25 Nov 2020
As we look at the discrepancies facing the church today, we see the parallels in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul had to face controversies in the New Testament churches, chief among them were the controversy in Galatia and the controversy in the church in Corinth.
If we ponder over the controversies in Galatia and Corinth, we can see certain principles which are rather similar to that in the church today.
Controversy in Galatia
There were new missionaries who were corrupting the Gospel and thereby destroying the church, whose only foundation was the creative message God had given in Christ. These missionaries claimed to be Christians, and to be preaching the Gospel (Gal 1:7-9). But it was a different gospel from the one Apostle Paul preached, and, since there was only one Gospel, that meant that theirs was no gospel at all; they were perverting the Gospel of Christ. They did not reject Christ; had they done so Paul would have found the situation easier to deal with.
The root of the Galatian controversy is to be seen in Galatians 5:2: “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you”. Paul was in fact telling them that if they must add something such as circumcision to what they already have in Christ, then Christ Himself will do them no good. They were receiving ‘another Jesus’, one who needed to be supplemented by legal observance; they were receiving a different gospel, a gospel with a ‘plus’. Christ alone is all they needed; if God has declared His unconditional acceptance of mankind, including the Gentile world, in Christ, to impose a further demand is to cast doubt on God’s declaration and offer.
An unwholesome biblical orthodoxy which ‘adds rules and regulations’ to the Gospel may err in a similar manner; we start to ‘demand’ certain ‘pluses’ in our Christianity and we become proud and inflated in fulfilling these, and we question the adequacy of the faith of others who do not meet up to what we deem as essential and necessary in the message of the Gospel and its outworking.
Controversy in Corinth
Paul appears to address two groups of ‘intruders’ in the church of Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, Paul refers to men of whom no good can be said. They were ‘false apostles, servants of Satan’; they disguised themselves as servants of righteousness and were deceitful workmen. In 11:22-29, Paul refers to men who were Jews, also servants of Christ, who were ironically described as ‘super-apostles’ and presumably had some associations with the leaders in the church at Jerusalem as they claimed to have letters of recommendation from the ‘mother-church’. They preached a Gospel, but it was not what Paul recognised as the Gospel, for they proclaimed ‘another Jesus’ – a man-centred interpretation of Jesus. As a result of hearing and receiving this ‘false Gospel’, the Corinthians had received a different Spirit. The intruders encouraged the natural Corinthian predilection for such spiritual gifts as speaking with tongues, seeing in these the authentic marks of the Spirit of God, and they themselves found plenty to boast about. Paul reminded the believers that what matters is not to commend oneself but to be commended by the Lord (10:18).
They were fine, inspired speakers, they performed signs, portents, and mighty works, they saw visions and they imposed themselves as superior persons on their inferiors (11:20).
The supplement to their gospel were spiritual experiences, some even generated by the Spirit; but the function of the Holy Spirit is not to comfort the Christian and exalt his ego with pleasing forms of ecstasy but to bear witness that Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3). The Spirit’s work is done in human life that is emptied of human egocentricity, for the clearest witness to the lordship of Jesus Christ consists in human life in which Christ’s image is reproduced. What matters is the centrality and sufficiency of Christ.
Notice that in both Galatia and Corinth, those who were preaching a different gospel and a different Jesus claimed to be believers – they were not outright false teachers. They did not reject the gospel from one angle of consideration; yet they supplemented the gospel with their ‘pluses’ which may include certain observances and certain spiritual manifestations which they insisted should be present. The so-called super-apostles in Corinth can be likened to those in the present context who claimed ‘visions’, special ‘gnosis’ or knowledge and wisdom with distorted understanding of the Scriptures.
As far as Paul was concerned, human wisdom was a completely inadequate means of approach to God (1 Cor. 1:20). Yet there was also a Godly wisdom which confounds human wisdom; this wisdom is nothing other than the word of the Cross, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24).
Paul taught that Christians are not under law but under grace. He does not mean by this that Christians are not under obligation to be obedient to God. What is meant is that their relation to God is determined not in terms of their observance of a law but in terms of God’s grace, based upon the eternal will of God and independent of human virtue or other achievement. Misunderstanding of this teaching may lead to the complacent view of concluding that it does not matter how we live, for we are no longer under law but under grace.
In the church of Corinth, there was a failure to test the spirits. This led to a lack of responsibility and accountability, which in turn has often led to failure on the part of some who were in prominence, as well as to pain and hurt by those who were recipients of prophetic words that were either false or impossible. We see this happening today in our own context in various congregations.
We must not be presumptuous in thinking that the controversies in the New Testament churches and the discrepancies in the churches today are not serious because those responsible for them also claimed to be believers and some may even be sincere in their beliefs. Note that Paul pronounced that anyone preaching a wrong gospel be accursed. Judgement would be forthcoming; those who teach will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1(b)) and the wrong teaching is often associated with the wrong understanding of the Scripture. The wrong emphasis and the distortion of certain biblical truths would be equivalent to ‘untruths’ and God is a God of truth. He would not take this lightly – it is a fearful thing to come before the wrath of God.