Church Write-Up: Spiritual Gifts, Idolatry, Cross Plus

I went to the weekly adult Bible study at the LCMS. It resumed meeting, after a hiatus.

The pastor started a series on I Corinthians.

Here are some items:

A. A key topic in I Corinthians is spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are acts of God’s grace. They are given to believers, not because they are deserving or conjured them up themselves, but because of God’s free gift. They exist to glorify God and to build up the church. Unfortunately, Christians in Corinth, on the basis of these gifts, acted as if they were superior. Those with flashier gifts, like tongues, thought that God liked them more than those who had less flashy gifts, like hospitality.

B. In Corinth was a temple to Apollo. It had Corinthian columns, which bulge in the center for support and for an optical illusion: so that the columns from a distance will look straight. If the column were straight, it would look caved in from a distance. Wherever people in Corinth would go, the temple of Apollo would look over them. Corinth had a lot of idolatry. As a cosmopolitan city and a trading hub connecting the east and the west of the Roman empire, it attracted different ideas, not just goods. Paul believed that the idols were nothing, yet he also thought that idolatry was an entry-point for demons, who use it to promote orgies and prostitution.

C. Some Christians in Corinth thought that the cross was good as a beginning, but that something needed to be added to the cross in order for one to become intimate with God. They claimed to have special wisdom and knowledge, so Paul opens I Corinthians by saying that God’s wisdom is in the cross, which is above human wisdom. Paul in I Corinthians 12:3 says that no one speaking by the Spirit of God can say Jesus is cursed. The pastor said that this does not refer to Christians cursing Jesus under threat of persecution, for that was the time before the Roman persecution of Christianity. The pastor suspects that Paul is criticizing adding Christianity to other things. When Christianity is mixed with other belief systems, Christianity is what gets compromised. Some examples that he cited were Christian socialism and Thomas Merton incorporating Buddhist meditation into Christian monasticism. But he referred to other controversial issues: organs were played in the Roman collosseum, while Christians were being killed by lions. Consequently, some Christians recoiled at using organs in worship, but they were eventually accepted because they could be heard in large cathedrals.

Here, questions enter my mind.

Is the cross (and I include Jesus’s resurrection in this) the only thing that Christians need to know? Is Paul’s problem that the Corinthian Christians were saying that one needs to know something in addition to the cross? Or is his problem more that they were marginalizing the cross of Christ—which is of paramount importance in terms of how God is and how Christians should live—in favor of human-made ideas?

Does not the New Testament, at times, treat the cross as the beginning, or as one of the basics, while thinking Christians should move on to other material? Paul says he needed to feed the Corinthians with milk because they were not ready for meat. (And, by the way, I remember reading E.W. Bullinger speculate that this was why Paul came to them knowing nothing but Christ and him crucified, according to I Corinthians 2:2.) Hebrews 6:1-3 talks about not laying again the foundation, which includes repentance, baptism, the resurrection, and judgment; those are basics, and Christians are to move on to perfection. I asked the pastor about this, and he replied that, in Hebrews, the author is exhorting his audience not merely to trust their outward confession of their faith, with their lips, but rather to internalize their confession in faith. Back to my original question in this paragraph: I do not think that the New Testament treats the cross as something from which believers graduate. It is part of the advanced material, as well.

Is it wrong for Christians to practice Buddhist meditation, or to be socialists because they believe that coincides with the principles of their Christian faith? There are Christians who are Republicans because they believe that the Republican Party reflects their Christian values. Obviously, one can look at the German Christian movement of the 1930’s and see an example of where mixing Christianity with something else can go bad. Christianity plus racialism, or Christianity plus devotion to the Fuhrer. The result, of course, was that Christianity got marginalized. And this could occur with other mixtures: is Buddhist meditation taking one’s focus off of Christ? Does Christian commitment to a particular political creed lead one to hate and demonize those with a different political persuasion? I think a key question is: What sets the agenda? Is it the Christianity, or the something else?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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