Over the past three weeks, I have had the opportunity to preach a total of four times in three different churches. I am grateful to God and to these churches for the opportunities. During the midst of all this, several questions popped to mind about preaching and sermons in general.
As I was preaching a few weeks ago, I thought, "Why am I the only one speaking today?" As I looked at the people sitting there, it seemed to me that it would have been much more edifying for all of us if several people had spoken, instead of just me.
That got me thinking about the biblical model for what happens when the church gathers. As my friend Alan Knox has mentioned several times, I Corinthians chapter 14 in the only place in the NT where the gathering of the church is described. As we read chapter 14, it is clear that the purpose of this gathering is the edification of the body of believers.
So, as the body gathers, what do we see in I Cor. 14? Paul writes in verse 26, "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification" (NKJV). Several things are clear here. When this church gathered, at least a few different people were involved in speaking in a way that led to the edification of the body. We also see that the speaking took different forms (psalm, teaching, etc.). Finally, Paul said nothing against this. Surely if it was wrong, the apostle would have told them so. He certainly did not hesitate in this letter to address their problems with division, immorality, the misuse of the Lord's Supper, etc.
The norm, then, in the only gathering of the church described in the NT is for several different people to speak in a manner that builds up the body of Christ.
Interestingly, look at what is written in verses 29-31: "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. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged" (ESV).
What can we learn from these three verses? First, when Paul writes, "Let two or three prophets speak," he is actually giving a command. In the context of NT prophecy, more than one person is supposed to speak. It is not advice; it is a command.
Second, others there are to weigh (again a command) what is said. This provides us a picture of several different people getting involved in the edifying speaking of the local church.
Finally, verse 31 makes it clear that this should be done in an orderly manner so that learning and encouragement will take place. It seems from this that a key to edification is that more than one person be involved in giving prophecy.
How does this relate to the proclamation of the word in the church today? NT prophecy takes the form of a person saying something that they believe the Lord has laid on their heart to say to the body. While proclaiming the word is not exactly the same as this, there are similarities. Whoever is proclaiming/preaching should be exhorting the body based upon scripture. This is what we might call more objective than prophecy. However, the preacher still, I hope, believes that God has led them to a specific passage for a reason.
Preaching and prophecy in the NT, within the context of the church, exist for one purpose: the edification of the body. When we look at I Cor. 14, we see multiple people involved in the speaking ministry of the church. Paul even commands this.
So what can the church do about this today? I propose that churches, if they really want to move toward more of a NT model, actively get many more people involved in speaking when the body gathers. How can this happen?
Here are some ideas:
-Have two different people read scripture, one from the OT, and one from the NT.
-Have a time each gathering for people to talk about what God is doing in their lives.
-Each meeting, give people a chance to voice prayer requests, and/or pray publically.
-If a person speaks in tongues, make sure that someone is there who can interpret. Also, don't outright condemn speaking in tongues.
-Set aside time for people to prophesy in the gathering. This might scare some people at first, but if anyone is unbiblical, I Cor. 14 makes it clear that they can and should be corrected.
-Have two or three people preach. This could take the form of several shorter sermons.
If even some of these ideas would be instituted in our churches, I believe much more edification would take place. Why? Because the church would be following the NT model much more closely.
What other ideas do you have or have you seen to get more people involved in speaking when the body gathers?