Open Church and Other Meetings

by Eric Wilson

Paul ran open church meetings in which all the brethren could contribute (1 Corinthians 14:26) from the richness of Christ within them. Of course with such freedom came abuses – especially in the Corinthian church. (1 Corinthians 14:23) But Paul’s answer wasn’t to regulate ministries or licence the gifts, because these are distributed (not centralised) by the Holy Spirit to the sons of God just as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11). On the contrary, by apostolic injunction Paul commands us in 1 Corinthians 14:40 “Let everything be according to well-formed [priestly] order”. But what does this mean?

The word ‘order’ in the above verse is sometimes misused to in effect control the proceedings. “Meetings must be controlled to ensure all goes well” is a common story. But the verse really commands the opposite approach, describing a proper manner of open participation in ‘interactive’ church meetings. Paul refers to these types of meetings a few versus earlier:

How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

- 1 Corinthians 14:26 NKJV

All the brethren are ministers in open church meetings

A sense of the verse above in the original language is ‘he has a psalm, he has a teaching, he has a tongue, he has a revelation, he has an interpretation Let all things be done for edification.’. One can almost imagine Paul going around the room pointing to each person - being most participatory and including everyone - this being an open letter "to the church of God which is at Corinth" and "to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 1:2). And Paul also points out something else everyone can do:

For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. - 1 Corinthians 14:31 NKJV

Openly interactive meetings (which of course include women – see Acts 21:8-9 and 1 Corinthians 12:7) are the usual outcome ‘whenever you come together’ Paul says. Therefore this style of gathering can probably be characterised as a ‘general purpose’ meeting. Yet while Paul writes of such open meetings as the default, t Holy Spirit also uses other kinds of meetings to build up the body of Christ.

Other church meetings for specific purposes

Such specific purpose meetings include:

  • prayer meetings (Acts 12:12, 16:13)
  • elders meetings (Acts 21:18)
  • church ‘town’ meetings (Acts 15:20, 1 Corinthians 11:20)
  • communion evening meals (Mark 14:16-24, Acts 20:7-8)
  • teaching and preaching times (Acts 5:42)
  • Bible studies (Acts 17:11)
  • synagogue, school and marketplace outreaches (Acts 17:17, 19:8-9)
  • gospel reasoning times (Acts 19:9),
  • food distributions (Acts 6:1)
  • ‘love feasts’ (Jude 1:12)
  • baptisms (Matthew 3:5-6, John 3:36, Acts 2:41).

Prayer meetings are encouraged to be constant and ongoing (Acts 12:5, Eph 6:18, Acts 6:4, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10, 5:17, 1 Timothy 5:5, 2 Timothy 1:3 ). Preaching, teaching, bible study, food distribution plus market and school outreach are daily activities (Acts 5:42-6:1, 17:11, 17:17, 19:9). Baptisms are recorded as being performed upon conversion (Acts 2:41, Acts 8:36-38, Acts 16:32-34), while one example of communion was weekly (Acts 17:2), as was a synagogue outreach (Acts 20:7).

That is to say open church as described by Paul may not have communion (fellowship meal) or highly detailed explanations of scripture or a systematic series of teachings. These activities are carried out as one of the specialised meetings described above, as the Spirit leads. Of course, one type of meeting may well flow into another, as the church made time for this to happen (Acts 20:7-11).

Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, "Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him." Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. - Acts 20:7-11

Church meeting venues

Popular venues for church meetings - of all types - included ‘every house’ and ‘house to house’ (Acts 5:42, 20:20, 2:46), the Temple building (Acts 2:46, 5:25, 5:42) - even public places such as river banks (Acts 16:13, Acts 20:20). The book of Acts finishes with Paul in his own open ministry house (Acts 28:30-31). Paul’s lifestyle was open hearted (2 Corinthians 6:11) and even while he lived, his letters to the churches were considered as scripture by Peter - a founding apostle (2 Peter 3:15-16). Thus Paul’s attitude to what might happen in church was also open:

How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. - 1 Corinthians 14:26 NKJV

Bearing this diversity of ministries, gifts and activities in mind (1 Corinthians 12:4-6), attempting to conduct most of these works together in a weekly service - and maybe a midweek home meeting too - is almost inconceivable. For as we have seen, dwelling in Christ is a day house to house thing.

Priests of functional not hierarchical order

Despite Paul’s openness, the apostle insists this freedom is to be governed by order:

“Let everything be done decently and in order.” - 1 Corinthians 14:40

Freely translated, this verse reads ‘Let everything be according to well-formed order’. The word ‘order’ here is always used elsewhere in the Bible to describe a priestly order; And there is no reason to suppose otherwise when describing ministry in this case. Moreover, another Greek word entirely denotes military rank or ascendency over people. So a priestly order is prescribed which is not so much concerned with hierarchy as in discerning our Father’s desire by the Spirit of when to speak and when to keep silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7).

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. - 1 Corinthians 14:29-32

Therefore orderly ministry in the priesthood of all believers is not found in giving or receiving permissions to speak; it’s in tempering one’s freedom (James 3) to do so with love.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006   printer friendly version | 9933 reads