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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


The Context of 1 Corinthians 1-10
and Introduction to 1 Corinthians 11-14


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




1 Corinthians 1-10 – Studying the Context of 1 Corinthians

 

At this point in our study we have covered all of the relevant New Testament passages on church gatherings and leadership except one, 1 Corinthians 11-14. Before we proceed into our examination of that passage let us first take note of what we have learned so far so that we can be sure to place what we find in 1 Corinthians within the context of this larger body of information.

 

Through the course of our survey we first learned that Jesus’ manner of meeting with his disciples was characterized by his teaching them in dominant fashion. Though these meetings were open to the disciples asking questions or making comments themselves, they were not meetings in which each person present contributed or participated equally. As we saw throughout the Book of Acts, in accordance with their “on-the-job” training from Jesus, the apostles continued to conduct church gatherings according to the speaker-dominant model they had learned from Christ. In fact, they continued to practice this model well after Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost.

 

We also took note there are no instances recorded in the Gospels or the Book of Acts where church gatherings involved equal participation by all present, where the communion meal was abbreviated to small portions of bread and wine, where musical worship occupied a large segment of the meetings, or where poetry or skits were performed. We have seen no instances where all attendees spoke with equal contributions or for equal or nearly equivalent amounts of time. And we have absolutely not read of any prohibition against church meetings being dominated by one or more persons teaching the word of God for long periods of time.

 

We have seen several facts emerge clearly from the New Testament. First, multiple elders were appointed in each church community. Second, part of the reason for the appointment of elders was in order for the elders to lead the church gatherings through teaching the word according to the speaker-dominant style that was first established by Jesus Christ and afterward carried out by his apostles. The pattern is clear. When Jesus ascended he sent his apostles out to continue leading God’s people on earth. When the apostles left a community of disciples, they appointed elders over that community who were supposed to do the same.

 

We have seen that Jesus, his apostles, and the elders of the early church communities lead through the teaching of the word. As the church grew throughout the Roman Empire and beyond and the time of the apostles drew to a close, elders were appointed to fill that role and function. In the New Testament elders are mentioned in Jerusalem, in Lystra, in Iconium, in Antioch (Acts 14:21-23), in Ephesus (Acts 20:17), in Crete (Titus 1:5), and in Philippi (Philippians 1:1). And we have two statements indicating that appointing elders in each church community was the practice of the apostles (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5).

 

Our study of all the passages in the gospels and the Book of Acts leads us to adopt the conclusion that multiple elders were appointed in each church community to oversee that church through the teaching of the word at their meetings. Additionally, the conclusion that elders did indeed hold such a specialized, hierarchical, and at times dominating position is further supported by the fact that the language used to describe them and their role is the same language that is used to describe Jesus and the apostles who held this role before them.

 

Jesus is the Chief Elder, Bishop, Overseer, Pastor. He ruled over and oversaw God’s flock and fed them with his word by teaching them at their gatherings. The apostles were elders, bishops, overseers, pastors and teachers who ruled over and oversaw God’s people through the teaching of the word at the church gatherings just as Jesus had taught them and sent them to do. And the elders, likewise, were pastors, overseers, bishops, and teachers who were to rule over and oversee God’s flock and feed them by teaching them God’s word at their gatherings just as it had been taught to them by the apostles.

 

Nowhere in the New Testament have we seen any indication whatsoever that the role and function of elders in church gatherings was in any way different from that of the apostles in church gatherings. But we have seen abundant evidence that the elders were to function in the same way as the apostles did in church gatherings. Because of this, we cannot question the role of the elder at the church meeting without also questioning and overturning Jesus’ role and that of the apostles in the church gatherings as well. The cases are inextricably linked and connected by the historical descriptions as well as the language of the New Testament. Indeed, we have seen no evidence of any other model for church leadership or church gatherings in the New Testament. And we have likewise seen no indication that any change was made, was going to be made, or should be made to this model prior to Christ’s return.

