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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic

Examining Church Gatherings in the Gospels

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

Examining Church Gatherings in the Gospels: The Gospel of Matthew


(The summaries that follow were compiled by reading through the entire New Testament verse by verse. For the reader it may be helpful to have their New Testament open and follow along. It should also be noted that although this segment concentrates on the Gospel of Matthew, for convenience comparisons to Mark and Luke will also be included where appropriate. Later segments will concentrate individually on Mark and Luke, as well as John.)


Chapters 1 and 2 of Matthew cover Jesus’ birth and early life. But the record of Jesus public ministry is introduced in Matthew 3 through the ministry of John the Baptist. Here in Matthew 3:1-12, we see John’s work portrayed as a preacher making proclamations to his disciples, the crowds, and the religious leaders who came to see him. From this passage we see John’s use of a monologue-like format as he addresses his hearers. It is clear that John is the speaker and that those around him are the audience. There is an imbalance in terms of the participation made by all present, in which John’s contributions are clearly dominant.


Mark’s account of John is similar, but more concise. In Mark 1, John is shown as proclaiming repentance to the crowds and directing them to anticipate the coming of Christ. Again, John is depicted as dominating while interaction from the crowds is portrayed as minimal.


Luke 3 provides a more detailed description of John’s ministry. In it we find a similar portrayal. Verses 2 and 6 introduce John’s work as a fulfillment of prophecy. Then Luke presents John in a similar way to Matthew and Mark. Again John is leading the interaction with those who had come to see him. More interaction is shown here between the parties, but John remains dominant as various parties come to him seeking answers to their questions. It is apparent that John is the central figure of these interactions. He is not the one with questions needing answers. He is the one with the answers. John is not one receiving mutual ministry from others. He is the one ministering to those who came to him.


From here we arrive in Matthew 3 with Jesus’ baptism by John. Matthew 4:1-12 records Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. (Mark 1:1-13 covers the same events.) And in Matthew 3:12, Mark 1:14, we learn that John’s ministry is near its conclusion with his imprisonment by Herod. (Luke 3 covers the same events.) It is at this point that Jesus’ begins His public ministry as Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:14 describe.


Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.


Mark 1:14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.


Both Matthew and Mark’s description of Jesus beginning his public work is decisively similar to Matthew’s introduction to John’s work.


Matthew 3:1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, 2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.


From this similarity we may anticipate that Jesus’ work will parallel John’s manner of ministry, which was portrayed as “speaker-driven” or “speaker-dominant.” Participation by other persons did occur, but was minimal in comparison. Ministry was not mutual. Instead, it was directional and the direction was specifically from John to those who came to hear him and be baptized by him.


Luke 4:14-16 likewise covers the early beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry after his baptism and temptation. Here we see that it was Jesus’ custom to teach in the synagogues.


Luke 4:14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. 16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read…. 31 And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. 32 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice,…38 And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon’s house. And Simon’s wife’s mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her….42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desert place: and the people sought him, and came unto him, and stayed him, that he should not depart from them. 43 And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent. 44 And he preached in the synagogues of Galilee.


In this section of Luke 4, which continues through verse 44, we see that Jesus is portrayed as dominating the crowds’ attention through his words and sayings. In fact, the whole point of this passage seems to be to convey the impact Jesus had upon the people as they gathered to hear what He said. Even though at times various persons from the crowd do speak, it would be difficult to come away with the impression that Jesus is interacting on a level of shared participation with those gathered around him.


The pattern with Jesus is what we anticipated from our look at John the Baptist’s ministry. It is one with a single person dominating the interaction with lesser participation by others interrupting the discourse with questions.


In Matthew 5 (actually starting in chapter 4, verse 25), we see this pattern continue. Jesus is followed by the crowds to the hillside where He delivers His famed “Sermon on the Mount.” Here then, early in Matthew, early in the ministry of Christ, we have this portrayal of Jesus’ interaction with those around him. Beginning in verse 3 of chapter 5 of Matthew, Jesus gives a long discourse in which he teaches those who had gathered there on the hillside. Jesus’ teaching proceeds uninterrupted for 106 verses into chapter 7, verse 27 where His instruction concludes. It cannot be overstated that the clear nature of this gathering is one in which a single speaker, in this case Jesus, dominates the assembly and delivers to them God’s teaching. At this point, it is clear that, for Jesus, preaching and teaching the assembly was not an occasion where every person participates equally or ministers mutually.  


(Again, at this point our examination is not addressing or establishing whether the format demonstrated here in Matthew 5-7 is prescriptive for future church gatherings after Christ’s ascension. We are only seeking to familiarize ourselves with the early experience of Jesus’ disciples, their “on-the-job” training as Viola called it. In this way, we will be adequately equipped and able to ascertain the nature of later New Testament church assemblies without being in the irresponsible position of ignorance with regard to the greater historical context.)


For the sake of simplicity we will continue our survey of Matthew and then proceed to considering the descriptions provided in Mark, Luke, and John in order to gather a complete representation of the disciples’ early experience with Jesus regarding the nature and interaction of church assemblies.


After the Sermon on the Mount, we continue into Matthew 8. In this chapter, as well as chapter 9, we have some shorter, intermittent exchanges between Jesus and a centurion, between Jesus and Peter’s mother, between Jesus and some scribes, with some disciples of John the Baptist, and with various other persons, including a few who were in need of healing. But none of these situations can really be described as conforming to the characteristics of later church gatherings. They are intermittent, and at times, spontaneous interactions recording exchanges between Jesus and particular persons, often in an “on-the-street” setting as Jesus traveled from one place to another. They are not intentional, corporate settings. As such, these accounts are less relevant to our investigation of the nature of the early assembly experiences of the disciples during their “on-the-job” training.


