Phil Johnson stole my article!

OK, not exactly. I was, however, working on an article with some very similar observations as Phil in observing the danger of “contextualization” without restraint, which seems to be the fare of the day. He noted some similarities with the problems the Corinthians faced with some relevant concerns for the modern church.

I will gladly tip my hat to his keen insight, as usual.

But, allow me to offer a few thoughts on the matter, since Phil brought it up.

First, Paul’s fundamental concern in preaching to the Corinthan church was a clear presentation of the Gospel that was free of all attempts to impress and “connect” with the Corinthian culture. We learn from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that there are limits to allowing cultural influences within the church context. Paul’s reliance upon God to grow the church reflects a deep-seated faith in the power of the Gospel to change lives.

1 Cor 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. 18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

What did Christ send Paul to do? Preach the Gospel. Paul’s rejection of “cleverness of speech” is directly connected to his being sent by Christ. It is Paul’s obedience to Christ that he not use such tactics, but instead rely upon God for the establishment of His church. The consequences of Paul’s disobedience is that the cross of Christ could be made void. It is often missed by the many churches today that there is a way to make the cross void (I will make a point to stop here and recommend Dr. White’s book Puplit Crimes which discusses this point at length.) One would think that a church would approach the gospel ministry with great trepidation rather than with an arrogance that falls headlong into the next great “Christian” fad masquerading as preaching and pastoring!

The emphasis on the power of God to save by Paul echoes his thought in Romans 1:16 where the Gospel is the ‘power of God unto salvation’. One cannot miss the complete devotion of Paul to preach the Gospel in its entirety and unashamedly. He did so without succumbing to the appearance of being relevant and culturally aware and he guarded the Gospel content jealously (Gal 1:6-10). He was well aware of the Corinthian culture. He was schooled in rhetoric. Yet, to underscore that the establishment of this church was entirely the power of God, he rejected the sweet speech, thus opening him up for ridicule and mockery for his ‘contemptible speech’ (2 Cor 10:10).

Second, Paul’s preaching embraced a call for godliness in a godless culture. Here is where Phil’s article was spot on in its analysis of the sick sexual culture of the Corinthian city. When true Christian godliness is proclaimed, it is not kind to the culture around it and it uncompromisingly demands change. Those who wish to be part of the faith are not enticed with the prospect that they will be able to remain as they are. They are expected to seek after holiness. The Christian Gospel confronts culture with head on. It does not seek to morph into its surroundings. The consistent testimony of Paul’s encounter with violent men should be sufficient to clarify this. When he was contrasting the “servants” of Satan with himself, Paul provided his credentials as to why they were not worthy of being followed and how he had proven himself:

2 Cor 11:23 Are they servants of Christ?– I speak as if insane– I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.

I doubt that Paul was beaten by rods for his daring and culturally relevant sermon series on leadership strategies. I see no evidence that he received 39 lashes for his bold move to put a latte bar in the foyer and have the hip Ephesian rock band open for him before he gave his Scriptural Principles for Financial Success. Paul was not stoned because he tried to appear like the culture around him. Paul had all these things done to him because he preached against the ungodliness of the culture. He proclaimed their need to bow before Christ. He rejected any validity to their false gods and did so without shame and without concern for the political, religious, and economical problems such a message would create. Luke tells us a very telling statement about the impact of the church:

Acts 19:23 About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way.

So, the question must be asked: What happened to the church to make her think that the best way to make an impact on the world for Christ was to look less like Christ and more like the world?

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