 

As we proceed to our examination of 1 Corinthians 11-14 we must keep in mind all these things that we have already established from our study and survey of the New Testament. From the weight of that material we would expect that what we will find in 1 Corinthians should coincide with and fit the model that is so well and clearly established throughout every other passage in the entire New Testament, which speaks on the subject. What we would not expect to find is a lonely outlier, a single passage, which in the midst of such a large body of information and with no prior precedent, somehow indicates a novelty completely distinct, unanticipated, and irreconcilable with what we have seen in every other possible New Testament passage on the subject.

 

Having said this, we now turn to our examination of church gatherings in 1 Corinthians 11, 12, and 14. First, we should place this epistle within its New Testament historical context.

 

Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians was written from Ephesus. The text of 1 Corinthians 16:8 states this plainly.

 

1 Corinthians 16:8 But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.

 

Acts 18:1 and 11 inform us that after Paul had spent a year and a half in Corinth, he then stops in Ephesus briefly before departing on his way to keep the Jewish feast in Jerusalem (Acts 18:19, 21.) In Acts 19:1, Paul arrives back in Ephesus where he stays for three years (Acts 19:10, Acts 20:31.) After this, Paul again intends to head to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21.) He sends Timothy and Erastus ahead of him into Macedonia, while he remains in Ephesus, the capital city of the Roman province of Asia, for a season (Acts 19:22-23, 30.) At this point a riot occurs in Ephesus over Paul’s preaching against the gods of the Roman culture, especially Diana who was the patron goddess of the city of Ephesus (Acts 19:23-35.) After the assembly of rioters and Diana worshippers is dismissed, Paul gathers the believers together and departs for Macedonia where he stays for three months (Acts 20:1.) He then travels on to Troas, where he stays for five days (Acts 20:6.) Then Paul sails to Assos, then Mitylene, then Chios, Samos, Trogyllium, and finally to Miletus (Acts 20:13-15.) Because of his haste to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost, Paul intends not to spend time in the province of Asia. As a result, Paul sends to the elders of the Ephesian church before he departs on towards Jerusalem (Acts 20:17-Acts 21:1.)

 

Based on Luke’s chronology and Paul’s own indication in 1 Corinthians 16:8 that he was in Ephesus when he wrote 1 Corinthians, scholars deduce that this first letter to Corinth was written toward the end of Paul’s three year stay in Ephesus, which ended in the riot of Diana worshippers and Paul’s departure for Macedonia.

 

So, what do we know about Corinth at this time in New Testament history? Beyond the biblical information, which we will look at momentarily, we can find basic historical descriptions in any decent Bible dictionary.

 

Corinth, an ancient and celebrated city of GreeceCorinth was a place of great mental activity, as well as of commercial and manufacturing enterprise. Its wealth was so celebrated as to be proverbial; so were the vice and profligacy of its inhabitants. The worship of Venus here was attended with shameful licentiousness. – Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, page 124

 

So, we know that ancient Corinth was both financially prosperous and a center of worship for the goddess Venus. But these facts are about the city of Corinth itself, we want to know about the community of believers that lived there. For this we turn to the New Testament.

 

Acts 18:1 is the first mention of Corinth in the New Testament and the first record of believers in that city. There Luke records for us that after his time in Athens, Paul went to Corinth (Acts 18:1). In Corinth, Paul meets Aquila and his wife Priscilla with whom he works making tents during his time in the city. While there, Paul first reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue each Sabbath day, persuading some Jews and Greeks alike. At some point Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia. When other Jews oppose his message that Jesus is the Christ, Paul determines to speak to the Gentiles instead. At this point, Paul stays with Justus. Crispus, the chief synagogue ruler and his household came to believe in Jesus Christ and were baptized. This is the New Testament’s account of the birth of the Corinthian church.

 

After this, Paul remains in the city for a year and a half teaching the word (Acts 18:11.) Towards the end of this period, some Jews in the city accused Paul before Gallio, the proconsul of the Roman province of Achaia. (Achaia is one of two Roman provinces of Greece, the other was Macedonia.) Gallio dismisses the hearing on the grounds that the charge does not concern Roman law (Acts 18:14-15.) After this, Paul remains in Corinth for a time and then departs. Passing through Syria, Paul arrives in Ephesus, as we chronicled earlier (Acts 18:20.) After this, there is no further mention of Corinth except in Paul’s Corinthian letters (and Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 4:20 that Erastus was in Corinth.)

