Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

An exposition of First Corinthians chapter three

An older brother, a minister, once suggested to me that I should write about one portion of this chapter. He didn’t tell me what I should write, but appeared to have confidence that I would be able to cut through the misinterpretations of the apostle Paul’s words that are often repeated in our day and make plain what he was really saying.

Twenty years have passed, the brother no longer walks this earth. But that suggestion and the confidence implicit in it have continued to echo in the recesses of my mind. Today it is time to sit down and make it happen. I will discuss the whole chapter because I don’t believe we can understand any one part of it if we do not understand the whole.

1 Corinthians 3:1 ¶ And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

The brethren at Corinth did not have confidence in one another, or in the church. They had been converted, yet they were still set in the pagan pattern of following a teacher, rather than being followers of Christ. For this reason Paul told them they were still babies, at the very beginning of the life of faith, still feeding on only the simplest spiritual nourishment.

5 ¶ Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth;but God that giveth the increase.
8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

Paul is telling the Corinthians that the new spiritual life they have found came from God, he and Apollos are only servants. He begins with the metaphor of a vine that they have planted and watered, but the life in the vine came from God, not Paul or Apollos. Then he switches to the metaphor of a building, saying that all together they are one building. The foundation has been laid and many are building upon it, but they must be careful how they build.

11 ¶ For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

The only possible foundation for the building of God, the church, is Jesus Christ. As there is only one foundation, there is only one building. The verses that follow are not meant to be understood in an individualistic way. They speak of the materials used to build the church, some are precious metals and stones that come from God and cannot burn. But ministers, parents, all of us really, will sometimes use our own reasoning to try and build the church, but these materials tend to weaken the structure, rather than strengthen it.

Yet there is grace for those who are building upon the true foundation, even if some if their efforts will not stand the test of fire. Paul is not saying that our personal salvation is at risk when in ignorance we use inferior materials, his words should lead us to sanctification, to let burn what will burn so that we may continue to build with the materials that are durable.

16 ¶ Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

English-speaking readers of today find these verses difficult to understand. Our language has dropped the singular pronouns thee and thou, and even the plural pronoun ye, replacing all three with the plural you. Those pronouns had a purpose and we need to understand them to grasp what is being said in passages such as this.

When Paul uses the plural pronouns ye and you in these verses he is addressing the church as a whole, all members. But the temple of God is singular. He does not say “thou art the temple of God,” or “ye are the temples of God.” He is saying that altogether we are part of one temple, or church. This distinction is not something created by stuffy old translators 400 years ago, this is exactly the way Paul wrote in Greek.

Other passages that speak of the church as a single building or temple are found in 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5-7 and Revelation 3:15.

There is one passage which says something a little different: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19 ). Some people want to take this verse as the key to understanding all the others just cited. But that is to make those verses contradict what they so clearly state. Perhaps the best way to understand this verse is to read it in the light of the passage from 1 Peter which speaks of living stones. The temple of God is not built with stones that have no life in them. Just as in the case of Solomon’s temple, they must be prepared to fit before they are added to the temple.

When we interpret 1 Corinthians 3:16 as referring to each believer as an individual temple then it is easy to interpret verse 17 to refer to things that defile our own body, such as smoking, drug use, and immorality. Those are serious concerns, and they are addressed in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20). But this verse goes deeper than that.

Think of Achan in Joshua chapter 7. Achan took things that he knew he should not have and hid them in his tent, thinking that what others didn’t know could not harm him. But his action defiled the whole company of God’s people and God did not help them fight against their enemy, leading to much loss of life. When Achan’s sin was punished, then God once more gave the people victory over their enemies.

We are tempted to think as Achan did: “Nobody sees or knows what goes on in my private world. What harm can it do? ” It does great harm, not just to me but to all the church, even if no one knows the source of that harm. A living stone in the wall of God’s temple who permits himself such defilement causes the whole temple to be defiled. That stone no longer has the life of God within and must be removed and cast aside.

