October 26, 2019

We All Need Each Other

At Edgewood Church, we are currently working our way through First Corinthians. The last two weeks we have been in Chapter 12. (Chapter 12 Sermon 1 & Chapter 12 Sermon 2) There have been several eye-opening moments for me as I have studied my way through this book, but some of the biggest ones, at least from my perspective, have happened in this chapter. As we finish up Chapter 12 this week, I came across a summary statement in one of my commentaries that left me nodding my head in agreement, and then typing the entire thing out. I then read it to my wife because I was marveling at its implications on they way we do church.

I have included the entire quote here... and I am obviously putting it here because I would like as many of my family and friends to read this as possible. You will see that I have included 6 paragraphs. They are the final 6 paragraphs from Ben Witherington III's chapter on 1 Corinthians 12.

If you don't have a ton of reading stamina... The important paragraphs are the last 3. If you read the whole thing... Pause after the second paragraph before you embark on the remainder. Focus in on the ideas in the last three paragraphs (especially paragraphs 4 and 5).

Note as well: ekklēsia is the Greek word for Church and apostoloi is the Greek word for Apostles (or messengers).

     Paul's use of the body metaphor to speak of the Christian Community in Corinth implies that he believes that God the Holy Spirit bequeaths to each Christian community all the gifts & graces it needs to be what it ought to be. In addition, the list of gifts in this chapter strongly suggest that God gives not only abilities but also persons as gifts to the community, weather apostoloi, prophets, teachers, or others.
     But does God still do all these things for the ekklēsia today? We can certainly affirm that God provides amply for the modern at Christian community, but in some ways the provision is different. For one thing, if we are to follow Paul's ideas on this matter, apostoloi were gifts given to the ekklēsia in its first two generations, but not since then. Paul assumes in 9:1 that an essential criterion for apostleship is to have seen the risen Lord during the period of his resurrection appearances at the beginning of the church age. Furthermore, Paul tells us that he was the last to see the risen Christ (15:8). While we can certainly talk about the passing down of the apostolic teaching through the ages of the ekklēsia, we cannot talk about the passing down of the apostolic office. “Apostolic succession,” in the sense of a continued apostolic presence through a church office, is a myth, since no one after the initial witnesses can meet the essential criterion. Apostoloi were God's temporary gift to found the community of Christ, and this was probably already recognized by the end of the NT period, as Rev. 21:14 suggests (cf. also Acts 1:22). Neither “the twelve” nor “the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:5,7) were a continual presence even in the first century.
     But nothing in the NT suggests that any of the other person's as gifts or gifts to persons ceased with the early ekklēsia. Indeed, there is a considerable evidence throughout the course of church history to the contrary. How might this conclusion be applied today?
Paul is apparently referring to all the Corinthian house congregations collectively as the body of Christ. This might well suggest that one particular local house church would not have all the gifts needed in that city to serve the purposes of Christ's body. Perhaps there is a lesson here for us. As many churches as we have in every city, none of them has all the gifts, graces, and human resources necessary to be the ekklēsia of God fully and adequately in that place. There is a warning here to every singular assembly that the “church” does not cease at its doorstep. Every local assembly needs every other local assembly to be complete. Just as gifted individuals cannot say to other Christians that they are unneeded it, since no Christian has all God's gifts, so, too, this is apparently true with congregations as well. It is not accidental that different Christian faith traditions have specialized in manifesting different gifts. For example, not all truly Christian congregations have prophets or tongues speakers in them, but some do. Or again, some churches have especially nurtured the role of elder or deacon(ess).
     My plea here is not just for tolerance or ecumenical cooperation and appreciation but also for recognizing that we all need each other. Paul is correcting abuses of various gifts in chs. 12-14, but to correct abuse of a gift is not to rule out its proper use. I suspect that Paul would tell us that just as “charismania,” the overemphasis on prophecy or tongues, is not healthy, neither is “charisphobia,” the anathematizing of all such gifts. We are not called to act in the chaotic and selfish fashion the Corinthians did, but we are also not called to quench the Spirit and arrange Christian worship so that there is no room for the spontaneous Word from above to be shared. There is a balance between Spirit and structure, order and spontaneity, that should be maintained in any local congregation.
     Finally, Paul’s word about giving more honor to the weaker members of the body of Christ, the less “presentable” ones, needs to be heeded. He believes that even these folks have essential gifts and functions to exercise. It is a mistake to bring the world’s evaluative system into the ekklēsia and to set up an honor roll that favors the more presentable and dignified, or those with the more outwardly showy or dramatic gifts. Paul believes that the body of Christ is only truly strong when it gives special honor and attention to its weakest members. The more presentable members do not need such attention. 

This quote comes from pg. 262-263 from Conflict and Community in Corninth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians by Ben Witherington III

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