the weblog of Alan Knox

1 Corinthians 14 and the Leadership

Posted by on May 4, 2007 in elders, gathering, office, spirit/holy spirit | 13 comments

Because of several questions and comments on my post called “What do we do with 1 Corinthians 14?“, I have prepared a summary of 1 Corinthians 14, but it is long. So, I am planning to divide it into sections and publish it over two or three days next week. In this post, I would like to return to the question of leadership that I have been examining over the last few months (see “Leadership, Obedience, and Authority…“). Specifically, I would like to examine of role of leaders during the meeting of the church.

Without doubt, 1 Corinthians 14 gives the most extensive view of a meeting of the church by any New Testament author. However, leaders are nowhere in view in the book of 1 Corinthians, much less in chapter 14.

In Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians, he has this to say about leadership in regards to chapter 14:

What is striking in this entire discussion is the absence of any mention of leadership or of anyone who would be responsible for seeing that these guidelines were generally adhered to. The community appears to be left to itself and the Holy Spirit. What is mandatory is that everything aim at edification.

Is Fee correct? Does Paul expect believers to rely only on the Holy Spirit to conduct affairs when the church comes together?

Let me ask a series of questions. I hope you’ll think through these questions and share your answers in the comment section.

1) Why do we believe that one person (or a small group of people) is responsible for scheduling the meeting of the church? Where do we find this responsibility given in Scripture?

2) Why do we believe that only educated and prepared people should speak during the meeting of the church? Where do we get the idea that a 20-45 minute explanation of Scripture is the best way to teach people? Where do we find this idea in Scripture?

3) Why do we believe the “preacher” or “pastor” is always responsible for bringing a teaching, but other people in the church are not? Where do we find this in Scripture?

Perhaps you believe the some or all of these questions can be answered by Scripture. I hope that you will share that with us.

I end this post with one more question: What would happen if the meeting of the church was left completely to the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all of the believers both before and during the meeting?

Series on 1 Corinthians 14:
Prologue 1 – What do we do with 1 Corinthians 14?
Prologue 2 – 1 Corinthians 14 and the Leadership
Context & Verses 1-5 – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 1
Verses 6-25 – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 2
Verses 26-40 – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 3
Concluding Remarks – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 4


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-4-2007

    Good post Alan.
    I don’t have answers for 1,2,or 3. However I’ll be interested in hearing what others have to say.

    As to your last question, we’ll be having a meeting like that at our house Saturday evening. What will happen? Who knows, but I’m looking forward to it.

  2. 5-4-2007


    I think the key to answering your questions lies in what you said in your earlier post about the “regulative principle of worship,” the “normative principle of worship,” and the “informed principle of worship.” Of the three, the “informed” principle seems to make the most sense to me. My guess is that you would agree.

    1 Corinthians 16.15-16 does make some mention to “leadership” in the church at Corinth, though, I would have to agree that what is said there does not seem to follow a modern-day traditional understanding of pastoral leadership in the local church. That is, inasmuch as it talks about the “household” (oikos) of Stephanas, and not Stephanas as an individual, and enjoining “subjection” to all “such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors,” and apparently not just those who have the official “title” of “elder” in the church.

    In any case, in keeping with the “informed” principle, it seems to me the New Testament does give some general guidelines regarding the practice of leadership in the church, which should be followed. However, in those areas, such as, for example, the three questions you ask here, where Scripture does not directly speak, I believe there should be a certain amount of freedom to adapt to the cultural context and the use of common sense and pragmatic expediency.

    The problem becomes when such practices as one person (or a small group) scheduling meetings, only “pastors” speaking in meetings, and the format of the teaching become normative in and of themselves, and those who opt for doing things a bit differently are viewed as heterodox or even heretical.

    I think I would say, in summary, let’s be careful to do everything the Bible specifically commands. But beyond that, assuming that the purposes of the church are something similar to what Rick Warren and others have identified (i.e. worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry & evangelism), I believe individual congregations should be free to determine how to best accomplish these purposes, in prayer and dependence on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the particular context in which God has placed them.

  3. 5-4-2007


    The problem becomes when such practices…become normative in and of themselves, and those who opt for doing things a bit differently are viewed as heterodox or even heretical.

