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Schema of Ancient Corinth’s City Center

The following is an excerpt from my Ph.D. dissertation, Decoding the Mind of an Apostle. It is the last part of the conclusion. (The end of the book.) 

The order of 1 Cor itself reveals Paul’s way of thinking as an apostle, and communicates significant advice to the modern church. Just that Paul was able to discern and categorize the Corinthians’ otherwise arbitrary set of problems in order to deal with them clearly demonstrates our need for people like that in the church. All five ministries listed in Eph 4:11 are necessary for the church’s foundation and growth today.

As Paul says in 1 Cor 12:28, God has placed in the church first apostles. The global church needs this gift – not just corporate church CEOs, tremendous administrators, or denominational officials, but mature apostles who are sent by Jesus Christ, mature in character and spiritual stature, meek in lifestyle, foundational in function, penetrating in discernment, and authoritative in command “which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down” (2 Cor 10:8).

In 1 Cor Paul keeps the foundation as the foundation. It is always Jesus Christ himself, in the weakness and folly of his Cross, and the power and wisdom of his Spirit. Meeting formats are important, but they are not foundational. Some in the house church movement make the house church format utterly foundational and essential to “apostolic” church. But it is not. The order of 1 Cor shows us this because it “decodes the mind of an apostle.”

First is the only foundation that can be laid, Jesus Christ. And we know that foundation is in place and permeating the whole structure when the people constituting the congregation are growing in conformity to the Cross and expression of the Spirit in their corporate life. It does not matter if they meet under a tree or in a cathedral. Cruciform power is the essential reality that makes the church the church. The church that is apostolic will apprehend that essential dynamic and never let it go, but will always allow it to mold and define them.

Then, on that foundation, the format of how the church meets, though not foundational, still becomes vital. Practicing the Lord’s Supper in mutual, loving honor gives voice to something deeper that “services” and church programs cannot (however effective these may be in other ways). It gives voice to the actual family union and fellowship that Christ created us to have. It gives voice to his reality and power (cf. John 13:35).

We may insist on meeting a certain way because we feel it is the only “right” or biblical way. But an apostle thinks more dynamically than that. He will seek to cultivate God’s family in fellowship and gift sharing because he knows this is God’s intention for his people, this is what brings supernatural construction, and this is what replicates Jesus Christ in a city. The Lord’s Supper actually indicates and expresses the deeper, family-oriented environment where people become whole in Christ and equipped to perform God’s works.

For it is in this environment that all the members can function and prophetic Spirit speech comes forth to “construct” the church into the body of Jesus Christ that changes the world. It is the kind of spiritual habitat where the body can actually be a body. But all of this must keep to Paul’s order as it is “decoded,” or unveiled for us, in 1 Cor. It is not enough to establish prophetic ministries or eliminate schisms by worshipping and fellowshipping as family. These efforts are helpful, but in themselves they are isolated building materials awaiting a master architect and foreman to put them together in the proper sequence.

This is why decoding Paul’s speech decodes also his mind. It gives us the three speech points of a master architect working together in their proper order to restore the church to its apostolic identity and function. For this God longs. For this Jesus died. And for this we continue in the Spirit steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because we know that in the Lord our labor is not in vain.