 

Any additional insights about the Corinthian church come from Paul’s epistles directly. In order to understand Paul’s comments on church gatherings and leadership in chapters 11-14 of 1 Corinthians, it is best to first familiarize ourselves with the issues and situations of the Corinthian church as well as Paul’s response to them. The reason for this chapter by chapter examination is twofold. First, going chapter by chapter will ensure that we are taking into account all of the relevant biblical context so that we will not leave anything important out of our analysis. Second, going chapter by chapter will also ensure that a lack of awareness of the actual biblical context will not result in an inadvertent insertion of extra-biblical points of view into our conclusions.

 

As we begin, let us first state up front that there are several relevant themes that we find in Paul’s comments throughout the book of 1 Corinthians. First, Paul repeatedly criticizes the tendency of some Corinthians toward proud assertions and their own self-preference which was to the detriment of others. Second, although perhaps less frequently, Paul contrasts the Corinthians’ pride or self-assertion with their shame. Third, Paul often corrects the Corinthians by pointing to his own practice or the practice of other apostles. And fourth, Paul repeatedly corrects the Corinthians by appealing to things that have been universally established in all the churches. 

 

The first instance of these trends can be seen in chapter 1, where Paul chastises the Corinthians for dividing from one another, each group claiming to be special followers of Paul, or Apollos, or Peter, or Jesus. This contention seems similar to the apostles’ own discussions (in the gospels) about which of them was to be the greatest in the kingdom (Matthew 18:1). Here, second generation Christians in Corinth make similar claims about themselves based upon who they personally followed. Paul’s correction of this specific issue begins by a reference to Christ’s humility upon the cross. Paul uses the crucifixion to demonstrate how God’s wisdom seems foolish to those who think themselves great in this world (1:17-30.) Likewise, Paul refers to the fact that not many persons who receive Christ are of high-birth. (This mirrors Jesus’ own statements regarding the difficulty of getting the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven – Matthew 19:23.)

 

In this first issue of the Corinthians’ self-preference and proud assertions, we can see a trend that will continue to be exhibited in Paul’s responses throughout the book. Here in chapter 1, Paul corrects Corinthian assertions by pointing to universal truths that are known in all the churches. In this case, the truths that are universally known among the churches are the humility of Christ’s crucifixion and the widespread lowly condition of the majority of Christians. Paul’s point is that because these truths were universally known among the churches, the Corinthians should have known them also and that universal knowledge should have prevented the Corinthians’ misbehavior.

 

In chapter 2, Paul continues with this same theme. Now Paul corrects the Corinthians’ pride by drawing their attention to the humble manner in which Paul himself acted when he was among them (1 Corinthians 2:1-16.) In chapters 3 and 4, after once again mentioning their childish divisions, Paul offers as examples Apollos and himself who act as workmen laboring on God’s house. He provides contrast to the Corinthians’ prideful assertions by saying that he takes no stock in how he values his own work in the gospel (1 Corinthians 3:5-4:4), but leaves it to God to determine the quality of his work (1 Corinthians 4:1-4). Instead of thinking highly of oneself, Paul directly states in chapter 3:18, “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.” Again it is clear that Paul is continuing to address the problem of the Corinthian pride and self-assertion which was a detriment to one another. Paul concludes his reference to himself and Apollos in verse 6.

 

1 Corinthians 4:6 And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.

 

It remains absolutely clear, that the constant theme of Paul’s letter is instructing the Corinthians not to proudly assert themselves over one another, but instead to humbly serve one another for each other’s benefit. In verse 8 of chapter 4, Paul even mocks their self-admiration for thinking they were “so rich.” He follows this comment by again referring to the humility exhibited by the apostles (1 Corinthians 4:10.) After citing his own example as an apostle Paul tells them to follow it (1 Corinthians 4:16.)

 

In verse 17 of chapter 4, Paul makes an important statement where he declares that he taught the same things everywhere in every church community.

 

1 Corinthians 4:17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.

 

So, once again we see Paul pointing to truths that are universally known in all the churches (the crucifixion, the low estate of most Christians, and his own humble manner). These trends further confirm our expectation that what we find in 1 Corinthians will not be a novel or special set of instructions for the Corinthian church alone. Instead, as Paul appeals to universal truths known in all the churches, we should expect to find Paul writing to the church at Corinth the same rules for church gatherings and leadership that we have seen practiced in the rest of the New Testament and which Paul himself taught everywhere he went.

