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When You Come Together …
Welcome to another Thursday UNFILTERED substack article, the only substack newsletter that has concluded that there are no Christians or churches in Hawaii because its author still hasn’t been invited to speak there.
In my 2008 book, Reimagining Church (chapter 1), I explore the different kinds of meetings the early Christians had during the New Testament era.
One of those meetings is what I and others call “the church meeting.”
A description of this meeting is found in 1 Corinthians 14:26:
What then, brothers [brothers and sisters]? 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. ESV
The key imperatives in this text are echoed in the book of Hebrews:
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
~ Hebrews 10:24-25, NKJV
Compare “assembling of ourselves together” in Hebrews with “When you come together” in 1 Corinthians.
Also, compare “each one has … let all things be done for building up” in 1 Corinthians with “exhorting one another” in Hebrews.
The emphasis in both texts is on assembling together and mutual exhortation and edification.
Even though 1 Corinthians 14:26 is echoed in Hebrews, some people have objected saying:
A) 1 Corinthians 14:26 is merely a description. It has no normative implications. It’s not prescriptive at all.
B) 1 Corinthians 14:26 is a rebuke. Paul is saying that the believers should NOT be participating in the meetings by bringing a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, etc. as they are.
In Reimagining Church, I argue that these two “objections” are flimsy, faulty, fallacious (to channel Johnny Cochran).
What Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26 is both positively DESCRIPTIVE and PRESCRIPTIVE.
The apostle is offering a positive summary as well as an exhortation.
He is describing what the church meeting ought to look like.
Here are two translations that accurately capture Paul’s thought:
Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.
~ 1 Corinthians 14:26, NLT
What then is the conclusion, brothers [and sisters]? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification.
~ 1 Corinthians 14:26, HCSB
The following scholars agree with my interpretation:
The combination of the formula “What then is the upshot of all this?” and the vocative “brothers [and sisters]” signals a shift in the argument, but in this case one that seems intended to tie together several loose ends. The verb “you come together,” spoken now in the second person plural (as in 11:18, 20, 33–34), picks up the argument from vv. 23–25. The first sentence, which offers a description of what should be happening at their gatherings, echoes the concerns of chap. 12, that each one has opportunity to participate in the corporate ministry of the body … What is striking in this entire discussion is the absence of any mention of leadership or of anyone who would be responsible for seeing that these guidelines were generally adhered to. The community appears to be left to itself and the Holy Spirit. What is mandatory is that everything aim at edification.
~ Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 690-691.
No one organ could establish a monopoly in the body by taking over the function of the others. A body consisting of a single organ would be a monstrosity: the rule is many parts, yet one body … The upshot of all this is that, when the church meets, it is perfectly proper for each member to contribute to the worship, provide that all things be done for edification.
~ F.F. Bruce, 1 And 2 Corinthians, NCBC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980), 134.
Verse 26 insists that the Corinthians continue to worship in highly participatory and spontaneous fashion: “Everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” This does not mean that every person present exercises all of the gifts, nor even that all exercise at least one in every service. But opportunity is made available for all whom the Spirit leads on any given occasion to contribute … As in chapter 12, Paul strongly encourages every member’s participation or use of his or her gifts.
~ Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, NIVAC (Zondervan, 1994), 277-278, 283
[Verse] 26 gives us a clue about one form of early Christian worship. There is no mention of worship leaders or of reading the Torah. Rather each brings a song (perhaps sung in the Spirit), a teaching, or a revelation. The impression of a real act of the body, not merely the performance of a noted few. Paul restates his rule: ‘Let all things be done to edify,’ and adds, ‘in order.’
This worship, at least in Corinth, involved the participation of most, if not all, of those present. It was not a performance of a few superstars for the benefit of the many, who were reduced to an audience. Worship and fellowship were acts that required giving by all the participants. Paul says nothing about a sermon being part of early Christian worship. This may be because he expected the reading of his letter to serve as the revelatory content for the worship in Corinth.
He definitely does not assume or support the notion of a preacher or a service dominated by preaching, unless one concludes that prophecy was the equivalent of preaching. Paul, however, expects several prophets, not just one, to speak in a given act of worship. Paul also knows nothing about a special class of Christians with ‘ministerial’ gifts, a special class of Christian priests or clergy.
The clergy-laity distinction does not come from the NT. Women along with men were not only allowed but expected to exercise their gifts in early Christian worship. Paul does believe in a sort of hierarchy of leadership, but this leadership was to be determined primarily by who was called and gifted by the Spirit, and not at all by gender or cultural background. Furthermore, leaders were to be models of how all should exercise their gifts in worship.
~ Ben Witherington III, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 285, 290.
The implication of the description of the typical gathering for worship (1 Cor. 14:26) may also imply that, like prophecy, teaching was not limited to the teachers: “When you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation …” An insight into the relevance of the church’s tradition might well be given to someone not previously or formally recognized as a teacher. Indeed, according to Col. 3:16, the community as a whole had a teaching responsibility.