However, in chapter 10 of Matthew, we do have a very relevant account. In this chapter, Jesus gathers together the twelve to send them forth to preach the kingdom of God. After gathering them together, Jesus spends 37 verses instructing them on what they are to say and do as they go forth. So, here we have Jesus’ disciples gathered together and Jesus teaching and instructing them without interruption for 37 verses. This is clear speaker-dominant style of interaction. There is not equal participation by all parties present. Once again, this is the “on-the-job” training that Jesus’ disciples received from Jesus.


In chapter 11, after some brief interaction with more disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus speaks to the crowds and teaches them uninterrupted for 23 verses through the end of the chapter. In chapter 12, Jesus interacts briefly with the Pharisees over the issue of disciples picking heads of grain on the Sabbath. This is followed by a second interaction with the Pharisees later over the issue of Jesus healing. The result is a longer dialogue in which Jesus speaks for 20 verses and is only briefly interrupted for a single verse.


Matthew 13 is another long discourse from Jesus containing the parable of the sower and the seed. First, Jesus speaks to the crowds and the disciples. Then the disciples ask Jesus about the parable and He explains it to them. This repeats again in the second part of the chapter where Jesus speaks first to the crowds and then instructs the disciples about the parable He had just given. In both cases, it is clear that the disciples are experiencing a pattern of Jesus acting as the dominant speaker in his interactions with the crowds and with them. In the first 53 verses of this chapter, Jesus speaks for all but 7 verses. We should also note that some interactive participation does occur as the disciples twice ask Jesus questions about the teaching he had just given.  


Chapter 14 of Matthew is largely a narrative of John the Baptist being put to death by Herod followed by Jesus’ travels. Chapter 15 contains intermittent accounts of Jesus interacting with the Pharisees briefly over the issue of their traditions and then a narrative of Jesus’ travels along with his healing and feeding of the crowds.


Chapter 16 begins with another short instance where the Pharisees ask for a sign. This is followed by Jesus’ speaking in a more interactive format with His disciples where He instructs them and asks them questions. This would be the first and only example that we have seen so far which would constitute a gathering of Jesus and the disciples in which Jesus is not merely one-sidedly dominating the dialogue. However, even in this instance, which is more interactive to be sure, Jesus is still directing the conversation.


Chapters 17 and 18 follow the pattern of chapter 16. In them we see Jesus talking with the disciples in a more interactive manner. Chapter 17 contains shorter accounts of interactions between Jesus and the disciples wherein the disciples ask Him a question and He answers. There is also some transitional narration and some interaction with the crowds as Jesus heals. In chapter 18, again we have Jesus’ disciples posing a question followed by Jesus instructing them for 17 and then 13 verses respectively.


Matthew 18 does contain a potentially relevant account regarding the process of excommunication. As Jesus outlines it, if taken to completion this process would conclude with formal expulsion to be carried out at a gathering of the church.


Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.


Not much information is conveyed in this passage to paint a clear picture of the format of New Testament church meetings. Instead, the relevance of this passage pertains to a certain aspect of church leadership. In verses 19-20, Jesus places the authority for decision making in the consensus or agreement of his apostles. In establishing this model of decision making, Jesus is contradicting the concept of a single-headed leadership for the church and placing church leadership under shared authority. Determining who that authority is extended to requires further analysis, particularly of later New Testament passages, which apply Jesus’ instructions here. Did it extend to all members of the church? Is it restricted to the apostles whom Jesus specifically is addressing here? If it was restricted to the apostles, was this restriction passed on by the apostles to include elders? At this point, what we can be sure about is that Jesus has ruled out single-headed leadership over church communities and instead distributed that leadership to a group of leaders, namely his apostles in this case.


Chapter 19 has the Pharisees testing Jesus concerning the issue of divorce and remarriage and then Jesus disciples asking Him about His response to the Pharisees. The remainder of the chapter has some narration and interaction with the disciples. Verse 28 of chapter 19 begins 19 verses of uninterrupted discourse by Jesus to the disciples, which concludes in verse 16 of chapter 20. The rest of chapter 20 includes brief interactions between Jesus and the disciples and with a few others. Although the interactions are short, Jesus is still featured as dominant and instructive in response to questions posited by others.


Chapter 21 begins with Jesus’ instruction concerning his approaching triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, Jesus’ turning over the tables of the money changers, and the withering of the fig tree. Verse 23 through the end of the chapter recounts Jewish leaders asking Jesus about His authority. In this passages Jesus answers their question and then gives the parable of the vineyard. His response totals 16 verses followed by some brief narration and then another 12 verses recording a parable concluding in verse 14 of chapter 22. The rest of chapter 22 recounts several questions asked of Jesus by different religious leaders.


Chapter 26 of Matthew begins the account of Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection. Thus with chapter 23, 24, and 25 we have the last informative segment of Matthew’s record of Jesus’ interaction with his disciples in a gathering type of setting. Chapter 23 recounts Jesus instructing the crowds uninterrupted for 38 verses. Chapter 24 begins with the disciples asking Jesus about His return and then Jesus’ response, which continues uninterrupted for 93 verses through the end of chapter 25. In these final 3 chapters, we are again shown Jesus dominating interaction with both the crowds and the disciples. There isn’t the slightest indication of equal participation or mutual ministry from all present.


The Book of Matthew concludes with a very short summary of Jesus interactions with the disciples before His ascension. The final verses will be informative as we continue through our survey of the other three gospels.


Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.


The reason Jesus’ parting words to His disciples are relevant is that they provide some indication that the disciples’ experience with Jesus is prescriptive for future church practice. They had indeed received “on-the-job” training. By instructing His disciples to go and teach just as He taught them, it may reasonably be concluded that Jesus intended and indeed commanded them to continue their interactions with others after the same pattern they had witnessed and experienced from Him over the course of His three-year ministry.


If this is the case, then we would expect to see post-ascension church meetings typified by the same speaker-dominant instruction that was characteristic of Jesus’ own interactions with the crowds and when meeting with His own followers. And we would expect, based on Jesus’ precedent, that future church meetings would not be characterized by equal participation or mutual ministry from all who attended. Similarly, since we have seen repeated occasions where Jesus’ disciples ask questions during Jesus’ teaching, we might expect that later church gatherings would continue to permit this kind of interaction, rather than uninterruptible monologues.


Before we continue to the Gospel of Mark, let’s take a brief moment to use what we’ve found in Matthew’s Gospel as a test case for applying our Church Gathering and Leadership Models and New Testament Expectations Chart. As we do, keep in mind that this is merely an exercise to demonstrate how that chart works when examining New Testament information on church meetings. The models themselves do not necessarily make claims about gatherings lead by Jesus. Their concern is with church meetings where Jesus and the apostles aren’t present.


But, for a moment, let us proceed as if we had three models that each claimed to describe the nature of meetings between Jesus and his disciples. Let us operate as if the Pseudo-traditional, Viola, and Elder-Leadership models each claimed to describe gathering between Jesus and his disciples in the gospels. If that were the case, using only Category C from our Expectations Chart, what conclusions should we reach about how the models relate to the information on the formats of the gatherings presented in Matthew’s Gospel? For reference, below is Category C from the Expectations Chart.


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.


Which model’s expectations fit the information we are provided by Matthew? Which model’s expectations do not fit what we find in Matthew?


The Pseudo-traditional model predicts a large segment of musical worship and a large segment devoted to an absolutely uninterruptable teaching. Leaving aside the issue of worship, are the gatherings recorded in Matthew’s Gospel comprised of large, uninterruptable teachings? We would have to answer yes to this question. Certainly, Matthew presents a number of discourses by Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet Discourse, which are at least uninterrupted teaching sessions. (Whether they were uninterruptible rather than just uninterrupted would have to be further investigated if this were more than just a practice assessment.) Our conclusion, using our Expectation Chart would have to be that the Pseudo-traditional model for church gatherings may very possibly be an accurate description of Jesus’ gatherings with his disciples. But what about the other two models?


The Viola model predicts that every person present at a church meeting will participate, function, and contribute equally and that meetings will not be comprised of large teaching sessions dominated by one person. Do these predictions fit what we have seen recorded in Matthew? Absolutely not. As we have said, Matthew’s record is filled with gatherings where one person dominates by presenting a long teaching. Conversely, did we see any instances of gatherings in Matthew in which everyone present participated, functioned, and contributed equally and in which other types of activities besides teaching occurred, such as reading poems or performing skits? No, Matthew does not record the occurrence of any gathering of this type. If the Viola model is correct, this is horrible on-the-job training.


So, by comparing the information provided by Matthew with our Expectations Chart could we say that the Viola model presents an accurate understanding of gatherings in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry? No, we could not. In fact, the Viola model doesn’t simply lack supportive information from Matthew’s Gospel, the Viola model is actually contradicted by the information that Matthew presents. If this were an actual assessment based on the events recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, we would have to reject the Viola model as not being a viable or sound model for church gatherings.


Lastly, how about our final model, the Elder-Leadership model? How does it fair with the accounts of gatherings in the Gospel of Matthew? The Elder-Leadership model predicts that gatherings will be lead by one to three men teaching the assembly who may be interrupted by other men with questions or comments. Does Matthew describe gatherings consisting of one to three men leading teaching sessions who are at times interrupted by others with questions or comments? We would have to acknowledge that at least some of the gatherings that Matthew presents do fit this description. In several chapters we read of gatherings where Jesus presented a longer teaching, but was interrupted in the middle of that teaching by a question from his disciples (Matthew 13 and perhaps Matthew 24). In other cases, we saw Jesus instructing his disciples in shorter segments where the disciples interacted by asking a larger number of questions (Matthew 17 and Matthew 18 for example). Based on the appearance of these types of meetings we would have to consider the Elder-Leadership model as being a potentially accurate understanding of gatherings during Jesus’ ministry.


A more focused investigation would need to be performed to decide whether the Pseudo-traditional model or Elder-Leadership model was the model that most adequately fits the nature and format of the gatherings in the Gospel of Matthew. Since we are simply engaging in a practice assessment for the purposes of displaying how our Expectations Chart works based on the three models that are under consideration, we do not need to persist in this investigation. What we have learned is that the expectations that are formed from each model’s own key characteristics have direct implications for the kind of evidence we will encounter from the New Testament record. Those expectations will either be met or contradicted. Models whose expectations fit the record will be considered for acceptance. Models whose expectations are not supported by the record or whose expectations are contradicted by the record will have to be discarded as erroneous.


Again, to be clear, our examination of Matthew’s Gospel bears no real or conclusive proof for or against any of our three models. Those models purport to describe the nature of post-ascension meetings of the church and do not necessarily intend to make claims about the nature of gatherings during Jesus’ ministry.


