Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Is it scriptural for a congregation to withdraw from another congregation?

     The concept of brotherhood (1 Pet. 2:17; 5:9), along with numerous biblical examples, supports the regular association and cooperation among churches of Christ (e.g. 1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:19; 11:8-9; et al.). But is Christian brotherhood limited to only pleasant circumstances and enjoyable activities? Does not the “brother’s keeper” principle (Gen. 4:9) enjoin on all members of God’s universal family the responsibility of warning, admonishing, and restoring those who are drifting away from the Lord? (Gal. 6:1-2; James 5:19-20). Does not brotherly love also require the exercise of certain actions which may be somewhat difficult or unpleasant? (cf. Jude 20-23). As fellowship is not limited to the congregational level alone, neither are cooperation, association, warning, admonishing, correcting, or restoring. To suggest that a congregation cannot publicly warn, rebuke, or turn away from a sister congregation that is in error is an attempt to tie the hands of the faithful and to give the devil free course to continue his destructive work. If a faithful congregation cannot withdraw from an apostatizing group, it is therefore forced to continue its association with no means of protecting its members from subversive influences.
     Since the Lord himself cuts off entire congregations when they drift too far away from the prescribed standard of conduct (Rev. 2:5; 3:16; cf. John 15:2-6), should any less be expected from those who remain in fellowship with God? It is true that there were faithful Christians even among the errant congregations of Asia Minor (cf. Rev. 2:24; 3:4), but bear in mind that the Lord did not happily accept the condition of these churches and expect them to maintain their status quo. He called upon them to either repent or face the consequences. Individuals who are true to the Lord, even within the unsound congregations, have the responsibility of admonishing and restoring the unfaithful (Gal. 6:1; James 5:19-20) and severing their affiliation with those who refuse to repent (1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Thess. 3:6; cf. 2 Cor. 6:17). Perpetual silence and toleration in the midst of unrepentant sin are not marks of faithfulness (cf. 1 Kings 18:21; Ezek. 3:17- 21; Rev. 2:20).
     Every Christian and every local congregation belongs to the universal body of Christ. Congregational autonomy does not negate the common bond we all share as a spiritual family. Certainly no single congregation has the right or authority to rule over the affairs of another, but warning, rebuking, and withdrawing from an erring group of Christians is not an infringement on church autonomy. A congregation has both the right and the obligation to refuse association with any person or group that fails to abide within the boundaries set forth by God’s word. Local leaderships will be held accountable for the souls entrusted to their care (Heb. 13:17), for their faithfulness to God or lack of it (Rev. 2:10, 23), and for the messages of approval or disapproval conveyed to their brethren (1 Cor. 11:2, 17).
     A word of caution is in order here. Before an entire congregation (or even an individual for that matter) is excluded from one’s circle of associations, the reasons and motives for such strong measures must be prayerfully scrutinized in the light of God’s word. It is fairly easy to make general allegations of “unfaithfulness” or “false teaching” or “liberalism” or “legalism” or “divisiveness” bolstered by numerous scripture references. But without the substantiation of specific details and reliable information, there is a risk of making illegitimate claims and premature or unwarranted judgments. There is no place for hasty decisions, unbridled emotionalism, or irresponsible proof-texting when dealing with something as precious as the fellowship of God’s people. And because this is such an important matter, sometimes the best course to take is disassociation.
--Kevin L. Moore


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Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Who is the “I” of Romans 7:7-25?

In Romans 7 Paul seems to be using a rhetorical device that employs first person terminology to convey a general truth, similar to Rom. 3:5-7 and 1 Cor. 10:29-30. Some scholars refer to this as “speech-in-character.1 But even in a general sense, who would be included in the I references?