 

In verse 18 of chapter 4, Paul again speaks about the Corinthians’ proud assertions of themselves and calls them “puffed up.” His correction contrasts their being “puffed up” with the shame they have acquired by permitting a man in fornication to remain in their fellowship (5:1-2.) Again, Paul corrects their error by providing instructions which are true in all the churches. We know that Paul’s instructions here involve universally known truths for three reasons. First, as we saw earlier, Paul’s instructions for excommunication here mirror Jesus’ instructions for excommunication in Matthew 18. The fact that these are Jesus’ instructions implies that they are true for all the churches rather than something novel or something uniquely instituted in Corinth to fit a particular situation. Second, in verses 6-7 Paul appeals to axioms such as “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” and “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us,” which Paul connects to each other. The axiomatic nature of these phrases itself demands that they are universally true and universally known in the churches. Third, Paul phrases the condemnation as “such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles.” This implies that the sinfulness of the action was so universally known that even the sinful nations knew it. So, for these reasons, it is obvious that Paul is once again correcting the Corinthians by appealing to things that were established universally among all the churches.

 

After this, Paul turns to another, related issue of self-assertion in the Corinthians church, specifically the behavior of selfishly preferring themselves over one another’s interests. In chapter 6:1 and 6:6, Paul brings up that some of them had taken each other before the civil courts. Paul says that this too is a shame (6:5). In verse 7, Paul indicates that one of the problems of taking one another to court was that they insisted on the vindication of their own wants and needs rather than preferring to suffer for the gospel. In the remainder of chapter 6 (verses 9-18, especially), Paul reminds the Corinthians of the universal, Christian teachings against fornication and other sinful practices. These universals include additional axioms, such as “all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any,” “your bodies are the members of Christ,” and “your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost.” As indicated earlier, the very nature of an axiom demands that these things must have been universally known truths in all the churches.

 

In chapter 7, Paul turns to another issue of selfish assertion and preferring oneself over what is beneficial to others. In relation to the issue of potential fornication, Paul discusses a question that the Corinthians had asked of him regarding marriage. In accord with his overall theme of preferring one another, in verse 3-5 of chapter 7 Paul explains that husbands and wives should not defraud each other of marital relations. Paul’s comments run against the idea of our own rights regarding our bodies and instead assert that we should forego our rights and instead serve one another’s wants and needs. In the remainder of chapter 7, Paul first reasserts basic and universal Christian teaching. The universal nature of these statements is demonstrated by their generality. For example, Paul says in verse 4, “The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.” Certainly this is not the case only in Corinth, but everywhere in general where wives and husbands are concerned. Again, the statement seems axiomatic. Similarly, Paul later writes in verse 34 that “There is difference also between a wife and a virgin.” Once again, it is clear that Paul means that this difference is generally true concerning all wives and virgins. Similarly, in verses 22-23 Paul says, “he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” Once again, such a statement is clearly universally true for all Christians everywhere. Lastly, in verse 10, Paul appeals to Jesus’ own teaching when he says, “unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband.” This is a reference to Jesus’ commands in Matthew 5 and 19, Mark 10, and Luke 16. As we noted earlier, the fact that these are Jesus’ instructions implies that they are true for all the churches rather than something novel or unique to one church or another. So, once again we see Paul correcting the Corinthians’ tendencies for selfishness and self-advancement by appealing to universal norms in all the churches.

 

In chapter 8, Paul begins his discussion of meats sacrificed to idols. His argument takes a familiar course within the theme of the rest of this epistle. First, we are informed that this issue again involves Corinthians who thought highly of themselves. They were asserting themselves against their fellow Christians, who in this case were actually behaving correctly and refraining from eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1-2). (A more detailed analysis of Paul’s argument concerning the permissibility of eating meat sacrificed to idols can be found in our “Liberty in Christ study.”) For our purposes here, it is only important to point out that Paul first chastises the Corinthians who ate sacrificed meat on the grounds that in thinking and acting this way they were destroying their brethren. Again, we see Paul dealing with the theme of pride and self-assertion versus serving and loving your brother (1 Corinthians 8:11-13).

