My Thoughts. . .
Corinth had more problems than you could shake a stick at. We worked with a congregation once that had a problem before we arrived. We were not informed about it. Five years later a problem cropped up again which was not solved. After we left, the solution for that problem was to sweep it under the rug. Today, a congregation of 300 is down to less than fifty people. Yet, Corinth was much, much worse than that. They had multiple problems. Each was sufficient to ruin their reputation and render their influence ineffective in that pagan city.
One family decided to seek help in solving those problems. It was the Chloe family (1 Corinthians 1:11). Human nature being what it is, how did those families who were involved in those sins feel about that one family snitching on them? Did the prophets who did not favor that family’s actions charge them with gossiping? Did the Chloe family find that they were no longer appreciated but viewed as enemies of the church? Did former friends treat them coolly by refusing to speak or greet them? Were slurs and innuendoes continuously hurled at them and their children? Did those members who agreed with them suddenly distance themselves to keep from suffering the same fate? Paul does not discuss the Chloe family’s situation nor the negativism they were subject to by the rest of the congregation.
Most ministers when preaching through the Corinthian letters, enumerate their unscriptural attitudes and practices. Most would rather eat dirt than to serve in a congregation like the Corinthian church. If such a congregation existed in one’s area today, the other pulpit and church bulletins would condemn them as unsound. Withdrawing fellowship from that congregation would be followed as biblically appropriate and demanded. If another congregation had anything to do with them it too would be marked and condemned. Any congregation that lost a member to them would be condemned. If the Chloe family left the Corinthian church and attended a “sound” congregation, they would be welcomed and honored for their stand for truth.” They did not see that as a scriptural option.
What do you do with a family that refuses to leave a congregation that has been and is involved in biblical error? Would the wise course not be to “flee” rather than flounder in sin? Would one not be guilty of practicing sin by remaining in that sinful condition? Today, yes. In the first century? No. Would a person’s refusal to leave prove that he was a wayward person who no longer loved the truth? Paul didn’t think so.
Was the Corinthian church in error? Yes. Did they need correction? Yes. Question: How much error must a congregation be involved in before it is necessary for a person to leave it? Answer: the Chloe family still had their membership in the Corinthian assembly despite its immersion in sinful views and actions. This had been going on for months. Notice the New Testament pattern God is giving to us through the Chloe family and Paul’s response.
1. Was Corinth described by the Holy Spirit as “apostate” or “unsound”? NO.
2. Did Paul tell the Chloe family to leave and established a “sound” church? NO.
3. Did Paul continue to address them as “the church of God” (1:2). YES.
4. Did Paul dissolve the eldership and have the prophets (preachers) fired? NO.
5. Did Paul inform those who were “of Paul,” “of Cephas,” and “of Apollos” that they were apostates and only those who were “of Christ” were the true assembly? NO.
6. Did Paul inform them that they were no longer “the body of Christ” but had reverted to being citizens of the kingdom of Satan? NO (1 Corinthians 12:27).
7. Did Paul inform them that the Holy Spirit had abandoned them, and that God was no longer indwelling them? NO. (3:16; 12:8-11, 28-30; 14:12).
8. Did Paul inform them that they no longer belonged to God and their purchase had been forfeited? NO. (6:19-20).
9. How close to perfection must a 21st century congregation be to keep from being identified as apostate or no longer be recognized as the church of God in the eyes of God?
10. What congregation in your area is perfect in doctrine, practice, and membership?
Preachers will often use 1 Corinthians 1:2, 8-10, 3:16; 6:19-20; 14:34-35, 16:1-3 and other passages to show what a “sound” church must do to merit that description. Yet, those commands are given to a congregation which was not described as apostate. If we describe such a congregation as unsound or apostate, would we not be guilty of doing what neither Paul nor God did to Corinth? If one refuses to follow the example given by Paul and God, would that person not be equal to those who were members of the church in Corinth? In Oklahoma and Mississippi, we called that “hypocrisy.”
Today, churches withdraw fellowship from other congregations because the one identified as “unsound” because it refuses to continue to honor one or more nineteenth century traditions being practiced by the objectors.
As off center as Corinth was, neither Paul or the other apostles, the Jerusalem congregation nor its elders, nor other Jewish or Gentile assemblies, nor God Himself withdrew fellowship from them. If there are perfect congregations today, their identity is unknown. N.B. Hardeman once acknowledge that all congregations are in one of three conditions. 1) Going into a problem, 2) in a problem, or 3) coming out of a problem. All three positions indicate imperfection.
Since two letters were written to the church of God in Corinth, it appears to be a New Testament pattern. Perhaps we have not discovered what that pattern is.