The difference between such a person and Achan is that in the gospel era there is opportunity for the defiled stone to have the fire of the Holy Spirit rekindled within and then be returned to a place in the wall of the temple.

18 ¶ Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

The wisdom of this world tells us that once a person has given his heart to God it is impossible for him to once again be lost. We have an enemy who delights in feeding us that kind of wisdom because it hinders us from hearing God’s call to repent and re-consecrate our lives to Him. It is better to think of ourselves as fools and ask God to direct us in the way that will safely bring us to our eternal home in heaven.

21 ¶ Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;
23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

God has given servants to the church to preach the gospel, to teach and to guide His people. Let us honour and respect such men; but we must not glorify them or compare them with one another. Each one has gifts to help in building the walls of Zion. Those gifts are given to help us and to glorify Jesus Christ and God.

Fifty years ago

It is 50 years since the Jesus people movement began in California. It followed close on the heels of the Summer of Love, that brief period in time when disillusioned young people believed they had found the solution to all the world’s problems. “All you need is love” by the Beatles was their theme. They gathered in San Francisco, wearing tie-dyed clothes and flowers in their hair, smoking pot and dropping acid, strumming guitars and loving everybody. This was the dawning of a new age of peace and love.

Somehow it didn’t quite work out. A lot of girls soon discovered they were pregnant with no means of support. There was an explosion of std’s, money ran out, a few had their minds truly blown, love began to come apart at the seams.

Amidst the crushing disillusion, some began to discover Jesus and found Him to be what they had been looking for all along. Suddenly there were young people everywhere, still looking like hippies, but toting Bibles and ready to talk to anyone about Jesus. And they were serious, the Bible had the answers to life, sin was real and needed to be repented of. That was how you found genuine love for everyone around you.

The movement spread like wildfire. In 1970 a rebellious young man from a small town in Manitoba found Jesus in the streets of Vancouver. Now he was troubled about the things he had done back home, acts of vandalism, stealing gas from farm yards and disrespect for parents and elders. His new Jesus people friends told him he had to go home and make those things right. So he did.

As he went through the community confessing the wrongs he had done and doing his best to make them right, all the while talking of his new found faith in Jesus, it caused quite a stir. He was back attending the church he had grown up in and other young people began to find Jesus and set about making right the wrongs they had done.

The pastor welcomed this enthusiasm for gospel truth and did his best to encourage it. He had Bible studies with the young people and they began to hold Wednesday night coffee house meetings in town, open to young people from near and far, where they sang the songs that were coming out of the Jesus people movement and shared their testimonies.

I was born again in the spring of 1970 and married that summer. In the summer of 1971 my wife and I began to attend this church. We were enthused by the love of Jesus and the Bible shown by these youth and the genuine changes taking place in their lives. I was a little older, but also a new believer and felt a kindred spirit in most of them.

There was just one little niggling doubt. Not about the whole movement, but about a few who seemed to go along just because this was the big thing, not because they had a genuine personal faith. The pastor didn’t seem to be able to discern the difference. Nothing that couldn’t have been corrected with the help of more seasoned older Christians.

Instead of that, the congregation fired the pastor. The enthusiasm of the youth was too frightening for them. The pastor moved on to a church a few miles away, the youth followed and so did we. The lack of discernment became more evident.

I have no doubt that the Jesus People movement as a whole was a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. But churches were woefully unprepared to welcome and guide the new believers. Some were appalled, some were willing to accept everyone without discernment. An untold number of people truly met Jesus through this movement, some fell away but the majority went on to live sanctified Christian lives.

Churches today are back where they were 50 years ago. Young people are disillusioned, leaving the churches in droves to seek fulfilment elsewhere. Is it possible that history might repeat itself? Why is it so hard to transmit faith from one generation to the next?

Jesus made two statements that seem contradictory, but really are not. In Luke 9:49-50 we read: “And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” Evidently Jesus has no problem with people outside of His immediate circle working in his name. Then we shouldn’t either.

