One of the things that I find most encouraging about Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church is that it provides us with a clear indicator that church conflict is nothing new. Paul, in these letters, is largely dealing with the problems with which the church was struggling, perhaps most notably the way in which they behaved at Communion services (1 Corinthians 11). We sometimes think that church must have been wonderful in the past, not that it can’t be good now – but in days gone by we assume it just really worked.
However, if you don’t want to go back quite as far as Paul’s Corinthian
correspondence, listen to what the Congregationalist theologian Daniel Jenkins
wrote seventy years ago. In 1944 Jenkins
wrote this: “The Church Meeting in a Congregational Church is an indispensable
part of the Church’s life. A
Congregational Church does not make sense without it. …..
But in many of our churches it has ceased to be a living force and is
maintained, often only by a few faithful people, out of respect for a tradition
which no one understands very clearly any longer.” (Quoted in Reports to General Assembly
2014, United Reformed Church.)
have to say that I don’t know many churches where the Church Meeting is the
vibrant centre of all they do. I don’t
know that I can say that I am encouraged to know that Daniel Jenkins faced the
same issues that I do, but at least I know it is not a new phenomenon. I often wonder what we can do to refresh the
Church Meeting and give it the centrality and vibrancy that it ought to
have. Also I can’t help wondering what
the church meeting attendance was like in Corinth in the days when Paul was writing
to them. Or did they just do things a
different way? I am inclined to think
that business and worship were more linked and more likely to happen on the
same occasion – but that is just speculation.
It is certainly clear that they had things to sort out – and I wonder
just how they made their decisions?