 

As chapter 9 begins, Paul supports his argument by citing how he himself did not make use of his rights as an apostle in order that he might better serve the Corinthians without hindrance (1 Corinthians 9:1-19.) In the concluding verses of chapter 9, Paul again points to his own example of seeking the benefit of others rather than exercising his own rights (1 Corinthians 9:20-27.)

 

The opening portion of chapter 10 has Paul reminding the Corinthians of lessons from the Old Testament wherein God’s people erred through an idolatrous feast and through fornication (1 Corinthians 10:1-11.) Paul uses these examples from the Old Testament because they specifically relate to two issues that he has already had to address with the Corinthians, fornication and eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:11-14). Again, Paul’s means of correcting Corinthian misbehavior is to refer them to other biblical truths, not to provide novel and unique solutions.

 

In verses 15-28, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the truth that those who knowingly partake of the sacrificial meal fellowship with the being to whom the meal was sacrificed. He asserts this fact against the idea of eating meat sacrificed to idols. In verses 29-33, Paul again restates his ongoing theme that whatever they do they should act for the benefit of others and not themselves. His summary of this theme comes in the first two verses of chapter 11. In these verses, Paul is still discussing the idea of humble service to others and he tells the Corinthians to follow his example as he followed Christ’s example.

 

In verse 2 of chapter 11, Paul again tells the Corinthians to keep the ordinances which he had passed on to them. These are the same ordinances mentioned in chapter 4:17 when Paul stated that what he taught in Corinth was the same as what he taught everywhere in every church community. In both verses, Paul is instructing the Corinthians to follow and remember his example (1 Corinthians 11:1), his ways (1 Corinthians 4:17), and the ordinances that he delivered to the Corinthians and to every other church as well. As we have repeatedly indicated, it is extremely important that one of the main theme in Paul’s arguments centers around what was taught universally in all the churches.

 

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. 2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.

 

1 Corinthians 4:17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.

 

As we begin our examination of 1 Corinthians 11-14, let us pause for a second to note the importance of the passages we are about to cover. We have already studied the rest of the New Testament passages on church gatherings and leadership. And we have already studied the context and information about the Corinthian church that is presented in the first ten chapters of this letter as well as the context provided in the Book of Acts. 1 Corinthians 11-14 is the only remaining passage on this topic for us to add to our knowledge of the subject. It is also the chief passage that Frank Viola refers to in his books in support of his model for equal participation, function, and contributions from everyone at a church gathering.

 

Earlier, we noted that Frank Viola himself recognizes and stresses the importance of the fact that what Paul taught about church gatherings in Corinth, he taught everywhere. And Viola points out that what we read in 1 Corinthians is normative, and therefore prescriptive, for “all churches yesterday and today.”

 

Point: Normative apostolic commands are binding on the contemporary church. But normative apostolic practices are as well. By normative, I mean those practices that contain a spiritual subtext and are the outworking of the organic nature of the body of Christ. Such practices are not purely narrative. They carry prescriptive force. This means that they reflect the unchanging nature of God Himself. And they naturally emerge whenever God’s people live by divine life together – irrespective of culture or time. In that connection the Book of Acts and the Epistles are awash with references to the apostolic tradition. In 1 Corinthians 4:17, Paul declares how he taught his ways “everywhere in every church.” To Paul’s mind, doctrine and duty – belief and behavior, life and practice – are inseparable. In short, that which is included in the apostolic tradition is normative for all churches yesterday and today. The exhortations of Paul to “hold firmly to the traditions just as I delivered them to you” and to practice what “you have learned and received and heard and seen in me” are the considerations that should guide our church life. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 14, Reimagining the Apostolic Tradition, pages 247-248

 

So, from 1 Corinthians 1-10, we have become familiar with the issues that were occurring within the Corinthian church as well as Paul’s methods for correcting them. In each case we have found Paul correcting Corinthian malpractice, self-assertion, and pride with universally taught and universally practiced biblical truths. With this in mind, we can proceed to our study of the critical chapters of this epistle when it comes to the topic of church gatherings and church leadership, chapters 11-14.

