As I “introduced” in a previous post, I believe that Scripture clearly points out that the church should assemble (whenever believers get together) for the purpose of “mutual edification.” Scripture does not tell us exactly what actions should be taken when the church meets. But, in this series, I am attempting to show that Scripture demonstrates the purpose of the gathering of the church through example, principle, and command. In this post, I examine examples in Scripture of the church gathering together for the purpose of “mutual edification.”
Looking at examples from Scripture of the church assembling for mutual edification is both the easiest and hardest of the three (example, principle, and command). It is easiest to examine because there are so many examples. It is the hardest of the three because of context.
What do I mean by context? Well, when Luke was writings Acts (the location of most examples), he was concerned with the continuing work of Jesus Christ through the apostles, primarily Peter and Paul. Thus, he usually talks about what the apostles did when they were with the church. However, if we look at what Luke said, we find that the apostles were not working alone when they were with the church.
For example, consider Acts 13:1 where several people are listed as “prophets and teachers” among the church in Antioch. In Acts 15, we see that “men from Judea” (obviously among others) were “teaching the brothers and sisters” (Acts 15:1). After Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem, they met with the church, and again we see several people speaking to the church (Acts 15:4-5). Because of the questions raised by the conversion of Gentiles, the whole church in Jerusalem (including the apostles and elders and others from Antioch) worked together to come to a solution (Acts 15:6-22).
The Jerusalem church sent a letter to the churches of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. But, they didn’t just send the letter back to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, they also sent along Judas (Barsabbas) and Silas. The church in Antioch rejoiced because they were encouraged (Acts 15:31). Then, Judas and Silas (who were not “members” of the church in Antioch in the modern or traditional sense) continued to “encourage and strengthen” the church in Antioch (Acts 15:32). But, Judas and Silas were not the only ones prophesying and teaching in Antioch in order to strengthen the church. We also read the Paul and Barnabas were teaching “along with many others” (Acts 15:35).
An important example is found in Luke’s description of Paul’s work in Ephesus. As usual, Paul began by proclaiming Jesus and making disciples in the Jewish synagogue meetings:
And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8 ESV)
The practice of allowing several people to speak and discuss and argue during the synagogue meetings seems to have been common during the first century. (For example, we see Jesus speaking often in the synagogue, even though he was not officially a rabbi. We also see Paul and Barnabas being offered the opportunity to encourage the Jews when they visited the synagogue in Pisidia in Acts 13:14-15.) (By the way, there is other evidence – outside of the NT – that confirms that discussions about Scripture were common practice in the first century synagogues.)
When the Ephesian Jews decided that they did not want to hear about Jesus any longer, Paul and the other disciples starting meeting elsewhere. But notice that they continued “reasoning” or “discussing” together in their new meeting location:
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. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:9-10 ESV)
For two years, Paul met with believers in the hall of Tyrannus where they “reasoned” (from the Greek verb often translated “discussed”) together. This discussion did not just happen at the beginning, when Paul was trying to convince them of the veracity of his message (notice that they were already disciples). Nor did the discussion only take place after the disciples had matured and learned enough information. Paul used discussion as a means of teaching disciples from the very beginning.
We see another example of Paul discussing with believers in the church when he met with the church in Troas on his way back to Jerusalem:
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight… And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. (Acts 20:7, 11)
The verb translated “talked” and “conversed” above is the same verb translated “reasoning” in Acts 19:9. It indicates a two-way conversation. Paul had a discussion “with them” in Troas. This was not a long-winded lecture on the part of Paul.
(As a side note, if you follow the narrative in Acts 20:7ff, you get a good picture of the church meeting in Troas. They talked together for a while, then they ate a meal together, then they continued talking together. However, the length of the discussion was probably longer than usual because of Paul’s presence.)
Through these examples, we see that when early Christians met together, several people spoke in order to encourage or strengthen the church. The people speaking were not always the same people, and often they were “strangers” (but still considered brothers and sisters).
These are a few of the examples that we find in Scripture of the church meeting together for the purpose of “mutual edification.”