the weblog of Alan Knox

Monologue and Dialog – examining Scripture

Posted by on Feb 3, 2009 in discipleship, gathering, scripture | 5 comments

In this post, I hope to answer the following question: Do the authors of Scripture command or model either monologue, dialog, a combination, or something else as a manner of speaking when believers meet together? The context is very important, because I am primarily interested in the meeting of the church.

In my previous post, “Monologue and Dialog – defining the question“, I offered the following definitions:

Monologue: a long utterance by one person (especially one that prevents others from participating in the conversation)

Dialog: a reciprocal conversation between two or more entities

(Please see my previous post for a fuller explanation of this discussion.)

Let’s begin by looking at a few passages of Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is speaking specifically about the church meeting. His entire argument centers on what is appropriate when the church comes together. In verse 29, he begins to give some instructions for prophecy:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. (1 Corinthians 14:29-30 ESV)

So, while one person is prophesying (speaking a revelation from God), that person should stop speaking if another person desires to speak. Notice that Paul does not consider whether one person is more mature than another, or whether one person is a better speaker than the other, or whether one person is an elder/pastor while the other is not. In this case, at least, Paul does not limit the number of people speaking to only one person.

Similarly, notice that others weigh what is said by the prophets. So, besides the prophets, there are other people taking part in the meeting of the church.

I do not equate “prophecy” with teaching or preaching. However, in this passage, the instructions for “prophecy” appear to cover any type of speaking that is edifying to the church without interpretation, while the instructions for “tongues” appears to cover any type of speaking that is edifying to the church only with interpretation. Thus, it seems valid to apply these same instructions to teaching, exhortation, and other types of speaking when the church meets.

Second, notice this passage from Acts:

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. (Acts 19:8-9 ESV)

Luke says that Paul “reasoned” with the Jews in the synagogue, and he also “reasoned” with “the disciples” in the hall of Tyrannus. The word translated “reasoned” is also regularly translated “discussed” or “disputed”. For example, the same verb is translated “argued” in the following passage:

But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:34 ESV)

Similarly, this same verb describes what Paul was doing until late at night in Troas:

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked [reasoned, discussed] with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7 ESV)

This same verb is found later in verse 9. It seems that Paul’s “speech” or “message” may have included more than a monologue from Paul. The verb used at least opens up the possibility that others took part in Paul’s message.

So, at least in Ephesus (Acts 19) and Troas (Acts 20), Paul spoke to believers in such a way as to allow others to have input into what he was saying. This does not necessarily mean that Paul conducted a full-blown discussion, or that there was a question-and-answer session. However, it does seem to indicate that neither Paul, nor Luke, nor the others involved expected only Paul to speak.

Finally, in the book of Hebrews, the author instructs his readers:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

We shouldn’t miss the fact that the opposite of “neglect to meet together” is “encouraging one another”. There is an implied reciprocal (i.e. “one another”) aspect to our exhortations. In fact, the author had already told his readers to “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13). Just as all are responsible for “drawing near” (Hebrews 10:21) and “holding fast” (Hebrews 10:22), it would seem that all are responsible for “considering one another” by not neglecting to meet together, but by encouraging one another. Again, more than one person was involved in this “encouraging”.

There are other instances of believers meeting together and more than one person speaking (i.e., Acts 15:6-29, 15:30-33). There is also at least one instance of believers meeting together when only one person spoke (Acts 20:17-38). In this passage, Luke records that Paul “spoke” to the elders from Ephesus, using the standard work for “speak”, not the word discussed above, nor the word for “teach” or “preach”. Thus, in this passage at least, we may have an example of believers meeting together when only one person speaks.

So, there certainly may have been instances where only one person spoke during the meeting of the church. But, Scripture does not give us many of these examples. Instead, we primarily have examples of several people either speaking or having the option to speak when the church meets. Similarly, when teaching specifically about the church meeting, we are not instructed that only one person should speak, but that all should have that option. It seems that in general, even when one person primarily spoke during a meeting, and even when that person was an apostle like Paul, there was the possibility and probability that others would take part.

