Thursday, February 07, 2008

two classes of Christians?

Yesterday I mentioned that I don't think the popular theological idea found among many evangelicals of the twentieth century, that there are two classes of Christians, carnal and spiritual, bears up under scrutiny of the biblical records, particularly in the Greek New Testament and specifically in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.

I'm short on time (long on excuses) so I'll go in some measure on memory and on some measure in glancing inside my Greek New Testament and the dictionary in the back. And in the nature of blogging, I'm not going to present some lesson on koine Greek or in the exegesis, roughly meaning study of a pertinent passage. Besides, I'm not really qualified to do so.

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul tells the Corinthian believers that though in Jesus they have the mind of Christ (end of chapter 2), that he could not address them as spiritual (pneumatikois: those of the Spirit), but rather as carnal (KJV), people of the flesh (ESV), or worldly (TNIV) (sarkinois). His point there is that they are acting like people who do not have the Spirit of God, they are acting like nonchristians. Paul is not saying that there are Christians of the flesh, and Christians of the Spirit living among you. And the rest of his writings bear this out. For example in Romans 8 we read that we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in us. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they are not of Christ (verse 9).

I see this idea of two classes or groups of Christians in different places. For example in some churches one is expected to receive a baptism of the Spirit beyond their receiving of Christ. And when they do, they're called, "Spirit-filled". Churches are called "Spirit-filled" churches. In other places it's more of finding life on a higher plane, which invariably sooner or later, the newborn Christian is going to have to find, if they are not to remain in the valley of those Christians who really are not Spirit-oriented Christians.

Of course though in Jesus we're all in the Spirit, that doesn't mean we automatically live accordingly. Certainly not! But as Paul tells us, and really in all of this, God's word, "You are light in the Lord; walk as children of light." (Ephesians) We are, in Jesus, the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But we must beware lest we fail to fulfill the purpose for us on earth, as salt and light in Jesus (Matthew 5).

Let's get rid of this notion that there are spiritual Christians and nonspiritual Christians. Yes, we each have our responsibility before God, and it's a most serious one indeed, to walk in the Spirit. But we are one body in Jesus. We belong to Jesus and to each other. We need to think in that way, so that we can help each other when any of us may be struggling or giving in to sin, and also help each other, particularly the younger in the faith, grow up in our salvation.

(Scratch the clergy versus laity distinction as well; I agree with Peterson on that, too, though haven't worked it out too well in my study and thoughts yet. Though I'm never an authority, but seeking to be a fellow learner! I make plenty of mistakes along the way.)

What might you add to this? Do you find a problem with anything here?


Kim said...

Wow, Ted. I never heard of this sort of distinction. I agree with you. The idea would not seem to have any Scriptural "legs."

Peace, Kim

Ted M. Gossard said...

Well, Kim, rereading this post reminds me of why I like to write a post in the evening and recheck it in the morning before I let it fly.

I think this is open to misunderstanding. The point I'm trying to make is that all Christians are Spirit-people (or, people of the Spirit), whereas all others are flesh-people (or, people of the flesh).

In Galatians we're told that if we live by the Spirit, then we're to walk, or keep in step with the Spirit. Just because we all in Jesus are Spirit people, doesn't mean we're always walking by the Spirit, it seems. True of us all, though particularly true during certain times in our journey, it can be.

Thanks, Kim.

NaNcY said...

hi ted, this is a very interesting post! a good reminder to think of my life in Christ and looking for the fruit of the Spirit's work within me.

12Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.[g] And by him we cry, "Abba,[h] Father." 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

this is from Romans 8

now most people will want to start at the beginning of the chapter, i know.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks, Nancy.

In the end it really is about the Spirit and the Spirit's work in our lives, in Christ. Thanks for reminding us of that, with your words and the passage.

lorenzothellama said...

Ooo Ted, I have great problems with this post.

I think one the the biggest putoffs for non-Christians or struggling Christians is the spiritual arrogance that is found in certain types of people. If people this they are 'Spirit filled' then surely this is a form of arrogance?

There again, in some of the so-called Christian blogs I have visited I have found no humility at all, and isn't humility in Christ's teaching?

I am speaking as a struggler, as you know.

Love Lorenzo.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I think I did not communicate all that well on trying to say what I was saying here.

I'm trying to put down the idea that there are two classes of Christians, those who are spiritual and those who are not.

According to Scripture when one puts their faith in Jesus they receive the Spirit and are thus a part of the new age and creation come in Christ, and no longer are they of the flesh which in Scripture is a part of the old age, this present world.

In saying that then we're all in the same boat, for us who have received Christ by faith. So even though there are those among us much further along in their walk in faith, there are not two classes of Christians in the world. That's what I'm saying.

The good Christians who disagree with me are not necessarily arrogant, so as to look down on others. Some are quite humble like Jesus. But I think that propensity exists.

As to Christians comparing themselves as better than nonchristians, I have a problem with that as well. We're all sinners, equally in need of God's grace/gift/giving in Jesus. I'm not less in need than any nonchristian anywhere.

It's only that, like a beggar I've reached out and received whereas my friend has not. But Jesus made himself at home with all, and sought to make that a kind of permannet relationship with each and all, by bringing them to simple faith in him.

Does that help?