Thinking Out Loud

February 6, 2021

Apostle Paul’s Day: No “Mega” Churches, Many “Super” Saints

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:24 pm

This appeared on Christianity 201, but as I was writing it earlier, I thought it was the type of thing that might have worked here as well. You decide…

The construction of vast, cavernous auditoriums in which congregations could worship would be such a foreign concept to the people in the Apostle Paul’s day, where they met “from house to house” and everything was “small group” based. How ironic now that during the Covid-19 pandemic, so many of these same large buildings sit empty, which parishioners fellowship in their homes, or in Zoom groups.

The macro has become micro.

But while they didn’t have “megachurches” there is this interesting reference in 2nd Corinthians 11 to “super-apostles.” First, the context, and I’m using the CEB today:

4 If a person comes and preaches some other Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different Spirit than the one you had received, or a different gospel than the one you embraced, you put up with it so easily!

So like so much of the content in the New Testament epistles, this is going to be about false teachers. This is a theme that runs through these letters to the point that you cannot escape noting the problem this was for the early church. Remember, you didn’t have to look back far to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, so everything was in its infancy; there weren’t hundred of years of Christian tradition.

Then our key verse emerges:

5 I don’t consider myself as second-rate in any way compared to the “super-apostles.”

While knowing the Greek usually helps with literal translation, you could still miss the sarcasm. That the phrase is in quotation marks ought to give us a clue. Some translations use “chiefest apostles,” or “most eminent…apostles,” or “superlative apostles;” but even there many add the quotation marks to help the reader get the intended snark. Paul is not impressed, not by the number of books they have published or the size of their television audience.

Okay, they didn’t have those metrics, but there’s no great imagination needed to picture there being teachers who were the most-talked-about “flavor of the month” with the people. They gravitated to these people in the same manner in which people today gravitate to the larger churches, the ones led by small-c charismatic personalities.

I must confess personally that in the days when we traveled to the United States, if we were seeking out a church for weekend worship, we always chose the well-known large congregations. Seeking out a medium-sized assembly where God is really doing great things through the congregation probably would have required some research.

Furthermore, such medium-sized congregations will attest to the truth that the megachurches, by their great influence, are setting the agenda for all churches in North America. The pressure to conform to the programs and ministry philosophy which is so obviously working is immense.

Additionally, these are often the churches and church leaders which fail spectacularly. A few weeks ago, on our other blog, I took the time to list all of the churches, pastors, authors and Christian leaders who had suffered damage to their brand in 2020. It’s a very long list.

Some of the translations for verse 5 are more obvious with Paul’s intended remarks: “big-shot ‘apostles,”'” or “grandiose apostles,” the latter which makes me wondering if they’ve spent too much time at the all-you-can-eat buffet; which is a suggestion that could be supported by empirical evidence.

Later in the chapter, Paul makes his use of satire completely obvious; not the phrase in parenthesis at the end:

20 You put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone places themselves over you, or if someone hits you in the face. 21 I’m ashamed to say that we have been weak in comparison! But in whatever they challenge me, I challenge them (I’m speaking foolishly).

What comes next? Paul defines his own “super apostleship” and it’s not a job description that would have prospective apostles lining up:

23 Are they ministers of Christ? I’m speaking like a crazy person. What I’ve done goes well beyond what they’ve done. I’ve worked much harder. I’ve been imprisoned much more often. I’ve been beaten more times than I can count. I’ve faced death many times. 24 I received the “forty lashes minus one” from the Jews five times. 25 I was beaten with rods three times. I was stoned once. I was shipwrecked three times. I spent a day and a night on the open sea. 26 I’ve been on many journeys. I faced dangers from rivers, robbers, my people, and Gentiles. I faced dangers in the city, in the desert, on the sea, and from false brothers and sisters. 27 I faced these dangers with hard work and heavy labor, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, and in the cold without enough clothes.

What led me to this passage, and the whole chapter today, is something that John Stackhouse wrote just a week ago in a piece titled Expectations for Christian Leadership:

…Here, Paul says, is what genuine apostolic ministry entails. You can expect to be beaten—beaten hard, beaten often.

From Nigeria to China today, pastors are being beaten. Even rank-and-file believers live under the shadow of imminent physical danger of the worst sorts.

I wonder how many pretty-boy pastors would sign up for that job if instead of looking forward to affording excellent sneakers they could look forward to a beating. And then another. And another after that.

Likewise, I wonder how many students would aspire to become public teachers of Christianity—theologians and such—when such a position would require being punched, not just disagreed with or even maybe (horrors!) disrespected…

We live in crazy, mixed-up times, and while the people in Paul’s day didn’t have to deal with the dominance of enormous (and currently empty) megachurch buildings, they certainly faced the related cult of personality.


Dig Deeper: I encourage you today to take an extra few minutes to read the whole chapter.

 

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