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Ronald Dart: The Unleavened Church Is Centered Around The Pastor And Is Puffed Up

Posted by Job on March 22, 2008

The Unleavened Church Ronald L. Dart

Once upon a time, there was a very young church. It was still unstructured, in spite of the fact that some heavy hitters had been there in its earliest days. The church was undisciplined with apparently little formal structure and no formal disciplinary methods. The church was spiritually strong, but without a clear direction. Their doctrinal structure was poorly formed. They had no body of literature to fall back on. The only literature they had was the Scriptures, and there was very little tradition as to how to interpret and apply them. So it is small wonder that they were in some degree of trouble.

The church was only five or six years old, and the Christian faith was only 25 years old, or so. The church I am talking about was in Corinth, and the reason I am drawn to them at this season, is that the first letter to the Corinthians is the only New Testament letter than can be directly tied to a holy day. We know that the letter was either written during the Days of Unleavened Bread, or delivered then. And it is shot through with allusions to the festival.

A striking example of how little they had things together is the rebuke Paul delivers in the fifth chapter: “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1). This is really shocking. I don’t think any of our churches would tolerate that, but then we have Paul’s letter to go by.

Unleavened But Still Puffed Up

“And ye are puffed up,” Paul continued, “and have not rather mourned, that he that has done this deed might be taken away from among you.” “Puffed up” is a rare expression, used only by Paul in the New Testament. Six of his seven usages of the expression are in this letter. It is suggestive that the letter is a Passover letter, and so the admonitions therein are apropos of the Days of Unleavened Bread.

“For I verily,” Paul continued, “as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed.” Paul instructed the church to deal with the issue firmly. It isn’t clear exactly what he meant by some remarks, but one thing is clear. The miscreant was to be isolated, expelled from the church. It is at this point that Paul plainly borrows from the season: “Your glorying is not good,” he wrote. “Know ye not that a little leaven leavens the whole batch? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new batch, as ye are unleavened” (vv. 6-7). At first this sounds like double talk, that you may be unleavened as you are unleavened. But it makes perfect sense if you understand that the Corinthians were observing the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They had thrown out the leavened bread and were thus unleavened in the physical sense. Now this church needed to learn about spiritual leaven: “For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,” Paul went on, “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (vv. 7-8).

The Surprising Responsibility

Nothing could be plainer. A new church, a Gentile church at that, is exhorted to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread and is instructed in the spiritual significance of the day. There are several important lessons to be drawn from this chapter. It is important for a church to have a systematic approach to discipline. There needed to be a way whereby the entire church could take the necessary steps to discipline its members, even to the extent of throwing someone out the door, if necessary. Mind you, this was not something to be done by a single leader or even a committee. It was the whole church that had to take the responsibility.

This lesson applies even now, but it is a mistake to wait until a problems arise to establish procedures for dealing with them. It will be very difficult, and probably hurtful to attempt to establish this on the fly with a real person in the cross hairs.

The church cannot tolerate just any kind of behavior. The reputation of the church is at stake, and that was one of the issues that concerned Paul regarding the misbehaving man in Corinth. “But Christ said we should not judge one another,” someone will object. Applying that in a disciplinary situation is a misapplication of what he said. Sometimes you have to face facts, in this case, a man was having sex with his father’s wife.

There is, though, a danger of self-righteousness, of becoming puffed up. We are all sinners, and private sins are not the church’s problem. This wasn’t a private sin. As it happens, Jesus offered some detailed instructions on this sort of thing, and he started with the antidote to being puffed up. His disciples asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him, stood him in the midst:

And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:3-5 NIV). Humility, the Starting Point for LeadershipThus, humility is the starting point for leadership in the church, and necessarily for any disciplinary procedure. Jesus warned against causing little ones to stumble:

But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! (vv. 6-7). Jesus went on to say that whatever causes offense should be dealt with firmly even, in a figure of speech, to the point of cutting off the hand or plucking out the eye (this should never be taken literally). In this day of rampant child abuse, a church can’t be too careful in protecting children. “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones,” Jesus went on, “For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (v. 10).Steps to Take

This forms the background of an important lesson in how the church should deal with issues as they arise. The starting point is the individual. “If your brother sins against you,” Jesus continued, “go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over” (v. 15).

That is step one. And it doesn’t work all the time. So what do you do next? “But if he will not listen,” Jesus went on, “take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testi-mony of two or three witnesses.’”

