Saturday, 4 November 2017

FOR THE COMMON GOOD: Exlploring 1 Corinthians

This is the first of a new series which appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Anglicans for Renewal magazine. Both digital and print subscriptions are available here

There’s something about Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians. You’ve probably all heard people describe how the Bible lit up for them when they came to living, saving Christian faith. It lit up for me thirty-five years ago when I re-upped for Christianity. After thirteen years of lapsed backslidden-ness (is that even a word?) that ran from university, half a degree, the beginnings of a career in television, through courtship, marriage, parenthood, and emigrating from New Zealand to Canada, I decided to have another go with Jesus. I can’t remember why, exactly. And I can’t remember why one of the first parts of the Bible I read was 1 Corinthians. What I do remember is that I was living in Calgary with Judy, my wife of some fifteen years, and two kids, Kate and Anthony, and I was working as a Producer/Director for ACCESS Network, a provincial maker and broadcaster of educational television programs. And I remember thinking as I read Paul's descriptions of the Corinth of his day, “This is just like Calgary!” Except for the television. Mind you, if Paul was doing his thing today, he’d probably be on it and all over social media, too. But I digress.  

Fast forward to 2017 and 1 Corinthians still helps keep this retired septuagenarian priest in the warm embrace and the bright winged glow of the Holy Spirit. As The LORD leads us together through this new series, I hope that you, too, will come to enjoy more of that same warm glow. But more than that, I’m tapping the keys with my ARM Canada Board Chairman hat on now, 1 Corinthians is an excellent foundational manual for charismatics. Not only does it list and describe most of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, but it places them in the context of real-life Christian living with all the ups and downs, joys and sorrows, conflict and mystery that go with it. I believe it is a book that does, indeed, contribute to the common good of charismatic Christians and the whole Church. 

In my seminary days, when I was to write a paper on a book of the Bible, I was always to begin with an outline, a summary of the what the book covers, a series of headings. It helped to give a sense of what the book is about. The headings in my Bible (ESV) do the same. They give a sense what was going on in Corinth, of real-life in the Church of the day and give us a bird’s eye view of the letter. Now, resist the temptation to just skim over this list. Look at it carefully. It exposes the book’s structure and framework nicely. 

Christ the Wisdom and Power of God

Proclaiming Christ Crucified

Divisions in the Church

The Ministry of Apostles

Sexual Immorality Defiles the Church

Lawsuits Against Believers
Flee Sexual Immorality

Principles for Marriage
Live As You Are Called
The Unmarried and the Widowed

Food Offered to Idols

Paul Surrenders His Rights

Warning Against Idolatry

Do All to the Glory of God
Head Coverings
The Lord’s Supper

Spiritual Gifts
One Body with Many Members

The Way of Love

Prophecy and Tongues
Orderly Worship

The Resurrection of Christ
The Resurrection of the Dead
The Resurrection Body
Mystery and Victory

The Collection for the Saints
Plans for Travel
Final Instructions

I believe that there is nothing in the Scriptures by accident. God, the Holy Spirit, inspired Paul to write what he wrote to the Corinthians. He also inspired the order in which each section is appears. With this in mind, it is fascinating to explore this 1 Corinthians list. 

I’ve come to think of Chapters 12-14 as ground zero for how to do charismatic and Church. It intrigues me after preaching at so many weddings, that Chapter 13, the “love chapter,” is really not primarily about weddings and marriage in its context at all. It’s about how to operate in the charismatic gifts properly. I am also fascinated by they way these chapters are bracketed by—before; The Lord’s Supper and, after; that great, inspired, exposition of the Resurrection in Chapter 15. Why did God arrange them so? It certainly works for us Anglicans. We are to do our charismatic ministry in the context of the Holy Eucharist and as witnesses of the Resurrection. They go together. 

But along with these grand, agreeable themes of Eucharist and Resurrection chapters 12-14 are also bracketed by some more awkward and mundane, practical matters of which we twenty-first century readers must make sense. Just before the words of Jesus himself in The Lord’s Supper we find Paul dictating whose head should be covered, or not, when they prophesy and with what hair style. How are we to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest that (BAS, p391) and live it out? And, even more vexing, before the wonders of the Resurrection in chapter 15 we find Paul’s prohibition of women speaking in churches. What do we Anglican charismatics do with what Paul writes about what women can and cannot do in church? Heads covered, or not? Hair short, or long? Seen, but not heard? How does any of this contribute to the common good? 

We’ll spend some time exploring these and other matters as they arise in 1 Corinthians in future issues of Anglicans for Renewal. In the meantime, get your Bible out and explore 1 Corinthians for yourself. Better still, get together with some friends to pray and try and discern what God was up to when he prompted St Paul to write what he wrote in the order he wrote it.


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