Home > Uncategorized > Edification and Participation: Don’t have one without the other.

Edification and Participation: Don’t have one without the other.

home_form1.jpgThe design axiom Form Follows Function is helpful if you are building a new McDonald’s or a new tennis shoe. If we ask ourselves the question: What is the function of this building? Fast food with room for kids to play or a romantic, intimate setting for couples. The form will follow the function.

In the body of Christ we can ask the same question: “What is the function of ‘church’ so we can build the correct form?”. I believe we can reduce a NT- style church gathering down to its two most essential functions: Edification and Participation.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul lays down the most detailed account of a 1st Century gathering of believers that there is in the NT. In chapters 11-14 we can find nuggets of truth that will serve us well in the 21st century as we try to “re-dig” our way back to the original plan. Or as Paul liked to say: “my ways”.

”For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of ‘my ways’ which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.” 1 Cor 4:17

Unveiling a NT home meeting: 1 Corinthians 11-14

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about their “coming together as a church“, he starts out not by praising them but by admonishing them: saying that they were meeting together “not for the better but for the worse.” He then quickly brings up the factions that existed and raised their ugly heads as the believers gathered around the table for a meal. Some – probably the wealthy – were eating and drinking without concern for the those” who have nothing”.

Next the apostle tackles the subject of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12) and how they were to be used in a gathering of believers. Here he stresses the variety of gifts and manifestations to be used by EACH ONE for the common good of all.

Paul wanted participation by all for the edification of all.

The “Love Chapter” follows the corrections and instructions on eating the Lord’s Supper and using spiritual gifts to edify one another. Paul stresses that without love our manifestations of spiritual gifts are clanging cymbals and noisy gongs and that we are really good for nothing! OUCH!

Paul knew, like Watchmen Nee, that sometimes spiritual gifts need to take a back seat to love. “People may be helped by my spiritual gift but hurt by my lack of love.” (Nee)

Finally in Ch. 14 we come to what the gathering looks like and feels like:

“Since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. (1 Cor 14:12). Paul now stresses that we are to use our spiritual gifts for the edification of the church (vs. 3, 4, 5, 12, 17, 26).

His landmark verse of this section contains it once again:

“What then is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Cor 14:26)

Edification without Participation.

Here is where we struggle in today’s world.

In the traditional church (which we all have known since we were children) typically a select (paid/professional) team of 2-3 will use their spiritual gifts of teaching, prophesying, words of knowledge, worship leading, etc. to edify the larger group. (I don’t want to get too involved here on this point but please do recognize that if we pay someone to edify us how can we then ever have mutual edification.) Many gifted leaders have operated like this their whole adult lives and truly bring a great edification to the sheep. The difficulty is that there is little to no participation of the flock!

Conversely, what we often see in simple church structures springing up all over the world is: Participation without Edification.

In theses simple/house churches – which are breaking away from centuries of the traditional mind set – we can error on the other extreme and have meetings that resemble “glorified AA meetings”: where each one is able to share and release his or her burdens to the group. The topics can range from home schooling difficulties to “How I spent my summer vacation…“ etc. Obviously we need time for fellowship and to share our weekly “comings and goings” but don’t mistake that for a gathering where we use our spiritual gifts to edify one another.

Hebrews tells us to ”Encourage one another day after day… lest anyone of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb 3:13) Here in lies a powerful truth of the simple church movement: to be so interconnected with each other day in and day out that when we gather for the 1 Cor. 14 meetings we have already carried each others burdens through the week so we can concentrate on participation and edification so necessary for a NT church experience.

What Jesus Christ will return to is a body of believers that emphasize maximum edification and maximum participation!

Paradigm Shift

For most of us this will involve a “paradigm shift” where the old standard way of “doing business” is brought into question and “acceptable levels of error” are no longer tolerated.

Thomas Kuhn, who first introduced the word in 1962, claimed that paradigm shifts occur over time when one theory breaks down and is replaced by another. Paradigm shifts don’t occur in a vacuum, however, but have predictable steps:

1. Awareness is prerequisite to all acceptable changes of theory.

2. Crisis During this crisis, new ideas, perhaps ones previously discarded, are tried.

3. Intellectual Battle Eventually a new paradigm is formed, which gains its own new followers, and an intellectual “battle” takes place between the followers of the new paradigm and the hold-outs of the old paradigm.

4. Time Sometimes the convincing force is just time itself and the human toll it takes.

(Above notes taken from Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution 1962)

The time is now! The choice is yours!