However, we are also building our understanding of a historical narrative underlying the New Testament. Matthew has been informative about the nature of pre-ascension gatherings and we will need to incorporate into our understanding of the larger New Testament historical narrative as we move forward to the other Gospels. The awareness we have gained will serve as a suitable context for examining the Book of Acts and the epistles for information concerning the nature and format of post-ascension and post-Pentecost church gatherings. What we have seen so far has pointed us in the direction of some sort of single speaker/teacher dominant meetings and away from the idea of equal participation by all. In fact, we have seen at least seven instances of Jesus leading in a teacher-dominant format with little or no participation from those present. And we already have some indication (from Matthew 28:18-20) that this single speaker/teacher dominant model was not restricted to Jesus alone, but was intended to be prescriptive for the church to continue after Christ’s ascension. Whether alteration or replacement of this model occurs or is allowable after Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost remains to be determined as we continue our progress forward. At this point no model has been ruled out. But, if the disciples’ “on-the-job” training with Jesus really is an important factor for determining what model of church gatherings the apostles passed on to the church, as Viola has suggested, it is hard to imagine how the “on-the-job” training recorded in Matthew does anything but contradict Viola’s model.




Examining Church Gatherings in the Gospels: The Gospel of Mark


Previously, we had left off in Mark 1:14 with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. We will now trace through the Book of Mark as we did with the Book of Matthew. And we will see if the information recorded in Mark either changes or conforms to what we have seen already on the topic of gatherings during Jesus’ ministry.


Mark 1:14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.


Mark 1:15 continues with Jesus’ calling of Peter and Andrew and James and John. In verse 21 of Mark 1 we see that Jesus goes into the synagogue to teach. The text notes in verse 22 that Jesus taught as one that had authority. After this there is a narrative account of Jesus exercising some demons followed by Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law and also many other sick and demon possessed persons. Apart from these accounts of healing we can already see that Jesus’ interaction with the assembly at the synagogue follows the usual format we saw portrayed in Matthew. In short, Jesus is depicted as singularly dominating the crowds’ attention as he teaches.


Mark 1 concludes by noting that Jesus continued to go about preaching in the synagogues throughout Galilee and ends with the account of Jesus healing a leper. The result of this healing was that Jesus had become so famous that he could not enter into a town because so many people would gather to see and hear him. Instead, Jesus would remain outside the city and the crowds would gather there to hear him speak. Throughout this first chapter there isn’t anything that would indicate that the assemblies were typified by equal-member participation. Instead, as in Matthew, it seems to be the case that Jesus is the focal point, the teacher and preacher with the crowds listening to him.


Mark 2 continues with this trend. In Capernaum, Jesus goes to a house, but soon so many people gather that no one else can enter. There at the house Jesus interacts with the scribes a bit while healing those brought to him. In verse 13, Jesus teaches the multitudes by the seaside. In verse 14, we have the calling of Levi, the tax collector followed by Jesus and his followers going to Levi’s home for a meal. There is then a brief account of Jesus interacting with some of John the Baptist’s disciples over fasting and some interaction with the Pharisees over Jesus’ disciples picking grain on the Sabbath day.


In chapter 3, Jesus heals a man in the synagogue. But, in verse 7 we again see Jesus withdrawing to the seaside where a great crowd follows him and he heals many and exercises demons. We must ask, in these seaside and wilderness assemblies, did each member of the gathered crowd participate in an equal capacity? Perhaps this question is over-reaching. Maybe we would not expect such a gathering to have equal participation by all. But what is worth noting is that the portrayal in these passages is again one with Jesus teaching and little if any interaction by others present.


This emerging trend is informative concerning what kind of “on-the-job” training the apostles received from Jesus. In verse 13 of Mark 3, Jesus gathers together the twelve and then sends them forth to preach and heal. Now we must also wonder whether Jesus’ disciples went forth conducting equal-participatory meetings or whether they followed after the preaching model they had seen conducted by Jesus and John the Baptist. While some may consider it a little speculative to deduce that the disciples necessarily went out and preached to the crowds in a speaker-dominant fashion, it is most certainly the case that we have absolutely no indication that they were holding meetings in which all participated equally. The bulk of the information we’ve seen so far from Mark and the parallel account of Matthew weighs in favor of speaker-dominant interaction with the crowds, who may have participated on a lesser level, but certainly not with equal contributions by all.


In Mark 3:20, we have the account of another large crowd of people assembled with Jesus. In this instance the text notes that the scribes accuse Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebub. Jesus replies to their one-verse-long challenge with a seven-verse-long response. After a brief exchange in which his mother and brothers come looking for him, Mark 4 informs us that Jesus again taught those who had assembled with him there at the seaside. Verse 2 of chapter 4 tells us that Jesus taught them many things by parables. Then the parable of the sower is recorded through verse 9.


After this, verse 10 informs us that when he was alone with only his disciples gathered, Jesus was asked about the parable he had told the crowds. And from verse 11 through verse 33, Jesus explains the parable and continues to teach the disciples with more parables. During the discourse, no interruption is recorded. Verse 34 informs us that this was Jesus’ custom, to teach the crowds using parables and then when the disciples alone were gathered with him, to expound upon the parables to them. We have seen that these second gatherings included Jesus answering questions from his disciples about his teaching. Here again we can see a pattern of Jesus teaching the crowds in a dominant manner with little or no interaction and then Jesus teaching his disciples in a speaker-dominant manner with some limited interaction as they ask him questions about his teaching and parables.


Mark 4:35 begins the account of Jesus calming the storm as the disciples cross the sea. Mark 5:1-20 is the account of Jesus healing the man who was possessed of a legion of demons in the region of the Gadarenes. In verse 21, we have a large crowd gathered together to see Jesus after he crosses the sea again. And there, a synagogue ruler asks Jesus to heal his daughter. On the way to the man’s house, a woman is healed of bleeding. The chapter ends with the healing of the man’s daughter and with little additional information being added to our ongoing survey.


