The Church in Corinth
Sometimes Christians wish they could escape their present challenges and go back to the early church. In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul gives us a picture of the church in Corinth, reminding us that first-century Christians faced many struggles themselves.
A little bit of background on the city of Corinth. A church had been established there, and during Paul’s third missionary journey, he got very disturbing reports from emissaries who came to him and told him of trouble that was brewing in the Corinthian community.
Sometimes we have a rose-colored view of the first-century church. Sometimes we wish, “Oh, if only our church could be like the church at Philippi or the church at Corinth: so pure in its devotion, so deep in its spirituality, so powerful in its prayer life and everything. But when we look at the situation in the churches as Paul addresses the problems that are arising in each of these congregations, we see, really, a growing infant church that is still profoundly immature in its grasp and in its understanding of the things of God. We remember the Apocalypse of the New Testament where John, in his vision, is told by Christ to write a letter to the seven churches. And for the most part those letters that Jesus was writing to His seven churches, they were not complementary letters at all, were they? But we have this idealized view of the early church. But even a cursory glance at what Paul is dealing with in the lives of these congregations reveals that it’s a marvelous thing and a testimony to God’s grace and providence that the church survived at all, so vulnerable were they to every wind of doctrine and every heresy that came along.
Well, of all of those churches that were known for chaotic upheaval, perhaps there was none more problematic than this church in Corinth. And it might have something to do with its location. Corinth had been settled originally in a Greek-style culture and so on. But under Roman occupation in the second century BC, it was rebuilt and became a center of ancient commerce, and having seacoasts very close to it, on both sides, that it was the entertainment capital, kind of the Las Vegas of the ancient world. And the thing that you may find astonishing is the Corinth that Paul knew and visited had a population of 500,000 people. Now by the population standards of antiquity, that was an enormous city. I mean, that would make it one of the major cities in the United States of America. I mean, there aren’t that many cities in America that actually have a population of 500,000 persons or more.
And so, it was in that setting, a commercial business center, a city that was known internationally at that time for its licentiousness. It was a sensuous place, a place of radical corruption with respect to pagan religion, prostitution, and all sorts of immorality. And it was in the midst of that pagan environment that a church was established.