Our pastor brought a great message today introducing his new series on the books of Corinthians. He decided to teach through these books in particular because of the interesting and applicable parallels to our church's current situation. Corinth was a metropolitan city under Roman rule that had developed a culture of permissiveness in all things sinful. It was also a materialistic society where professional connections, material possessions, career and societal status, and image were everything. It was a city full of transplants - coming to a new place where the promise of opportunity and the freedom of expression and expansion glowed like a beacon. It was a city that had the gospel, but in many instances it had been perverted, watered-down, or otherwise formatted to fit the culture of the city.
Corinth was a lot like San Francisco.
The reactions to us deciding to move to San Francisco for Marc to take this job were very mixed. Most were happy for us and supportive. Some reacted in shock: "Why would you want to move there?" / "That is the most liberal city in America!" / "How will you find a church/friends/fellowship?"
Well-meaning but tactless individuals offered their veiled condolences on our probable moral demise as we moved to the black hole of sin and liberalism. Greenville is an extremely conservative place, mind you, and the thought that we would even want to live within 1,000 miles of Nancy Pelosi was too outlandish to fathom. We were warned repeatedly that there were so few churches here that we would be hard pressed to find a "decent" one and that whatever church we decided to join, we should get really involved because they really needed our ministry. I'm all about helping our church's ministry, but it was like people believed that outside our buckle-of-the-Bible-belt-bubble there could not possibly be any really spiritual people capable of depending on God's grace to have an effective ministry.
Thankfully our families were very supportive and excited for the opportunity we were given. And we have some close friends who were with us all the way and truly prayed that we would find a good ministry here where we could be a blessing but where we could also grow as a couple and as individuals in Christ.
We found a great church in just a couple weeks. And believe it or not, the people of Christ Church weren't mutants. We didn't smoke pot as a means of worship and there was not a homosexual minister. They were godly people who were growing in Christ and who desired to build a community of believers in a fallen city. Sounds like the purpose of the local church, huh?
When I returned to Greenville this summer to visit, I was able to chat with many of the same people who offered their support or their sugar-coated criticism when we moved four months earlier. I was questioned on the progress of my church and job search, 1 down, 1 to go at that point. I was bombarded with awkward questions about the prevalence of the gay rights movement in San Francisco, and about the cost of living and how we managed it. I was asked if I had turned into a Democrat yet (with the naive assumption that I was a staunch far-right Republican to begin with). Had I ever seen anyone smoke pot in public?
The reason I've been thinking about this today is that our pastor made an excellent point in his introduction to Corinthians. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers because their church had adopted some of the corrupted philosophies and practices of their materialistic, perverted culture. They wanted to serve Christ but were being distracted and deceived by the expectations and goals of their society. But in spite of all that, the gospel worked in Corinth. People were changed, regenerated community was built and spread, and Christ was glorified. Culture, philosophy, and liberal politics didn't stop Christ from changing the city. Christ is just as powerful in San Francisco , CA as He is in Greenville, SC. There is sin here, but did we stop believing that the gospel can change lives and conquer sin? Do we believe that you have to be a Tea Party Republican to be a Bible-believing Christian? Do we make the decision to condemn an entire city to hell just because we're too afraid to confront the sin that exists there with love, grace, and patience? How big is your God?
I'm excited about learning more about the power of the gospel in Corinth. I'm also looking forward to seeing our city change one person at a time through Christ.