When Paul was imprisoned, he wrote many letters to the churches throughout the Roman Empire – from modern-day Italy, to Greece, to Turkey, and beyond. He had to give advice to brand new churches that were filled up with all sorts of people: rich and poor, master and slave, from different cultures, and having different social status. No two churches seemed to have the same problems. One church had trouble with false teachings, another with the time-table of Jesus’ return, another with sexual sins. Paul had to give each church the answers they were looking for that would not conflict with the advice he had given other churches nor draw any attention from the authorities who already thought Christians were weird.
Which brings me to today’s question: Could Paul’s instruction be like training wheels for the church? The purpose of training wheels is to prevent young children from falling while they’re beginning to master balance when they first learn to ride a bicycle. Training wheels are not meant to be a permanent part of the process of learning how to ride a bike. Likewise, some teachings would make sense to be given to a brand new church – things they needed to learn and practice until they could move beyond that first level.
It seems that with the crazy world we live one, many people have decided that stricter adherence to the teachings of the Bible is the best solution for them – but we’re a whole other church than the ones that Paul wrote to. Sure if he was still around he might give us some of the same advice – but all of letters are unique. He doesn’t have a pre-written letter for all the churches that looks like this:
“Greetings (name of church) Church!
I’m so proud to hear of all the good things that you’ve been doing in Jesus’ name! It’s really wonderful to know that you’ve taken many teachings to heart.
But you have (problem #1) and I wanted to help you overcome it. This is the solution: (solution #1).
Also, (problem #2) and you should fix it by: (solution #2).
Don’t lose heart! (Encouragement) and (Reminder of a past teaching you had trouble with). I also heard you had a question about this teaching: (Question about teaching) and here’s another way of looking at it (clarification of teaching). (More encouragement) (Word of Instruction) Thanks for everything! I know you will do well and I look forward to hearing from you again. Goodbye.”
Considering what problems exist in America, if he were to write us a letter, it would probably make the Corinthian church look good in comparison.
I can’t help but wonder which teachings were temporary and meant to fall away with practice or which teachings were temporary and meant to to fall away when society had changed. Ultimately though, it’s a question of balance – if we never achieve balance, we will always need those training wheels to keep us from falling. But we will also be kept from achieving our potential. The truth is, we’re not a brand new church, we have had 2,000 years to mature and grow. No, we’re not perfect – we have still to master the basics!
But I still think that Christianity has forgotten one thing about growing up – in the same way that a baby will not resemble himself or herself as an adult or elder, so shall the church not resemble itself as it ages. Trying to always be like the churches in the Bible will keep us from being like the Church God wants to be here and now. Don’t worry, God’s not just in the Bible, but he’s also right before us, waiting for us to ride toward his outstretched arms – which we cannot do well if we’re constantly looking backwards.