When Clement wrote to the Corinthians, telling them how others have testified of them, he comments,
For who ever dwelt even for a short time among you, and did not find your faith to be as fruitful of virtue as it was firmly established? (1 Clement 1)Notice that he never asked, "who ever attended your services..." but "who ever dwelt among you." We are often so focused on the work and outward expression of the church that we tend to identify it "as" the church when, in fact, the church is none of those things. The church is not a meeting, a program, or a service rather the church is people. Those who visited the Corinthian church wrote not of the things they did but the people they were. A church cannot be known by examining their services but only by getting to know and love its people. Such a knowledge cannot be obtained in a couple of Sundays spent sitting in a service; it takes time, it takes commitment, and it takes interaction and relationship with people.
So how did they find the Corinthian church?
Who did not admire the sobriety and moderation of your godliness in Christ? Who did not proclaim the magnificence of your habitual hospitality? And who did not rejoice over your perfect and well-grounded knowledge? For ye did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the commandments of God, being obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honour to the presbyters among you. Ye enjoined young men to be of a sober and serious mind; ye instructed your wives to do all things with a blameless, becoming, and pure conscience, loving their husbands as in duty bound; and ye taught them that, living in the rule of obedience, they should manage their household affairs becomingly, and be in every respect marked by discretion. (1 Clement 1)In general, they praised the Corinthian's godliness in behavior, their hospitality towards others, and their sure foundation in the faith; a foundation not built upon hear-say but upon knowledge. Strikingly absent from this list is anything relating to their corporate "services"; no mention of their praise and worship team, no mention of their powerful preaching, and no mention of their dynamic youth ministry. Those who lived among the Corinthian church found people who loved God, loved others, and had a secure and well grounded knowledge of God and His message. It was these qualities that set their church apart from others and gave them a "venerable and illustrious name, worthy to be universally loved."
Perhaps we need to rethink our own churches; how do we see ourselves, on what aspects do we place our esteem, and in which ways do we believe that we too have a "venerable and illustrious name?" Are they the same things that separated the Corinthian church among the others? Is it because of the quality of our people and our fellowship and relationships with God and one another? Or is is merely our programs, services, and works that, while they may be great and worthy, reflect nothing of the people who make up the church. Maybe its time to re-imagine the church; what it was meant to be, what it should be, and what it could be. Maybe its time to reflect back on our early christian roots for inspiration and for a fresh new perspective on the church that we are suppose to be