Designer Christianity
by Rev. Sterling M. Durgy

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Every part of the New Testament has important lessons for Christians of every age. Yet, if we look to the epistles of the New Testament including the letters to the seven churches at the beginning of The Revelation to John -- some speak more to the issues of a specific age than to others. Many believe, and not just the Dispensationalists (who believe that the seven letters of Revelation 2-3 represent seven, successive periods of church history), that the message to the church at Laodicea relates most strongly to the age in which we live. While a strong case can be made for this view, I have come to believe that Paul's letters to the church at Corinth relate even more strongly.

One reason I believe this to be true is that the character of the society in Corinth is so close to the character of our society today. Corinth was a city of trade. It earned its wealth by facilitating land trade across the nearby isthmus and sea trade between the Aegean and the Gulf of Corinth. A prominent city in the days of classical Greece, one of the four, great pan-Hellenic games was held on the isthmus near Corinth. Closer to the Greek city of Delphi than other major cities such as Athens, it was no doubt the stopping place of many who were traveling to or from the temple that housed the most famous oracle in the ancient world. At the same time, Athens was not all that far away far enough for Corinth to be a separate center of culture in its own right close enough to be under the influence of Athenian culture. The wealth that passed through encouraged enterprises to care for and entertain and remove the wealth from the many travelers to and through the city. Corinth was a city of loose living and loose morals, and its reputation in this regard was widespread.

The attitude of the Corinthians was born of a combination of wealth, culture, and conventional religion. You did what you wanted. You could act as if you knew a lot because you had enough money to live relatively well. And you assumed that religion would be a help, not a hindrance, to further success.

Comparing the length of the two Corinthian letters to others in our New Testament indicates that there were more than a few problems that arose from people living in this environment; problems requiring careful attention. And many scholars believe that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church at least two other letters that have been lost. The Corinthians had a tendency to be proud, self-serving, and self-satisfied. Their ability to justify poor behavior rivaled that of any Pharisee as indicated by the immorality they tolerated (I Corinthians 5:1ff., cf. Luke 10:29, 16:14-15). Although they appreciated that Paul had brought the Gospel to them, they could think of many reasons not to listen to Paul, and were convinced that their understanding of Christianity was far superior to his. In other words, they were convinced they had advanced beyond the apostles. And yet while they were, indeed, Christians, Paul called them "fleshly" rather than "spiritual." In other words, their Christianity did not advance much beyond the things of this world. They were stuck in the thinking patterns of their culture and their age, in a point of view governed by the "flesh" (II Corinthians 5:16). It should not come as a surprise to those who know Scripture that an affluent worldliness is stubborn in its ways, and tends to accommodate Christianity to its worldliness rather than to conform itself to true spirituality.

Corinth does not pass out of sight when the canon of the New Testament closes. At about the same time The Revelation to John was authored, Clement, bishop of Rome, wrote to the church at Corinth. By then, some four decades had passed since Paul first corresponded. Yet, the church needed a strong hand to return to a way of life appropriate to those called of God.

Today's society is very much like that of Corinth. Similar to Corinth, we have:

When one examines what was happening at Corinth, one sees a group of people who believed that they could create Christianity according to their own wishes. They formed factions and fought with each other about which was superior. Much of the clothing in our society is "designer." We might say that the Corinthians had "designer Christianity." Each picked out a famous name and "wore" a theology that seemed to fit their personal needs and prejudices. Had they truly been discerning truth from falsehood, they might have done well. What they were really doing was organizing their faith according to the beliefs that were the most comfortable.

Too often in our time people are accumulating to themselves teachings and teachers to suit their own liking rather than the truth, choosing beliefs the way they choose designer clothes (II Timothy 4:3-4). Recently I came across a movement that has a fair-sized following. The groups that are a part of this movement have taken more than nine different names because each group feels the need to please themselves in the name of their movement. The purpose of these groups is that the members govern themselves and navigate under what they believe the Holy Spirit is communicating to them right now. In a practical sense, little attention is paid to orthodox faith much is paid to their desires and inclinations.

While the comparison may seem extreme, we can, perhaps, understand the problem better by thinking about what happens in lynch mobs. Lynch mobs, often with the intention of enforcing justice, have a strong tendency to condemn the innocent and, at the same time, acquit the truly guilty; all the while feeling that they have served a higher purpose -- justice. "Mob theology" has the same problems as mob justice, the temptation to condemn the wrong doctrines as false and to acquit false ones as "innocent." The problem occurs when full sway is given to making snap judgments without bothering to find out all of the facts and thereby allowing oneself to be governed by one's personal prejudices. We need to be humble in our pursuit of truth, not only searching the Scriptures, but carefully and thoughtfully comparing our understanding with the teachings of the apostles and the insights of the very best scholarship Christianity has produced throughout its history. If we don't, we will be carried away with the worldly habits of this age even while we proclaim our difference and deliverance from it.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume VII, Part 7, July 1999.

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated July 29, 2000.