Mark 6 opens with Jesus teaching in the synagogue as before. In verse 7 of chapter 6, Jesus gathers the twelve to him again and sends them forth two by two with the power to cast out unclean spirits. In verse 8-12, he gives them instructions for their travels and they go out and preach repentance (presumably following the speaker-dominant model of John the Baptist and Jesus). In verses 14-29, the story of John the Baptist’s death at the hands of Herod is recounted followed by the return of Jesus’ disciples from their journeys in verse 30.


In Mark 6:33, a large crowd again follows Jesus and his disciples out to the wilderness and Jesus teaches them many things. This is followed by the record of Jesus miraculously feeding the five thousand. This concludes in verse 44-45 with verse 46 beginning the account of Jesus walking on water, which ends in verse 52. In verse 53 crowds again gather to Jesus from the whole region for Jesus to heal their sick.


Following this, chapter 7 opens with the Pharisees objecting to Jesus’ disciples not following their traditions. Jesus’ response begins in verse 6 and continues uninterrupted through verse 16. In verse 17 the disciples ask him about his comments to the Pharisees and Jesus explains to them his remarks through verse 23. Thus, the pattern continues in which Jesus is the main speaker and in which questions about his teachings come occasionally from the religious leaders or his disciples. In Mark 7:24-37, we have the accounts of Jesus healing the daughter of a Syrophenician woman and a person who was deaf and mute.


Mark 8 begins with Jesus feeding of a crowd of four thousand who had gathered to him. Verse 11-29 of chapter 8 include a brief encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees who asked him for a sign of his authority as well as some interaction between Jesus and the disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees. Included here also is Jesus’ healing of a blind man, Jesus’ asking his disciples who people said he was, and Jesus teaching the disciples about his coming death and resurrection. Each of these interactions is very brief entailing only a few short verses. The final five verses of Mark 8 conclude with a short account of Jesus gathering the people and his disciples to him and teaching them.


Mark 9:2 provides for us Mark’s account of the transfiguration. In verse 10, as they descend the mount after Jesus’ transfiguration, the disciples ask each other about the resurrection and then ask Jesus about the prophecy that Elijah would come before the Messiah. In response, Jesus informs them that Elijah had come first in the person of John the Baptist. At the bottom of the hill, Jesus encounters a child that the disciples could not heal and Jesus himself heals the child of demonic possession. Chapter 9 continues with brief descriptions of Jesus interacting with his disciples over the issues of his death and resurrection and who would be the greatest in the kingdom. Verse 38 records John asking Jesus about some men who were not of their group but were casting out demons in Jesus’ name. In verses 39-50 Jesus responds to John and teaches the disciples about hell. This is another instance in which Jesus is presented as the dominant speaker with some interactive dialogue from the audience, this time in the person of John.


Mark 10:2-12, recounts Jesus interaction with the Pharisees over the issue of divorce, remarriage, and adultery. This is followed by the brief account of Jesus bringing a little child before the disciples. In verses 17-31, after he is asked what is necessary to inherit eternal life by the rich young man, Jesus teaches on giving up things in this life for the sake of the kingdom. After this there are brief descriptions of Jesus telling his disciples about his coming death and resurrection, of James and John asking to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands in the kingdom, of Jesus teaching on leadership and service, and of Jesus healing of a blind man. In these brief accounts we see that Jesus’ comments are shorter, that the groups seem to be smaller, and that there is more interaction between Jesus and others such as the disciples, the Pharisees, and the rich young man. None of these shorter accounts seems to fit the idea of an intentional assembly of gathered followers. Still, in each case Jesus still seems to be the predominant leader to whom questions are addressed and who directs the course of the interaction.


Mark 11 starts with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey’s colt on Palm Sunday. This is followed by the cursing of the fig tree and Jesus casting the money changers out the Temple. In verse 23, Jesus teaches briefly on faith, prayer, and forgiveness. In verse 28, Jesus is again asked by the Pharisees about his authority.


In Mark 12:1-11, Jesus gives the parable of the vineyard. It is followed by a few more attempts by some of the religious leaders to trap Jesus with questions about taxes and resurrection. Then another scribe asks Jesus which of the commandments is the greatest. The chapter concludes with short accounts which include Jesus asking the crowds about how David’s son could also being David’s Lord, Jesus condemning some practices of the Pharisees, and Jesus noting the poor widow who gave all she had into the treasury.


Chapter 13 is Mark’s account of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, which we encountered in Matthew 24-25. Mark’s account is similar to Matthew’s with Jesus being asked some questions by the disciples about his return and then Jesus responding uninterrupted for 32 verses (v.5-37).


Mark 14:43 records Jesus arrest in the Garden followed by his trial, death, and resurrection in chapters 15 and 16. In the first portion of Mark 14, we have Mark’s account of the night of the last supper. It includes the woman pouring perfume on Jesus’ head, Judas’ preparation to betray Jesus, preparations for the Passover meal, Jesus indicating to the disciples that one of them would betray him, Jesus instructions during the Passover meal for the ongoing celebration of the communal meal in remembrance of him, Jesus reminding his disciples of his coming death and resurrection, the prophecy of Peter’s betrayal, and Jesus praying in the garden.


