The Wisdom of Difference among the Disciples of Christ

Keisha E. McKenzie

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“And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: And Simon he surnamed Peter; And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house. And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread… There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” —Mark 3:14-20, 31-35

All three of the synoptic gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, contain a few, well-placed lists that it’s tempting to skip past.

In Mark 3, Jesus is introducing himself to Judaea’s demon-possessed and scribes. The multitude presses in to see him, and his relatives demand he come out to meet them. That’s when Mark throws up a “Take Five” sign and lists some of his disciples, including some characters he has already described. Matthew and Luke also list Jesus’s ancestors: Matthew follows the line from Abraham and David by way of Ruth and Bathsheba to Joseph, while Luke tracks backward all the way to “Adam, [who] was of God.”

The gospel writers often discuss the disciples as a bloc: they are the group that doesn’t grasp Jesus’ stories, or that cannot correctly identify his role in history, or that falls into a post-dinner nap during his final prayer meeting. We don’t have many details about the disciples’ private meetings, though. If we did, we might know more about how Jesus the Master Teacher managed his diverse inner circle—not just the named twelve and Lazarus whom he loved, but also the women who funded and fed the group as it journeyed around the region—Mary the Magdalene, Susanna, Joanna, Mary, and Martha. [i]

Had the gospel writers thought to make this part of the early believers’ story explicit, we’d now have the scoop on how Jesus navigated the disciples’ latent power dynamics: just how did he inspire a large group of strong-opinioned people to get along and learn together without once resorting to homicide?

“There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, ‘Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.’ And he answered them, saying, ‘Who is my mother, or my brethren?’ And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, ‘Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.’”

From the very start, Jesus took his group of friends, and before he instructed them as delegates of his kingdom, he called them his family: Jesus made siblings out of Joanna, Levi, Simon, and Judas Iscariot. Whereas we often say, “Blood is thicker than water,” Jesus lived the saying, “God that made the world and all things therein… hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” [ii] From the perspective of the Creator, even as our times and locations vary, we share the same root. It’s our root, our “one blood,” that determines our value.

And yet we’re so very different too.

A civil servant’s wife, a tax collector, a Zealot, and an assassin start the Reign of God on Earth.

According to Josephus, Zealots were a group of Jews who were aligned with the Pharisees, resented Roman occupation, valued the observance of Moses’ law, resisted Caesar’s deification, and felt called to get the Romans out of the Promised Land by any means necessary. The Sicarii, anti-imperialists even more violent than the Zealots, murdered both Romans and Jews to protest occupation and warn would- be collaborators to support the resistance. Several sources link Judas to this group: either he was a member himself or his father was, and we now know him by the Sicarii’s name as well as by his own.

The very same “family” that contained Simon and Judas also contained a tax collector and the spouse of the man who ran King Herod’s household. At that time, tax collectors like Levi (Matthew) were considered national traitors. Their job was to ensure that the occupied people paid their dues to Caesar, Herod, and the empire’s men in the Temple, and many of them combined greed with power in ways that guaranteed hate and distrust. Similarly, there’s no one more complicit with corrupt colonialism than those who tend house for the colonial governor. Running the governor’s home was the family business that brought Joanna her wealth.

If we ever need motivation to get over our ethnic, political, theological, gender-related, or sexuality- based biases, power imbalances, and wholly unnecessary conflicts, we should be able to find it in Jesus’s example of heterogeneity here.

Someone who knows everything doesn’t need more perspectives or more humility. But Jesus modeled the practice of both.

The praise hymn in Philippians 2 tells us that God emptied Godself, and in humility took on the embodied, particular, time-bound, enculturated experience of being a young, male, Jewish human who grew, taught, healed, and died under the gaze of a repressive, imperial, pre-industrial military force. [iii]

Then, as today, being fully embodied means being located in time and space and being unable to wholly escape either of them. It means being gendered, sexed, and rooted in one’s socio-cultural contexts— ethnicities, class, religion, sect, and language groups. Incarnation literally limits one’s perspective.

The best way for me to illustrate this limiting is to recommend browsing the Scale of the Universe visualization site. As you click through the Scale, imagine nearly the entire visible universe being pushed into the indistinct distance: only patches of your surroundings remain perceptible to you. We can directly perceive 2-12 miles around us depending on the weather and an unobstructed view, and we can’t see anything smaller than a human egg without help from technology. Not much is closer to our eyes than the mirrors we use to look at ourselves, and yet we still “see through a glass darkly.”