But a little later He said: “ He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth” (Luke 11:23). The New Testament picture of the church is a functioning body of which Jesus is the head. Scattered body parts, each interpreting the directions from the head according to their own understanding, cannot be the church.

The immediate baptism of all who professed faith in Jesus was a fundamental weakness among the Jesus people, leading to the fragmentation of the movement. The New Testament pattern is that new believers need to be taught before they are baptized, to ensure that they have genuinely met Jesus and are following the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The pattern in Anabaptist churches has been that new believers need to tell their experience to a congregation of believers. When the congregation can say “Yes, we believe this person has truly met the Lord and we have seen the evidence that he or she is walking with Him daily,” then baptism means something. The acceptance and care of fellow believers is essential to maintaining genuine Christian faith and life.

A recent Canadian study shows that young people are more apt to maintain their faith after they leave home if they had had a meaningful relationship with adult believers other than their parents. Where else is this possible but in a congregation of true believers?

The threefold purpose of the church

As I read the New Testament, the evidence accumulates that there is a threefold purpose for the existence of the church. Each of these purposes is connected to, and dependent upon, the other two. Perhaps we could call this a three-legged stool and whenever one of the legs is shorter than the others it creates an unstable situation.

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1. To Glorify God
The first purpose is to glorify God. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 7:9-12). This passage is set around the throne of God in heaven, but we must begin glorifying God here and now in order to be able to continue in eternity.

The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace and all the rest, must be evident in the church. Joy should not be muted in the name of humility, or forced, out of a sense of duty. Peace must be genuine, based on thankfulness for God’s forgiveness and readiness to forgive others.

2. To be a safe place for God’s people
The second purpose is to provide a sheepfold for the God’s flock – a place where they can be fed, have their wounds cared for and be protected from the enemies seeking to harm them. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16).

The church should be a place where the wounded and weary can find true brotherly love that will be a balm to their wounds and speed their recovery. Yet the church must also be pure. Weak members should feel welcome, those who live in wilful disobedience must be reproved and if they do not repent they must not be retained in the sheepfold lest their disobedience be a snare to others.

3. To make new disciples in our home communities and in all the world
The third purpose is to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to others. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

The Great Commission says to teach, make disciples of, all nations. Proclaiming the gospel is only the beginning. When those who here are converted, that is still the preliminary stage of fulfilling the mission Jesus has given to us. New converts need the help of seasoned Christians to discern if a new life has sprung up within them, or merely a desire for a new life. They need teaching, support and encouragement as they forsake their old pathways and learn to walk with Jesus. We all need the support of genuine believers all through our Christian life.

I don’t know that any one of these three purposes has preeminence over the others. If we are truly led of the Holy Spirit, we will accomplish all three. If we let the Spirit do His perfect work in us, there will be no wobbliness in the way the church is perceived by others.

Loss of power

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Getting our wires crossed

A few days ago, I reorganized our home office. When I turned my wife’s desk a quarter turn, all the wires that were hidden behind it were now a mess in the open air. Not as bad as the illustration above, but seriously unsightly and possibly dangerous.

I went about to put a little order into the confusion. I managed to eliminate one power bar and plug everything into the other. Now the monitor’s power cord was too short to lead it along the wall behind the computer. So I pulled a cord from the wall outlet and plugged it into the power bar, then plugged the monitor’s power cord into the wall outlet. Everything seemed fine now. But nothing worked. The printer, the computer, the monitor, the internet router were all dead.

I thought maybe by rearranging the cords I had inadvertently pressed the power bar switch. But nothing worked at either position of the switch. How could the power bar fail as fast as that?

Most cords were much longer than necessary for this setup and I was not sure which cord went to which device. I followed the cord plugged into the last socket of the power bar, it made a loop – and turned out to be the power cord of the power bar!

These power bars are a wonderful thing: several years ago the modem in a computer was fried during a thunderstorm and I don’t want to risk that happening again. But they have no power in themselves – they must be plugged into a source of power. Everything worked fine once the power bar was plugged into the wall outlet once again. And if the monitor cord is a little short, we will buy a longer one.