~ James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 583.
[Paul] advocates more individual participation here than would have been natural in other worship settings of his day.
~ Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, second edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 489.
Paul has just referred to occasions when ‘the whole church assembles’ (23). He now deals with what happens on such occasions—or what should happen . . . He envisages every member of the church bringing a distinctive contribution to its worshipping life: a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation (26).
~ David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 249-250.
We have no way of knowing how typical of the whole church worship at Corinth was, but it cannot have been very far from the norm, else Paul would have said so … Come together means come together for worship. We need not press everyone (or ‘each’, hekastos), as though it meant that every member of the congregation always had something to contribute. But it does mean that any of them might be expected to take part …
~ Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, TNTC, revised edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 194.
When you come together. Worship in the early church included a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. The goal of building up is like the building of the temple (see 3:16; compare Ex. 25:8).
~ J.I. Packer, W. Grudem, A. Fernando, eds. ESV Global Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 1623.
He asked, What then shall we say? In other words, “What practical conclusions should we draw from the preceding discussion?” The answer was that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (14:40). As he began to define this, he pronounced a policy that everyone should come to worship ready to use his or her spiritual gifts, whether it be a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation of tongues.
This list is just a sampling of the spiritual exercises that might take place in a worship service. Paul’s point was that there should be no bystanders in worship.
~ R.L. Pratt, Jr. I & II Corinthians (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2000), vol. 7:249.
When you assemble, each one of you (the last two words help out the English, and are supplied by many, but not all, Greek MSS.) has a hymn (ψαλμόν, but a fresh, perhaps spontaneous, composition, not an Old Testament psalm, is intended; cf. Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19), a piece of teaching (for this and the next word cf. verse 6), a revelation, a tongue (that is, a communication made in an unintelligible tongue), an interpretation (of a communication made in a tongue). Each one must be taken seriously here, as at 12:7.
Church meetings in Corinth can scarcely have suffered from dullness, and no doubt Paul’s exhortation was relevant: Let all these be exercised for the building up of the community.
~ C.K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1968), 327–328.
The careful and the detailed instruction given in v. 1–25 is followed by careful and detailed directions regarding procedure by telling the Corinthians just what to do in their church services so as to employ the charismata in the most beneficial way.
The kindly address “brethren” asks the Corinthians to receive these directions in a brotherly spirit. The opening question is like that occurring in v. 15. What, then, follows? i.e., in regard to the way in which you should proceed with these charismata in your meetings.
~ R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963), 606–607.
Τί οὖν ἐστίν, ἀδελφοί; ‘What then is the result, brethren,’ of this discussion? Comp. v. 15. In answering his own question he first gives the facts of the case, then states the indispensable principle that all things are to be done unto edifying, and finally gives practical directions for applying this principle. ὅταν συνέρχησθε. ‘Whenever ye are coming together (v. 23, 11:17, 18, 20), each has ready (comp. πάντες, vv. 23, 24) a psalm to improvise, a lesson to give, a revelation to make known, a Tongue to utter, an interpretation to explain the Tongue.’ All these gifts are there in the several individuals ready to be manifested.
By all means let them be manifested. But never lose sight of the more excellent way of love: let the edification of others be the end ever in view.
~ A. Robertson & A. Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1911), 319-320.
There was obviously a flexibility about the order of service in the early Church. Everything was informal enough to allow any person who felt that he had a message to give to give it . . . . The really notable thing about an early Church service must have been that almost everyone came feeling that he had both the privilege and the obligation of contributing something to it. A person did not come with the sole intention of being a passive listener; he came not only to receive but to give.
~ William Barclay, Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975), 134.
Now Paul sketches a picture of worship, a very flexible procedure where anyone may offer ‘a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation’ (verse 26). Speaking in worship is to be open to anyone, but each is to be attentive to the good of all, to ‘building up.’ . . . . What a revealing glimpse of a vital community, whose worship was in good measure unstructured, open to participation by all, and guided not by a pre-set program, but by the Spirit!
~ William A. Beardslee, First Corinthians: A Commentary for Today (Nashville, TN: Chalice Press, 1994), 136-137.
I can list many more quotes, but this should suffice to make the point.
For more on this subject, listen to the conference message When You Assemble Together (Radical Alert).
And of course, revisit chapter 1 in Reimagining Church.
Also, in Finding Organic Church (Part 1), I wrote on HOW a group of believers can have 1 Corinthians 14:26-styled meetings consistently in an edifying way.
This requires equipping, however. Without which, the meetings will revert to empty ritual, deadness, or domination by over-functioners.
The equipping piece is often ignored by those who accept the value of meetings patterned after 1 Corinthians 14:26.
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