Corinth’s Problems & Church Discipline

What were the main problems in Corinth?

 1. Divisions – Contentions based upon ownership of Different Teachers:

“now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, they all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you but that ye be perfect fit together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”   (1 Corinthians 1:10)

2. Lack of Church Discipline

“It is actually reported that there is fortification among you, and such fortification is not even among the Gentiles, that one of you have his father’s wife.  And year puffed up, it did not rather mourned, that he that have done this deed might be taken away from among you.”   (1 Corinthians 5:1) 

3. Litigation among Christians

It is actually reported that there is fortification among you, and such fortification is not even among the Gentiles, that one of you have his father’s wife.  And year puffed up, it did not rather mourned, that he that have done this deed might be taken away from among you.”   (1 Corinthians 5:1)

Corinth was a port city, a world trading Center, where affluence and self-indulgence were abundant.  Culture there was homogenized; where race and ethnicity were mixed, which created an ideal breeding ground for tolerance, which gave way to a multiplicity of Idol worship, which became centralized, organized, and very prosperous. 

It was an environment that was difficult for a disciplined, narrowly defined religion; such as Christianity to function healthfully.  

Root Problem

Corinth was filled with affluence and prosperity, which are sought more than any other quality of a culture, yet also precede moral decline.

What is so interesting about the issues surrounding affluence and prosperity, is the universal effect it has on all of humanity.  In fact the one downside to democracies, is that the masses eventually become affluent and prosper. 

And while physically and financially this is a destination: spiritually, emotionally, and cognitively; it becomes a detriment.  Rather it is a direct democracy (Grecian attempts), indirect democracy (representation), or any other form of government which seeks to place power in the hands of the people; once people have the power to vote and therefore affect their lives, they will always seek those positions which advance them financially. 

And it is this sense of success and prosperity that has caused mankind to improve his status, as well as his existence on this earth. 

However, built within the makeup of humanity are qualities and attributes, which when subjected to prosperity and success, eventually bring decline and failure. 

This is why a democracy has never lasted more than the few hundred years.  And in no small part due also to the fact that eventually evil men replace good ones.

An Example1

When the thirteen colonies were still a part of England, Professor Alexander Tyler wrote about the fall of the Athenian Republic over two thousand years previous to that time, he said:

 A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.  It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasury.  From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship.

 The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been two hundred years [the Old Roman Empire as a notable exception].  These nations have progressed through the following sequence:

 From bondage to spiritual faith

From spiritual faith to great courage

From great courage to liberty

From liberty to abundance

From abundance to selfishness

From selfishness to complacency

From complacency to apathy

From apathy to dependency

From dependency back to bondage     

Human Nature – An Uphill Battle

Growing a church in an affluent, successful culture is a difficult proposition; especially based upon humanities presuppositions in relationship to their environment as outlined above. 

Such adages as: “Familiarity breeds contempt”, and “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”; are two examples of patterns in which humans respond to given situations. 

And it is in observation of these characteristics, that the church of Jesus Christ has difficulty.  It’s because the creature is subject to sin, and patterns that reemerge creating difficulties when approaching a sinless God. 

And it is the Bible and the Bible loan that has the ability to address these human maladies of character and attribute. 

And while many attempt to utilize psychology in addressing these problems within the church, this is spiritually heretical, as well as anti-biblical, ungodly, presuppose, and ineffective.

 Psychology – Not the Answer

Some have noted the correct definitions concerning the insights of psychology, and therefore given credibility to its theories. 

However, it is quite different to observe something and therefore define it, perhaps predict its reaction, as compared to explain why the reaction, or the essence of the thing reacting.

The point is psychology has made observations and therefore gained credibility having done so.  However, one can watch a dog all day long and therefore make pretty elaborate predictions concerning some of its behaviors. 

But, you cannot define many of the motivations of those behaviors, nor can you define the essence or inner being of that animal.  You cannot scientifically discern its thought patterns and reasoning, if it really feels emotions, or responds to instinct; or if there is really such a thing as an instinct. 

 

Psychology is the same way.  There are many insights today psychology has alluded to and therefore, gained creditability, however this does not mean that psychology’s insights are sound. 

There are many of these examples, such as: “Birth Order and Temperaments” (when applied to originally family members), Transference, Counter-transference, Projection, Association, and many other observations which have given psychology an heir of credibility. 

However, in light of psychology’s anti-God bent, which is obvious in the presuppositions of almost all of the over 200 different modalities, we know that this humanistic philosophy is wrong. 

Therefore, while some of the psychological insights based upon observation would appear to be correct, for the Christian this is completely wrong.2 

 And to attempt to address the problems of the church of Corinth utilizing psychology is absolutely erroneous (and yes those that call themselves Christian psychologist would attempt to do so).

 The Bible – God’s Answer to the Problems in the Church

It is God’s Word, and God’s Word alone that can correct the problem of humanity within the church of Jesus Christ.  The problems that occurred in the church at Corinth, which can be seen in affluent churches all over America today, have a common cure, it is Matthew chapter 18, which states: 

 “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.   But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.  And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.  Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.3


Church Discipline

Of the three problems I listed concerning the church at Corinth which Paul addressed in his epistle which we refer to as 1 Corinthians, that of: division, lack of church discipline, and Christian litigation; perhaps the most difficult to address is that of Christians suing each other. 

It is obvious that the church at Corinth did not utilize Matthew 18 in addressing church discipline, the same is noted concerning divisions and confronting those that created those divisions. 