I, too, become powerless in Christian life if I am not connected to the source of power. I can not live as a Christian by my own power – I just do not have it in me. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me. The Apostle Paul’s desire was to “know Him, and the power of his resurrection.” So I need a living connection with the source of spiritual power – Jesus Christ – to live as a true Christian.

Built upon the rock

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Mont St Michel, France

THE ROCK
“Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” There need be no mystery or speculation about what rock Jesus meant in this verse, He was simply referring to Isaiah 28:16, “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” Jesus is the rock upon which He is building the church.

THE CHURCH
What is it? The word Jesus used was ekklesia, which means called out. The church is the fellowship of those who have been called out of the world to a new relationship with Jesus and with other followers of Jesus.

Why is it necessary? The values and the goal of those who follow Jesus are different from the values and goals that we formerly had and of those who still do not know Jesus. We need to gather together to help and encourage one another and to be in a place where Jesus can continue to teach us His ways.

THE MISSION
“Go ye therefore, and teach (make disciples of ) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

The mission given to the apostles, and to the church, is not simply to make converts, but to make disciples. A disciple is a learner, one who is willing to be taught. We are taught by the Word, by the Holy Spirit and by the church.

Jesus is building the church because we need to be in a place where we can be discipled and disciplined so that we do not lose our way and wind up back where we came from before we met Jesus. That place is where we are all united on the foundation of Jesus Christ and building upon that foundation.

Do “All Things” Really Work For Good?

Your post brought to my mind a memory from years ago. A brother and I were superintendents for Vacation Bible School. As we were choosing choruses for the children to sing, the brother pointed to the words following and said: “If these children remember nothing else from this week but the words of this chorus, that would be enough to lead them to trust in God in the storms of life.” We made it thee theme song of that year`s Vacation Bible School.

I know the Lord will make a way for me,
I know the Lord will make a way for me.
If I trust and never doubt
He will surely lead me out,
I know the Lord will make a way for me.

Wishing God’s blessings to you and Mary.

Unshakable Hope

Before I begin this post, I feel like I owe the readers of my last post an apology.
When I started this Unshakable Hope blog over six years ago, I set some guidelines for myself. One of these guidelines was replying to every comment made. I figure, if people took the time to read and comment on a post, I at least owed them a “Thank You.” Besides, I enjoy interacting with my readers; my friends.

I didn’t reply to even one comment. Mary and I read every comment on our own, and then she read them out loud to me. Thank you so much for your encouraging comments and for your prayers – both of these help us to persevere.

As I mentioned in the perseverance post on my birthday, Friday, October 5th, I planned on posting it on September 23rd, but I woke up that Monday morning with…

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Uncivil societies

Today the supreme court of Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi of all the charges against her. Mrs. Bibi, who is Roman Catholic, was found guilty of blasphemy in 2010 and condemned to death. The incident allegedly took place during a dispute with several Muslims over a glass of water.

Radical Islamist leaders in Pakistan consider this verdict an intolerable affront to Islam and are threatening violence in the streets and calling for the death of the supreme court judges. To be clear, Mrs. Bibi’s defence lawyer and the judges are all Muslims, we must not tar all Pakistanis and all Muslims with the same brush. But Islamist militants appear to have no respect for anything that differs from their view of how society should work.

Yesterday in the U.S.A., President Trump and his wife Melania were in Pittsburgh to show their respect for those who lost their lives, or were injured, in last Saturday’s shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. From the vitriol of those who protested his visit it would seem that he has committed blasphemy against some people’s idea of sacred truth. At least there were no death threats.

Some people do not like Donald Trump, that is permitted in a democratic society. But what has happened to the concept of civil debate and respect for the office of the president?

25 Flavours of Mennonites

When we lived in Ontario it would happen from time to time that someone I had just met would ask me what kind of Mennonite I was. “Does your church allow cars? electricity? telephones?”

