I think it’s time somebody came to the defense of the church in Corinth. Okay, so they’re all dead now. But they live on in two of Paul’s letters for all the world to see. I think Corinth, arguably Paul’s worst church, may be our best model for church today. Better than Purpose-driven, Willow Creek, or any of the other models out there. Here’s why:
- They were brand-new believers. Talk about a church planter’s dream. This was a church of new Christians. Not a transfer member among them. Newbies, to use the jargon. No preconceived ideas, no “we-did-it-this-way-at-my-other-church” notions, fresh as the new-mown hay.
- They participated. Okay, so maybe they participated a little too exuberantly, but they all wanted to contribute to worship. They all had a prophecy, a word of knowledge, a tongue, a revelation, or an interpretation. They obviously did not have an “order” of worship, but as Jack Nicklaus said of his golf swing, “I was going for distance and figured I could work on accuracy later.” They were going for participation first; order came later. Now, we mostly have order, but not much participation.
- They made mistakes, but out of enthusiasm. They did communion wrong, worship wrong, shopped in the wrong butcher shops, flaunted their spiritual gifts, tried to outdo each other in worship, and generally were the most enthusiastic church around. Paul had to temper their enthusiasm with instruction, but it’s better to have to control a fire than try to start one!
- They practiced their new faith while still growing in it. In the congregation, there were drunks, adulterers, sexually promiscuous, those who shopped at the pagan temple meat markets, and self-promoters. Quite a congregation, but Paul never says they are not Christians. Rather, he urges them to grow in their faith by changing their bad practices.
- Their new faith was relevant to their world. The temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love, was in Corinth, so Paul writes to them about real Christian love. The temple of Asclepius, the god of healing, was in Corinth, so it was not a stretch for them to believe that their new God was more powerful than their old god. Maybe that explains the high profile of spiritual gifts in Corinth. Whatever the reason, the Corinthians connected the dots between the pagan world in which they lived and their new found faith in Christ.
- They were a real church. Paul, despite all the problems of Corinth, never says they aren’t a real church. Instead, he patiently guides them into practices that are more faithful expressions of their new life in Christ. We in the 21st century church could learn a lot from the Corinthians and Paul.
So there you have it — my 6 reasons that Corinth is our best model. Because in today’s church we need to recapture some of the enthusiasm, exuberance, freshness, and mistakes of Corinth — they were alive and living their new faith!