Paul is writing to “all in Rome … called saints” (Rom. 1:7)and sends greetings to what appears to be three or more separate house churches (16:5, 14, 15) comprised of both Gentile and Jewish believers.3  At times in the letter his focus seems to be on Gentile Christians (1:5-6, 13; 11:13-24; 15:14-21), and at other times Jewish Christians (2:17; 6:14-15; 7:4; 16:3, 7, 11). Although there are allusions to physical Israel (e.g. 9:1-5), the apostle plainly states: “for not all those of Israel are [truly] Israel” (9:6b), and “the children of the flesh, these are not children of God, but the children of the promise are considered a posterity” (9:8; cf. 10:12). This follows the previous affirmations that Abraham is the father of all the Roman believers, both Jewish and Gentile (4:12, 16).  

Paul is writing as an evangelist to those who have already been evangelized (note 6:3-5), so whatever he discusses is most likely an internal Christian matter. While he wants to secure the support of the Roman brethren for his planned mission to Spain (15:24-29), he also needs to address the apparent division between Gentile and Jewish believers (14:1–15:13). There were multiple circumstances that “led Paul to write a letter in which he carefully set forth his understanding of the gospel, particularly as it related to the salvation-historical question of Jew and Gentile, law and gospel, continuity and discontinuity between the old and the new” (D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 407; also D. J. Moo, Romans 16-22).

The discussion in Rom. 7 particularly relates to “those who know the law” (v. 1), albeit having been “delivered from the law” (v. 6). Paul was not anti-law (cf. 3:31; 7:7, 12, 14). Rather, he understood that apart from the faith of Christ justification before God cannot be secured by meritorious works of the law (3:20-31; 9:30-32). The argumentation in Rom. 7 is from the perspective of a mid-first-century Jewish Christian (like Paul himself), the application of which was almost certainly not intended to be limited so narrowly.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1See, e.g., S. K. Stowers, “Romans 7.7-25 as a Speech-in-Character, in Paul in His Hellenistic Context (ed. T. Enberg-Pedersen): 180-202. 
     2Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     3See K. L. Moore, A Critical Introduction to the NT 148-50.

Related PostsWas Paul Anti-Law? 

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Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Chronology of Paul’s Work in Corinth

