“Carnality of a Christian Congregation”

By Akin Ojumu

Compared to any other church at the time, the Christian assembly in the ancient pagan city of Corinth was by far the most problematic. This was a Church bedeviled with serious spiritual issues and it was a congregation beleaguered with myriads of grievous moral failings. The Corinthian Christians were carnality personified.

Unlike Apostle Paul’s other epistles where serious doctrines are scholarly expounded and deep theologies are methodically enunciated, the entire Book of 1 Corinthians, except for a few instances, is dedicated to rebuking, reproving, and correcting the various shortcomings of a problematic congregation.

Ancient Corinth was a city with a sordid reputation. To think about Corinth was to think about the ultimate kind of idolatry, the ultimate forms of false religion, and the very ultimate life of sexual immorality (John MacArthur). The Christians at Corinth lived in a morally depraved and profoundly promiscuous society. The people of this ancient city were engaged in all manner of sexual deviancy.

Even by the pagan standard of its own culture, Corinth became so morally corrupt that its very name became synonymous with debauchery and moral depravity. To “corinthianize” came to represent gross immorality and drunken debauchery (MacArthur Study Bible).

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul described some of the specific sins for which Corinthians were known:

“Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 

Although now washed and delivered from their former way of life, many of the Christian converts at Corinth previously engaged in these sins. The congregation was made up of converted fornicators, repentant idolaters and adulterers, penitent effeminates and homosexuals, contrite thieves and covetous, erstwhile drunkards, and former revilers and swindlers. By the mercies of God, these lost souls were washed, sanctified, and justified.

Sadly, though, the stench of Corinth never completely left the people. Not surprisingly, many in the congregation dragged along into the church life all the vestiges of their morally crass pagan former life. Among the congregation were folks who had joined themselves to temple prostitutes. There were those, who for sport, dragged others to courts. Some take pride in committing fornication and incest. And there were those who went around proudly boasting about sleeping with their stepmothers. 

Discipline was lacking and abuse of liberty was rampant. Their women were insubordinate, and the people abused the roles God intended for men and women. Marriages in the assembly were in shambles and divorces were rife. Selfishness and pride were the order of the day. Idolatry and demon worship were standard practice. The congregation lacked proper understanding of the resurrection and they had to be reminded about the proper attitude towards money and giving.

Likewise, they counterfeited and adulterated the spiritual gifts. In fact, Apostle Paul was so concerned about the abuse and misuse of the spiritual gifts in this congregation that 3 chapters of 1 Corinthians (12, 13, and 14) were devoted to confronting the subject.

In addition to all of these vast problems, the carnality of the Corinthian Christians also manifested in the form of deep divisions and schisms informed by their propensity for hero worship. Discord and dissension hung like thick clouds over the congregation.

“For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11-13).

In penning his first letter to the Church at Corinth, Apostle Paul started off by addressing the disharmony that attended the congregation as a result of the Corinthians’ pernicious tendency for hero worship. Of all of the failings of the congregation namely, immorality, marriage, Christian liberty, the Lord’s Table, spiritual gifts, resurrection, and money, the one that Paul started his letter with was the sectarianism in the church.

At the heart of the Corinthian denomination existed a cult of personality that was centered on the institutionalized quasi-religious glorification of individuals. Borrowing from the culture of their polytheistic society where several gods were worshiped, the Corinthians turned Paul, Apollos, and Peter into deities for whom they created competing religious cults.

Next time we’ll discuss in greater details the struggles of the Corinthian believers with fractionalization and division resulting from undue idolization of men of God.


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