I’m about to lecture on 1 Corinthians 1-2, and I’m struck again by the parallels between the Corinthian church and American evangelical life. A repost on this topic:
He states that:
As a young evangelical, I was socialized to see the biggest threat to the church as theological liberalism. But now I think the biggest threat is Christian tribalism, where God’s interests are reduced to and measured by those sharing your history, tradition, and beliefs, and where one needs an “enemy” in order for you to feel “right with God.”
I think Maudlin is spot-on. Evangelicalism has come to resemble the Corinthian church. They had broken into factions and were squabbling among themselves. Paul says this in 1 Cor. 1:10-13:
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?
The message of the cross rebukes such tribalizing practices. It is because of God’s own mercy that they are in Christ:
It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:30-31).
They ought to celebrate their renewed identity in Christ rather than break up into factions oriented around the big “personalities” in the early church. Paul says that this is worldliness in 1 Cor. 2:1-4:
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
He also warns them that tribalism is eschatologically precarious. God takes the unity of his people seriously and will destroy the divisive person:
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
Paul concludes this section condemning tribalism:
So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
They are to make use of all available teachers to grow in Christ, and their boast is to be in God alone who has snatched them out of darkness and united them to Christ.
This very same dynamic thrives among evangelicals today and it is a sign of evangelicalism’s worldliness. We identify ourselves as “fans” of our favorite authors and play them off against each other. According to Paul, such practices are only found among immature, worldly, fleshly people who do not understand the mind of Christ.
There’s much more to say about tribalism, but in looking for a Pauline precedent, this dynamic can only be associated with the worldliness of the Corinthian church.