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I think it’s time somebody came to the defense of the church in Corinth.  Okay, so they’re all dead now.  But they live on in two of Paul’s letters for all the world to see.  I think Corinth, arguably Paul’s worst church, may be our best model for church today.  Better than Purpose-Driven, Willow Creek, or any of the other models out there.  Here’s why:

They were brand-new believers.

Talk about a church planter’s dream.  This was a church of new Christians.  Not a transfer member among them.  Newbies, to use the jargon.  No preconceived ideas, no “we-did-it-this-way-at-my-other-church” notions, fresh as the new-mown hay. 

They participated.

Okay, so maybe they participated a little too exuberantly, but they all wanted to contribute to worship.  They all had a prophecy, a word of knowledge, a tongue, a revelation, or an interpretation.  They obviously did not have an “order” of worship, but as Jack Nicklaus said of his golf swing, “I was going for distance and figured I could work on accuracy later.”  They were going for participation first; order came later.  Now, we mostly have order, but not much participation.

They made mistakes, but out of enthusiasm.

They did communion wrong, worship wrong, shopped in the wrong butcher shops, flaunted their spiritual gifts, tried to outdo each other in worship, and generally were the most enthusiastic church around.  Paul had to temper their enthusiasm with instruction, but it’s better to have to control a fire than try to start one.

They practiced their new faith while still growing in it.

In the congregation, there were drunks, adulterers, sexually promiscuous, those who shopped at the pagan temple meat markets, and self-promoters.  Quite a congregation, but Paul never says they are not Christians.  Rather, he urges them to grow in their faith by changing their bad practices. 

Their new faith was relevant to their world.

The temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love, was in Corinth, so Paul writes to them about real Christian love.  The temple of Asclepius, the god of healing, was in Corinth, so it was not a stretch for them to believe that their new God was more powerful than their old god.  Maybe that explains the high profile of spiritual gifts in Corinth.  Whatever the reason, the Corinthians connected the dots between the pagan world in which they lived and their new found faith in Christ.

They were a real church.

Paul, despite all the problems of Corinth, never says they aren’t a real church.  Instead, he patiently guides them into practices that are more faithful expressions of their new life in Christ.  We in the 21st century church could learn a lot from the Corinthians and Paul. 

So there you have it—my six reasons that Corinth is our best model.  In today’s church we need to recapture some of the enthusiasm, exuberance, freshness, and mistakes of Corinth—they were alive and living their new faith!

Chuck Warnock is a contributing editor for Outreach magazine, writing the "Small Church, Big Idea" column. He also writes a popular blog called Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor and edits two church news and information sites, and He writes prolifically for Leadership Journal and Christianity Today and is a frequent conference speaker. Learn more from Chuck at  

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Abraham Barberi

commented on May 19, 2012

Although I agree with some of your defenses of the Corinth church, I also disagree with a some. In any case, have you ever read Clement's epistle to the Corinth's? If you haven't, you should. In that letter several years have passed since Paul had written to the Corinth church and they were still acting like 1 Corinth. Peace out!

John E Miller

commented on May 29, 2012

Mr Warnock appears to have a different version of Paul's letter to Corinth than the one printed in my Bible.

George Warner

commented on Jul 28, 2020

To some extent I agree with this man. But the church ought not to stay lukewarm forever. None of us are born wise or educated and there is an old proverb : If you don't make mistakes you don't make anything. Jesus said, Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.

George Warner

commented on Jul 28, 2020

A church cannot safely stay lukewarm. Remember Luke 6:40 and Revelation 3.

William Johnson

commented on Aug 8, 2020

Your article caused me to stop think and reflect on the modern day present truth Charismatic Church today. The emphasis on the supernatural, all the bickering and strife over non essential aspects of true kingdom living, reminds me of many church services today, where the emphasis is on the platform and the supernatural demonstration of the Spirit, and lesser on the true Gospel message that centers around Jesus Christ, His death, burial and resurrection. So while we shouldn’t deliberately strive to be like Corinth, I believe, especially Paul’s first letter could be used as a good plumb line to “Examine our own heart” to be sure we haven’t lost our first love today. Encouraging message that motivated me to pray and repent for the times I put the “gifts”ahead of the “Giver!”

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