When Scandal Strikes
Part 1: The Church in Crisis, Now and Then
he Bible is an inexhaustible resource of spiritual insight and challenge. While the clerical sexual-abuse crisis has hung over the Church like a poisonous cloud, every problem poses an opportunity. “What can today’s Church, with its crises, learn from the Church of the first century?” I’ll focus on seven things we can learn from the New Testament and apply them to the crises of today.
Recognize that Crisis Isn’t New to the Church
The Church has always faced crises. The New Testament recounts many problems in the first-century Church. By facing and resolving crises, the early Church made its greatest progress. For example: When is the Lord coming, and what about those who die before he comes (1 Thessalonians)? Do Gentiles have to become Jews in order to be real Christians (Galatians)? Can Christians trust Paul as a gospel preacher (Philippians, 2 Corinthians)? Can non-Jews be part of the people of God (Romans)? Can Christians participate in civil religious ceremonies associated with worship of the Roman emperor and the goddess Roma (Revelation)?
Paul’s 1 Corinthians gives striking examples of crisis. He founded the Christian community there and then established other Christian communities. His New Testament letters were communications from a founding apostle that gave theological advice on pastoral problems.
Consider the issues Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians: factions of Christians dividing themselves according to the apostles who brought them to Christian faith (Paul, Apollo, Cephas), the countenancing of sexual immorality on the grounds that “all things are lawful for me,” lawsuits between fellow Christians being brought to civil courts, debates over the value of celibacy and marriage, clashes between Christian groups, socioeconomic and liturgical abuses at the celebration of the Eucharist and at assemblies of the community, the importance of speaking in tongues, and money given to the collection. All this in the mid-50s of the first Christian century!
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