Recently I presented a paper on ‘Paul, Clement and the Schisms of Corinth’ at the mid-Western ETS. I choose this topic for two reasons: love for biblical theology and desire to strengthen the unity of the Body of Christ. The nature of the ETS competition forced me to focus more heavily on the first of those two passions, and therefore the paper, in my opinion, was rather dry in its academia.  What I’d like to do here is focus a little more on the practical side, what Paul teaches and Clement reinforces on Church unity.

The final paragraph of the paper is a good place to start:

“The interactions between 1 Clement and 1 Corinthians clearly demonstrate that any sort of schism is counterintuitive and counterproductive for the Church, the Body of Christ.  The “Body of Christ”[1] is a powerful analogy since it demonstrates the depth of the shared bond of unity and equality between all Christians.  “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together”.[2]  The degradation of unity and rise of schism in Corinth resulted from the negative influences of the surrounding culture and immaturity of the Christian’s faith.  These two negative traits are clearly perceived in both Paul and Clements epistles, and they are the greatest enemies of Christian unity.  The history of the Corinthian church ends well and offers hope for any church dealing with its own schism today.  The rebel leaders of the schism submitted to the will of their Roman brothers and the church recovered.[3]  1 Clement was even read for worship purposes because it was so well respected by those who had received it in a humble spirit.[4]  Any church torn by schism would be wise to heed the warnings and solutions concerning schisms foundationally laid in 1 Corinthians and 1 Clement.”

What I want to highlight from this is the source of ‘schism’: negative cultural influences and immature faith.  All churches struggle with these things at some time.  Immaturity in faith is a well-known one for Pastor’s and church goers.  It is often battled with various methods of spiritual development and encouragement from leaders/church peers.

Now I could go almost anywhere with what I’v said so far, but I want to stick with the topic of ‘negative cultural influences’. To refine this so we’re all on the same page: by ‘negative’ I mean immoral or counterintuitive on a biblical standard. This can take the form as things as obvious as an ideal, like greed, to something more muddled and hard to pin down, I offer to you a T.V. show: ‘The Simpsons’.  Negative cultural influences can be anywhere and everywhere.

That’s culture for you though; it surrounds us and captivates us. Culture is the web of interactions between individuals that is greater than the sum of its parts.  As members of culture we both shape it and are shaped by it, to varying degrees.  Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology, Theology… these studies all involve greater awareness of culture and what it does to both other people and ourselves.  Churches need cultural awareness.

[1] Romans 12.4-8; 1 Corinthians 12.12-30; Ephesians 4.1-16; Colossians 1.24, 3.15 / 1 Clement 37.5-38.2, 46.7 (Holmes).

[2] 1 Cor. 12.26

[3] Submission was due to the wisdom of 1 Clement, not to some non-existent authority possessed by Church of Rome.

[4] “The remonstrance’s of the Roman brotherhood had been received by them in a right spirit” Lightfoot, The Epistles of S. Clement of Rome, 5.

“The mediators who conveyed it to Corinth were successful, the deposed elders were reinstated” Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers, 135.

“It is possible that 1 Clement was read in the worship of the Corinthian community; it is certain that the letter was highly valued.” Robert M. Grant, The Apostolic Fathers, (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1964), 13-14.