Corinth: Why Paul’s worst church may be our best model

I think it’s time somebodyTemple of Apollo at Corinth came to the defense of the church in Corinth.  Okay, so they’re all dead now.  But they live on in two of Paul’s letters for all the world to see.  I think Corinth, arguably Paul’s worst church, may be our best model for church today.  Better than Purpose-driven, Willow Creek, or any of the other models out there.  Here’s why:

  1. They were brand-new believers.  Talk about a church planter’s dream.  This was a church of new Christians.  Not a transfer member among them.  Newbies, to use the jargon.  No preconceived ideas, no “we-did-it-this-way-at-my-other-church” notions, fresh as the new-mown hay. 
  2. They participated.  Okay, so maybe they participated a little too exuberantly, but they all wanted to contribute to worship.  They all had a prophecy, a word of knowledge, a tongue, a revelation, or an interpretation.  They obviously did not have an “order” of worship, but as Jack Nicklaus said of his golf swing, “I was going for distance and figured I could work on accuracy later.”  They were going for participation first;  order came later.  Now, we mostly have order, but not much participation.
  3. They made mistakes, but out of enthusiasm.  They did communion wrong, worship wrong, shopped in the wrong butcher shops, flaunted their spiritual gifts, tried to outdo each other in worship, and generally were the most enthusiastic church around.  Paul had to temper their enthusiasm with instruction, but it’s better to have to control a fire than try to start one!
  4. They practiced their new faith while still growing in it.  In the congregation there were drunks, adulterers, sexually promiscuous, those who shopped at the pagan temple meat markets, and self-promoters.  Quite a congregation, but Paul never says they are not Christians.  Rather, he urges them to grow in their faith by changing their bad practices. 
  5. Their new faith was relevant to their world.  The temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love was in Corinth, so Paul writes to them about real Christian love.  The temple of Asclepius, the god of healing, was in Corinth, so it was not a stretch for them to believe that their new God was more powerful than their old god.   Maybe that explains the high profile of spiritual gifts in Corinth.  Whatever the reason, the Corinthians connected the dots between the pagan world in which they lived and their new found faith in Christ.
  6. They were a real church.  Paul, despite all the problems of Corinth, never says they aren’t a real church.  Instead, he patiently guides them into practices that are more faithful expressions of their new life in Christ.  We in the 21st century church could learn a lot from the Corinthians and Paul. 

So, there you have it — my 6 reasons that Corinth is our best model.  Because in today’s church we need to recapture some of the enthusiasm, exuberance, freshness, and mistakes of Corinth — they were alive and living their new faith! 

33 thoughts on “Corinth: Why Paul’s worst church may be our best model”

  1. Chuck,
    you err on all counts. Were we to follow the examples of Corinth, there would be nothing but trouble. Here’s why:
    1. They were brand-new believers. These were NOT brand new believers. Paul had spent about a year and a half with them, and by the time this letter was written, more time had passed. The disciples (and Paul) received only three years of instruction, and went on to set up churches. They should have been more mature, but their carnality retarded them.

    2. They participated. Their participation was out of order. They were participating in carnality. This is not an example to follow.

    3. They made mistakes, but out of enthusiasm. It is best not to start a fire at all, but to allow the Holy Spirit to work through you. These people were so consumed with self indulgence, envy, strife, covetousness and divisions, that they couldn’t control themselves, much less a fire.

    4. They practiced their new faith while still growing in it. Paul wasn’t “urging” them, he was rebuking them. Nothing was being accomplished, because there was no order in the church. This is not of the Holy Spirit, but of the flesh. You should read 14:26-28 again. “and that by course” means, in an orderly manner. This church was full of confusion, and the Bible says, “God is not the author of confusion”. 1 Cor 14:33

    5. Their new faith was relevant to their world. There are no “dots” between the pagan world and Christianity. There is only separation. And if there is no separation, then it is called “capitulation”, and that is NOT what God has called us to. We are to separate ourselves from paganism, and draw near to Him. We are not even to give space to those who would tell us that the “blending” is acceptable. Read Romans 16:18

    6. They were a real church. This was not a church, it was a sideshow. Paul never said they were a real church, either. This is not the expample the church can learn from, other than by avoiding this type of behavior.
    So, there you have it — my 6 reasons that Corinth is our best model. Because in today’s church we need to recapture some of the enthusiasm, exuberance, freshness, and mistakes of Corinth — they were alive and living their new faith!