Thus, I would lean toward Scripture instructing us to use a combination of both monologue and dialog when the church meets, with dialog being default or primary.


5 Comments

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

  1. 2-3-2009

    Hey Alan,

    I would also add:

    Colossians 3;16
    16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

    It seems to me that admonishment takes dialouge, singing takes dialogue so this teaching is monologue? As I stated to someone before I believe the more mature believer would be more comfortable (and sometimes wrongly more dominate) speaking as they have had more experience as a Christian and with the word; however, that doesn’t exclude or prevent less mature beleivers from sharing in the singing or teaching either. I would even dare to say that a new believer hasn’t been tainted as much thus (s)he may actually have the best thing to say :o)

    However, it seems that in Colossians that as each memeber sang and admonished and encouraged they also participated in the teaching. The problem is the “pastorals” drives our ecclesiology thus teaching and preaching is authoratative (I believe whenever a believer filled with the Spirit speaks it may be authoratative)and that authority is for elders and men; women, children and immature believers need not apply

  2. 2-3-2009

    It’s good to read you finally nailing your colours to the mast on this issue. Remind us as to what does that look like in the regular church meeting life?

    Does that blow apart the whole ‘and now here comes the preacher’ role from church life? An approach that is the cornerstone of many a church institution today? I sure hope so it would literally make things a lot more interesting.

  3. 2-3-2009

    Alan,

    Just a few more scriptures to validate the truth you are stating:

    Romans 14:19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.

    Ephesians 4:16 From whom [Jesus Christ] the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

    1 Thessalonians 5:11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.

    Although these passages don’t directly address the gathering of the saints, they do so indirectly in at least two respects:

    1. These three letters were written to the churches (saints) of their respective cities. (“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ…To all that be in Rome…”; “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus”; “Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians…”) These were to be read in the meeting of the church, and as such, the admonitions are to the church as a whole, unless directed to a specific individual or group by the author.

    2. These passages themselves bespeak of a group (whether the whole church or just a handful of saints) in that they mention activities that require at least two participants to conduct. (i.e.-edifying one another, the body edifying itself, comforting yourselves together, etc.) (A few side questions: How many saints does it take to be an “official meeting of the church”? How many saints does it take for Christ to be present and to be working in and through the lives of those present to edify one another in love??? Can there be only one “meeting of the church” at a time, or can the church have many meetings going on a the same time in one city?)

    Great discussion you’ve got going here!

    God bless you as you continue to serve Him by serving others, whether it be 2 or 20 or 200!

    Tom

  4. 2-3-2009

    Two observations:
    1) I do not follow a lot of blogs, but on the few I follow I notice that on some of them, every post is basically a monologue (I appreciate that yours tends to be more of a dialog). This makes me wonder if the posters have no brothers/sisters in Christ where they live who will hear them (so they need some outlet for what they have to say), or does it mean that they do not know how to dialog (perhaps they’ve not seen this modeled in meetings of believers).
    2) Some of the most profound comments I have heard have been made by believers who have never read a book of theology or heard a sermon. Their insights seemed to be related to their relationship with Jesus. We need to hear what they have to say.
    Dialog enriches us. We need to speak and we need to hear others. Otherwise we’re all like a nest filled with baby birds, all sitting there with our moths open and squawking, wanting to be fed. (That is the image I always get when I see the traditional church – Everyone facing to the front waiting for their feeding of the stuff someone else has taken in, digested, and is now going to regurgitate into their waiting mouths.) That may be fine for babes, but we need to progress beyond that if we want to mature.

  5. 2-3-2009

    Lionel and Tom,

    Yes, all of the “one another” passages – especially teach one another, admonish one another, exhort one another, comfort one another, etc. – work better when people are actually allowed to do these things to “one another”.

    Christopher,

    I think it is dangerous and unhealthy for the church to place as much emphasis as it normally does on the “preacher” and the “pulpit/sermon”.

    Sam,

    I agree! The church has lost the ability to discuss issues. Instead, we tend towards debate.

    -Alan