One final post on Paul before we dive into Jesus in order to connect the two.
One of our fundamental miscues in the Restoration Movement has been turning to Paul to fine tune how we do church rather than turning to Paul to find Jesus. Paul was certainly interested in church life and worship. He addresses those things directly at times. Paul never set out to create a document to serve as a church manual for worship practice as far as I can tell. Again, that doesn’t mean that Paul has nothing to say about worship or that we should tune out Paul on what he did say and do anything we want. I am just saying that the way we use Paul was not (I believe) how Paul intended his letters to be read and used. As I mentioned in the last post the reason you go to scripture dictates the results you will come up with. So we have developed a meticulous approach to “doing church right” that in many ways can miss the essence of the Christian faith – Holy Spirit transformation of the body of Christ to be more like the body of Christ (meaning the man Jesus the Messiah).
When you read Paul and ask what it is he most wanted the receivers of his letters to know I do not believe you come away with a reading of Paul that says he was as interested in the worship wars and biblical authority for everything down to who can pass communion trays as he was in assisting those congregations to become more unified across worldly dividing lines (Jew/Gentile, slave/free, rich/poor, etc) which ultimately comes out of a “new creation” community that follows in the likeness of Christ.
In Romans Paul is re-unifying a divided church by means of their common faith in Christ as a result of God fulfilling his covenant promises to Abraham (fixing the Adam problem) ultimately through Christ. In 1 Corinthians Paul is also dealing with a divided church that has a party spirit and is following various leaders and in the process has lost track of having their focus and identity wrapped up in Jesus. Galatians is very similar to Romans. Colossians and Philippians seem to be dealing with some false teachings and people who stand in opposition to Paul and the Gospel he is preaching that need corrected because the good news about Jesus is being perverted and leading people astray. On and on we can go but the point is clear…Paul’s letters are about how we live out being a new creation community of faith that has taken away the worldly dividing lines that categorize people through Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s covenant promises.
It is hard to catch that if you just proof text through Romans. It is hard to catch that if you just look for worship practices in Paul.
It is a lot easier to find Jesus in Paul when you through off our traditional blinders and begin reading Paul afresh and in light of the historical background and situational factors in play in those churches and communities.
Paul points to Jesus not to an overly obsessive way of how to do church right. We can certainly get the church thing wrong in practice but for Paul that doesn’t mean people served communion from the wrong direction…it means that people are violating core tenants of the Gospel and the Spirit in how they are interacting with each other. We cannot get the church thing right without getting the Jesus thing right.
Here are a few examples of Paul rooting his message and purpose in Jesus ahead of the church. I wish I could discuss all of these in context but you will get the idea:
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” – 1 Cor 11:1
Here is how Paul starts Romans,
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power[b] by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from[c] faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul tells them the very nature of this letter is about Jesus Christ. It is about God’s promises that are fulfilled in Christ through the Spirit that is fully demonstrated through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. He doesn’t say he is writing a letter about how to do church better (although that will result if they get what the letter is about). He is writing to them about how this Jesus thing (the Gospel) should be transforming the way they see themselves, treat others and live a Holy Spirit filled life that does not cave to the desires of the flesh.
In Philippians 3, right after Paul gives his list of worldly credentials he says this,
“7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.“
All that matters to Paul is knowing Jesus so much so that he is not only willing to throw everything away if that means embracing Jesus but that he is willing to consider all of his badges of honor and merit that seemingly made him “somebody” in this world as garbage.
Or how about Ephesians 1:22-23 where Christ is the one who has all things under his feet, is head over all things and who fills all things in all ways?
“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.“
There are lots and lots more verses that can be pointed out. Paul points us to Jesus. As we live into the Jesus movement and the Jesus life/Spirit-led life we become the church.
So now we turn to Jesus! Hang on!
The focus on the epistles has been the life’s blood of those in the CoC whose reason for existence is the debate, doing battle. Take that away, and they see themselves fading into oblivion. Influencing those members to focus more on the gospels will be a struggle. As they see it, or hear it, they are being asked to die.
My thoughts are, more effort must be on presenting Jesus to the world around you than in slowing down for those behind you. That is not to say that you give up on them; it is just that most will not try to catch up until they see they are being left behind, that they are dying, and they have to ask themselves, “Why?”