 

 

 

The Relevance of 1 Corinthians 11-14 to Church Gatherings and Leadership

 

Having surveyed the first ten chapters of 1 Corinthians, we can now proceed into chapters 11-14. In the quotes below, Viola continues to point to 1 Corinthians 11-14 as the key passage supporting his model of equal participation, contribution, and function by all at church gatherings. (For clarity, the first quote below begins with Viola’s arguing that the Pseudo-traditional model prevents Christ from expressing himself during church gatherings.)

 

Jesus Christ has no freedom to express Himself through His body at His discretion. He too is rendered a passive spectator. Granted, Christ may be able to express Himself through one or two members of the church – usually the pastor and the music leader. But this is a very limited expression. The Lord is stifled from manifesting Himself through the other members of the body. Consequently, the Protestant liturgy cripples the body of Christ. It turns it into one huge tongue (the pastor) and many little ears (the congregation). This does violence to Paul’s vision of the body of Christ, where every member functions in the church meeting for the common good (see 1 Corinthians 12). –Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 3, The Order of Worship: Sunday Mornings Set in Concrete, page 76

 

The early church met for the purpose of displaying Jesus Christ through the every-member functioning of Christ’s body. The goal was to make Christ visible and to edify the whole church in the process. Mutual edification through mutual sharing, mutual ministry, and mutual exhortation was the aim. To our thinking, what would make all the difference is if God’s people were equipped and then encouraged to have meetings where every member shared the Christ they had encountered that week, freely and openly, as 1 Corinthians 14:26, 31 and Hebrews 10:25 exhort. The result: God would be seen and thus glorified. Consider your physical body. When every member of you body functions, your personality is expressed. It is the same with Christ. When each member of His body shares his or her portion of Christ, then Christ is assembled (see 1 Corinthians 12-14). – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Afterword, page 268

 

In organic church life, the meetings look different every week. While the brothers and sisters in an organic church may prayerfully plan the focus of their own meetings (for instance, they might set aside a month for the body to concentrate on Ephesians 1), they do not plan a specific order of worship. Instead, everyone is free to function, share, participate, and minister spiritually during gatherings, so the creativity expressed in them is endless. Participants do not know who will stand up and share next nor what they will share. There might be skits; there might be poems read, there might be new songs introduced and sung; there might be exhortations, testimonies, short teachings, revelations, and prophetic words. Because everyone is involved and people contribute spontaneously, boredom is not a problem. The most meaningful meetings are generally those in which everyone participates and functions. Jesus Christ is the center of the meeting. He is glorified through the songs, the lyrics, the prayers, the ministry, and the sharing. The meeting is completely open for the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ through each member as He sees fit, In the words of 1 Corinthians 14:26, “every one of you” contributes something of Christ to the gathering. In organic church life, the corporate church meeting is an explosive outflow of what the Lord revealed of Himself to each member during the week. These features are virtually absent in the typical institutional church service. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Afterword, page 261

 

In like manner, the New Testament letters show that the ministry of God’s Word came from the entire church in their regular gatherings. From Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 14:26, and Colossians 3:16, we see that it included teaching, exhortation, prophecy, singing, and admonishment. This “every-member” functioning was also conversational (1 Corinthians 14:29) and marked by interruptions (1 Corinthians 14:30). – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 4, The Sermon: Protestantism’s Most Sacred Cow, page 88

 

In fact, one of the goals of New Testament-styled preaching and teaching is to get each of us to function (Ephesians 4:11-16). It is to encourage us to open our mouths in the church meeting (1 Corinthians 12-14). – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 4, The Sermon: Protestantism’s Most Sacred Cow, page 97

 

As we read the New Testament with an eye for understanding how the early Christians gathered, it becomes clear that they had four main types of meetings. They were: Apostolic Meetings. These were special meetings where apostolic workers preached to an interactive audience. Their goal was either to plant a church from scratch or to encourage an existing one. The twelve apostles held such meetings in the temple courts in Jerusalem during the birth of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 5:40-42). Paul held the same kind of meetings in the hall of Tyrannus when he planted the church in Ephesus (Acts 19:9-10, 20:27, 31). There are two chief characteristics of the apostolic meeting. One is that an apostolic worker does most of the ministry. The other is that such meetings are never permanent. They are temporary and have a long-range goal. Namely, to equip a local body of believers to function under the headship of Jesus Christ without the presence of a human head (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 14:26). – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 2, Reimagining the Church Meeting, pages 49-51

