1 Corinthians 5:1-6:11, pt.1

This week we are reading about sex and lawsuits in 1 Corinthians 5:1-6:11.  Paul continues with his assault on the arrogance of the Corinthians and takes up the matter of a man living with his stepmother. For us, the two primary issues raised in this passage are 1) where does the church draw the line on questions of sexual immorality and 2) what does the church do when that line is crossed? Paul’s concern is not only to call the individual in question to repentance but also to protect the sanctity of the congregation. The first question is what constitutes “sexual immorality.”  This question can range from the more bizarre, as Paul faces, to the more common question of remarriage after divorce. In the history of Anglicanism, one of the more peculiar questions concerning sexual immorality was whether a man could marry his deceased wife’s sister. The Table of Kindred and Affinity in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer prohibited this arrangement, but in Victorian England, the most suitable partner for a widower was often his wife’s sister. The debate lasted from 1835 when Parliament officially outlawed such marriages until 1907 when Parliament and the Church reversed themselves and eliminated this prohibition with the passage of the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act of 1907.  A perspective on this debate and how the 1907 Act came to be is HERE.

The second issue concerns what the church should do when the line is crossed. Generally, only when the (sexual) sin is both severe and well-known should the person be excommunicated or separated from the excommunication. As the 1662 Book of Common Prayer says “And if any of those be an open and notorious evil liver, so that the congregation by him is offended,  . . . the Curate shall call him, and advertise him, in any wise not to presume to the Lord’s Table, until he hath openly declared himself to have truly repented, and amended his former naughty life.” (p.1) Paul, as is the church today, is concerned not simply with the sin itself which warranted separation but with the effect that sin (as leaven) would have on the community.  In preparation for Tuesday, think about those sins that cause harm to the community of faith and that would require separation. (I know of at least two excommunications at Trinity since we joined in 1996.)

Finally, the readings also address Christians taking each other to court. Paul prohibits a Christian from having the secular courts resolve disputes with another Christian. Paul doesn’t simply prohibit internal church disputes from going to the secular courts (such as who owns the church buildings and trust funds), but any and all disputes among believers.  Paul goes so far as to say it is better to be defrauded and suffer wrong than to bring a lawsuit against another Christian. This teaching echoes the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says “if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Matt. 5:40.  From a very personal standpoint, the question arises as to whether attorneys who engage in litigation aid and abet other Christians in breach of this prohibition.

Dinner is at 6. The menu this week is baked potato bar.  Hope to see you here.

For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For I believe this also, that “unless I believe, I shall not understand” (Isa. 7:9)

Anselm of Canterbury, Discourse on the Existence of God, Chapter 1.

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