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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


Conclusions: 1 Corinthians 14,
Church Gatherings & Leadership, Final Words


Introduction & 3 Models of Church Gatherings and Leadership
Examining the Models
Examining the Models Conclusions and Study Expectations
Examining Church Gatherings in the Gospels
The First Supper, Jesus' Specific Instructions, Conclusions
Survey of Post-Ascension Church Gatherings
Apostolic and Eldership Functions in Acts and the Epistles
1 Corinthians 1-10 & Introduction to 1 Corinthians 11-14
1 Corinthians 11-13
1 Corinthians 14
1 Timothy 2:12, Conclusions on Women in Church Gatherings
Conclusions: 1 Corinthians 14, Church Gatherings & Leadership




Conclusions on 1 Corinthians 14 and Church Gatherings

 

Having concluded our survey of early church gatherings with this final component of 1 Corinthians 14, let us keep in mind what we have learned from these important chapters in 1 Corinthians. Paul’s prohibition against women speaking in the church is the fourth type of restriction that he provides in this passage and it fits very well with his theme from the proceeding portions of this text.

 

First, we have the indication that not all were apostles, prophets, or teachers and that not all were the same part of the body with the same function in the body. This implies directly that not all would contribute in the same way, to the same amount, or at the same time especially given that we have seen repeated indications that the role of apostles and teachers at the church meetings was teaching God’s word in a dominant fashion. Second, we saw that Paul limited which types of activities or gifts should be practice during church meetings. Again his comments limited the activities to those which would profit all persons through the sharing of instruction, teaching, and insights that would build the understanding of the church. This is identical to what we have seen repeatedly that the apostles and elders did through the administration of the word at the church gatherings described in other passages throughout the New Testament. Third, Paul places some kind of restriction on the number prophets and speakers in tongues who could speak. And fourth, we have a prohibition against women speaking at the meetings.

 

Now it is one thing to dispute what exactly Paul was intending to restrict in each of these cases. It is quite another thing to assert that nowhere in the course of the 84 verses comprising 1 Corinthians 12-14 does Paul limit or restrict who participates and how they participate during church gatherings. If there is one thing that is the most difficult to resist from these chapters it is that Paul is clearly not describing a system in which when the church met together everyone participates equally and in the same way as everyone else.

 

Instead, it is unavoidable that Paul is saying that not everyone will participate in the same function, that not everyone will participate in the same amount, that some may not participate at all, and that only teaching-oriented gifts should be practice in the church gatherings by those specific persons who have those teaching gifts. In the first century church, this included, apostles, prophets, teachers, and (if there was an interpreter present) those who could speak in tongues. It did not include other types of gifts, which weren’t teaching-oriented. It did not include skits and poems. It did not include more than two or three persons leading (although others in the audience could certainly interrupt with questions or short comments of their own). And it did not include women speaking, teaching, or asking questions. Since the spiritual gifts are not available to the church today, the limitations on what may be practiced in a church gathering are reduced even further to include only those who can competently teach the word.

 

In a nutshell, Paul’s instructions for participation at church gatherings in 1 Corinthians are as follows:

 

1. Not everyone has the same gifts. Only teaching-oriented gifts should be practiced in the church gatherings. Consequently, since not everyone has a teaching-oriented gift not everyone will participate.

2. Only two to three with teaching gifts should take turns presenting.

3. Men can ask questions.

4. Women must remain silent and cannot teach or ask questions during the meetings.

 

 

 

Summary of New Testament Church Gatherings and Leadership Study

 

Now that we have studied in detail every passage in the New Testament that discusses church gatherings and leadership, we should compare what we’ve learned to our three models.

 

First, we would like to highlight a point that has not been directly stated so far. Early in this study we discussed how the Last Supper was really intended to be the First Supper in the sense that it was intended by Jesus to serve as the model for all church gatherings, not just concerning the meal but all of its components. Over the course of our study we have seen that this was true, but we have not always stopped to point it out. According to the Gospel accounts, the Last Supper consisted of a long teaching segment dominated by Jesus Christ, his disciples interrupting with questions and comments, corporate prayers led by Jesus, no vocal participation by the women followers, and even a psalm being sung (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26). It is no wonder that the rest of the instructions for church gatherings found in the New Testament touch on these exact same components. Even the very long commentary in 1 Corinthians 11-14 contains all these essential components, including one to three speakers dominating through teaching-oriented gifts, the rest of the men judging and asking questions, the silence of women, and even the opportunity for some singing. Since these components are also present in the Last Supper, it is right that we should use the Last Supper as the preeminent model for each of these components when we interpret later passages on church gatherings and when we assemble for gatherings today.

