the weblog of Alan Knox

Whenever you come together

Posted by on Jun 16, 2011 in edification, gathering | 4 comments

Whenever you come together

The primary focus of this blog – and my primary academic focus over the last few years – is church gatherings. Even more narrowly, I have been asking the following question: “According to the New Testament, why should believers gather together as the church?” (For that reason, just over five years ago, I named this blog “The Assembling of the Church.”)

Obviously, when you begin to study the gathering (or assembling) of the church, many other ecclesiological issues become important, not least of which would be leadership, fellowship, community, spiritual gifts, Lord’s Supper, baptism, and many, many more issues. In fact, a person’s understanding of the nature of God, of Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit will affect the way that person gathers with other believers. And, in reverse, the way a person gathers with other believers demonstrates what that person understands about God, Jesus, the Spirit, salvation, etc. (In fact, the way people gather together often says more about their beliefs than what they state concerning those beliefs.)

In the modern church, you will find two primary reasons given for the church to gather together: 1) worship or 2) evangelism. Both of these fall short of the scriptural evidence. First, according to Paul and other writers in Scripture, every aspect of the life of a child of God is to be worship. Second, since we’re talking about the church (i.e., those who are already God’s children), then evangelism is not needed – they have already been evangelized. (This does not mean that believers should not work together for the express purpose of proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers, but this should not be called a gathering of the church.)

So, according to Scripture, for what purpose should believers gather together?

Paul answers this question very succinctly in 1 Corinthians. Now, when reading this letter, it is clear that the Corinthian church has many problems. Some of those problems surfaced when they gathered together. Paul addressed these issues in 1 Corinthians 14, as part of a longer section in which he addresses spiritual gifts.

However, from a grammatical and discourse standpoint, 1 Corinthians 14 – and especially the last half of the chapter – are the focus of this teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Thus, Paul began teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1 so that he could get to 1 Corinthians 14:1 and begin instructing them about meeting together.

So, according to Paul, why should believers gather together:

The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. (1 Corinthians 14:4-5 ESV)

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12 ESV)

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:18-19 ESV)

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV)

In each of these passages, Paul continuously and consistently stresses the same point: when you come together as the church, you should seek to build up (edify) one another. Notice that building up others is more important to Paul than manifesting some gift of the Holy Spirit. (He says it’s better not to manifest a gift of the Spirit if that gift only builds up the individual.)

Why is prophesy to be preferred over speaking in tongues (uninterpreted) when the church meets? Is prophesy inherently better than tongues? No, they are both manifestations of the Holy Spirit. But, when the church meets, exercising gifts of the Holy Spirit is not to be our goal. Our goal – our purpose – is to edify one another. So, prophesy is preferred over speaking in tongues when the church meets because the whole church can be edified through prophesy.

These statements are incredible in their scope. Paul says that when gathering with other believers – in fact, any time you are gathered with other believers – you should seek to edify one another, mutually. Paul does not leave an opening from some gatherings of believers in which mutual edification is NOT the purpose. The point of this entire chapter is clear: anytime we are with other believers, it is all of our responsibility to help one another grow in maturity in Jesus Christ. This is not the responsibility of some; it is the responsibility of all.

And, it is in this purpose of gathering together (mutual edification) that we understand Paul’s previous instructions concerning spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12) and love (1 Corinthians 13).

Can we come together for other purposes? Well, sure. We can come together for many different numbers of purposes. But, if we wish to follow the examples, principles, and instructions that we find in Scripture, then we will only come together for the purpose of building one another up.


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

  1. 6-17-2011

    I’ve run in to a lot of people who argue that the instructions laid out in 1Cor 14 are for that specific church or that specific era and that the church has “evolved” from it “primitive” state. Both of those points might have some weight to them but it seems to be what Paul instructed in chapter 14 is a direct application of his core theology of the church found in 12 and 13. Any approach to ministry or gathering should grapple seriously with how the church was designed to work. It is clear, as you have pointed out that according to Paul the people of the church minister to each other through Holy Spirit empowered gifts in love.

    Any approach to church gathering that limits the participation to a select few and/or makes it difficult for people to even get to know each other is running against the grain of God’s design.

  2. 6-17-2011


    Yes, you pointed out the big problem in taking 1 Corinthians 14 as only being applied to the Corinthians… You can’t interpret 1 Corinthians 14 out of the context of 1 Corinthians 11-14. Plus, the concepts in 1 Corinthians 14 are repeated and demonstrated in too many other places in Scripture.


  3. 5-7-2013

    To date this post has had the most impact on my life and thinking about the purpose, form and structure of the church! I recently was part of a new church plant, which looked like it was going to be different from other churches I had been involved in: the focus was to be on smaller “community” groups that really would be the gathering of the church, somewhat as you described here. Yet the promise, one full year later, has not been realized, and I don’t think it will. I begin to think that what is important to most Church leaders is control and image. Lots of small groups mutually edifying themselves is not controllable by a human organization. I know I am painting with large brush strokes. But it occurs to me that this is Jesus’ church, not a particular pastor’s church, and most men put in the position of leadership in the church don’t seem to trust God with it. At least in Western Christianity, though I suspect because of the corruption of mankind that this is a problem in the universal church.

    My somewhat radical, and perhaps overstated thought is that we need another reformation. Luther’s took the mass from the center and put the Bible. I think we need to take the Bible out of the center and put Jesus in. That probably sounds much more radical than what I mean. Notice I do not suggest taking the Bible out of the Church, but rather undo the renaissance and the elevation of education, the weekly lecture by one man or group of men, and substitute mutual edification, which will of course heavily rely on the Bible, but from many who all have Christ indwelling them, and rely also on their life experiences / lessons.

  4. 5-8-2013


    What do you think would change if we placed Jesus in the center of who we are as the church?



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