Paul’s writings are saturated with doctrinal wealth, but there is much more to be found in those letters than just dogma. Paul’s letters also contain an abundance of teaching regarding the Christian life as well as life within the community of faith. Throughout his writings Paul constantly advocates for the idea that the communal life of Christians must be radically different from life outside the community ruled by the dominant culture.
It was this idea that prompted Paul to reprimand the Corinthian Christians for becoming devoted followers of human personalities, hiring prostitutes, taking fellow Christians to court, tolerating chaos in worship, and allowing for economic based inequities to occur during the communion and love feasts. Certainly, this was the way of the culture, but it should not be the way of the church.
The Corinth of Paul’s day was a melting pot and as such its tendency was toward division. Whether it was Rome throwing Christians to the lions, Paris introducing the monarchy to madame guillotine, or Russia killing the Romanov family, history has taught us that urban melting pots tend to divide into cells that seek to eradicate the other. Urban societies are composite groups of diverse individuals who bring into the larger collective their own expectations, philosophies, values, and culture making unity (apart from divine influence) unsustainable and genuine reconciliation unfeasible. This is the tragedy of melting pots and no one understood this better than Paul.
Yes, there have been occasions in history where whole peoples have unified together against a common tragedy. Those of us old enough still remember the common bond of all Americans on 9/11. We were unified as one nation in our resolve. There were no reports of how many of each “identity” group died, was rescued, or avoided it entirely. The victims were simply Americans. It was an exceptional moment in time—an exception to the rule.
Sure, politicians can enact laws that impose civility upon a begrudging society, but so far none have legislated in utopia. I applaud what was accomplished through the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s, because much good was achieved. Laws were enacted that affected better behavior, promoted equality, and created greater opportunities for the marginalized and disenfranchised—but the human heart remained unchanged. External actions were affected for good, but the new laws did not transform the inner man.
For all the rhetoric on reconciliation we are still divided. That is our default. There is no real, true, or lasting reconciliation without love; and there is no actual love apart from God’s redemptive work. We have no internal reservoir of love, it must come from a force outside of ourselves. If you doubt my assertion, go back and read the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. Love, like faith, is a gift that God must give. Here is the good news. God is not a reluctant giver, reconciliation is possible, and it comes exclusively through Jesus Christ.
If you take a tuning fork and tune one piano to A440 and then take that same tuning fork and tune a hundred more pianos to it, then every piano is in tune with every piano because every piano is tuned to the same tuning fork—this is how true reconciliation works.
Political attempts at reconciliation demand adherence and when that is not given the next move of the power structure is to eliminate that which does not conform. Government passes laws to punish violators, but the only thing gained is a new class of villains. Every political move toward utopia is always a move away, and yet these self-destructive efforts continue because political power structures lack self-awareness.
Robespierre of Paris declared, "True religion consists in punishing for the happiness of all those who disturb society” and oversaw the execution of over 16,000 as well as the death of 10,000 more who were imprisoned without trial, yet peace was not achieved. From 1917 to 1922 the Bolshevik’s executed on average 28,000 political opponents a year, and yet peace was not achieved. The law cannot force what only grace creates.
The church is the only place where true reconciliation can actually exist. By being reconciled to Christ ipso facto we are reconciled to each other, and division is no longer our default.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Rom. 5:10-11)