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