Tuesday 8 August

Dave Richards is the Rector at St. Paul’s & St. George’s Church in Edinburgh and is on the Council of the Evangelical Alliance UK.  On day four of New Horizon 2017, he explored “Unity and Diversity in the Spirit”. Here is a summary of what he had to say, brought to you by NH Media.

Thank you very much for the warmth of your welcome. It has been a privilege to be with you these past few days.

(NB: If you have a leader in your church and they speak something that is helpful to you please tell them – one of the spiritual gift is the gift of encouragement and leaders need that encouragement). Encouragement is like oxygen to the soul. One of the tragedies of the church is that we are bad at giving encouragement.

Some have asked for the passages of scripture that list spiritual gifts:

  • 1 Corinthians 12
  • Romans 12
  • Ephesians 4
  • 1 Peter 4

1 Corinthians 1: 1 – 17

There is nothing quite like the church – it has brought me some of the best and worst moments of my life

Paul was writing to the church in Corinth, a city on a volcanic hill, a place where music, poetry and song are celebrated and a city full of diverse groups (Greek, Roman and Jewish). The church in Corinth was much like the church in Edinburgh… a place where there was sin, pride, division, poverty and sexual immorality.

When people say, “We want to be a church just like the churches in the New Testament.” I say to them, “Have you read the New Testament? Do you know why Paul had to write to these churches?”

One man said, “It is very simple. The more people you have in church, the more sin there is!”

If you read first and second Corinthians, you will see all the problems and issues that the apostle Paul was addressing – a church he loved.

There is one church

Paul doesn’t write to the “Corinthian church” – he writes instead to the church of God in Corinth. What in essence he is saying is that there is only one church in Corinth. There are lots of groups, households, congregations or assemblies but there is only one church.

When Jesus looks at Edinburgh, He only sees one church. When He looks at Dublin, Belfast, Ballymena or Coleraine, He sees only one church!

The tragedy is that when we look at these places, we don’t see only one church. God only sees one church in the place where you live with different expressions, different ways of working, different leadership structures, different theologies… He refers to the church as those who are sanctified and “called out” (ecclesia).  This was a political word used to describe the council in Athens or any group with a specific purpose in the ancient word. It is the same word from which the Scottish get the word “ceili.”

If we are honest, there are many churches in our towns and cities. Scotland, like Northern Ireland is riddled with a history of division in the church.

Too often we have presumed that we are the only show in town, that we are the church Jesus loves the most. Remember the letter to the church in Galatia – it is written to a Celtic church. It addresses the sin of legalism but also the sin of division. There is something in the Celtic soul, which defaults to legalism and division.

The church needs you and you need the church

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth and he uses the plural for “you” – the whole church as a whole body has all the spiritual gifts. You have a responsibility as an individual to find out what spiritual gifts God has given to you and to use those gifts in the church and out in the community.

It is God’s church not yours or mine

When I went to St. Paul’s and St. George’s, I was determined that it would not be known as Dave Richards’ church. Alarm bells ring when I hear the name of the pastor is put before the name of the church. The cult of the celebrity pastor is bizarre.

Jim Collins in his book Built to Last  talks about healthy succession.  Jesus left an organisation that continued to grow and grow over the next 2,000 years.

Alarm bells ring when church leaders try to introduce change and they are greeted with words like, “I’ve seen four ministers before you and I’ll see you off as well.”

There should always be something in any church service that you find deeply uncomfortable. There should be something that really annoys you, something that you don’t like because something else will frustrate somebody else with a different personality and theology. If every week, you sit in church and church is just the way you like it, it may well be that the Holy Spirit has departed from the church

Church is not about you and what you like. It is God’s church.

It is God’s church, be united!

Paul appeals to them to agree. In the church in Corinth there were four groups (Paul, Apollos, Peter, Christ) each probably for good reasons. Paul was the person who planted that church. Apollos was more intellectual and somebody who would appeal to the intellectuals. Then there was Peter who was a strong, black and white personality.

Then there was a fourth group that said, “We belong to Christ” – it sounds so spiritual but it demonstrates a superior attitude. Opposite our house there is  a church that calls itself, “The True Jesus Church” and for years they genuinely believed that they were the only Christians on this planet. After a number of years, they repented of their attitude towards other Christians.

Whatever denominational label you have, you don’t have to scratch too deep to find an attitude of feeling that we are the “real” church. If only other Christians would do what we do. If only their views were the same as ours, then they would be “real” Christians like we are.

Of course, theological convictions are important and they matter. But my favourite quote of all time is this, “Lord, help me to know those things about you that I know to be true while admitting at the same time that I might be wrong.”

If we limit God to our understanding, if we limit God to our doctrinal language, which is just our interpretation of someone who is immortal, who is mystery, who is majesty, who is the Creator of the universe – then we are in danger of limiting God Himself. Somebody once said, “Let God be God.”

Paul says, “Fit together…” not uniformity but unity. “No quarrels” means no factions or raging battles.

The reality is that we all do disagree on some stuff: baptism, church structure, the role of men or women, where you stand on issues of human sexuality,…

We have to find a way as Christians to disagree agreeably. When a secondary issue for me becomes a primary issue for you, we have to find a way to disagree.

As Christians in Edinburgh, we have agreed to speak well of one another in public even when we might have heated disagreements in private. I know that my brothers and sisters will speak well of me in public and I will do the same for them.

Remember what is important

Who baptises you is not important. Paul says, “I’m not sent to baptise people, I am sent to preach the Gospel.” Paul is saying it is about the Gospel. It is about the cross. At the foot of the cross is level ground. God will always be bigger than our doctrines or our interpretations.

Never make a doctrine out of your own experience. Let God be as original with other people as he has been with you.

In the Acts of the Apostles, you cannot pin the Holy Spirit down. There is no formula for predicting how the Holy Spirit works. Sometimes He comes on people with the laying on of hands, sometimes He comes without. Sometimes the coming of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by the gift of tongues. Sometimes it is not. In Acts 10, it says, “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came.” Peter did not get to finish what he had prepared to say. You cannot pin the Holy Spirit down. You need to allow the Holy Spirit to be the Holy Spirit because He is God.

If you do fall out with people at church, how do you handle it?

  • Never leave a church to go it alone.
  • Never leave a church in anger or hurt.
  • Never leave a church in silence.

Bill Hybels said, “How you leave is how you will be remembered.”

When Christians fall out with each other, When Christians speak badly of each other, when Christians “tweet” badly about each other, then God Himself is hurt and the Spirit is grieved.

In heaven, we will be united. In heaven, there will be no denominations. We will just be Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ. But until then, we are to be God’s visual aid, the church. Filled, led and empowered by God… the Holy Spirit working in you and working in me.