 

Second, before we began our long survey and study of the New Testament’s discussion of church gatherings and leadership, we identified three models that are available and in use in the modern church today. All three models claim the New Testament as their foundation. We named these three models the Pseudo-traditional model, the Viola model, and the Elder-Leadership model and defined them in regards to their chief characteristics and the expectations each projected. These key features and their inherent expectations were placed into categories regarding four main issues of church gatherings and leadership. The result was as follows.

 

Category A: Church Leadership.

1. The Pseudo-traditional Model – New Testament church communities will be lead by a single individual head pastor. New Testament church communities will not involve shared leadership distributed to a group of elders or overseers who together share the leadership of the church community.

2. The Viola Model – New Testament church communities will be lead by a group of individuals called elders or overseers who together share the leadership of the church community. New Testament church communities will not be lead by a single individual head pastor.

3. The Elder-Leadership Model – New Testament church communities will be lead by a group of individuals called elders or overseers who together share the leadership of the church community. New Testament church communities will not be lead by a single individual head pastor.

 

Category B: The Communion Meal.

1. The Pseudo-traditional Model – New Testament communion meals will consist of only a small portion of bread and a small portion of wine. New Testament communion meals will not consist of a full meal.

2. The Viola Model – New Testament communion meals will consist of a full meal. New Testament communion meals will not consist of only a small portion of bread and a small portion of wine.

3. The Elder-Leadership Model – New Testament communion meals will consist of a full meal. Testament communion meals will not consist of only a small portion of bread and a small portion of wine.

 

Category C: Format and Common Features of the Meeting (not including Communion.)

1. The Pseudo-traditional Model – New Testament church gatherings will consist of a large segment of musical worship and a large segment devoted to an absolutely uninterruptable teaching from the head pastor. New Testament church gatherings will not involve any participation from anyone besides the main speaker.

2. The Viola Model – New Testament church gatherings will consist of every person participating, functioning, and contributing equally. New Testament meetings will involve various types of activities including: singing a song, reading a poem, performing a skit, giving a short teaching, giving a word of encouragement, providing a testimony, or offering a prayer. New Testament church gatherings will not contain special roles or tasks reserved for certain, distinct individuals including pastors or elders/overseers. New Testament church gatherings will not involve one, two, or three individuals dominating the time and contributions of the meeting while all other attendees contribute and participate to a much lesser extent (primarily in the role of an audience). New Testament meetings will not contain long sections of musical worship or teaching.

3. The Elder-Leadership Model – New Testament church gatherings will consist of a large teaching component lead by one to three male leader(s) called elders and may be interrupted by other men with questions or comments. New Testament church gatherings will also include prayer (and possibly some singing). New Testament church gatherings will not consist of a large segment of musical worship or an absolutely uninterruptable teaching from a head pastor. New Testament church gatherings will not consist of every person participating, functioning, and contributing equally.

 

Category D: Gender Participation.

1. The Pseudo-traditional Model – (Views on the participation of women in leadership and church services will vary depending on the denomination.)

2. The Viola Model – New Testament church gatherings will include the participation of both men and women with no distinctions or limitations based on gender. New Testament church gatherings will not be limited to participation from men only and will not restrict the participation of women.

3. The Elder-Leadership Model – New Testament church gatherings will limit participation to men only. New Testament church gatherings will not include examples of women speaking, teaching, or asking questions.

 

Having now completely our thorough investigation of the New Testament on this subject, we are now in a position to make some final conclusions in regards to which of the above models fits the New Testament record. As we do we should keep in mind that what we find in the New Testament is prescriptive and binding as far as church gatherings for all generations.

 

Our first category (category A) dealt with the issue of church leadership. What did we learn about the ongoing and normal mode of church leadership that the apostles established in the New Testament churches? Was church leadership of each local church community placed solely in the hands of a single, authoritative individual as is commonly practiced in Roman Catholic and Protestant churches? Or was church leadership of each local church community shared equally by a group of men in that community who together had oversight?

 

In the New Testament it is clear that all church leadership was shared by consensus of the leaders. This was true among both the apostles and their successors, the local church elders. In the New Testament there was no singular, universal head of the church other than Jesus Christ and there were no singular heads over local churches. Because of these facts, we must reject at least this aspect of the Pseudo-traditional model for church leadership in favor of that offered by the Viola and Elder-Leadership models.

 

Our second category (category B) dealt with the issue of the communion meal. What did we learn from the New Testament about the communal meals of the early church gatherings? Were these meals simply a single serving of bread and a single serving of wine as practiced by Roman Catholic and Protestant churches today?