Background
     Lucius Junius Gallio Novatianus (a.k.a. Gallio) began his one-year office as proconsul of Achaia in June 51. An inscription discovered at Delphi and published in 1905 (with additional fragments found and then published in 1970) dates between April and July 52. From this we can deduce that Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia in the previous year (cf. Acts 18:2, 12).
     Emperor Claudius had dispelled Jews (including Aquila and Priscilla) from Rome in 49 (his 9th year as emperor). The dating of Claudius’ edict comes primarily from the 5th-century historian Paulus Orosius (Hist. Adv. Pag. 7.6.15-16), and even though there is a degree of uncertainty as to the exactness of this date (cf. J. Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: A Critical Life 9-10), it is consistent with other chronological data (Josephus, Dio Cassius, Suetonius) and is based on historical information available to Orosius that is no longer extant. 
     Paul and Barnabas met with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem to discuss the circumcision controversy (Acts 15:1 ff.) early in the year 50, fourteen years after Paul’s visit in 36 (Gal. 2:1).1 Afterwards, over the next few months, Paul’s missionary team started churches in the region of Macedonia, viz. in the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, then on to Athens (Acts 16–17).
Paul’s Work in Corinth
     The apostle would have arrived in Corinth from Athens around late autumn of the year 50. He labored with Aquila, Priscilla, Silas and Timothy until spring of 52, leaving behind an established Christian community (Acts 18:1-18). After his departure via the seaport of Cenchrea, Paul seems to have had no further communications with the Corinthian brethren until sometime during his three years’ ministry in Ephesus (Acts 20:31; 1 Cor. 16:8).
     Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians in which he warned them not to associate with immoral persons (1 Cor. 5:9), and Timothy was sent to Corinth to remind them of the apostle’s teachings (1 Cor. 4:17). Paul received reports from Chloe’s people of certain disorders among the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:11), and he welcomed a delegation from Corinth, namely Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (1 Cor. 16:17), who delivered a letter from the brethren seeking his advice on various questions (1 Cor. 7:1). In response Paul wrote the epistle of 1 Corinthians from Ephesus in the spring of 56 (cf. 1 Cor. 4:19; 16:8).
     An unsuccessful attempt had been made to get Apollos to revisit Corinth (1 Cor. 16:12), while Paul was planning to return to Corinth himself (1 Cor. 4:18-19; 11:34; cf. 2 Cor. 11:10; 12:21) to impart “a second blessing [ch├íris]” (2 Cor. 1:15). This could refer to his next return since the inaugural campaign (cf. 2 Cor. 12:14; 13:2; discussed further below). Another possibility is the fact that two upcoming visits had been planned – one on the way to Macedonia (2 Cor. 1:16a) and the other from Macedonia (v. 16b) – thus the first and second “blessing,” although the first of these did not eventuate.
     His initial intention was to stop in Corinth on his way to Macedonia, then revisit the Corinthians on his way from Macedonia to Judea and be assisted by them (2 Cor. 1:16; cf. 1 Cor. 16:6; Acts 19:21). However, for reasons presumably beyond his control, he had to change his travel plans and go to Macedonia first (1 Cor. 16:2-7; cf. 2 Cor. 1:12-24) via Troas (2 Cor. 2:12-13), although he did not want to visit the Corinthians while he was agitated with them (2 Cor. 1:23; 2:1-4; cf. 12:20-21; 13:10).
     Titus had been to Corinth and met Paul in Macedonia, reporting on the situation among the Corinthian disciples (2 Cor. 7:5-7, 13-15). From Macedonia (2 Cor. 7:5; 9:2-4) Paul and Timothy wrote 2 Corinthians in the summer and/or autumn of 56. Some interpret the evidence differently and propose three visits and four letters to Corinth (e.g. L. Morris, First Corinthians 22-25; C. Kruse, Second Corinthians 17-25; cf. G. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians 18-32).
     Paul states: “this [is the] third [time] I am ready to come to you” (2 Cor. 12:14), and “this [is the] third [time] I am coming to you” (13:1).2 These statements seem to be alluding to: (a) his inaugural visit to Corinth (Acts 18); (b) the intended visit on the way to Macedonia that did not occur (2 Cor. 1:15-17); and (c) the upcoming visit he is planning to make. This conclusion is corroborated by the next statement in 13:2, “I have warned and I am warning, as being present the second [time] and being absent now … if I come again …” This would indicate that Paul had been to Corinth once before (Acts 18), and though his previous plan to return did not eventuate, this letter is a prelude to his upcoming second visit (cf. 2 Cor. 9:1-5; 10:2, 11; 12:20-21; 13:10). Titus and other brothers were sent back to Corinth probably to deliver the letter and to help get the contribution ready which the Corinthians had proposed a year earlier (2 Cor. 8:6-24; 9:2-5; 12:17-18).
Paul’s Return to Corinth
     Paul did eventually return to Corinth, spending the three winter months of 56-57 in Greece (Acts 20:2-3), during which time he and Tertius wrote the epistle to the Romans. While it is possible that Paul revisited Corinth after his release from the first Roman imprisonment around 62-64 (cf. 2 Tim. 4:20), this cannot be confirmed.
Conclusion:
     Paul was not in the habit of making converts and then leaving them to fend for themselves (see They Returned). His documented work in Corinth demonstrates that he invested significant time and energy in fulfilling the great commission by making disciples and establishing congregations with ongoing contact and follow up.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 The question here is whether to understand the three years of Gal. 1:18 and the fourteen years of Gal. 2:1 concurrently or consecutively. Adding the fourteen years to Paul’s initial post-conversion Jerusalem visit does not present any insurmountable chronological difficulties. What creates a greater degree of uncertainty, however, is the ancient practice of counting a portion of the first and last years as a full year in the calculation.
     2 Unless otherwise noted, English translation of scripture is the author’s own.

Related Posts: Ancient Corinth 


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