Simple church is broadly participatory

One of most often quoted passages in the house church movement is this little gem in Paul’s first letter to Corinth.

What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church.
(1Co 14:26 NET.)

At first glance this passage seems to imply that every church meeting must be an unstructured free flow of reflections, songs, prayers, sharing, teaching and more.  I’ve been a part of these kinds of meetings and they often work well.  However because of what I find in 1Cor 12 I don’t think it means everyone has to to contribute to everyone else in every meeting.  Also considering the hints about Paul’s activity in Acts it doesn’t appear every meeting looked like this.   Nor do I believe this type of meeting is the hidden structural key to unleashing exponential church growth.  I think we in the west are so focussed on structure and meeting style we miss the more important element of our relationship to each other.

I do believe that these types of meetings are an expression of Paul’s concept of the body working to build up one another in love.  the passage gives us the underlying purpose of the church gathered, that is to build up one another.  Alan Knox has done some great work on this.  Please check out his website and the resources section.

There is a lot we can take from this passage and even more importantly the entirety of 1Cor 12.

Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things. For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body — though many — are one body, so too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell? But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. If they were all the same member, where would the body be? So now there are many members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it.
(1Co 12:4-27 NET.)

Another great passage is in Ephesians.

But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.
(Eph 4:15-16 NET.)

There are a couple of great things we can pull out of these passages.

  • God designed the body to be diverse
  • Regardless of income, status, ethnicity, background, education we are all equal members of that body
  • The Holy Spirit is working in all of us according to his will
  • We all need one another
  • We pay special attention to those “less presentable”, the more broken, dysfunctional
  • Those burdened with shame with cloth with honour
  • Everyone is treated with dignity and valued
  • We exhibit mutual care and concern for each other