With this we conclude our survey of the Book of Mark. Since Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four gospel accounts, its descriptions are often more brief than those we saw presented in Matthew. Due to the succinct nature of Mark’s accounts, we find little in Mark that alters the descriptions we found in Matthew. Instead, though Mark’s book is smaller, the two gospels fit very well together. Taken together with Matthew’s gospel, and having seen little in Mark that would construe otherwise, we would have to retain the conclusion that the disciple’s “on-the-job” training and early experience of gatherings was one in which some interaction occurred, but in which one person (in these cases Jesus) dominated and directed the discussion. We have seen little or no instances whatsoever of assemblies in which all persons contributed and participated equally. Having summed up our assessment so far we can now proceed into Luke’s gospel to see if the descriptions Luke provides coincide with the model we have observed in Matthew and Mark. And we will have to see if Luke provides any indication of gatherings characterized by equal participation from all present without a dominant leader.




Examining Church Gatherings in the Gospels: The Gospel of Luke


We left off our survey of Luke in the concluding verses of chapter 4, where we noted that “Jesus is portrayed as dominating the crowds’ attention through his words and sayings” and that “the whole point of this passage seems to be to convey the impact Jesus had upon the people as they gathered to hear what He said.” We will now pick up our survey of Luke in chapter 4:14.


Luke 4:14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. 16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read…. 31 And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. 32 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice,…38 And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon’s house. And Simon’s wife’s mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her….42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desert place: and the people sought him, and came unto him, and stayed him, that he should not depart from them. 43 And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent. 44 And he preached in the synagogues of Galilee.


As we continue into Luke 5, we find a parallel to accounts from Matthew and Mark. Here in chapter 5 of Luke, we find the account of Jesus by the seaside in Gennesaret with the people coming to him to hear the word of God. Then we have several brief accounts. First is Jesus calling Peter, James, and John. This is followed by Jesus healing a leper and healing the lame man in front of the Pharisees. Then we have the calling of Levi in verse 27 and some interaction between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees. They dialogue over the issue of Jesus calling sinners to repent and the issue of why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast. This is followed in chapter 6 in which the Pharisees question the lawfulness of Jesus’ disciples breaking grain on the Sabbath and Jesus’ healing in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The chapter also includes the calling together of the twelve. 


In Luke 6:17-49, we have Jesus giving the famous Sermon on the Mount. In this passage, Jesus begins teaching those gathered there in verse 20 and continues uninterrupted for 30 verses. This follows the accounts and pattern we have seen established earlier from Matthew and Mark.


Chapter 7 of Luke begins with the account of Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s servant. This is followed by Jesus raising a woman’s son from the dead. There is then some interaction with John the Baptist’s disciples, who ask Jesus if he was the Messiah along with Jesus speaking to the crowds about John. Jesus then begins to criticize the leaders of his generation. After this, a woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears at the home of a Pharisee who had invited Jesus to dinner. This concludes chapter 7.


Luke 8 begins with the statement that Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages preaching the kingdom of God and healing and that the twelve were with him. Verse 4 informs us that when many were gathered together Jesus taught them the parable of the sower and the seed. (This is similar to Matthew’s account.) This teaching continues for 14 verses through verse 18 and is only interrupted when the disciples ask him the meaning of the parable in verse 9.


From there, Luke recounts Jesus’ mother and brothers coming to see him, Jesus’ calming of the storm, the long narration of Jesus casting out a legion of demons from the man in the region of the Gadarenes, the healing of the woman who bled, and the raising of the synagogue ruler’s daughter.


In chapter 9, Luke records Jesus calling together the twelve disciples and giving them power to heal and cast out demons as he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of God. We then have the accounts of Herod’s reaction to Jesus in which Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead, the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus’ discussion with the disciples about who people said he was, and Jesus telling his disciples about his coming death and resurrection. Next we have Luke’s account of the transfiguration and the healing of the demon possessed child. Chapter 9 concludes with some brief interaction between Jesus and James and John who wanted to call down fire. This is followed by a few statements from Jesus on giving up the things of this life for the sake of the kingdom of God.


In each of these preceding chapters we do not gain any additional, significant, or new information that would be particularly telling for our investigation of the disciples’ experience of gatherings during Jesus’ ministry. But, as we continue forward, Jesus’ central dominance in his interaction with audiences, which we have seen so prominently already, can be readily seen in Luke chapters 10 through chapter 22:38, which concludes with Jesus praying and being arrested in the garden. Throughout almost the entirety of these chapters Jesus is featured speaking with either an assembly of the crowds or a gathering of just his disciples. Because this is the case, the details of these chapters do add to our ongoing understanding of the nature of the disciples’ experience of gatherings during Jesus’ ministry.


Anyone who has a red-letter bible can quickly notice how much of these chapters are comprised of Jesus’ speaking. The total number of verses spanning these chapters is 538. Of that number, Jesus is speaking for 419 verses. Jesus’ words are only briefly interrupted by a short statement or question or by narration. In fact, of the remaining 119 verses of these chapters only 42 contain statements from other persons. The rest are narration. That’s only 42 verses of dialogue by other persons compared to 419 verses of dialogue from Christ. That is a ratio of ten to one, in which Jesus dominates the interaction. The result of this analysis is a picture from Luke, which both confirms as well as adds to the weight of the model we’ve built from our survey of Matthew and Mark. Luke’s portrayal of people gathered together is decisively speaker-lead or teacher-dominant. Though some interaction does occur, wherein questions or statements are added by others, there is not a hint of equal participation by all present either in the gathering of the crowds or in the gathering of the disciples with Jesus privately. 


