If you want to wrap your mind around church you can’t just stick with Paul, you have to go to Jesus. If you want to wrap your mind around Jesus you can’t just go to the Gospels, you have to go to the Old Testament. The story of Scripture from cover to cover is amazing in how it connects so many dots over thousands of years. The more you read the entire Bible to more you realize the continuity between the Testaments and the more the New Testament makes sense in light of the Old.
Some want to understand the church in light of Paul rather than in light of Jesus. Paul is certainly a help (inspired words and authoritative teaching, no doubt) and we cannot have a full view of what church is all about without his writings but we do know that the church sprang out of the story of Jesus, not the letters of Paul. Paul wrote all of his letters back to people who had started off on the Jesus story and who needed some help along the way. You cannot have church without the story of Jesus. You can certainly have church without Ephesians or even Romans. Remember, the early Christians were Christians before these letters were written and even after they were written, few had access to them for quite some time…and yet Christianity flourished. That doesn’t mean we are to neglect them. By no means! It just means we put first things first and what comes first is Jesus. Then you fit Paul around that. It is hard to understand Paul without understanding Jesus and it is hard to understand Jesus without understanding the Old Testament.
Start with Jesus. You can’t go wrong with that. From there we dive into Paul and the Old Testament…then our picture of what God is up to and who we are as Christians and what church is all about as the people of God becomes a fuller and more vibrant picture. What I don’t want you to hear me saying here is to neglect the rest of the New Testament. Instead, what I am advocating is a renewed focus on the Gospels in our Christian walk and that from there we go to Acts, Paul and the Old Testament in order to gain a fuller understanding of Jesus and the church.
“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” – 1 Cor 2:1-5