BY KEITH GILES
Part 1 of 5
In this new series I want to answer some questions that several people have asked me after reading my latest book, “This Is My Body:Ekklesia As God Intended” which deals mainly with a biblical basis for a New Testament model of gathering together as a Body.
Part 1: WHAT IS AN OPEN MEETING?
An open meeting is one where everyone in the gathering is as free as anyone else to speak, or to share, or to teach, or to sing, etc., as the Holy Spirit leads them.
This sort of meeting is what Paul was describing in 1 Corinthians 12 where he begins by explaining how various spiritual gifts are distributed throughout the church and then uses a Body metaphor to describe how these gifts are designed to function in a practical way.
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” (1 Cor. 12:4-6; emphasis mine)
Right off the bat, Paul explains that there are different kinds of gifts, and also that the purpose of them is to work “in all of them” (the members of the church) and he emphasizes that “everyone” is expected to participate. Not only a select few. As he goes on to say in the next verse:
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:7)
Here, he re-emphasizes that “each one” is given the spiritual gift “for the common good” of everyone else in the church gathering.
This tells us that the spiritual gifts are not to edify or build up the person using the gift, but to lovingly bless and minister to everyone else in the church fellowship. Therefore, the spiritual gifts are “in all of them” and “everyone” is gifted to be a blessing “for the common good” of their brothers and sisters.
Notice that Paul doesn’t say that the manifestations of the Spirit are given for a select few, or to one man, but to “everyone” and that “each one” receives a different gift in order to be a gift to everyone else. This is the groundwork for an open meeting of Christians.
After listing a series of spiritual gifts that might be given to the members (“Message of wisdom”, “faith”, “gifts of healing”, etc.), Paul again says:
“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Cor. 12:11)
Just in case we’ve forgotten, Paul reminds us that “each one” receives a gift from God in the church in order to facilitate the work of the Spirit in the church when they gather.
Next, Paul goes on to explain that the Body (which is a metaphor for how the Church should function), is one, even though it is made up of many parts. He then takes time to illustrate how the church is designed on purpose to be a group of very different sorts of people. Not a homogenous cookie-cutter group of clones, but a gathering of people who are not like one another. He talks about how those who are “feet” cannot say they are not part of this body because they are not like the “hands”, and he goes on to stress that the “eyes” cannot kick out the “hands” because they are different. Therefore, differences are to be expected – even celebrated – and this is because the variety is part of what makes us a body of many parts. He closes the chapter by saying:
“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor. 12:24-27)
This is really only the ground work for what an open meeting of believers should look like. Paul explains how the gifts of the Spirit are distributed to everyone in the Church using the metaphor of a Body that is made up of different parts that serve different functions, and he makes the point that these parts are all essential for the life of the Body.
This means that if you are a follower of Christ, you have a spiritual gift from God. It means you have a very crucial role to play in the growth and development of the Church family where you are a member. It means that you matter. You are important. We need you, and you need all of us.
What I find fascinating is that Paul follows this chapter about how a gathering of believers can operate like a Body with an entire chapter on love. He does this twice more in Ephesians 4 and in Romans 12. Every time Paul talks about spiritual gifts in the Body, the very next thing he talks about is love. Why? Because the gifts are given in love, and they only work if we use them out of love to bless the brothers and sisters we love in order to help them to grow into the image of Christ who is love.
Later, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul returns to this idea of how everyone in the Body is expected to operate together for the common good, saying:
“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Cor. 14:26)
Again, Paul returns to the theme he laid out in chapter 12. The command is, “When you come together, each of you” uses their God-given gifts for the common good. Why? Because, as Paul goes on to say, this kind of symbiotic sharing of love and ministry is essential and “must be done so that the church may be built up.”
This isn’t an optional method for gathering that Paul outlines for us here. Paul is emphatic that “each one” of us should use our gifts “for the common good” and that it “must be done” for the “church” to be “built up”.
You can quickly see how a Pastor-centric church will never operate in this way as Paul describes. Because with a professional expert in the room, everyone will always turn to that person and wait for instructions. But, Paul doesn’t make any room for this aberration. Nor does anyone else in the New Testament scriptures.
An open meeting embraces Paul’s instructions here and in other passages to operate as a true body where Christ is the head (Eph. 4:15) – the only head – and we all “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21)
In our next article we’ll look at what an open meeting looks like in practice.