1 Corinthians can often be seen as a watershed document for many contemporary Christians. Paul's letter to inquisitive Corinthians is full of do's and don'ts: Do wait for others when it's time to celebrate the Eucharist; Don't condone a man if he sleeps with his stepmother; don't eat meat sacrificed to idols; Do make sure you consider weaker Christians when you behave as you do; Don't have sex with prostitutes.
Such lists appear to be cut and dried for many Christians today, and out of this letter come many modern value statements related to the body and bodily behavior: Homosexuality is bad; Prostitution is bad; Monogamy is good; Sexual purity is good; Eating together is good; Idols are bad.
But, lost in ever-growing lists of do's and don'ts and goods and bads are the cultural context in which Paul penned his letter. In the world of the first century, notions of health pervade Paul's theology. Issues of balance and contamination shaped Paul's answers to the Corinthians' questions, and once we understand the ways in which these early Christians viewed health and disease, we will be able to better comprehend why Paul answered the way he did.
To many in Corinth, a person became sick when infected with an outside agent that caused the bodily systems to become imbalanced. Sickness meant that something was not working properly, and the infecting agent needed to be removed in order to restore the person to health. Procedures for doing this appear very barbaric to out contemporary understanding of health and medicine, but viewed against the backdrop of their historical context, such an understanding actually appears quite complex.
Nonetheless, because of Paul's cosmology – his understanding of the early Christian community as the 'body' of Christ – he wanted to make sure that the community remained intact and free from outside infection. Therefore, the one who sins sexually is to be removed from the community. For the sake of longevity, the sanctity of the community is the highest priority for Paul.
Today, Christians like to cling to Paul's advocacy of removal for a variety of reasons. Petty issues, rumors, sins, and feuds fuel removal processes in churches today. In situations like these, it seems as though the very thing Paul sought to immunize the body of Christ from has already laid deep roots in the church.
Therefore, 1 Corinthians is to be read very carefully, and its admonitions are to be acted upon even more carefully. Just as pleasures can become vices, vaccines improperly administered can become death sentences. And, if churches are not cautious in their naming of sins and finger pointing, bodies of Christ could very easily expel the nutrients they need for long-term growth.