    Not only do they become normative, but I fear that they then are assumed by many to be “clearly taught” in scripture.

    It’s that whole “connecting the dots” thing that we talked about here on Alan’s blog in early April.

    Because scripture does not actually forbid the type of leadership that we’re talking about here, many would say that it is allowed.

    And I would be forced to agree. Except, I have often said that, if that structure in any way is impeding the maturing and spiritual growth of the body, it then follows that it should be seriously re-considered.

  4. 5-4-2007


    I have been part of that kind of meeting as well. I never know what is going to happen. At times there may be awkward silence. I don’t think silence is bad though. I hope you will tell us about your meeting on Saturday.


    Paul commands, “Let two or three prophets speak…” In all three principles (regulative, normative, and informed) we are disobedient when we fail to follow this command. Are we following this command when only one person (and a specific person at that) is allowed to speak?


    One of my concerns is that what is normative today, is not found in Scripture. What is normative in Scripture, is not found today. I think there is a problem somewhere.


  5. 5-4-2007


    Wouldn’t it be amazing if during the week the people of the church were so immersed in scripture that when the body came together, several members of the body were prepared to speak? I’m not referring here to a typical sermon (although that is one possibility), but rather to different people teaching through a passage based on their weekly study, and then the body discussing it.

    Of course, the pastor/elders could do some of the teaching, but if the entire body was studying scripture, then many would/should be prepared to be involved in the discussion.

    I think one reason pastors of today are afraid of opening up the gathering is that we have unregenerate members of our churches. The pastors are afraid of what they might say, so the pastors do all of the talking.

    Therefore, we need to encourage churches to 1) make sure that their members are, in fact, Christians, and 2) exhort their members to be in the word on a daily basis so they can contribute to the discussion when the body gathers.

  6. 5-4-2007


    I’m seeing now why I should have taken more greek in seminary. (I did the experimental “non-language track” at Southwestern back in 88-89).

    In any case, is it grammatically admissible that the Contemporary English Version and the Worldwide English version have it correctly, when they translate:

    “Two or three persons MAY prophesy, and everyone else must listen carefully.”

    “Two or three prophets MAY speak words from God and the others should say what they think about it.”

    Or, do versions such as the Holman Christian Standard Bible, and the New International Version UK, necessarily have it correctly, when they translate it:

    “Two or three prophets SHOULD speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.”

    “Two or three prophets SHOULD speak, and the others should evaluate”?

    Or is it more ambiguous, allowing for either translation?

  7. 5-4-2007

    David, the verb is in the imperative mood, so I guess “should” fits, but the context is important for determining the force here. The entire passage is sort of hypothetical, “if this, then that.” So I don’t think we can say that v.29 because it is imperative means this is a command to always do it this way. Rather, it seems to be a guideline for normalcy if you have this many people involved, which I think would be great.

    On this topic, I was asked in an interview for a church leadership position what I thought I could learn from others. I didn’t really have a specific answer because I know that the list would be long indeed. I thought the question was good though because it shows that at least one person saw the overseer in a biblical light; as one of the body who needs to be taught.

  8. 5-4-2007


    I think this is exactly how the New Testament describes the meeting of the church. Not only will leaders need to teach and model this method, leaders will also need to allow there to be times when nothing happens during the meeting – no teaching, no singing, just silence. Why? Because those are the times when the Spirit is leading someone else to participate, but that person is being disobedient, either by not having something prepared, or by not responding to the Spirit at that moment. When leaders fill all the times by speaking themselves, then they are teaching others not to participate in the meeting.


    “Let two or three prophets speak and let the others weigh”… these are commands… just as “Make disciples” in Matt 28:19 and “Preach the word” in 2 Timothy 4:2. Should we translate those “You should make disciples” or “You may preach the word”? In fact, in 1 Corinthians 14:29, the commands are in present tense, which could suggest a continuing aspect: “Keep on letting two or three prophets speak…”


  9. 5-4-2007


    It seems we were commenting at the same time. I agree that 1 Corinthians 14:27-28 is conditional (i.e. “if… then”). However, when Paul moves to prophecy, he does not use a conditional. Instead, he only uses the imperative. He does the same thing in 14:26 (“Let all things be done for edification”) and 14:40 (“Let all things be done decently and in order”). For the most part, evangelicals only believe the last one (14:40) is unconditional, but it seems that there are several unconditional commands (imperatives) in this passage.