I knew these questions arose because there were at least 25 flavours of Mennonites within a 100 km radius of where we lived and for many of them things of this nature were a big issue. I would gladly have avoided these questions because I couldn’t see what they had to do with being Christian, which should be the most essential part of being a Mennonite.

People were curious and they didn’t know where else to start. It was so easy to answer the questions and wander down a rabbit trail that didn’t lead anywhere, leaving the questioner no wiser than when he started and leaving me feeling that I’d failed to say anything really helpful.

What I wanted to say was that the way we use the things available to us in this world can reveal something about our relationship with God. But making rules about things results in a group that is impressive in their outward unity, but does not ensure that they have a relationship with God. It does not even ensure that the members trust one another; sadly, the unity is often only apparent to outsiders.

What I wanted to say was that the essence of Christianity is to be filled with love, joy, peace and all the other qualities described as the fruit of the Spirit. To do that, it is often necessary to avoid things that will feed our pride. Pride is a sneaky thing that tries to enter our lives in so many ways that no amount of rules could ever cover them all. We must each deal with pride on a personal level.

What I wanted to say was that the making of rules provides fertile ground for thinking that I am doing a better job of following the rules than others. That feeds my pride and a critical, suspicious attitude towards others. That would be to head in altogether the wrong direction.

What should I have said? What would you say? What are your questions about being Mennonite?

How can killing make the world better?

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It’s in all the news media  today. A man in Pittsburgh believed the world would be a better place without Jews and this morning he did his part to make it happen.

This seems to be a time-honoured tradition; if you can’t handle your own problems then blame them on somebody else and try to eliminate that somebody else.

Yeah, I said time-honoured; that doesn’t mean I think it’s honorable. It’s a sign of a troubled mind and it’s been going on far too long. The world cannot be made better by hatred and killing. No individual’s life can be made better by acting out his hatred and killing people.

There is an example in the Old Testament that doesn’t involve hatred, just the muddled idea that killing can make things better. Benjamin was a captive in Egypt; Reuben told his father “Trust me. I’ll bring back my little brother. And if I don’t, you can kill my two sons.”

I’m a grandfather, will someone please explain to me how I could be comforted for the loss of a child by the loss of two of my grandchildren? Does that make sense to anyone? Jacob didn’t seem to be impressed either.

Hatred and killing don’t make things better, they only lead to more hatred and killing. Jesus said “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” He didn’t invent that teaching, He was quoting from the Law given to Moses; the original is found in Leviticus 19:18.

There are two things we can do as individuals to make this world a better place. First is to face our own problems, take responsibility for them and take charge of our own life. The second is to love others, not only in our thoughts but in our actions.

My sympathy to all those who have been hurt by the events in Pittsburgh this morning.

Do you think wisdom comes with old age?

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That was the question my barber asked me yesterday. My answer was that I don’t want to believe I have wasted all 76 years of my life. I hope I have learned something from the things I have experienced.

BUT – If a man would spend his whole life trying to demonstrate that he is still young and with it – will he have attained to much wisdom there when he gets to his older years?

The zeal of youth is not the same thing as wisdom. Young people need mentors to open their eyes to see that there is more to the world than what they have yet experienced in their short lives.

When young people today feel they know what is right and it is their duty to prevent any contrary viewpoint from being heard, I must conclude that their mentors have lied to them. I can only learn to understand the world by listening to people who see the world differently than I do.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that what I believe is wrong and the other person is right. But how can I even begin to show the other person where he has gone wrong if I don’t understand the basis of his belief? Even when the vision of others is distorted it helps me to better understand truth if I can discern what is distorting their vision.

The greatest piece of wisdom that I have learned in my 76 years is that the truth is not dependent on me. Emotion and intellect can be either a help or hindrance in learning to understand truth. My perception is not infallible, I learn to see more clearly by listening to those who see what I have not yet seen.

A good understanding of truth makes a safe foundation for our lives. But truth without compassion is idolatry and that is a very shaky foundation.

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