By Joshua Stevens, Faith Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
Much of the New Testament is written in letters to churches in cities such as Rome (Romans), Corinth (Corinthians), Ephesus (Ephesians) on and on the list goes. Have we ever taken a moment to wonder if Paul were alive today what would they say to your church? What would your letter be? What would you need to work on, what have you done well, and what are you unaware of?
What may begin as an interesting thought process would surely end in much time spent introspectively examining not only our own lives, but the culture of our churches, and how they interact with the world. The first question we should answer may be the most important one—where do we begin?
These letters always start with an introduction—as all letters do and after a short intro Paul usually gives some reason for being thankful for the church he is writing to (1 Corinthians 4, Romans 1:8, Ephesians 1:16) after this brief section he will dive straight into the biggest issues the church is facing.
In Romans we see Paul immediately set into discussions of God’s justice, particularly in light of our own sin and unrighteousness, how faith affects our righteousness and an example from history of such a thing. For our own churches, how might that look? I’ve talked to many students who have grown up in the church for nearly two decades and when asked what makes them a Christian I hear tired answers of “because I go to church” or “because I pray and ask God for help” or “because my parents are Christians”. These students who have spent years sitting through Sunday schools and Sunday sermons have no greater ability to express the gospel message than a child who had never been to church. Would Paul condemn your teaching of the gospel? Would he implore you to return to the foundation set by the apostles and preach the truth or would he thank you for “[…] yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” Romans 15:14
In First Corinthians we see a book nearly entirely dedicated to the unity of the body of Christ. With the first half of the book calling out instances that have driven believers apart and the second half finding ways to unite them again. We should ask ourselves if we have driven a brother or sister in Christ away from the church or the gospel. Have we put our political preferences above our eternal mission? Have we allowed nonsalvific issues to drive a wedge between a holy community? When Paul writes to you, is he admonishing your church for the silly issues you have chosen to split over, or is he giving thanks that you have unified “[…] my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58
We see in First Timothy that Paul is writing explicitly in response to heresy; he gives guidance on how to choose leaders and warns of people leaving the faith. When Paul writes to your church does he need to remind you of these warnings? Does he need to reprimand the elders for not being diligent in what is being taught at the pulpit? Or have your elders “[…] pursue[d] righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness”? 1 Timothy 6:11
As you can see Paul ends these letters in hopeful summaries, encouraging the churches to walk in righteousness, be unified, and preach the gospel. How would Paul end his letter to your church, what would be the major takeaways from it? It is my greatest hope and intention that this exercise will bring about a thoughtful response from churchgoers, one that brings them closer together to each other and Christ. It is my hope that this can be a tool for love, growth, and done for the benefit of the wonderful God we serve. My prayers will be with those who endeavor to answer these questions; may it be as fruitful for you as it was for me.
Crossway Bibles. (2001). The Holy Bible English Standard Version. Wheaton : Good News Publishers.