Q. Can You Give More Guidance On Your “Brethren” Style “One Church Meeting” Communion Service?
Hi! I’m a missionary in ****** and stumbled across your article (https://bible.org/seriespage/3-new-testament-church-its-meetings) while reading up on the biblical “gathering” and found your ideas interesting. I was wondering if you had some thoughts / reflections about the “One Church Meeting” (that all the necessary elements of the gathering should be done in one meeting, rather than split at different times and places through the week) and your experience with implementing it.
I also appreciate the description of the order of the “one meeting” you provide in the article.
Do you know any books / authors who take a similar line of thinking that I might read?
Good to hear from you, from far away. As the years have passed, I have become increasingly committed to the teaching of 1 Corinthians 14 as a primary text on the meeting of the church. Note that his text follows Paul’s teaching on conduct in the church gathering (chapter 11) and spiritual gifts (chapters 12-13).
Sadly, this chapter, along with much of the teaching and instruction of 1 Corinthians has been brushed aside, based upon the reasoning that Paul’s teaching here was addressed to a particular group of people, living at a particular time, and holding to a particular culture. This has been applied to the dress and activity of women in leadership roles in the church (1 Corinthians 11 and 14), to divorce (chapter 7), and even church discipline (chapter 5). Paul’s words at the end of chapter 14 should give one pause for thought:
37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized (1 Corinthians 14:37-38).
This logic, which sets aside biblical teaching on the basis of different times and recipients, and culture, if carried out consistently, would eventually lead to setting aside any Scripture that did not suit our culture or preferences. The Bible, and Jesus (not to exclude Paul and the other authors of Scripture) is counter-cultural, rather than culture affirming (see Ephesians 4:17ff.).
That said, I think we need not attempt to precisely duplicate everything we read, but seek to find the underlying principles, and to apply them, at any time, in any culture. Notice how Paul applies the Old Testament command to “not muzzle the ox” to the support of Gospel workers (1 Corinthians 9).
I think that several principles can be found in 1 Corinthians 14:
- THE PRINCIPLE OF PLURALITY in teaching, worship, and the exercise of spiritual gifts. God has distributed a great diversity of spiritual gifts in the church, and this means that its teaching and worship should not be dominated by a single person. (This is opposed to the “solo” (or staff-led) style of leadership that we see today, which seriously restricts participation in our worship and teaching.) That would surely not make room for Paul’s instruction in this chapter.
- THE PRINCIPLE OF PROPORTION. Two, or no more than three. Enough is enough. Too much of any one gift or function would exclude other vital functions. This applies to tongues, and to prophecy (14:1-32). Neither the tongues speaker, or the prophet, is to feel compelled to speak when the boundaries set forth by Paul have been reached (14:28-33).
- THE PRINCIPLE OF EDIFICATION. The gift of tongues was obviously present in the church at Corinth (even though often abused). But if no one with the gift of interpretation is present, then the one in whom the Spirit is moving is to remain silent, speaking to himself and to God (14:1-28). I should add here, that while Paul assumes the attendance of an unbeliever in the worship service of 1 Corinthians 14, the primary purpose of this meeting is for the edification of the saints, and the occasion for them to worship the Lord. (When communion is served we seek to make it clear that this is for believers, and if one does not know Christ they should listen carefully to the Gospel, but refrain voluntarily from partaking of the elements.)
- LET’S CALL THIS ONE THE PRINCIPLE OF SPONTANEITY. This is not to say that folks should come unprepared. But it is to say that there should be room for the Spirit to intervene in a way that we had not planned. In our church, we have a musical prelude, with music that is focused on whatever theme has been set by the man who starts and closes the service. Other than that, no one knows who will share, or distribute the bread and wine (juice). (This is also a great opportunity for emerging spiritual gifts to be expressed and recognized.)
- THE PRINCIPLE OF MALE LEADERSHIP (see 1 Corinthians 11 and 14:33-38). Men are called to lead, and this is facilitated by worship that is male led.
- THE PRINCIPLE OF CHRIST-CENTERED, CROSS-CENTERED WORSHIP. The Lord’s Supper is a central focus every Sunday.
Well, these are some of the principles that I see set forth in 1 Corinthians chapter 14. Before our church (Community Bible Chapel, https://communitybible.org/) was birthed, we were part of a very fine church in Dallas – that encouraged and supported the founding of our new work (nearly 50 years ago). They, too, sought to worship in a way that followed the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 (and the much more concise instruction of Acts 2:42).
But we chose to differ regarding the timing of the Lord’s Supper Meeting. At our previous church, Sunday morning was directed a bit more toward unbelievers and outreach (not entirely, but more than at the Lord’s Supper). Their Worship Meeting (patterned after 1 Corinthians 14), was held on Sunday nights. The problem we perceived was that only about 20-25% of those who attended Sunday mornings, ever attended the Worship Meeting on Sunday nights.
Thus, we linked the preaching service and the worship service together, on Sunday mornings. When we started Community Bible Chapel, preaching was a very high priority for people, and thus they were drawn to the Sunday Morning Service (which included preaching and the Lord’s Supper Meeting). But in time, the importance of the Lord’s Supper Meeting became a much stronger conviction, and the Lord’s Table became a priority. And thus, for nearly 50 years we have met for worship and for teaching.
[Editor’s note: See the current explanation and details of the services here on Community Bible Chapel’s website: https://communitybible.org/sunday]
I wish I could recommend some excellent material on 1 Corinthians 14, as we understand and apply it, but this is all too often set aside as culturally irrelevant (and thus unacceptable).