Backpacking with Bill: Corinth

By: William D. Shiell

corinth3We began a new week together by sharing communion in the ruins of ancient Corinth. People estimate that 400,000 people filled this city. This “double port town” on the coasts of the Aegean and Ionian Seas hosted a variety of believers and nonbelievers from all walks of life. Here you could find sailors, idol worshippers, commercial shops, Roman officials, farmers, a Jewish synagogue, artisans, Phoebe, Paul, Priscilla, Aquila, and prostitutes. The volcanic ash left from years of eruptions has left fertile ground in its place. What a community for the gospel to sow seeds, take root, and bear fruit!

Acts 17 records Paul’s experiences here. He appeared before the Roman proconsul Gallio near the “bema” or judgment seat. Here he met fellow tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila. In Romans 16, Paul mentions the deaconess Phoebe who lived in the nearby port community of Cenchrae. Later in Ephesus, Paul writes the oldest recorded instructions for communion, teaching the Corinthians how to hold a Lord’s Supper service (1 Corinthians 11).

Dr. Barry Howard led a meaningful communion service in the shadow of the Corinthian Acropolis. We reflected on the passage from 1 Corinthians 11 and remembered the importance of God’s transformational work in our lives as the body of Christ. Our “pick up” choir sang a medley of “Nothing but the Blood” and “It is Well with my Soul” and a rousing rendition of “I’ll Fly Away”—all A Cappella. Most churches would love to have the talent of our travelers. Ministers of Music Bob Morrison in Pensacola and Penny Folsom in Tallahassee would have been proud of us. They’ve trained us well.

I gained some fascinating insights into the world of Corinth. This place had quite a reputation for hedonism. People contracted diseases by participating in the immoral lifestyles present here. Prostitutes from the acropolis walked through the town with a message on their shoes that said, “Follow me.” When diagnosed with a disease, people made ceramic figures of the infected part of their body and offered the statue as an offering to the god of healing—Asclepius.

In the midst of this pain, Paul wrote the Corinthians. He reminded them that the Spirit had given them gifts to work together like different body parts (1 Corinthians 12). They had become a new body of Christ.

When they heard this message, I imagine that this audience thought of the broken limbs and lives sacrificed as offerings on the acropolis. People looked for healing from their diseases and lifestyles, but Paul offered an eternal message of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. No matter the cause of their physical conditions, each person could be healed and brought into the new “body of Christ.” Each person in Christ is a new creation; old things were passed away. All things—in Christ—had become new.

Apparently the message worked. If the gospel can multiply in a place like Corinth, imagine what’s possible in our world today. The house churches of Corinth and the surrounding port village of Cenchrae had fewer than 50 people among their membership. But God used these people to spread his message and demonstrate an alternative Way to the highest members of society to the lowest.

We’re spending the night this Lord’s Day in Greek capital of Athens. We board a ship tomorrow for the island of Mykonos and continue to trace the path of the unhindered gospel.

April 26, 2016

William D. Shiell

President, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching

ABOUT William

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