What were the problem churches for Paul and how do his letters show it?
There were several churches that Paul had odd relationships with. Even though he founded these churches, his enemies found ways to take them off track from what he taught. These people chased Paul around and taught false doctrines after he left each church.
One example of these false teachers, called Judaizers, can be traced through the book of Galatians. After Paul left the Galatian churches and moved onto the next adventure, Judaizers came in and taught what I call, “Jesus Plus” doctrines.
They told the Galatians that they made the first big step in becoming Christians. They believed in Jesus. But there was more that they needed to know to be true Christians. They needed to follow the laws of Moses, especially circumcision.
Judaizers were Jews and Jewish leaders that came from Jerusalem and added these doctrines to salvation. Paul comes back to Jerusalem in Acts 15 to deal with these Judaizers in the church. The church decides and then sent a letter that Gentile Christians do not need to be circumcised or follow the law of Moses.
Paul begins the letter to the Galatians like no other letter he wrote. Most of the time Paul’s letters begin with an introduction of himself, a greeting, followed by thanksgiving and prayer, and then the subject matter of the letter.
Paul gives the standard greeting we are used to seeing but then instead of thanksgiving and prayer, it begins abruptly with, “I’m astonished that you’re so quickly deserting the the one who called you the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…” (Galatians 1:6, emphasis mine),
Just a couple of verses later he is calling down curses on anyone who would tell the Galatians that there is another gospel (Galatians 1:8-9). The Galatians unwittingly accepted false doctrines from these Judaizers and Paul would never have it.
In this letter of only six chapters, Paul lays out a clear understanding that we only need Jesus and nothing else. But after found in this church he had to deal with this false doctrine right away. If only they had the Pony Express or faster mail so that the letter from Acts 15 would’ve gotten to the Galatians sooner.
Another church, probably the most problematic church Paul founded, was the Corinthian church. Before the letter of 1 Corinthians, the Corinthian elders sent a letter full of questions for Paul to answer. First Corinthians contains the answers Paul gave to the church.
Almost every chapter you have an opening like, “Now about…” These are the beginning of his answers to the questions the Corinthians asked him. They asked about everything from divisions of the church, a wayward young man having relations with his stepmother, lawsuits in the church,, marriage, meat sacrificed to idols, worship, the gifts of the Spirit, the resurrection, and other matters.
So Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to answer these questions. But they didn’t like his answers, especially about the young man in 1 Corinthians 5. Between the letters of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, Paul received a letter that questioned his apostleship.
Second Corinthians is the answer Paul gives to their questions about his apostleship. It is the most personal letter we have about Paul. He defends his apostleship by talking about the trials he suffers, the gospel he carries in his body, the troubles he faced, and other marks of a true apostle of Christ.
This is the background to the Corinthian church. They gave him the most trouble because they questioned his apostleship and refused to do what he said. From what we know in history, they finally did what they were told. But it was the most problematic church. Despite all of his teachings and efforts, they were doing their own thing.
The third church is not necessarily a problem church. The church in Thessalonica was one that Paul did not fully train before he was kicked out of the city. This meant that they did not have all of the teaching they needed to succeed as a Christian church.
They faced a terrible amount of persecution as the church was founded and began. Paul began their training and teaching but was unable to finish it because he left this city early. You can see his worries that they won’t even continue in the gospel and salvation because of their persecution (1 Thessalonians 2:14-3:5).
But he did receive an encouraging report that the Thessalonians had taken to the faith despite their persecution. It’s fascinating to see the things that they were a little fuzzy on. For instance, they were told that they had missed the rapture, the return of Jesus to gather his saints. Paul spends a lot of time in the letters trying to clarify that they had not missed the rapture.
These are three of Paul’s troublesome churches. They range in their issues and the reasons he wrote these letters to them. But you’ll notice that except for Galatians Paul had to write multiple letters to straighten these churches out. He was a tough apostle who dealt with a lot of things. Troubling churches were only the half of it.