  10. 5-4-2007


    Not meaning to be difficult. But since understanding this correctly could potentially have important consequences for my understanding of church meetings, I’m wondering if normal interpretation of the imperative in a context like this leaves room for something other than an all the time inconditional command.

    Do you think, for instance, that literally any church meeting in which 2 or 3 prophets do not speak is an unbiblical church meeting? Would common sense not lead us to understand this to mean 2 or 3 maximum? Or would that be doing violence to the text?

    Are there perhaps other instances in the NT of a similar structure where it would be absurd to take it quite so literally?

  11. 5-4-2007


    As to the number 2 or 3 prophets, I don’t know if this is a maximum number (as some suggest) or a minimum number (as others suggest). I’d feel better with any number other than one teacher… at least I would think that is a step in the right direction.

    I think you are right that this passage has important implications for our understanding of the meeting of the church. I have a question concerning this. If we don’t use this passage to help us understand the meeting of the church, which passage should we use?

    We can place these imperatives in a specific context: the context is the meeting of the church. Thus, the command for tongues speakers to be silent should be followed under the given situations: during a meeting of the church with no interpretation. I don’t see the same limitation for prophets, or perhaps even for other spiritual gifts that edify the church.


  12. 5-4-2007


    My comments and thoughts might have been addressed above, but here are some ideas:

    (1) I think it boils down to the concept of eldership, who oversee the local church. This clearly is a biblical concept presented in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. Elders are responsible for oversight of the local church, including when the congregation meets for corporate worship, other logistics, etc.

    (2) I disagree with the assumption that lies behind this question. First of all, my pastor is NOT seminary-educated. But even if he were, we do allow for the gifts to operate on Sunday mornings and during other services at my church, esp. if someone has been recognized by leadership as a “seasoned” minister, which does not necessarily mean educated, but DOES mean experienced.

    But, certain people ARE given liberty to speak at certain junctures during the service, even on an impromptu basis, so long as they get permission from the pastor to do so. This happens more often during our Wednesday night services, which are more like prayer meetings right now, and anyone can come up and pray, read Scripture, give a prophetic word, or otherwise obey God.

    As regards to the 20-45 minute sermon, we don’t have that at my church. Most sermons are ONE HOUR in duration. However, I believe the purpose of sermons on any given Sunday morning are to inspire the saints, because it is part of the Eph. 4:11 mission of pastors to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” So, Sunday mornings are to be a time of equipping for the believer.

    (3) I believe the answer to this question, about why pastors are to bring a teaching, is because that is part of their job, according to Eph. 4:11, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry by bringing the preaching and teaching of the Word.

    Paul is also clear in other Scriptures that there is a full-time ministry of preaching the Word of God. This is why he is express to say, “Those who preach the Gospel should make their living from the Gospel.” Further, in Acts 6:4, the early church elders (apostles, pastors, etc.) created the first deaconate so that the elders could devote themselves to “prayer and ministry of the Word,” which is what a pastor or apostle or elder does, functionally, according to the Scriptures.

    This is also why Paul alludes to not muzzling the ox in one of his letters to Timothy, because the pastor is a laborer at diligently dividing the word of truth.

    Lastly, in response to your question about turning the service over to the Holy Spirit, and letting Him do whatever is on His heart… I believe this approach is out of balance, because there is no place in this for the Word, which brings structure to the service. IOW, as one minister once aptly said, “If you have too much of the Word, you’ll dry up. If you have too much of the Spirit, you’ll blow up. But if you have the Word and the Spirit, you’ll GROW up.” So, we need a combination of the Word and the Spirit (thus we cannot just turn it all over the Holy Spirit), so that ALL may GROW and be EDIFIED and EQUIPPED. Amen?

    Alright, those are my thoughts for now. Other thoughts or questions?


  13. 5-4-2007


    Thanks for your comment and for explaining your position. As we’ve noted before, you and I approach Scripture with different presuppositions and with a different hermeneutic.