Two years ago, I wrote a two part series on the use of monologue (one person speaking) and dialogue (multiple people speaking) when the church meets. The first post was called “Monologue and Dialogue – defining the question.” I re-published that post yesterday. This is the second post, called “Monologue and Dialogue – examining Scripture.”
In this post, I hope to answer the following question: Do the authors of Scripture command or model either monologue, dialogue, 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 Dialogue – 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)
Dialogue: 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 dialogue when the church meets, with dialogue being default or primary.