 

As Paul pulls back the curtain of the first-century church gathering in 1 Corinthians 11-14, we see a meeting where every member is actively involved. Freedom, openness, and spontaneity are the chief marks of this meeting. “One another” is its dominant feature – mutual edification its primary goal. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 2, Reimagining the Church Meeting, pages 53

 

But the gatherings of the church are especially designed for every believer to express Christ through his or her gift (1 Cor. 11-14, Hebrews 10:24-25). – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 2, Reimagining the Church Meeting, pages 57-58

 

We believe the pastoral office has stolen your right to function as a full member of Christ’s body. It has distorted the reality of the body, making the pastor a giant mouth and transforming you into a tiny ear. It has rendered you a mute spectator who is proficient at taking sermon notes and passing an offering plate. But that is not all. The modern-day pastoral office has overthrown the main thrust of the letter to the Hebrews – the ending of the old priesthood. It has made ineffectual the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14, that every member has both the right and the privilege to minister in a church gathering. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 5, The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning, pages 136-137

 

There are several points to make from the quotes above. First, from the quotes we can list the various conclusions that Frank Viola offers, which he believes find their support in 1 Corinthians 11-14.

 

In the quotes above Viola states that 1 Corinthians 11-14 instructs us that:

 

1. Church meetings shouldn’t be dominated by one or two members. This would be too limited in terms of participation.

2. Every member of the church should function, participate, speak, teach, and share, equally in the church gatherings.

 

We must also point out that although these quotes are long and simply citing them takes up several pages, they encompass the totality of Viola’s discussion of 1 Corinthians 11-14 in his books. This puts his reader in an unfortunate situation. Throughout our study we have sought diligently and tediously to examine the entirety of the New Testament discussion of church gatherings and leadership within the context of the historical narrative and from the facts presented in each passage. While Viola is quick and confident to condemn the practice of citing passages without an examination or context for them, he repeatedly commits this error when supporting of his own model. In neither Pagan Christianity nor Reimagining Church does Viola provide an exegesis of New Testament passages on church gatherings and leadership. As the quotes above demonstrate, he cites 1 Corinthians 11-14 repeatedly, but never does he exegete the passage in context for his readers. (And yet, despite his lack of thorough biblical exposition both of his two books are longer than our study, even though we are examining the exact same subject matter.)

 

As we begin our study of these key passages in 1 Corinthians 11-14, we will do what Viola does not. Instead of providing merely our own human assertions, we will let passages speak for themselves and examine them in light of their historical and biblical context as well as the particular details of their internal content. As we do, we will also continue to assess Viola’s position on 1 Corinthians 11-14 directly.

 

As we examine this final New Testament passage on church gatherings, let us also keep in mind the key positions from our three models. We used four categories to help keep track of the different points of view offered by the models. These four categories dealt with the following issues:

 

Category A: Church leadership.

Key Question: Were the local church communities of the New Testament period under a single authoritative pastor, by a group of individuals collectively, or by all members of the church equally?

 

Category B: The Communion Meal.

Key Question: Was the communion meal of the New Testament church part of a full meal or did it consist of only a small portion of bread and wine?

 

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

Key Questions: Did New Testament church gatherings consist of large segments of musical worship and uninterruptable monologues? Did New Testament church gatherings consist of every person participating, functioning, and contributing equally through songs, skits, poems, short teachings, prayers, etc.? Did New Testament church gatherings consist of one to three individuals (called elders/overseers/pastors/etc.) dominating through teaching the Word with some lesser, limited participation from those with questions or comments? 

 

Category D: Gender Participation.

Key Question: Were women allowed to participate in the New Testament church gatherings to the same extent that men were or were they prohibited from teaching, speaking, or asking questions?

 

As we proceed into 1 Corinthians 11-14, we will note when the passage provides answers to these important questions and provides indications in support of or in contradiction of our models.