As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite academic books on the church: Paul’s Idea of Community by Robert Banks (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004). I recently came across one of my favorite sections of this book, and I realized that I have not written about this particular topic in a while.
You see, when it comes to the church – and especially to gathering together with other believers – structure often takes center stage in any discussion. We tend to focus on questions like these: What should happen when we gather together? Who should speak when we gather? What order should things happen in? What if something goes wrong?
These are all questions related to structure. And, I think that Banks’ approach would help us deal with these kinds of questions any many others.
So then, provided certain basic principles of teh Spirit’s operations are kept in view: balance, intelligibility, evaluation, orderliness, and loving exercise, Paul sees no need to lay down any fixed rules for the community’s proceedings. There is no one order proper for its meetings; any order is proper so long as these criteria are observed. Paul therefore has no interest in constructing a fixed liturgy. This would restrict the freedom of God’s communications. Each gathering of the community will have a structure, but it will emerge naturally from the particular combination of the gifts exercised. (page 105)
Interestingly, I’ve found that today’s concerns regarding gathering with believers are rarely the same as Paul’s concerns. Oh, we care about “orderliness,” but we define “orderly” in a different way than what Paul described when he used that term.
And, “any order is proper”? That seems so strange to us. No fixed liturgy? (Yes, some do not use the term “liturgy” but prefer the term “order of service.”) That seems strange to us to.
No one wants to “restrict the freedom of God’s communications.” But, when we realize that God chooses to speak to his children through each other, we recognize that we are limiting God’s communication when we limit who is allowed to speak.
In other words, like I said before, our concerns are much different from Paul’s concerns. By setting aside Paul’s concerns, we may create a nice, ordered (not orderly, but ordered) meeting, but we miss much of what God is communicating to us.
So, what kind of structure do we find in the church gatherings in Scripture. Well, Banks ends his statement above with this: “[B]ut [the structure] will emerge naturally from the particular combination of the gifts exercised.” And, the gifts are exercised by God people. The structure, then, emerges naturally through the people who are gathered together as God directs them to serve one another while they are gathered together.
This can’t be planned. It can’t be orchestrated. It can’t be predicted. It can’t be charted.
Like Banks says, it emerges naturally. Or, perhaps it would be better to say, it emerges supernaturally.