Yours for the least in the Kingdom,

Jeff Gilbertson

For further reading on the subject

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 22, 2008 at 4:46 PM

    I enjoyed this article. Your thoughts on participation and edification are excellent. We in the west often see that there are problems within the western church (and apparently in other countries that we’ve gone too), yet no one seems to be saying anything. There is an elephant in the room, or as you stated, the emperor has no clothes!

    It is remarkable that so many people, all over the world, are beginning to search these matters out. I’m loosely attracted to a lot of the thoughts of the Emerging church type of guys and find them asking many of the same questions.

    Within the NT, worship gatherings (“church”) were made up of a community that existed to mutually build each other up. In fact, the New Testament indicates a worship gathering that is far different from the typical western church model (senior pastors; clergy versus laity; consumer Christianity; etc). I mean, as you note, the Scriptures contain a wealth of exhortation to the Church to be the Church. For instance:

    1 Cor. 14:26 – “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

    Rom. 14:19 – “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

    1 Thess. 5:11 – “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

    Heb. 10:24-25 – “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging (parakaleo) one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

    Heb. 3:13 – “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

    Eph. 5:18-19 – “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be [continuously being] filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,”

    Col. 3:16 – “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

    Yet I believe that people need to be called to build a community of mutual commitment. The congregation is not simply a place to meet. In other words, biblically speaking, as I’m sure you are well aware, we do not go to Church, we are the Church.

    One of the greatest points that is so often overlooked when discussing the topic of mutual edification is the concept of vulnerability. Yet, if there is true mutual commitment, this will lead to being vulnerable. Why? Because we should include letting friends and leaders in on the most significant decisions of our lives for prayer, counsel, and discernment (the final decision must be according to the person’s conscience before the Lord). The purpose of building the community through building the relational dimensions of life should therefore have more of a claim on us than has been the common practice in our western churches. Simply stated, this means that we need to “buy into accountability” as we share our lives with each other.

    I also think that the concept of “embracing the unpredictable” has to become more of a normal practice. We in the west are so linear and systematic in our approach to life. This is partly due to the influence of Greek philosophy, but it impacts every area of life, often to the detriment of our worship gatherings. While much of Scripture is “linear” (e.g. many of Paul’s epistles), much of it is in the form of charaz (random wise teachings, cf. James). We have to work really hard at embracing the unpredictable/spontaneous moves of the Spirit in order to have true mutual edification. Far too many of the people “sitting in the pew” do not actually believe that they can be used by the Lord for the purpose of ministry. This could obviously open up the can of worms on “identity in Christ,” but I think you get my point.

    Okay, sorry for “typing” your ear off. I like this topic. I like thinking about it and typing about it and praying about it. So, in summary: mutual commitment, mutual vulnerability, and mutual embracing of unpredictable/spontaneous moves of the Lord. Perhaps “house church” is the only way to do this, which is a bit discouraging for me J

    I look forward to your thoughts.

    Semper Reformanda,

    Luke Geraty

  2. ruralmomof3
    March 17, 2008 at 2:36 PM

    Do you feel that the above ideas are the root cause of conflict in church settings? Participation without edification? and vice versa? I am no theologian, but I read your musings here and thought of some friends I have who are experiencing a paradigm shift in their church. I am not well read on Thomas Kuhn but wonder if he believes his 4 steps happen in a certain order or if these steps can take place in any. I see my particular friends experiencing the intellectual battle and time leadership has refused to admit awareness (or at least do anything about it) and are not looking for new ideas (crisis). Very interesting article, none the less.

  3. jeff g
    March 17, 2008 at 4:15 PM

    For me and our family it was a crisis that set us on a new path. we had just moved to Tajikistan to work with a church planting team and found that the “church as we knew it” was not what the Tajiks needed. they needed something more simple, under-the-radar, something more in line with their culture which so centered around the family and meals and socializing.

    we found the answers in Acts and in the house churches seen in the NT.

    our journey is to see a NT style church re-birthed on the earth. we are not hacking away at the “evil leaves” but at the roots!

    your for the least in the Kingdom,

    Jeff G

  4. November 3, 2009 at 7:29 PM

    The idea of “mutual edification” in the assemblies of the saints seems to be gaining steam among Bible believers. This is a good thing! For more thoughts along these lines, the article “‘Mutual Edification’ in the Lord’s Day Assembly” can viewed at:


  1. January 24, 2008 at 8:42 PM
  2. August 14, 2008 at 3:55 PM

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