But wait. What is the point of having witnesses? That will become evident in the next step, but tragically, most churches have never created a procedure for carrying this forward. I have heard many mourn, “Why don’t people follow Matthew 18?” The answer is that if you can’t carry it forward to the last step, Matthew 18 doesn’t work.

Jesus concluded: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (v. 17). It is a common error to think we must take the issue to the pastor. The pastor can serve as one of the witnesses, but Jesus said it must be taken to the church, the assembly. There is a strong reason for this. If the pastor expels a person for misconduct, that person may play the underdog, elicit sympathy from some, and divide the church. This doesn’t happen if an agreed upon procedure is followed involving the judgment of the assembly, not just one or two persons.

Don’t expect your church to flourish if you aren’t willing to do the heavy lifting. Christ does not expect his church to be leavened with sin. Paul told the Corinthians, “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6). Just as a small lump of starter leavens a large lump of dough, so one person can come to infect an entire church. Paul had more to say to this young church during the Days of Unleavened Bread:

If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! (1 Corinthians 6:1-3 NIV). A Procedure Must be in PlaceSo what should we think? Should our churches have procedures for conflict resolution? There is no point in complaining that the procedures of Matthew 18 are not followed when there is no way to carry them through to their conclusion. The first step in the procedure will not work unless the offender can see where it will go from there.

Earlier in this letter to an unleavened church, Paul said: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV).

Ouch. We are profoundly short of this goal and always have been. The Corinthian church wasn’t even close, and there was a reason for it. It isn’t immediately clear how we get there from here, but Paul gives us a clue as he continues.

My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (vv. 11-13). We Can’t Unite Around a ManRight here, Paul puts his finger on the core of the problem. We cannot unite around a man, not even a great man like Paul. Note this well. I am not saying we should not. I am saying we cannot. It is simply not possible. All attempts to do so will end, either in a cult or in division. It is worth reading the entire chapter, as Paul addresses different aspects of the problem. Paul deliberately diminishes his own role to make the point, arguing that to preach with human wisdom and style would diminish the power of the Gospel of the cross of Christ. “We preach Christ crucified,” he said, “unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (vv. 23-25).

What Follows Should Humble Us

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NIV). If you will allow me a moment of personal reflection, I think it was a long familiarity with the Epistles of Paul that influenced me in 1995 when I started CEM. It was not so much that it influenced what I did, as it influenced what I did not do. I could not have started a church organization without being the defacto head of it; i.e., if I had started a church, I would have unavoidably created division and choosing up of sides behind this or that man. Precisely what happened in Corinth. I decided to serve the churches without running any of them. And so far, God seems to have accepted that service.There is much in this letter to the Corinthians that a local church can take to heart, think about, and apply. And there is no better time to do it than during the Days of Unleavened Bread. For Jesus wants an unleavened church. Not just people with unleavened homes.


One Response to “Ronald Dart: The Unleavened Church Is Centered Around The Pastor And Is Puffed Up”

  1. Dear Friend Ron,

    I do agree with alot of what you are saying…but…Paul said in Ephesians 4:4-and following that there was one Lord, one Faith(church?),one baptism, etc.. Are we going to believe that he didn’t really believe that? Of course there were men creeping in with different doctrines which Paul does warn us about. In Galatians Paul did say he delievered the whole truth or one Doctrine,and that if anybody parted from that he should be damned. There was a doctrine for the early true church.

    What was it? How about scriptural names for the church such as: 1.) church of Christ 2.) church of God 3.) household of Faith 4.) the called Out 5.) the church and others. No other name should be used in referring to the true church in Scripture.

    ……………For Instance…………the can’t find The Baptist Church in the Bible………you can’t find the Methodist Church in the Bible………you can’t find The Church of The King of Glory in the Bible……..These are man-made names I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. These people might be sincere….but sincerety is no substitue for the Truth.

    The “Pastors” weren’t called Pastors…they were called Preachers, Ministers, or Evangelists. Then you had the Elders( also known as Presbyters or overseers of the flock), and you had Deacons, and lastly you had church members. Each church was Autonomous, and there was no earthly headquarters, or Mother Church.

    After hearing, believing, repenting, confessing, and being baptized for the remission of sins you were automatically added to the church. You did not “join”…you join a club not a church. The church met on Saturday night after sunset for the main purpose of taking the Lord’s Supper. Look at Acts 20:7-and following verses.

    Are you really saved? Can you afford to be wrong???

    ………….please read…………..


    Brother Paul

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