It is obvious that they did not utilize the Word of God in addressing problems, in fact their self-indulgence no doubt created an environment where tolerance was easier to allow, than the uncomfortableness that is necessary when confronting sin. 


Simple is Better When it Comes to Correction

However, Matthew 18, as simple as it is, gives us all that we need to know concerning discipline within God’s church.

And in addressing perhaps the most difficult of these three areas of wrong behavior, that of litigation; again the answer is very simple. 

The same way Paul talked about addressing incest in the church. 

First, and this should go without saying, utilize the Bible as the only rulebook of  behavior, and the final authority. Then:

 1) Confront the one who is offended (meaning you are the transgressor); if that doesn’t work, 

2) Take one or two witnesses and confront him again; and if that doesn’t work,

3) Take the issue before the church, and confront him there; and if this does not work,

4) Kick him out of the church, and if he repents (if he will not forgive you ?); receive him back 


Notice what it does not say – it does not say to go to the pastor, he is not involved in the process as a major player, only as a member of the church. 

Too many times the reason that church discipline does work bring the results Christ spoke about – keeping the church pure, is because it becomes a use verse them.  Splits in the church start between the pastor’s side and an elder or board member, with people taking sides. 

It is not to be this way.  When two witnesses does not work, we are to go to the entire church, not any individuals which is where clicks are born – bring to everyone at once, let them decide.

 Something to Think About

I believe it was Walter Martin that expounded the following view, which I thought was quite interesting. 

Paul states that it’s better to suffer loss than to go before the world with a Christian suing a Christian. 

This connotes the spirit of Christianity, that of being willing to suffer for the sins of others, to turn the cheek, to love those that abuse you, and to symbolize how Jesus would have responded in his “First Coming”. 

However it is incorrect to assume that Jesus would only turn the cheek, because when He comes the second time, He will not. 

The point is one’s behavior should become contingent upon one’s mission, and the responsibilities that we hold when doing what God wants us to do, will consider which Biblical to follow. 

Christianity is not pacifism, and while there were many during the Revolutionary war, that felt it was biblically correct to submit to King George based upon the Bibles injunctive to submit to the powers that be, because they are ordained of God; if it was God’s design that these United States would be created, then to turn the cheek concerning the tyranny of King George, and in opposition to God’s will; would have been sin.  This is where “correctly dividing the word of God”4, according to the Holy Spirit, and in context with the whole Bible; becomes necessary. 

With this in view, Walter stated; that when a Christian took advantage of another Christian and refused to respond in order to correct the problem, even when the church excommunicated him, then he was no longer a Christian Brother, and the Christian could sue a non-Christian in order to seek justice. 

 This seen in light of the Biblical mandate that a man was to take care of his family5, and if he allowed someone to take all his money and he could not feed them, then for him to not take advantage of his legal right for legal regress, would have been wrong, as well as poor stewardship of God’s fund.  

I know this seems to resist the flavor of New Testament Christianity, and this is an area that I truly believe is up to the individual, and between them and God. 

However, I also believe Walter had a point, and that if we expect Jesus to act the same way when He comes a second time as He came when the first, then we are sorely mistaken.  And it is the application and the understanding of that application where in the Holy Spirit should have final say so according to God’s Word taken in context.

It is my opinion, that it is a humanistic mindset that habitually, and only paints Jesus Christ as the  adamant victim, who can only turn the cheek at wrongdoing; and demands that we do the same.  Jesus taught that we should forgive our brothers 6, (family member, not friend or enemy) in excess of 490 times7, yet, removing consequences from negative behaviors, is also ungodly, as reciprocity is the foundation of salvation and created the necessity of Jesus Christ dying for our sins as the substitutionary Lamb of God.

Conclusion

No matter how you approach the subject of church discipline, without it the church does not function as Christ intended, any more than allowing a child to only have its own way and become spoiled would be a function of parenting. 

And it is in knowing when it is time to turn the cheek, shut up, or debate and correct, that the Holy Spirit must guide us. 

However, when it comes to problems within the church that breed sin, it is our responsibility, and in accordance with Matthew chapter 18, that we must address these problems, and become willing to feel uncomfortable in any situation.  Otherwise, who is the Lord, and who is the servant.      

 

Endnote

1        Sources:

Chalfant, John W., “Abandonment Theology – The Clergy and the Decline of American Christianity, America – A Call to Greatness”, Winter Park FL, 1999.  Chuck Missler, Koinonia House, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

2        And also, Christian Psychology is not any better, is a true misnomer.  Having been classically trained in psychology, as compared to a theological education based upon the Bible, it is my personal opinion, along with other highly credible sources, such as: John MacArthur, Wayne Mack, Jay Adams, Ed Bulkley, Martin Bobgan, and many others (almost all of those classically trained, licensed, certified and credentialed in psychology): that psychology is not a science, nor can it be mixed with Christianity without doing a disservice to both.  While many goodhearted Christians that our psychologist refer to themselves as Christian psychologist, this is an oxymoron.  (if you have any questions concerning this, please feel free to contact me, and I will list source reference material, so that you can scrutinize the subject on your own – this is not the theater, nor scope to address is subject adequately)  

3        Matthew 18:15-20

4       2 Timothy 2:15 – “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

5       1 Timothy 5:8 – But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”

6        The Greek word used for “brother” here is froadelphos and come from two words, (as a connective particle) and delphus (the womb); a brother (literally or figuratively) near or remote, brother, not friend, or even enemy. 

7        Matthew 18:21-22 – “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven”

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