[All three courses on Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians are now available. Get a major discount on Paul’s Second Letter to Corinth with N.T. Wright through Sept. 29.]
Our course on Paul’s First Letter to Corinth: Part Two is not simply a sequel to Part One. Rather, questions the Apostle Paul addresses shift from unity within the church, the notion of wisdom, and specific issues like sex, lawsuits, and food, and moves to questions concerning the public image of the worshipping church, questions about spiritual gifts, and finally the magisterial denouement of why Jesus’ Easter-morning resurrection changed everything forever. Indeed, what the Apostle Paul writes to these Corinthian believers centuries ago is, as Prof. Wrights says, ‘vibrating with excitement for Paul, Corinth, and for us today’.
So, what do head coverings, shared meals, and weaker body parts teach us about what our local worshipping church bodies should look like today?
Because of the Angels?
Admittedly, this is a loaded question because as we often observe when we engage Scripture (or, rather when Scripture engages us!), we often end up with more questions than answers. What might it mean when Paul says that a woman ought to have a visible expression of authority over her own head because of the angels? (1Cor 11.10). Are the holy angels present when the congregation comes together? Prof. Wright affirms, ‘the New Testament is the sort of book that says, Join in this movement and then you will have to do some work and figure it out. In this course you will discover why and how head coverings might have protected the public image of the church, and what this means for how men and women today might safeguard the church. How might we avoid giving off wrong signals to our surrounding culture? Must we thoughtfully consider dress and lifestyle in worship, or is it always appropriate to show up and ‘come as you are’?
As you dive into the world of the Corinthian church and the questions they were asking, you will see that the Apostle Paul addresses far more than ‘cultural concerns’. Rather, the context is the celebration of the church as new creation and the public witness of the God’s worshipping people, which impacts and informs Jesus’ followers today. Prof. Wright will unpack how Paul theologises cautiously, while working out the mutual inter-dependence of men and woman as symbols of God’s renewed creation and what this looks like in practice. You will also discover that how the church remembers and celebrates the Good Friday and Easter-shaped patterns of Jesus’ death and resurrection matters because this ought to be life-giving over against meal-gatherings that bring shame. Indeed, we must be cautious today to guard against harm or abuse in practice, which can arise when we are inattentive to our ever-changing contexts and lived experiences of the people around us.
The Point of the Gospel
The whole point of the Gospel is that it is an open invitation for everybody—just as Jesus welcomed everybody. Then they were transformed by receiving his welcome. The church must ‘signpost’ this truth in worshipful ecclesial practice that is energised by the working and gifting of God’s Spirit. Prof. Wright will guide you in understanding that when the Corinthians were gathering around the Lord’s table, some were ignoring what happened when outsiders came in. You will have the opportunity to reflect on how they might have been treating others and the implications for our contemporary public engagement. You will see why it mattered to Paul how these first-century Christians regarded themselves personally, and each another, and why this matters today.
Propriety in the Lord’s Supper
Paul charges some in the Corinthian church with denying what the Lord’s Supper was all about by shaming those who have nothing (v 22). In this course, you will be challenged to ask yourself, ‘what does this meal really mean?’ How are we making present the memorial of Jesus’ death that removes categories of gender, ethnicity, or social standing? You will look around to see if people are discovering that they too have a place at your church’s table in all of its fullness, or if they are discovering that they are among the lower orders in the church. And, you will explore with Paul as he exhorts the Corinthians from tradition, echoing from the Psalms: We must examine ourselves or risk drinking judgment, and that by learning how to examine ourselves well in the present, we do not incur future judgement. You will be reminded afresh that the Lord’s Supper is not abstract theology. Paul sees the Lord’s Supper as the time when the church gathers to remember and celebrate Jesus’ out-stretched and world-welcoming offer of new life in him. And if the opposite is happening, this can bring a kind of shame to our communities. Careful thought and attention must be given to move from abstract categories of what the Eucharist means to lived corporate expression. As Prof. Wright teaches, When Jesus wanted to explain to his followers what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory, he gave them a meal.
Women and Men and Leadership
You might be wondering how do we do all of this? What models do we use for relating men and women in church leadership?
What liturgy is most fitting? And, how does all of this work in a world of social distancing, cultural and political polarization, and ever-increasing gaps between the haves and have-nots? Paul reminds us that the church is now, and has always been, energised by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He writes ‘concerning spiritual gifts’ (1Cor 12.1), which indicates he must have been responding to something the Corinthians asked about. What questions do you have?
You will be encouraged and reminded that when the Holy Spirit is at work, he enables people to do surprising and unexpected things. Paul redirects the Corinthians’ focus, and ours, reminding God’s people that it is time to think about the work of Spirit and the gifts the Spirit produces. We might ask afresh, what opportunities are there for all of the different gifts in our church to come together for the common good, so that church life does not depend on a talented few? Whom are we overlooking by pursuing performance or perfection in lieu of all persons in our context? We might look around to see all the various kinds of spiritual gifts given by the Spirit, who divides things up according to how the Spirit wants, and collectively affirm the indispensable nature of the ‘weaker parts’ (v 22), giving special honor to those parts that are ‘less honourable’ (v 23). Prof. Wright will spur you on through Paul’s teaching to seek God as the Spirt of Jesus works in and through our differing personalities and challenges us by nudging us out of our ‘comfort zones’.
What Kind of Community Are We Called to Be?
As we come to faith and then continue walking by the Spirit and working out what it means to follow Jesus wisely and well in our lived corporate expressions, we move from certainty-shaped categories to uncertainty-shaped mysterious faith. These questions and uncertainties must continually be worked out as we meditate on Scripture and digest them together, in order to embody these truths in Christian praxis. The rhythmic pattern of ecclesial life is where we might locate our questions about what head coverings symbolized about God’s created order in a 1st century context, and how this might yet speak to the tensions of women and men relating together in the worshipping church in our contemporary settings. In this course, you will find Prof. Wright returning again and again to what the Apostle Paul was asking the Corinthians: Are we being a community that reflects that the broad love of God to rich and poor alike, to Jew and Greek, to slave and free, to men and women?Are we being a community that reflects that the broad love of God to rich and poor alike, to Jew and Greek, to slave and free, to men and women? Click To Tweet
We invite you to journey with Prof. Wright as he explores these and other issues with Paul and his first letter to Corinth.
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