    Perhaps you should re-acquaint yourself with Revelation 2 and 3. There were several churches mentioned there, that were doing much the same things as Corinth was doing; the difference is a couple of recurring statements: “Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee” and “REPENT”. Jesus was expressing his disgust with the actions of some of the churches, such as the church of the Laodiceans: “I will spew thee out of My mouth”.
    Rev 3:16

    The church at Corinth, much like the church of the Laodiceans and the church of this age, was steeped in apostasy. To the degree that, one of the members was having sexual relations with his father’s wife. And you think that the church today should follow this church as an example? Only of what NOT to do. When Jesus said to the church of the Laodiceans: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”, it was not an invitation, it was an indictment. He was not inside the church, but rather, outside of a door, which was locked from within. It would be far better to follow the examples of the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna and Philadelphia, than to consider any part of Corinth

    1. Rick, maybe you missed the opening verses of I Corinthians where Paul says they are a church, they are in Christ, and God will keep them. Re-read that — I Corinthians 1:1-5 — Here it is:

      1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

      2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:

      3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


      4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

    2. Can I say well put Mr. Rick Bryant. I am doing a study on the church of Corinth and frankly, I could not agree with you more. We have to be bold when speaking on sin and have to stomp out what is not right.

    3. The whole answer here is found in the word itself. 1 Cor 3:2-3- Paul writes, and I paraphrase,” you, church at Corinth prove yourselves by your actions to everyone that you are Christ’s church, so much so that I count you as my letter of recmmendation. “

  2. Greetings,
    I agree in the book of Corinth we find the proper format for a Church Service . In 1 Corinthians 14:26, we read how believers are to come together ! But not many take heed ! The Church Service today had become a one man show, following the format of the Roman Catholic Church ! I invite your reply .

    By Sovereign Grace,
    Harold Brown

    1. Lack of discipline seemed to be their underlying problem. We probably have the same problem today, although it gets expressed differently now. Thanks for your comments.

  3. I agree that lack of discipline was the underlying problem.

    Clement, mentioned in Philippians, who worked with Paul later wrote another letter to Corinth to try and reign them in.

    Its available over at CCEL and is worth a read.



  5. Great piece. Thanks for writing it.

    Church for me is very much like eating a taco. I spend no small amount of energy getting all the ingredients lined up, then take one bite and it’s a mess. Church is messy, and it’s in the middle of the mess that Jesus shows up.

    I’m starting a sermon series on 1st Corinthians, and your ideas are helping me approach the book with new perspective. Thanks.


  6. I like the idea of looking to I Corinthians as a tutorial for a church plant. Teachers do their best work with remedial students. Talented students don’t need to be told everything the teacher knows. Since many things aren’t broken, many things don’t need to be fixed. The church at Philippi didn’t receive a letter explaining what love looks like, this wasn’t an issue with them. The church at Corinth needed it spelled out for them–I feel like our church needs the remedial course!

  7. We are studiying church leadership. Paul exhibited great leadership skills in dealing with the beleivers at Corinth.
    But where sin abounded, grace did much nore abound. Romans 5:20b

  8. This is a very nice subject to speak on in any situation. I do believe that we can look at this from a lot of areas. Yes, The enemy is still using the same tricks, but just on different people which allows people to think highly of themselves. My favorite part of the letter is in 2 Corinthians chapters 11 and 12. Paul is exposing himself and telling of a problem that he could have, but he’s not a fool. he’s been through this, that, and everything else, but he realizes that it’s nothing of himself and that is how the church of Corinth was thinking…and at the same time Paul was exposing himself he was also telling the Church of Corinth about itself…sure, you may not have the same “thorn” as I do, but don’t let that stop you from serving God. That thorn is there to keep you humble. I have problems, you have problems, and we all have problems…yeah, your stuff stinks too!!!! This created such division in the church just as it does today, but soon as we learn that we all have something that keeps us on our knees or creates a problem such as premarital sex, gossiping, backbittiing, or whatever your “thing” may be that is not of God the better we will be as a church.


