According to the dictionary a 'conundrum' is “an intricate and difficult problem.” Corinth was a cosmopolitan city in which the apostle Paul founded a Christian congregation around 51 AD. In many ways it was an unusual place for the faith to gain a foothold. Corinth had a reputation of being a place where 'anything goes'. What happened in Corinth stayed in Corinth.
As Corinth was a place where many different views received free expression, it should not surprise us that the church Paul had founded had a lot of questions about how to conduct themselves. So they wrote to him. The biblical letters of 1st and 2nd Corinthians give us his replies. Over the next few weeks, during morning worship here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we are going to be taking a look at the first few chapters of 1st Corinthians.
My reason for doing so is that many of the dilemmas experienced by this earliest church are ones we struggle with today. The full title of the sermon series will be “The Conundrums of Corinth (and their legacy in the Church).” What are some of the things we are going to be talking about?
Disunity. Because the church in Corinth and been founded by different evangelists with a variety of gifts and abilities, people had their favorites. Paul wasn't always one of them, despite the fact he was the person they contacted when they needed advice. Though Christians claim to be all of one faith, the reality is we are a community divided by denominations and differences.
Pride. There were indeed some knowledgeable people in Corinth. The trouble was that it made them feel superior to everybody else. Paul takes them to task by talking about the “Foolishness” of the gospel message.
Shallowness. While some professed to know it all others seemed extremely content knowing very little. It was as though they just wanted to get by with as little commitment as they could, but still experience all the blessings God had to offer. Paul encourages them to go deeper.
Immaturity Paul really longs to teach them about the meatier things of the gospel, but along with their shallowness there was also an element of childishness about them. Jesus had taught the disciples to be childlike... not childish... and the church in Corinth seemed to be getting the two confused.
Identity The Church in Corinth seemed to struggle to know who they were really meant to be and how that translated into how they lived. Paul speaks to them of being “Temples of the Holy Spirit” and how if they gave themselves to service of others, then their identity wouldn't be such an issue.
As I've ministered in different churches, it is interesting how these themes often make an appearance. They are certainly not conundrums unique to Corinth. And as we go through a New Year and seek to restructure and reappraise the way we do things, we have lessons to learn from the struggles of the earliest church. Our first session, this coming Sunday will have the title; “Even Good churches have Bad Days.” All are welcome to join us.
Seemed like a good week to give an airing to the old Cole Porter classic “Anything Goes.” Though many of the references are to the politics and entertainment world of his day... they do not seem unrelated to many emotions and thoughts currently being given expression to! The personalities may change. The setting may be different. But the conundrums have a habit of showing up again and again!
Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.