Still perhaps some may suggest that the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not necessarily provide conclusive evidence that the disciples’ early experience with Christ followed a speaker-dominant model largely comprised of teaching. But if what we have seen does not constitute evidence of a speaker-dominant experience, it must all the more be admitted that we have absolutely no evidence suggesting that the disciples experienced or were trained under an equal-contribution, equal-participation, and equal-function type of gathering. Indeed, if our goal is to determine what manner of meeting the disciples experienced during their time with Christ and if we are to go by the material provided in scripture, based on what we’ve seen so far we must conclude that their experience was one in which the meetings were lead through one person teaching, while allowing for others to comment and question during the teaching. Their “on-the-job training” was not one of equal participation and function by all.




Examining Church Gatherings in the Gospels: The Gospel of John


From this point we will move forward into John’s gospel to complete our survey of the pre-ascension gatherings experienced by Jesus’ followers through which Jesus trained the apostles how to lead the church. John chapter 1:1-14 is John’s prologue. With verse 15 the prologue begins to transition to the ministry of John the Baptist, which in turn introduces Jesus’ ministry and tells us how the disciples came to follow Christ.


Early in these verses we are shown some interaction between John and certain religious leaders who came to him with questions about who he was and what he was doing. The initial exchange of the dialogue is pretty evenly divided between all parties. However, if we simply add these descriptions of John the Baptist to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which depict him utilizing a speaker-dominant preaching style, the picture once again emerges of a speaker dominating interaction with his audience while the audience is free to interrupt with questions, as the religious leaders do here. As the chapter continues, next we have John the Baptist’ identification of Jesus as the Lamb of God and a description of Jesus’ baptism. This leads to two of John’s disciples following after Jesus. What follows is a narrative account of how several of the disciples first came to know Jesus. As Jesus meets each of them, a brief exchange is described. John chapter 1 concludes in a manner that is consistent with the more interactive type of dialogues and brief exchanges that are described in the intermittent narrations of the three preceding gospels. However, John 1 does not clearly portray the type of intentional assembly or gathering of people that is our chief interest in this study. Rather we seem to have a concise summary of introductions and interactions between John, the religious leaders, Jesus, and the disciples.


The first 12 verses of John 2 recount the events of the wedding in Cana and Jesus turning water into wine. The remaining 13 verses recount Jesus’ throwing the moneychangers out of the temple. In both cases there is only intermittent, short dialogue between the persons present. Neither account contributes much light on the central questions of our investigation.


In John 3, we have the account of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. This passage contains 21 verses in which Nicodemus makes a few statements, asks a few questions and then Jesus responds with instruction about the kingdom of God. Jesus’ responses encompass 17 of the 21 verses. Though we certainly can see Jesus here playing out the familiar role of the dominant instructor as described in the other gospels, this account is a private discourse between two persons. And so it does not easily fit into the category of a meeting or gathering of Jesus’ followers.


The rest of John 3 is comprised of 13-14 verses which describe John the Baptist explaining to his disciples that Jesus was greater than himself. Here, too, just as we have come to expect, John is seen as the dominant instructor. His response to a brief one-verse inquiry spans the final 10 verses of the chapter.


John 4:1-42 is the long story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Though the account is lengthy, most of it is restricted to a fairly balanced exchange between just two persons, Jesus and the Samaritan woman. As the events unfold, further interaction occurs between Jesus and his disciples. Again, the nature of the account is such that it does not fit into the category of investigation, the type of gatherings that the disciples experienced during the ministry of Christ. It is instead, another example of a person-to-person encounter. The only possible exception occurs in verses 39- 42 when many of the Samaritans come out to hear Jesus’ preach. He stays with them for two days and they conclude, “Now we believe…for we have heard him ourselves.” Although this is merely a brief summary and does not contain many details about the nature of the interaction, such comments from the Samaritans certainly portray Jesus as the dominant-speaker for those two days, rather than a time of mutually ministry with equal participation by all. The last verses of John 4 tell the account of Jesus healing the servant of a nobleman while traveling through Cana.


John 5 provides the account of Jesus healing of a lame man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. The passage includes Jesus exchange with the lame man and then leads to his confrontation with the religious leaders over the matter. The objection of the religious leadership prompts a response from Jesus. The response is recorded for us in verses 19-47 where the chapter ends. Again, Jesus is seen as the dominant speaker and teacher, but the particular instance does not involve what might be qualified as an early church gathering. Though the crowds were present in the background the scene can perhaps be more aptly described as several short dialogues with limited number of parties including: Jesus, the lame man, and the religious leaders.


Chapter 6 recounts Jesus’ feeding of the multitude that had followed him and gathered at the mountain. The account is mostly narrative with a few short exchanges between Jesus and his disciples. After the miraculous provision, the crowd seeks Jesus on the other side of the sea. Their doing so results in Jesus chastising them for following him for the wrong reasons. Over the course of the next 38 verses, Jesus teaches the crowd that had gathered using particularly difficult and even somewhat provocative language. In the exchange, Jesus’ statements comprise all but 7 sentences spoken from those in the crowd. Here Jesus is again the dominant instructor of those gathered with him. Intermittent interruptions and questions do occur from the crowds, but again there is nothing even close to what we might call equal-participation from all present.


John 6 concludes with 13 verses recounting Jesus’ interaction with his disciples over the difficulty of the instruction that he had just shared with the crowds. The account is brief. It begins with a verse of narration followed by a verse indicating the disciples were having difficulty with the teaching. The rest of the passage has Jesus speaking, with only two statements from Peter in response to an inquiry from Jesus asking if they’d all leave him because of what he had taught the crowds. So here we have Jesus gathered with his disciples after the crowds departed. Some limited interaction occurs from the disciples, but largely we see Jesus leading the exchange and also providing some instruction.


