Sat, 25 October 2008
A Christian must strive to achieve worthy goals and remain "mission-minded" if he is to live fully for the Kingdom. Whenever a Christian approaches the First Epistle to the Corinthians as merely a devotional book, like some sort of spiritual fodder, he will miss the entire point. St. Paul was always strategic in his plans and actions in order to hasten the mission; similarly, modern Christians are called to act with prayer, forethought and sound execution.
Always working from bases in urban centers, Paul would begin his ministry with the Jews, toiling to establish a base of followers from their ranks and those of the "God-fearers," religious Gentiles in close association with the Jews. Paul efficiently evangelized these God-fearers, offering them a monotheistic religion that did not require circumcision.
Paul never remained long in any one urban center, for his aggressive, often polemic, ministry made him many enemies. After rejection from one community, he would immediately create a new base in another city. He would then labor to coach his disciples in close discourse and worked day and night, meeting the people where they were; further, he often worked a trade to support himself simultaneously to carrying out his apostolic ministry.
As soon as Paul established a sustainable base in one community, he hastened to a new urban center to repeat the process. God appointed him to preach the gospel, a mission he ceaselessly carried out. Within one generation, his ministry of church-planting and letter-writing established a foundation in the Greco-Roman world that affected all subsequent Christian history. Paul's carefully-planned strategy of evangelization clearly contrasts the disorganized and way many modern Christians seek to spread faith. If Christians steadfastly imitate his worthy example their ministries will bear some of the same fruit. Music: La Savorgnana from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com
(Sorry for the audio quality this week, this was digitized off of a cassette tape.)
Sat, 18 October 2008
Acts 18 describes how Christianity came to Corinth. After a difficult sojourn in Athens, Paul arrived in Corinth alone. Soon he met a Jew named Aquilla and his wife Priscilla, with whom he shared the same trade, and began persuading Jews and Greeks in the synagogues to follow Christ. The Scriptures account that the Jews quickly "opposed and reviled” both Paul and his ministry (v 5-6). In response, he "shook out his garments and said to them, 'Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles'" (v 6).
After departing from the synagogue, he began a highly contentious form of evangelization to the Gentiles and God-fearers, establishing his base in the house "next door" to the synagogue (v 7). God protected Paul's oft-threatened ministry in Corinth, saying to him in a night vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man shall attack you to harm you; for I have many people in this city" (v 9-11). After Gallio became proconsul of Achaia (roughly modern Greece), the Jews unite to accuse Paul of spreading an illicit religion (cf v 12-13). Gallio refuses to be the judge of such debate, forcibly ejecting the Jews from his court (cf v 14-15). Tension between Jews and Gentiles is excruciatingly high in Corinth, as expressed by the small riot that ensues (cf v 16-17).
Paul later wrote an epistle to “the church of God which is at Corinth," (1 Cor 1:1-2). Here he stresses the presence of a universal (i.e., catholic) Church with local manifestations. In the Greek, "the church of God which is at Corinth" does not refer to a local assembly, but rather to a universal church which is represented in Corinth. It is important to note that Christians derive the term for church, ecclesia, from the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), where the entire Hebrew people is called the ecclesia of Israel, an assembly of millions. Ecclesia never refers to just a local community in the Septuagint.
Early in the epistle, Paul links Jesus Christ to the grace which the Corinthians have received (cf v 4). In spite of having received the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and other spiritual gifts, however, Paul indicts them for misusing these gifts to further theological causes in a mean-spirited manner (cf v 5). The task of a Christian is to grow in holiness, to love one another and to evangelize, never to be contentious or self-seeking.
Music: Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15, performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 11 October 2008
An industrial hub and commercial center on an Isthmus, the city of Corinth contained many merchants and working-class types; many Roman army veterans retired to Corinth after their tour of duty. A conglomeration of Latins, Greeks, Syrians and Jews, it was the capital of the entire Roman province of the Achaia, roughly the boundary of the modern Greek state. Archaeological excavations have revealed entire streets of bars and brothels in the city. Corinth was notorious for its perverse sexual immorality.
Among all Churches recorded in the New Testament, the church at Corinth most parallels the state of the modern Church in America: it contained a diverse group of individuals living in tumult: Jewish and Gentile converts with legalistic leanings, a more liberal contingent and charismatic groups on both ends of the spectrum. Among the believers arose sex scandals, debates over the place of women in worship and intense discussions regarding loyalty to the Apostolic tradition. So embittered were the factions that existed in the Church towards another group that when a representative of one group would start to address the congregation, a member of another party would begin speaking in tongues to drown them out.
While Paul was staying in Ephesus, several prominent men of the Corinthian community sought out Paul's response on several matters. Obliging their request, Paul writes the First Epistle to the Corinthians in late spring of A.D. 55. A young Timothy most likely delivered Paul's letter to this first Century church in A.D. 55-57. Though they had received catechetical instruction from Paul himself over the course of 18 months, the Corinthians received neither Timothy nor the Epistle with high regard. Their tepid response raises questions as to how Christian the Corinthians actually were, and their turmoil speaks to the fact that they had not fully reformed their bawdy ways. Many members of the Corinthian church simply did not respect Paul as one who carried Apostolic authority.
Music: Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischutz, J. 277 performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com
Sat, 4 October 2008
Paul uses stark language in Galatians 6 to indict both legalists and antinomians: "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (v 7). While all in the Galatian assembly have some concern for honoring God, this verse makes a distinctions between those who "go through the motions," those who practice self-justification, and those true Christians who offer themselves entirely to God and live justly.
Speaking to Christians with a weakening resolve, Paul says "Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart" (v 9). He continues, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (v 10).
Verses 11-18 seek to reiterate and summarize the entire epistle, which Paul writes with large letters in his own hand for emphasis (v 11). He contrasts the spirit (the true Gospel) with the flesh (Gentile circumcision and a doctrine of self-justification). He reveals those worldly men who want to "make a good showing in the flesh...only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ" (v 12). Consistently referring to the saving power of the cross, he says "But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (v 14). Because Paul knows the Christians are a new race within humanity, he establishes that "neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision" (v 15).
Although some may interpret verse 17 to read that Paul bore the stigmata, the words "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus," most likely refer to the wounds and scars that he bore from beatings and persecution in order that he might "fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" (Col 1:24).
One must not conclude a study in Galatians without establishing that even the mind can be "of the flesh." In Col 2:18, Paul says "let no one disqualify you...puffed up without reason by his sensuous [fleshly] mind." A mind of the flesh has, among other things, a tendency to "rack up points" for itself after executing good deeds. He rails against those who place the things of this passing world – especially a pride-filled asceticism – ahead of Jesus Christ (cf. 20 ff).
Additionally, one must note that the Catholic interpretation of Romans and Galatians has never been that one can earn his salvation through good works. The Council of Trent reaffirmed the existing truth that no Catholic can earn his salvation, for it is a free gift of God. Still, ill-taught, immature and sinful Catholics may sometimes fall into the mindset that they must earn their salvation. One hopes that by living the fullness of truth in love, Catholics will debunk the myths that many non-Catholics believe about the Church's Magisterium. Further, living the fullness of the Catholic faith allows one to bear the fruits of a life in the Spirit, maintain a loving responsibility for his brothers, and continuously grow nearer to God.
Christians do well to model Paul's passion and willingness to challenge that which is manifestly wrong and leads to the spiritual death of the brethren.
Music: Beethoven's Sonata No. 4 in E Flat Major, Op. 7 performed by Paul Pitman. www.musopen.com