Thinking and preaching through 1 Corinthians recently, it's so stark what a mixture the Corinthian church was. Successful and troubled. Their congregation contains former male-prostitutes, idolaters, thieves, drunkards and swindlers (6:9-11). What a work of grace to convert this lot from their dark past. As this motley bunch meet together, called saints by the Father (1:2), in fellowship with the Son (1:9), a temple of the Holy Spirit (3:16), they lack no spiritual gift (1:7). Paul always gives thanks for them (1:4). And yet they are foolish, divided, litigious, permissive, immoral, selfish, drunken and unbelieving. If your friend was moving to Corinth, would you recommend this church?
Well perhaps you wouldn't recommend moving to Corinth full stop. Here's a sailor town full of all sailor town vices. Here's an overwhelmingly pagan culture that not only has no Christian memory, but never had one to begin with. Yet here Paul planted the gospel seed, Apollos watered it and God grew a church (3:6) right there in the midst of a culture about as unChristian as you could possibly imagine.
But what a reflection of the gospel that Paul proclaimed to them. Here are unwashed heathen who are now washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (6:11).
In line with his gospel, Paul is able to address them as dearly loved brethren and to deliver stinging rebuke. The Corinthians really are genuinely loved and they really are genuinely wrong, foolish and sinful. And the intensity of this dual reality is increased by the very success of their church.
I heard Tim Keller say in a 1 Corinthians sermon that we don't experience the degree of trouble they did because we're not as successful as they were. It's the churches that really confront the culture and really grow in the midst of opposition that will produce these kinds of problems. If we don't know these kinds of discipleship issues in our own churches it's probably because we're not reaching the people the Corinthians did and/or not growing or seeking to grow like them.
Of course this made me think of our friend Mark Driscoll. And how I need to be far more public in saying 'Thank God for Driscoll'. And far more praiseworthy of the gospel ministry that seems to be happening through Mars Hill and Acts 29 .
The gospel means we are simultaneously righteous and sinner. And it means gospel communities and leaders can be critiqued and critiqued harshly (just read 1 Corinthians) without ever implying that they're not a gospel community. No, because they're a gospel community there will be sin (just as there is deep and dark sin in me). But there is also much to give thanks for and much to praise.
I thank God for Mark's incredible gifts, his passion for Jesus, his gospel-focussed preaching and his mission-mindedness. Which is quite a list! I wish those things could be said of me with even a fraction of the same intensity.
On the other hand I'm very uneasy about his macho-christology, his macho-manliness, and what I perceive to be a major lack of humility. These things are problems. I happen to think they really need pointing out and cautions raised, especially given his popularity.
Now I know I have a whole bagful of my own problems. In fact if I had a hundredth the gifting and a thousandth the success of Driscoll I'd be just as proud, probably much more so.
But what I get a bit tired of is the all-or-nothing approach to Driscoll. Either he's Satan himself, leading thousands astray, or he can do no wrong - any criticism justified immediately by his success or explained away as an understandable reaction to a wicked culture or liberal Christianity. Paul never said to the Corinthians 'Yes you're getting drunk at communion, but I understand your missional context and great giftedness so I'll forget about it.'
Please, let's believe the gospel. We are simultaneously righteous and sinner. Mars Hill can be successful and troubled. Driscoll can be loved and critiqued. And we don't have to collapse one into the other.