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Eduard Burne-Jones, detail of Apostle Paul (1881-1898), mosaic, the Apse of St Paul's within the Walls (American Episcopal Church), Rome
Eduard Burne-Jones, detail of Apostle Paul (1881-1898), mosaic, the Apse of St. Paul's within the Walls (American Episcopal Church), Rome.

How can the church be authentic in the midst of a pagan culture with sharply contrasting values? That's the issue that the Apostle Paul tackles in 1 Corinthians, of all his letters the one most devoted to correcting church life to conform to a gospel of love and repentance.

The Church at Corinth was planted in the midst of a city known for its immorality and pagan temples. If you were to make a list of the church's problems, it wouldn't be short. Problems include:

  1. Factions from competing allegiances to various leaders (1:10-17; 3:1-23; 4:1-7).
  2. Criticism of Paul's simple preaching style (1:18-2:16; 3:18-32).
  3. Rebellion against Paul's apostolic authority (4:8-21).
  4. A tolerant attitude towards sexual immorality and going to prostitutes (5:1-13; 6:9-20; 10:1-13).
  5. Misunderstanding of the church's authority to settle disputes (6:1-8).
  6. Confusion about marriage and celibacy (7:1-40).
  7. Idolatry and eating of food sacrificed to idols (8:1-13; 10:14-11:1).
  8. Faultfinding with Paul's tent-making support for his ministry (9:1-27).
  9. Rebellious women in worship services (11:2-16).
  10. Desecration of the Lord's Supper (11:17-34).
  11. Confusion over spiritual gifts, especially over speaking in tongues and prophecy (12-14).
  12. Disorder in church worship gatherings (14:26-40).
  13. Disbelief in the resurrection of the dead (15:1-58).

Quite a list! The wonderful thing is, however, that from Paul's response to the problems of this troubled church you and I learn a great deal!

If you were to assess our churches today, however, you'll find a host of problems also. They'll be different, to be sure, from this troubled first century church. But many of our problems are very much the same.

  • Helping disciples make a clean break with a pagan lifestyle, while at the same time keeping open communication with our pagan friends and neighbors.
  • Keeping unity in churches that are corrupted with unholy factions led by immature leaders.
  • Worship services that are orderly and inviting, but lack the spontaneity of the Spirit that was found in New Testament congregations.
  • Low appreciation for the Lord's Supper and what it means to partake of it.
  • Struggling marriages, while at the same time, sexual immorality is viewed lightly by a newer generation.
  • An almost total lack of appropriate church discipline of members.

It is my prayer that a fresh look at 1 Corinthians will help you rethink what a Christian congregation should be like, and, as you apply the principles set forth in this epistle, a fire will be ignited within you to see reform in the twenty-first century church as we prepare for Christ's coming.

Yours in Christ's service,
Pastor Ralph
Loomis, California
January 2014

Copyright © 2020, Ralph F. Wilson. <> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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