I. THE CHURCH MEETING A Church in Crisis While the apostle Paul was in Ephesus he received three visitors. The men were part of the church in Corinth. In an age without telephones or email, where travel was slow and dangerous their arrival was an exciting event. Paul and his companions were eager to hear the news. As the visitors told their story however, the delight at their arrival faded away. The news was almost beyond belief. The church was split, four ways, men were getting drunk in the meetings and unspeakable immorality was taking place. It was difficult to believe that one church could have so many problems. Corinth was on the brink of collapse and half the church didn’t even know it.
Paul was stunned to hear just how bad the situation in Corinth was. Corinth was not a new church. It had been in existence for about 7 years. Paul had ministered to them for 18 months. Peter had been there and Apollos had spoken to the church. Despite all this input the church seemed to have learned nothing. If ever a church needed help, it was Corinth. Paul and the believers in Ephesus sought the Lord and then Paul began to write. The letter took time. It needed to cover so many problems. Day after day Paul wrote dealing with issue after issue. He told them what to do about the immorality. He reminded them that Christ is one and that there should be no division between believers. He suggested that they stop drinking too much in their meetings. And in the midst of all this he wrote to them about their meetings.
Meetings in Corinth were a mess. Everyone spoke at once. Some meetings were all tongues and no one had any idea what was going on. Confusion reigned. The Lord could hardly get a word in edgeways. The meetings needed to change. Order was required. If ever a church needed to be told to shut up and sit down it was Corinth but Paul didn’t do that.
Paul told the believers to speak one at a time and to make space for each other. He gave them some guidance on the use of their gifts in a meeting but he expected their meetings to be free and open. There was no man standing at the front leading the meeting. Every believer had a voice. Every part of the body would function.
‘Whenever you come together each of you has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation…’ Paul barely thought about this line. It was not doctrine or theology just a description of a New Testament church meeting. 2000 years later it is a bolt from the blue. Can a church really meet in such a way that every believer is free to share and take part with no one man leading or dominating? Can such a meeting be done decently and in order?
The Modern Meeting
Now imagine Paul on a Sunday morning in the twenty first century. He is a committed believer and so he seeks out the gathering of the Lord’s people. He finds a strange building and walks through the double doors into a large hall. Ahead of him are row upon row of chairs. Every single row is facing the front. Looking back at him is a lectern and off to one side a musician or a music group.
It could be any church, a Catholic cathedral, a Protestant chapel or a Vineyard hall. In each and every denomination this is the layout of a Sunday morning.
On entering the hall Paul will be told to sit down in one of the chairs. Exactly on time a service will begin. There will be music. It was chosen by the music leader and it will last for as long as he has planned. Along with the rest of the audience Paul will be told when to stand and when to sit. In more liberal churches he may be told when he may stand. At some point a trusted member of the church may be asked to read a passage but all of this is leading to the climax – the lecture.