  9. Making an argument based on the establishment of a church is only going to create the same problems that we should be ending.

  10. I think it’s an interesting topic. My friend I met at a skatepark I felt the Holy Spirit tell me to talk to him. I kept putting it off and said someone else would talk to him but the holy spirit was insistent and I felt that If i didn’t talk to him I might not see him again. So i talked to him and we became friends and he started hanging out with our friends group. He later became a christian and got baptized after spending time with us. He started attending church and gave his life to God. He still struggled with immorality but he was honest with us and we prayed and believed that he would eventually be free from it. He is in a healthy relationship now. It is definately a process for new christians.
    I don’t know whether its relevant but thought I should share it.

  11. I’m preaching a sermon in the morning on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. The Church in Corinth was a mess and Paul is writes them not 1, not 2, but 3 letters of rebuke as to how to get things in order. I don’t care what congregation you end up being a part of, hang around for a while and you will find a mess or two. Now, there may not be men sleeping with their step moms like in chapter 5, but a mess you will find nevertheless. What is so awesome is that Paul knows all of what is going on. He knows that he is about to spank their spiritual bottoms for thier unChristlike behavior, however, his starting place is to focus on their spiritual blessing of God’s Grace. So, next time you find yourself in a church-mess, I suggest that you focus on what Christ is doing and has done in the lives of those who’ve blown it. Focus on that first. The old saying goes, it is a lot easier to attract a bear with honey than with vinegar. 1 Cor. 5 definately tells us we can’t just ignore blatent sin in the church, however, we must understand that the purpose in church discipline is restoration and not destruction!

  12. Great article, Chuck! I am preaching a series entitled GROWN FOLK FAITH (1 Cor 10:13). This article will be a great source of my foundation material. I get the contrast and it quite interesting.. Thanks for writing it…

  13. My husband and I are two years into a church plant. I think your post is incredible. You’re right. The Kingdom of God is supposed to be full of all kinds of people at every point in their journey to (and sometimes from) Jesus. Isn’t that what Jesus’ ministry looked like? If a church is full of perfectly behaved “Christians” then I question whether or not it is actually a church — because that means no one is being reached.

    Kudos on your entry. I loved it!

  14. I wonder if any of you considered that there is truth in both points of view. On the one hand the author, Chuck, makes a valid point that is definitely supported by the opening verses of 1 Corinthians: 1-5ff that there is an abundance of God’s grace to go around and who better to appreciate it than those who are steeped in sin and then repent. Paul needed to write many words of warning, for sin is an entanglement, that can dismember the faith if not contended against, but on the other hand Corinth, as in that carnal and ungodly flesh nature that we all have even after faith and salvation, is the reality all Christians face as so eloqently described in Romans 7 and 8, “the good that I should do that I find myself not doing and the bad that I should not do, that I find myself doing,… who will rescue me from this mess? Thanks be to Jesus who gives me the victory…”

    I would suggest that the Lutherans got it right when they said that all of Scripture can be divided into Law and Gospel. The Law convicts of our sin and our need for a Savior and the Gospel draws us into Christ and motivates us to live our lives for Him. Chuck Warnock wanted to point out the Gospel side of things or as another favorite Lenten hymn in the Lutheran Hymnals says, “Jesus sinners doth receive” not meaning exclusively those outside of salvation, but those weak Christians who seem to get a lot wrong in their practice of their faith, but nonetheless cling to Christ for His righteousness and salvation.