 

From the New Testament study it was clear that the communion meal was based on the Old Testament Passover meal. This meal was a full meal and consisted of more than just a small piece of bread and a tiny cup of wine. The early church continued to share these full meals with one another in their gatherings throughout the New Testament period. Since this is the case, we are forced to reject the highly abbreviated communion meal of Roman Catholic and Protestant tradition presented in the Pseudo-traditional model. Instead, if we wish to follow essential New Testament teaching in obedience to Jesus’ command the night before he died, we must return to the practice of the early church as called for by the Viola and Elder-Leadership models. We must reincorporate a regular, full meal as a central act of our weekly Christian gatherings.

 

Category C dealt with the format and common features of the New Testament church meeting (besides communion, which we covered in category B.) In this category there was a greater diversity among the three models. Meetings of the Pseudo-traditional practiced by Protestant churches today include a large segment of musical worship followed by a long, absolutely uninterruptible monologue given by the head pastor. The Viola model, instead, claims that church meetings must consist of every person participating, functioning, and contributing equally with no persons being more dominant than others, with no long teaching segments, and with various activities including a song, a poem, a skit, a short teaching, a word of encouragement, a testimony, or a prayer. And finally, the Elder-Leadership model calls for a church meeting that is chiefly characterized by the teaching of one to three of the church elders, but which is open for other men to ask questions or make comments.

 

Which of these three different models did we see presented in the New Testament? From the on-the-job training of the disciples during Jesus’ ministry and continuing after Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost into the latest portions of New Testament scripture only one model is presented. Jesus’ meetings with his disciples were characterized by his dominant teaching and their asking questions. After Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost, the apostles continued in the model they had learned from Jesus. They dominate the church meetings, teaching Jesus’ doctrines to the church community of Jerusalem. Paul did similarly in all of the churches that he established and visited. And as the apostles themselves left behind the Christian communities of the first century, they trained and appointed groups of elders or overseers to watch over the flock through the teaching of Jesus’ doctrine and refuting of false beliefs. The terminology that is used in the New Testament in presenting of the role of the elders as teachers, overseers, and shepherds or pastors is identical to the role held first by Jesus and distributed by Jesus to his apostles.

 

The New Testament bears no accounts of large segments of musical worship or of an uninterruptible monologue reserved for a single head pastor. Neither do we see anywhere where the meeting was characterized by every person participating, functioning, and contributing equally. From the four gospels through the Book of Acts and through the epistles, participation in meetings was restricted to teaching-oriented activities and was restricted to one to three individuals leading the presentation. Without the spiritual gifts in operation today, the nature of these teaching gifts will be further restricted to biblical exegesis. Certainly, each meeting included prayer. And we have some indication that psalms or hymns may occasionally have been shared, though there is very little emphasis or information we could use to establish any more significant place for musical worship in our church meetings. (See also our article entitled “The Importance of Music in Worship.”)

 

Because of the pervasive New Testament depiction of and instruction for church gatherings to be characterized chiefly by the teaching by one to three elders with participation open for men to ask questions and comment, we must reject the Pseudo-traditional model’s inclusion of large musical segments and uninterruptible monologues. Likewise, we must also discard Frank Viola’s notion of a church meeting where every person participates, functions, contributes, and shares in an equal manner and to the same extent as one another. Nothing like either of these models can be found anywhere in the New Testament record including in Paul’s instructions for church gatherings in 1 Corinthians 11-14. The result is that we should adopt the Elder-Leadership model for its adherence to the model of church meetings instituted by the apostles and enacted in every New Testament church community. This model is teaching-dominant, led by one to three elders, and open to questions and comments from other men.

 

The final category (category D) dealt with the question of gender participation. The alternative offered by the Viola model claimed that women could participate, speak, teach, and ask questions during church meetings just as the men could. In contrast to this, the Elder-Leadership model restricted participation only to men. Women are not permitted to speak, teach, or ask questions in the church meetings. As we surveyed the New Testament material on this subject we found that the biblical facts warrant the adoption of the Elder-Leadership model’s prohibition against women participating in church.

 

First among these facts was the complete lack of a single instance of women speaking, teaching, or asking questions in a church gathering. Second, we saw that meetings were teaching-oriented, that the teaching was presented by the elders, and that only men could be elders. Third, we saw several specific prohibitions written to two different church communities prohibiting the women from speaking in church or teaching men. And last, the New Testament prohibitions against women speaking in church were connected to larger Christian theological issues such as the headship of Christ over the church, the headship of the husband over the wife, and the submission of the wife to the husband, the creation of man before woman, and the deception of Eve by the serpent. Because of these scriptural facts the prohibition against women speaking in church must be upheld and the Viola model, which embraces the participation of women in church gatherings, must be rejected.

