Tonight, I preached at Theophilus Church, continuing our series through 1 Corinthians while AJ is away. My text was the beginning chapter 3, where Paul is starting to come to the reason that he’s writing the church at Corinth in the first place.
There is a way of reading the scriptures used by rabbis, called targum. Essentially, a targum is an expanded paraphrase on a text. Often, targums were not written down because the rabbis wanted to be clear that the riffing they were doing was not on the level of scripture. Rather, it is a way of re-imagining, re-casting scripture in ways that preserve the author’s original intent while also updating the language and incorporating applicability to the present listener’s cultural context.
I wrote a targum of 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 for Theophilus Church and I thought I’d share it here:
Friends at Theophilus Church, I know you want to be treated like adults. Many of you have been a part of this community since its founding several years ago, but don’t mistake the mere passing of time for actual maturity in Christ. The truth is, many of you have a long way to go before you can rightly call yourselves “mature.”
It’s true that you know the lingo; you can speak some Christianese. You read some blogs, listen to some podcasts, and get pissed off about the things that other churches/pastors/Christians say and do that you don’t agree with. You’re quick to point out when other people are being hypocritical or judgmental. In doing that, though, you’re just proving how immature you still are. You are confusing your own cynical, angry denouncements of other Christians as being “a prophetic voice.” You claim that you’re just “speaking out on behalf of the oppressed” or you are “staking a claim for biblical values,” but that’s not what’s really going on.
See, what you’re really doing most of the time is trying to make yourself look better or feel better by highlighting the people you think are worse Christians than you. Your aim is pretty selfish, and it’s tearing our community apart at the seams. You’re confusing issues for relationships, devising all sorts of litmus tests to determine who in our community is a legit Christian and who is just posing. And you want to be considered mature? Sorry friend. Your actions are proving otherwise. All the posturing and theological words in the world can’t cover up the petty jealousy that seeps out of your pores. It’s all rather juvenile. We’re not in junior high anymore. So stop using lunchroom politics to govern your relationships with one another here.
You want to have discussions in our community that matter. You want to talk about “big issues” and “where we stand” on things. But you’re not ready for that. As a community, we can’t seek shalom – that is, reconciling peace — on behalf of others if we haven’t first worked on shalom here, among ourselves! No, first we have to learn how to disagree well, how to engage one another around the dinner table and at the communion table, in a spirit of love and humility. We have to learn what it means to be a community that loves the Gospel, even when we don’t always see eye-to-eye on how that Gospel is lived out everyday. Once that starts happening, then we’re getting somewhere!
See, maturity isn’t a byproduct of reading books or listening to podcasts or following blogs. It is the byproduct of living a life committed to the Gospel in community together. All those other things can be helpful, but for where you are right now, they likely just serve as a distraction. Some of you are obsessed with what Mark Driscoll or Bono or Rachel Held Evans has to say on a particular topic. You quote them at every turn, you retweet them, share their stuff on Facebook, use their soundbites to bolster your opinions. That’s not following Christ, friends. That’s idolatry. You’re worshipping the cult of Christian celebrity.
Who do you think Driscoll or Bono or Evans are, anyway? At their very best, they are people who are being faithful to what God has called them to. Nothing more. Nothing special about them. And don’t think that being faithful means that you’ll become a famous Christian, too. There are plenty of celebrity Christians who are famous because they aren’t pursuing faithfulness. They are pursuing fame. And it’s very difficult to tell the difference. So take all they have to say with a grain of salt. You’re not a part of their community. you’re a part of this community. You are known here, or at least you can be known here. And if God does see fit to call you out to a bigger stage, if in your faithfulness, people from all over the country and the world start caring about what you have to say, don’t forget that your calling is still in service to your community. God doesn’t do the Lone Ranger thing. God is about the community.
See, it’s God that causes people to grow and mature, not Driscoll or Bono or Evans. That’s God’s work in you. If God uses them in some way, great! But that’s all it is: God using them to do what only God can do. So maybe they were the one who planted that seed of faith in you. Or maybe they opened your eyes to a new way of being a Christian in the world. That’s small potatoes compared to what God is doing with all that stuff in your life.
You belong to God. All the stuff you read or hear, it is God who takes it and makes sense of it in your life. That is, if you can quiet down enough to hear God’s voice in the midst of all the other voices you’re listening to. If you were a field, you’d be God’s field. He does all the weeding, all the plowing, shaping nice furrows into the soil. God may use someone else to cast the seed about or to water the little bits of faith that sprout. But then God’s back at work again, sending rich sunshine and cooling rains, causing you to grow. So don’t get it twisted. It’s time for you to grow up, but remember where the growth comes from. Don’t mistake God’s migrant laborers for God himself.
EDIT: So, after I preached this, I had a woman come up to me with some questions. It was her first time to Theophilus and she was having a hard time trying to interpret what she’d heard me say.
After thinking about it for a minute, she finally said, “Well, to me it felt like me and my friend had walked into a family living room and we were witnessing the parents discipline the children.”
I can see that.
Theophilus does have a very family feel to it. We eat a common meal around tables every week. The preaching is always located within the context of our community. We avoid vague abstractions, but at the same time we avoid individualistic granulation. Each week, we meet God and each other in the scriptures. And sometimes, that gets a bit uncomfortable.
I explained that while Theophilus isn’t dealing with the kind of division that the church at Corinth was, we do have our share of disagreements and things that we can mature in. There is a particular propensity toward cynicism and snarkiness in our community. Part of it is Portland, part of it is the relative youth of our community, part of it is just what happens when you throw a bunch of theologically and political different people into community with one another.
And that is a beautiful thing.
Theophilus isn’t vanilla. We’re not a homogenous group, all thinking, saying, believing, and voting the same way. We are Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Greens, and anarchists. We have egalitarians and complementarians, Calvinists and Arminians, pro-life and pro-choice, affirming and not, and everything in between. Sometimes, that causes people to butt heads.
But we’re trying to figure it out, together.
So, yeah, I guess tonight probably could have sounded like there was an “issue” that I was addressing. There’s not. But if it made a few people squirm, a few people think, “Hey, that’s kinda harsh,” then I probably did a good job interpreting Paul and bringing the sense of 1 Cor. 3:1-9 into our midst. Maybe talking (or blogging) about that makes Theophilus look a bit less attractive. Perhaps you can’t imagine being part of a church that “airs its laundry” in front of everyone.
I can’t imagine being a part of a church that doesn’t.