentance led them to straighten up and let Christ live in them (see 2 Corinthians 7:6-16)! Will you learn the lesson from Corinth?

 

A Tale of Three Churches Part II – The Spiritual Church
by Shawn Brasseaux

[7 March 2010]

Last week, we looked at the Corinthian church. Hopefully, you considered what was said and you responded in a way that would strengthen your inner man. Now, we want to look at a second type of church in the Scriptures, so this week we are going to see what the Bible says about Berea and Thessalonica. As opposed to the carnal Corinthians, these two assemblies are examples of what the Lord would call “spiritual.” But, what exactly constitutes a “spiritual” church? Let us turn to God’s Word for the answer!

* * *

During Paul’s second apostolic journey, he and Silas arrived in Thessalonica (population 70,000), about 200 miles due north of Corinth, in present-day northern Greece. The Bible says in Acts 17:1-4 that Paul went to the local synagogue to witness to the unbelieving Jews, using the Old Testament to preach Jesus Christ. He reasoned with them at least three weeks, which resulted in a number of Jews and Gentiles coming to salvation in Christ. Instead of going the way of the Corinthians, the Thessalonians exhibited spiritual growth. Turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 1:3-10 KJV to read:

“3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.
7 So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
8 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.
9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”

Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timotheus (Timothy) taught the Thessalonians how to live, both in words and in deed. That is, the Thessalonians not only heard the sound doctrine, but saw the sound doctrine demonstrated. They responded to that sound doctrine by faith, causing a tremendous change in their lifestyle!

God’s Word was now actively being applied in their lives. Verses 7-9 document their new conversation (lifestyle): these former pagan Gentiles had thrown away their stupid pagan idols, and were now leading the grace life and serving the living and true God! The Thessalonians had followed the example of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, and now the neighboring believers in Macedonia and Achaia were following the Thessalonians’ example. Can you just imagine how thrilled Paul, Silas, and Timothy were to hear of these believers and their testimony impacting the pagan world as well as other believers?

Learn the lesson from Thessalonica: set the example for fellow believers and for the lost world. Our own “work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope” will encourage others to either become Christians or encourage other Christians to better represent Christ! When the lost world sees Christ living in us, this will cause them to stop and wonder what makes us so different, and they may want to be saved too. After all, we are “ambassadors for the risen Christ,” are we not?

If you recall back in Acts chapter 17, Paul and Silas went to Thessalonica for the first time. Paul was witnessing to the Jews and the Gentiles. If you look in verse 5, the Bible says that unbelieving Jews stirred up the people and caused an uproar that forced Paul and Silas to flee to Berea about 30 miles away to the southwest (Acts 17:1-10). There in Berea (population 15,000), many Greeks and Jews came to salvation in response to Paul and Silas’ preaching.

The Bible says very little about the city of Berea; however, Berea was known for one thing in particular: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). That word “noble” means “readiness to receive truth.” The only “Scriptures” at this time was the Old Testament—as I understand it, no New Testament Scriptures had been written yet.

Today, believers who study their Bibles daily using right division (dispensational Bible study) often call themselves “Berean Bible Students.” They do not believe everything they hear; they use God’s Word to determine what is and what is not sound doctrine. Sadly, many—even professing Christians—are not “noble;” rather than eager to receive God’s truth, they prefer to hear lies, ear-tickling social gospels, and denominationalism (religious tradition). Learn the lesson from Berea: search the Scriptures and see if these things are so!

The spiritual church is not a group of sinless, self-righteous Christians. God’s definition of the spiritual church is an assembly of believers who actually study His Word His way (right division), and then apply that sound doctrine by faith. God does not want Christians who merely read about the Bible, or those who spend an hour in “worship” on Sunday. God is looking for Christians who care to hear and read what He has to say to them in His Word! God wants His Word, not religious tradition and denominational doctrine, to “dwell in you richly in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16). God wants “Christ formed in you,” not some religious system (Galatians 4:19). Unless you become a Berean Bible student, God’s Word cannot transform your life! But, when you allow God to open your mind and heart to His truth, God’s power will transform your inner man (soul and spirit) as you believe His Word (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Do you seek to discover God’s will for your life? Do you desire salvation and eternal forgiveness as a present possession? Are you wondering what the Christian life is all about? Would you like sound, firm doctrine working in your life? Do you want to avoid false teaching and doctrines of devils? Follow the example of the spiritual churches, Thessalonica and Berea.

Get into the Scriptures, trust in Christ Jesus alone as your Saviour (the Gospel of the Grace of God of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Once you become a Christian, then place your faith in God’s Word to you (the Pauline epistles, Romans through Philemon), and let Christ live His life in you and through you (Galatians 2:20-21). Nothing in life will ever thrill you more, bring you more peace, or bring you more joy than studying God’s Word! If you know what the Book says, then you will not be deceived! And sure we make mistakes and revert to the old lifestyle, but God’s grace will be there to scoop us up, and get us going again!