    I welcome your responses to my comments.

  15. I think you got enthusiasm and Pride mixed up. The Church of Corinth had members full of Pride that’s the reason they tried to do each other. It had nothing to do with worship of God it had more to do in building themselves up and not others. Second you are absolutely right they had no concern for order in the church no reverence for God. What happen in the Old Testament congregation members when tried to do things their way instead of Gods order? As much as Corinth was messed up it is a great example of not what to strive for. And listen to Saint Paul on his example. Your right St Paul never called them a false church, the true Church will be corrected and the false church will continue in error.

  16. Either way you fall on this discussion, Paul by inspiration of the Holy Spirit DID call them a Sanctified Church. John by inspiration of the Holy Spirit DID call all seven churches of Asia churches. It is not our bride and not our church, as Jesus said “…I will build my church…” Be VERY careful saying a church is a church or a church is not a church when we are but mere servants to the Groom.

  17. They were down right stupid! And whoever refused to confront the wickedness was also stupid. Good thing God forgives stupid or I too would be counted out! THANK YOU LORD JESUS FOR YOUR PRECIOUS BLOOD THAT SAVES US FROM our stupid selves! amen!

  18. Great piece sir. Apostle Paul spent time ministering to this church because he believed in the work of God’s grace to bring them to a better end. The truth is that there is a lot to learn from the Corinthian church. else, the Holy Spirit would not have allowed for them to be part of scripture.

  19. What a precious people you all are, when I copied and pasted all your replies I read this….WHEN INFANTS ARRIVE AT A WEDDING WITHOUT PARENTS THEY PURSUE ALL THINGS THEIR EYES DESIRE, THEY ENVY THE ONE WHO HAS MORE AND ABANDON THE ONE WHO HAS LESS, THEY CANT SEE THE GROOM SO THEY DONT KNOW THE GROOM SEES THEM, THE WAR OF FLESH AND SPIRIT MAKES NO SENCE AT ALL TO THEM, THEY HAVE BEEN TOLD OF DEMONS BUT THEY CANT SEE THEM EITHER. WHO WILL SAVE THEM FROM THEM SELVES….. oh how wretched WE ALL ARE who can save us infants from this DELICIOUS FEAST of death….. rom7 25 now let me, daz, speak…..”dont cast judgement on the church at corinth because they are already home and you are not, you were not told that you will judge the world and angels…..THEY WERE! Love to all in the name of our wonderful saviour LORD JESUS CHRIST of Nazareth…SOON TO BE ANNOINTED KING Amen

  20. Reblogged this on AnaLyze-Dream-Think and commented:
    I love this! Today I was just thinking these same things about how churches are so stinkin’ concerned with structure, structure, structure, that it leaves no room for impromptu discussions during services, or new and fresh ideas being tried during services or worship time. It’s extremely frustrating. Every church you walk into now is all about, no, no, no, we are set in our ways and don’t try to change anything because this is how it’s done and we like it this way….. Irks me to death!!

  21. Rick, I am going to agree with Chuck here. I do recognize your valid points; but your minimal points rank low in the overall message of the Church at Corinth. Do you know of a Church that today would read intently your message, which is an excellent one if standing alone, or would they read intently a letter from Paul, as did the Corithians?
    Today the Messages of Corinth are as needful to Church as it was in the days of the early churches, which, BTW, all felt the heavy hand of Paul in their days of ‘Milk’ and growing pains and going on, as History has so gloriously shown, to maturity.
    Today’s Church, welcomes the effeminates, the adulterers, the extortionists and the Bondslavers. They do not even know who they are.
    Finally, before we condemn the Church at Corinth for being Carnal…exactly what today’s Church is, let us get our present Church out of its hallucinations concerning Halloween, Easter, Cupid’s day , and Christmas trees, cookies, presents to family members and Turkay day, before we accuse a Church that was willing to ponder Paul’s admonitions.And mainly, get our Church back into agreement and back on that holy calling.
    Regards, Homer Buford.

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