 

As we conclude our examination of these models in light of the New Testament, only one model, the Elder-Leadership model embodies and continues the binding prescriptions and commands for church gatherings that are recorded in the New Testament. It follows that if we wish for our modern church meetings to validly follow the model established in the New Testament we should include a full meal for communion and fellowship in sober remembrance and celebration of the New Covenant we have through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Besides the communion meal, our meetings should chiefly consist of a teaching-oriented presentation lead by one to three elders characterized by biblical exegesis with participation open for men to ask questions or make comments. There should also be prayer and perhaps a psalm or song. In addition women should be silent during these teaching-oriented segments. Church gatherings will most frequently occur in the homes of the Christians in that local church community as an aspect of the shared lives and livelihood we have with our spiritual family.

 

Lastly, let us take one final look at Hebrews 10:25.

 

Hebrews 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

 

As we saw earlier, Hebrews 10:25 is a command that Christians should not abandon or forsake gathering together, but should do so all the more as the day of Christ’s return approaches. By all counts that day is nearer now than when this verse was first written. And yet, we must ask whether Christians today are following this command?

 

Surely, modern Christians are still gathering together with one another. But are they meeting after the manner instituted by Jesus Christ and His apostles in the New Testament churches? Our study has shown that most of us are not. Are we to suppose that the author of Hebrews intended this instruction to be understood as “get together in any way you want to just don’t stop getting together?” Isn’t it obvious that this command not to abandon getting together necessarily and inherently includes the command that we must continue to meet in the manner that was taught and practiced in all of the New Testament churches? Surely, this command to continue in the same manner of meeting is implicit in the command to continue meeting. And yet, most of us are gathering in a manner which deviates in almost every way from the custom of meeting taught and practiced in all New Testament Christian churches. Haven’t most of us then abandoned the gathering together of the New Testament church?

 

We would like to leave our readers with a few final additional questions. If we wish to follow Christ and reject man-made traditions how can we continue to operate within a modern church system defined by practices which differ so completely from that of the New Testament church? If we have genuinely pledged ourselves to Christ and seek to be members of His church shouldn’t we reject all these post-biblical accommodations and return in sincerity to New Testament Christian practice? If we do not, what justification can we offer to God for the man-made deviations we have applied to His divine blueprint for His church? Furthermore, why would we continue in man-made para-churches when it is entirely possible to come out from these compromised, corporation-style institutions that we have built and instead, live in real, New Testament Christian communities? What could we validly say is too great a cost for following the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ for His church? And if we do decide that the cost is too great to follow Christ in these things and instead set them aside for our own traditions can we still truthfully call ourselves His disciples and His church? And lastly, is it right for us to respond to Jesus’ command to “do this in remembrance of me” with a counter offer saying “that’s not going to work for us, we have a better idea”?

 

 

 

Final Words on Frank Viola’s Contributions

 

Before we close this long study, we would like to add a few additional words on Frank Viola’s contributions to the study and practice of home church gatherings and non-institutional leadership. As we said in our introduction Viola deserves commendation for his recognition of the errors and deviations of modern church practice. He deserves credit for his many years of earnest effort to get others to reconsider the basis for our modern traditions. In particular, Viola has done a good job cataloguing and historically chronicling the deviations that led to today’s church practices and pointing out their origin in Roman imperial and pagan religious custom rather than in New Testament teaching. We share agreement with Viola in these areas as well as in his rejection of the such specific, unbiblical practices as the fully-salaried pastoral staff, the singular headship of the modern pastor, church buildings, the excesses of musical worship, scripturally deficient sermons based on Greco-Roman rhetoric and oration rather than biblical exposition, the abbreviated communion meal, and the isolation of modern Christians from a true sense of familial community.

 

Unfortunately, these agreements with Viola are minimized in light of the significant disagreements that we have with him over the issues of local church leadership, the format and features of church gatherings, the importance and role of elders and overseers, the participation of women in church meetings, and the value of informed and reasoned scriptural analysis. The reason that we have given priority to expressing and detailing our disagreements with Viola rather than affirming the areas of our agreement stems from the challenging nature of participating in home church Christianity in the modern world.

 

While Viola must be recognized for his contributions in bringing home church Christianity into the larger Christian discussion, it is also for this reason that his views must be scrutinized. As a spokesman and one of the few known home church proponents to make it in the public forum, Viola’s perspectives and errors will be taken by those who oppose and resist home church Christianity as representative of all home church groups everywhere. As one of those home church communities, we feel it is necessary to proclaim our disagreements with what we feel are some serious misunderstandings offered by Viola in his writings on the subject of New Testament church gatherings and leadership. Our hope is that by taking the time to thoroughly present our points of view in the light of a tedious scriptural examination we will responsibly demonstrate the capability of the home church approach to both competently handle scripture in a logically sound, biblically informed, and historically consistent manner as well as to offer a more accurate biblical model for Christians to practice today in fulfillment of New Testament protocol.