John chapter 7 narrates Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles. It begins with a brief exchange between Jesus and his brothers followed by a longer exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders as opinions about him are circulated and discussed. The dialogues in this chapter are fairly interactive. The passage ends with further mention of the crowd’s discussion of Jesus and an exchange within the religious leadership on the same matter. Because of the nature of this account it is difficult to determine whether these exchanges occurred in the context of Jesus’ followers. That said, we will refrain from drawing conclusions based upon these events because they do not necessarily seem to fit our category of interest. However, it should be noted that while the events of these chapter are fairly interactive, that interaction is decisively not mutual ministry or edification. Instead, it is merely a record of Jesus’ statements and the crowds’ or religious leaders’ discussion about him among themselves. 


Chapter 8 continues the ongoing account of Jesus interaction with the religious leaders in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles beginning with their bringing a woman caught in the act of adultery before him. In this passage the people are gathered around Jesus and Jesus responds as the religious leaders try to trap him. The passage continues into chapter 9 along the same lines with Jesus having only a slightly larger portion of the dialogue than his opponents. Chapter 9 opens with Jesus healing a blind man. Most of the passage that follows is a narrative that includes a record of the discussion between the healed man, his parents, and the religious leaders. However, the chapter ends with a short description of the exchange between Jesus and the healed man.


What we seem to have in these chapters is a description of Jesus’ manner of discourse with his opposition. Though the crowds are gathered there as well, the main characterization of the events is one dominated by confrontation with outsiders. As such these events cannot be easily placed within the area of our investigation, the early gatherings of the followers of Jesus.


However, although it occurs in the middle of this same series of events and is, in fact, a continuation of them, John 10 has a strikingly different character. Here we have Jesus teaching his disciples and the crowds. There is an initial silence from the religious leadership. Jesus’ instruction continues uninterrupted for 18 verses followed by a brief account of the response of the Jewish elders.


Chapter 10 concludes with the account of Jesus in the area of the temple known as Solomon’s porch during the Feast of Dedication in winter. The religious leaders come to him asking him to tell them plainly if he is the Christ. In the exchange that follows their question in verse 24, Jesus speaks for 11 verses. He is interrupted in the middle by the assertion of the elders that he had blasphemed. The chapter concludes with 3 verses of narration. As such, chapter 10 features Jesus in much the same way we have seen him in the previous three gospels. He is shown dominating the crowds with teaching.


However, in this portion of his book, John has provided us with instances where Jesus’ teaching was interrupted by the religious leadership as they opposed his preaching to the crowds that had gathered. Though the interaction from the opposition is more prominent than we have seen previously, we do not see an increase in participation from Jesus’ own followers or those people who had gathered to hear from him. In effect, although this portion of John has little that adds to the leader-dominant teaching-style gatherings experienced by disciples during Jesus’ ministry. But we have even less, and in fact, we still no indications that the early experience of the disciples with Jesus was one where every member participated equally. Perhaps it may accurately be said that more than one person was permitted to interject, to ask a question, or to comment (even if that person was an opponent), but it has not been seen in any case that all persons present functioned or contributed equally.


That being said, we proceed to John 11. John 11 is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The chapter is 57 verses long. There is some dialogue between Jesus and Lazarus’ sisters as well as with the disciples. Most of the verses contain narration of this unique event, which though amazing, doesn’t describe an early gathering experience of the disciples.


John 12 opens with Lazarus’ sister Mary anointing Jesus’ feet and then transitions to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Some Greeks who had come for the Feast of Passover approach the disciples about seeing Jesus. After this, verse 23 picks up with Jesus speaking and teaching. He is interrupted in verse 28 by a voice from heaven and then continues to speak through verse 32 indicating that he would be put to death. Some in the crowd respond to this with incredulity. Jesus then comments further followed by several verses of narration about how the people would not believe in him. Verse 44 resumes Jesus’ remarks to the crowds and then the chapter concludes.


For a moment we will skip past the next few chapters of John which record the Last Supper and we will proceed to John’s concluding chapters.


Chapter 18 of John’s Gospel begins with Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. From there chapters 18 and 19 cover Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and death. Chapter 20 opens with the discovery of the empty tomb and then proceeds to a few brief descriptions of Jesus’ encounters with Mary first and then with all the apostles. It concludes with the account of Jesus coming again to the disciples and Thomas seeing for himself the risen Christ. Though there are two instances of Christ’s followers gathering together at the end of this chapter, little information is provided regarding the content or format of those meetings. This being the case, if we stick merely to the content provided by John without adding information provided by the other gospels, there is little we can add to our survey from these short accounts.


John chapter 21 is the final chapter of John’s Gospel. In it we have John describing a post-resurrection encounter between Jesus and his disciples. We might note the recurrence of a shared meal. There is some interaction between Jesus and the disciples. It is only brief and doesn’t contain a great deal of instruction. Peter has the bulk of the interaction as Jesus seeks to reaffirm and restore him after his denial. Again we see Jesus directing and leading the group, with limited participation (though not equal participation) from the rest of those present. The book and the chapter then conclude with John attesting to the things he has recorded in the book. To summarize what we’ve found so far from John’s Gospel, we have found no gatherings that might be described as mutual-ministering or equal participation by all those present. Instead, the information we have found in John on this topic portrays Jesus operating in a speaker-dominant format during his interaction with the crowds and even his opposition, with others at times interjecting with challenges or questions. Additional information from John’s Gospel, particularly chapters 13-18 will be covered in our next segment. These chapters contain information that is particularly relevant to our investigation.