We continue from last week examining the moral and developmental problems of the Christians in the church at Corinth that are not unfamiliar in churches in American today:
6. Liberty has become Libertinism
They have a very liberal view of consorting with idol worshippers and eating the food from idolatrous temples (I Cor. 5:9). The term “sexual immorality” suggests religious prostitution – a shocking practice in a holiness church. They have not separated themselves appropriately from the world (I Cor. 8:9). He is concerned that the leaven-like influence of such liberal thinking has affected the entire church. Libertine Christians among them have pushed the limits of right and wrong to the extreme. They have exploited grace. They prefer their personal liberty over a more pristine witness. Selfishness has eclipsed their concern for a credible testimony before a watching city.
7. Lack of Discernment is Deadly
The problem of idolatry is taken up again in I Cor. 10. Here the charge is more severe. Paul warns that members are, in consorting with idols, fellowshipping with demons. They are unconsciously opening their lives and the church to forces greater than mere ideology. The have opened a door to the demonic realm. The level of discernment for a spirit-filled people is abysmal. Some may have adopted a form of religious syncretism (10:21, 22). Rather than turning from idols, Christianity is simply another form of religion added to their spiritual buffet.
8. Under Judgment without Perceiving It
They have not taken as seriously as necessary, the cup and the bread, their blood covenant with Christ. They see no need to examine themselves in view of the judgment of God on sin at the cross. Calvary is viewed only in its celebrative dimension – love, not truth. So, they take the cup and miss the truth about God’s dealings with sin, even in his own family, when “on” his only Son. Thus, the whole church is under judgment without knowing it. Some are weak and sickly. Some have died prematurely. Still others see the Lord’s Table as a time for importing the party spirit of the world from which they were saved, into the church. There is a serious drinking problem, probably at a level we would call addiction, among members (11:21).
9. A Seed-Bed of Schism and Heresy
Reports have come to Paul about division, schism, a tear or rent in the Christian community – and it is apparent over the table of the Lord. Paul conjectures that there are also factions – literally “heresies!” These fractures over preferences for slices of truth have divided the church into pieces. Such matters only serve to reveal the approved, Paul asserts (I Cor. 11:19). The real problem, strangely enough, is not the doctrinal aberration. A genuine believer in doctrinal error can be taught, corrected. The problem with a heretic is that the aberration of truth is only the presenting issue. Underneath is a deeper problem – a dominating and divisive spirit, resistant to conciliation. Heresy is always twofold – an aberration of both truth and love.
10. Confused about Spiritual Gifts
They are confused about spiritual gifts (I. Cor. 12; 14), so much so that their worship services are disorderly, perhaps chaotic. Their focus is on self-fulfillment, self-edification – a spiritual ecstasy that exhilarates them. They are either oblivious or unconcerned about the effect of their self-satisfying worship styles on visitors who come into their services.
11. Don’t Understand Agape
They don’t understand love – not agape love (I Cor. 13).
12. Sins are Greater than those Tolerated by Pagans
They are so tolerant of sin, so much so, that two of their members have divorced and married each other (I Cor. 5). One is a son and the woman he married is his mother, his step-mother. And the church seems so proud of the grace they have exhibited in dealing with the matter, that Paul is shocked. Such social customs are not accepted among pagans. “I being absent have already judged” (I Cor. 5:3). He warns, “Shall I come to you with a rod?” (I Cor. 4:21)
This is a church with few of the standards that characterize genuine Christians. And yet in reviewing the list, you may be thinking of churches, and Christians who fit the profile. Paul is concerned that some among them may not be Christians. Something has happened in Corinth that has produced a variant, a deviation from the norm, a veritable group departure from the faith.
In what may be the high point of confrontation in the first epistle, Paul pleads,
I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” I Corinthians 10:1-5.
Listen to his words – “Remember … Don’t be unaware! … Israel was under the cloud … All passed through the (Red) Sea.” What a miracle of salvation and deliverance. “They drank supernaturally from the rock!” They lived in the miraculous. Then Paul sternly declares, “But God was not well pleased with them – and they died in the wilderness!” They never made it to the Promised Land! And they are examples to us – to “you,” he might have said directly and bluntly.
The implication is clear. Corinth is a church, like the generation of the Exodus, that has been delivered “from” but not “to.” Something developmentally has gone wrong. They are in danger of “dying” in some spiritual wilderness having tasted a measure of grace, but not enough to secure completely their being planted in new living places.
How is that some churches and believers adapt the faith to the culture, and in other places, the culture itself is transformed? What is the difference?
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