BECOME A BEREAN BIBLE STUDENT, IF YOU ARE NOT ONE TODAY!!!!! 🙂

 

A Tale of Three Churches Part III – The Apostate Church
by Shawn Brasseaux

[14 March 2010]

In our final installment of “A Tale of Three Churches,” we will be looking at Galatia, a region (not a city like our previous examples of Corinth, Thessalonica, and Berea). As you remember from our first discussion in the series, the Corinthian church was carnal, spiritually immature. They were taught sound doctrine; they just never applied it by faith. Last week, we looked at examples of the spiritual church, Berea and Thessalonica. True spirituality means studying God’s Word and applying it to life by faith—letting the sound Bible doctrine live in and through you will bring about spiritual growth and maturity. This week, we look at the apostate churches of Galatia: those who were saved by grace, but abandoned grace in order to embrace religion and doctrines of devils.

* * *

Galatia is present-day central Turkey, east of Corinth, Berea, and Thessalonica. According to Acts chapter 16, Paul, during his second apostolic journey, Paul first met young Timotheus (Timothy). The Bible says that Timothy and Paul traveled through Galatia and Phrygia, but that the Holy Spirit did not want them to preach there (Acts 16:6). But, in Acts 18:18-23, we read that Paul (accompanied by Aquila and his wife Priscilla), “strengthened all the disciples” in Galatia and Phrygia. These Galatian believers, unfortunately, would fall into the trap of false teaching and legalism. Look at Galatians 3:1-3 KJV:

“1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”

 

Here, the Apostle Paul tells the Galatians that they are being “bewitched;” they are “charmed,” “seduced,” and “mesmerized” by Satan’s workers. The devil has brought on such deception that now these believers want to work for their salvation. They have forgotten that it was their faith alone in Paul’s Gospel that brought about their salvation. Judaizers (Messianic Jews who kept the Law of Moses) were coming along and telling them that Paul’s Gospel was not enough, that they had to be circumcised and keep the Law to be saved (see Acts 15:1-5). Paul wrote to those Galatians, screaming NO! NO! NO! You are free from the Law; you are under grace!!!

Turn to 2 Corinthians 11:3,4 KJV:

“3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
4 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.”

Paul was always concerned with whether or not his converts were continuing in the grace of God, or if they were going the way of legalism and works-religion. The minds of the Galatians were being “corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” They started out on the right track when they came to salvation by faith; Paul wrote, “ye did run well” (Galatians 5:7). But, the rest of the verse says “who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” Instead of continuing in the grace doctrine, these Galatians allowed themselves to be led away from the truth.

Ever since Genesis chapter 3, the devil has been hard at work deceiving the masses. His main goal is to attack God’s children, the Church the Body of Christ. For nearly 2,000 years now, the Body of Christ has been infiltrated with heresies and heretics. I would say that an overwhelming number of “Christian” ministries and churches are leading even professing Christians astray. Men who once rightly divided God’s Word have given in to the pressure of works-religion and denominationalism.

Paul wrote to the Galatians around A.D. 51-52; by the time Paul’s final epistle is written, and he is close to martyrdom, as much as 15 years have passed since warning Galatia. In his last epistle, 2 Timothy, we find such a heartbreaking statement. “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia [present-day Turkey] be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes” (2 Timothy 1:15 KJV). Look at chapter 4, verses 3-4, when it talks about people turning away from the truth to embrace false teachers—this is happening today! Also in chapter 4, verse 10, Paul writes that Demas “loved this present world,” to the point where he abandoned Paul! The Apostle Paul had been abandoned by practically everyone in Turkey. Galatia, evidently, never heeded the warning from Paul. They went further into legalism, works-religion, and other false teaching.

Apostasy. It existed in Galatia, and it still exists today within the realm of “Christendom.” Why do we use the term “Christendom” and not “Christianity?” “Christendom” refers to everyone who professes to be members of the Body of Christ, but hold to legalistic, works-religion doctrines. “Christianity” is the true, pure version of the Body of Christ, as the Apostle Paul preached it.

What is apostasy? Without naming anyone or any specific groups, you need to know that there are many so-called “Christian” churches who “have the form of godliness, but deny the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). They are promoting false gospels, ear-tickling messages that bypass the cross of Christ and emphasize doing good works to get God’s blessings (be it tithing, water baptism, Sabbath Day keeping, penance, et cetera).

Look at 1 Timothy 4:16 KJV: “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” Paul’s instructions to young Timothy are to CONTINUE IN THE GRACE DOCTRINE. Understand your position in Christ is totally separate from the demands of the Mosaic Law. The salvation in this verse is not eternal salvation of our soul, because we are already saved. Now, as saints, we need to be saved from false teaching. By telling others sound doctrine, we will also save them from false teaching. Flee from false teaching, as Romans 16:17 says (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3-6). Your spiritual health depends on it!

Learn the lesson from Galatia. If you are a saved person, a member of the Church the Body of Christ, do not let someone rob you of your spiritual blessings. Do not let someone tell you that you have to do something to get God’s blessings; we as true Holy Spirit-indwelt believers do not need to do anything to maintain our salvation. We have security in Christ, and our salvation is not, not, not dependent on our performance. The Lord Jesus Christ paid it at, and we are complete in Christ. We have already gained God’s acceptance in Christ, so let us rejoice in the grace that has made us free from the yoke of bondage!

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