This was written for a comparative literature class taught by a sociology professor. It discusses the mandates and outlines for a Christian society which Paul describes in 1 Corinthians. Enjoy!
The word “Christian” bears significance in many ways. It defines a person by their religious beliefs, but depending on the school of Christian thought, the label can also define a person’s family dynamics, ethics, behavior, friends, or any other aspect of his or her life. Religious society can be as dominating as a cult or as insignificant as a weekly or even yearly meeting. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul asks the Christian community in Corinth to become an exclusive society, and admonishes them to return to a closer interpretation of Christian religious and ethical teachings.
Paul’s first priority in 1 Corinthians is to keep the religious community together. He cannot instill a set of values into a group if the group does not exist. As such, he expresses his desire for the Christians in Corinth to “… be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose”(1 Cor. 1:10). The “divisions” he refers to are differences of opinion between Christians who profess to follow a variety of teachers, including Paul and another Christian leader named Apollos. If these differences were allowed to continue, the Church in Corinth would separate – as the Church at large eventually did multiple times. His letter exists to ensure the solidarity of the community as much as to ensure it obeyed the teachings of Christ as he interprets them.
To Paul, those teachings are the centerpiece of a Christian society. He plainly states that a failure to follow the Christian moral code is grounds for expulsion from the community. “… now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is … immoral or greedy … is it not those who are inside (the Christian community) that you are to judge? ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you’”(5:11-13). Paul centers his society on beliefs and practices rather than any other criteria; deviating from those beliefs would leave the deviant with no common ground between him or herself and the community, thus excluding him or her completely. Compared to the hereditary nature of the “Hebrew nation,” and the multitude of "pagan" religions that existed at the time based on ancestor worship and thus emphasizing familial relationships, the concept of a community centered around faith rather than family must have been revolutionary.
Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians are also revolutionary because his approach to ethics is far removed from those of the classical thinkers who were revered at the time. Paul’s teachings are based on faith, not on logic, which creates requirements for Christians that are completely different from the requirements of members of any other group in the period. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom … for it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe … has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world”(1 Cor 17 – 20)? Things that classical Greek and Roman culture revere as the basis of ethics - intellect, logic, and academic background – are regarded as worthless in Paul’s ideal Christian society. This marks a major shift in philosophy and an enormous separation between Christianity and classical thinkers in the Socratic tradition.
Just as Paul’s teachings are far different from their classical counterparts, his ideal society is distinct and separate from its surroundings. The Christians to whom Paul writes are instructed not only to exclude those who violate his (and, through his logic, by extension Christ’s) teachings, but to distance themselves from the outside community as well as from those inside the community who stray from the morality he describes. “If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this is to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer – and before unbelievers at that”(6:4 - 6)? Paul believes that values are gained and tested by association; associating with nonbelievers or those who do not follow Christian morals would sully the Christian community, he contends. His emphasis on the separation between Christians and non-Christians calls for a religious community as autonomous from the outside world as conceivably possible.
As a secluded society, Paul’s Christianity must be self-sufficient; thus, he advocates a diverse community that shares the common values and beliefs of Christianity rather than familial or other ties. He explains the necessity of diverse talents in his ideal community through 1 Corinthians 12:14 - 31:
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of the many … if the whole body were the eye, where would the hearing be? … As it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose … and God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers … are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? … but strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
In this passage, Paul emphasizes the importance of solidarity as a community and a functional unit independent from the societies around them. The Corinthians are encouraged to become extremely close-knit as well as self-sufficient; the passage that succeeds the one quoted is Paul’s famous “hymn to love,” extolling the virtues of Christian love for one’s neighbor and fellow member of the “body of Christ.” A society as isolated as Paul’s Christian community would quickly fall apart without strong bonds of friendship and responsibility between each member, therefore “Christian love” is just as important as an understanding and practice of the other teachings of Christ.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as regarded as one of the first and most definitive documents on Christian society. It outlines two essential rudiments for a successful Christian community: cohesiveness of the members, and adherence to the faith and ethics of Christianity. With those two elements, Paul says, the Christian society in Corinth – as well as all Christian societies, as 1 Corinthians is a primary source for all Christian traditions – will be a strong and successful one. He goes on to warn that without these two fundamentals, the members of their society will fail as Christians. The faith-based nature of Christian thought – shunning the traditional ideal of rational, logical reasoning so revered in Greek and Roman culture – makes Christians a group inherently isolated from the peoples around them, so Paul advises them to shape a self-sufficient society. Paul describes the ideal Christian community in a way strikingly similar to the “faith-based community” concept re-emerging in early 21st century Christian thought: a group independent from non-Christians in ethics and beliefs, self-reliant and self-policing, defined by morals and practices rather than by race, standing, or family ties.