In and through this embodied life, then, we don’t perceive much on our own. Fortunately, we don’t have to try.

The single best way to counter the limits of private perspective is to initiate and maintain active, learning relationships with a heterogeneous group of peers. That is what the disciples were to the incarnate Lord. It’s also what we can be for each other.

Our groups, our churches, our friendships, and relationships are all opportunities for us to practice perceiving the world with one another. We practice giving and receiving and building on a multiplicity of perceptions and experiences as we sit around the common table that our Master Teacher has called each of us to join.

We share our perceptions and experiences—the world as we can best sense it from wherever in life we stand—not so that we can draw over the rainbows of creation with one, two, or three approved colors and blot out the rest. We share with each other, muddling through incomprehension and misunderstanding, so that out of the diversity of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, the fullest and complex image of God can finally be seen through all of us, God’s very own. “We, too, are His offspring.”

Libraries could be written about the challenges and pitfalls involved in being part of a heterogeneous group. But perhaps for now it’s enough to recognize that Christ seeded heterogeneous community in this world during his lifetime, and it wasn’t an idealistic error; it was an act of wisdom.

  1. How much of your holiday time did you spend with people from your family of origin or chosen families? Which views of the world do you share with those people?
  2. How much of your holiday time did you spend in heterogeneous spaces? What kinds of differences became obvious to you as you observed and talked with others?
  3. Think of the most challenging difference you’ve encountered in the last month. What, if anything, does that Other teach you about the universe you share? What, if anything, might you have taught that other person through your life or views?

 

i Luke 8:1-3 “And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.” “Substance” here means possessions or wealth.
ii Acts 17: 24-28. Paul uses Greek poetry and philosophy to introduce the Athenians to God and Christ.
iii Philippians 2:5-11: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The Anatomy of an Open Meeting; Part 5 of 5

ANATOMY OF AN OPEN MEETING: What Leaders Do?

BY KEITH GILES

Part 5: OTHER FUNCTIONS OF A LEADER IN AN ORGANIC CHURCH

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In this, our final installment, we’ll talk about a variety of things that leaders (or “elders”) in the open meeting or new testament church should be prepared to do, as-needed.

Making Disciples

The purpose of the Church is to disciple others to follow Christ and to obey everything that He commands. Obedience to Christ, then, is critical to the life of the Body, and our gatherings together should be one of the primary places we learn how to follow Christ together on a daily basis.

Discipleship, I believe, is not always a leader/student arrangement where the mature Christian is teaching the baby Christian how to follow Christ. Not that it can’t be that way, of course, but I don’t believe it’s the only way we make disciples.

In our house church family I’ve found that a by-product of our fellowship together is a sort of constant discipleship where the Body works together to help everyone else follow Christ daily. It’s an ongoing reality where we are learning together how to follow Christ personally.

Dealing with Conflict

As an elder in the Body of Christ, one of our roles is to deal with conflict when it arises. It might be an argument between individuals in the group, or it might a divisive person who stirs things up, or it might be a disagreement over an issue of doctrine or a point of contention over a practice in the Body.

Our group has had a variety of these issues over the last six years. Sometimes the issues are trivial, and other times they are challenging. As always, spend time on your knees asking the Lord how to proceed. Remember, Jesus is the one who is building His church, not you or I. Always, continually, submit everything to Jesus and allow Him to move and to lead your church family through this process of healing and reconciliation.

Discipline

Sometimes, a leader might have to confront a member who needs to be disciplined, and for that I recommend a group of elders within the Body who are motivated by love and full of wisdom and Godly insight. The goal is always reconciliation and restoration. Be as discreet and private as possible as long as the person is cooperative and repentant. Only take things to the entire church body as a very last resort, and then again, only with the desire to bring repentance, reconciliation and restoration.

Guarding your Family

Sometimes there are predators who come into your church family and you need to have discernment to recognize them and move quickly to remove them. This might involve meeeting with them in person to let them know why you’re asking them to leave, or you might need to pull them aside and give them a warning if you think they just need a friendly reminder to change their behaviors.

The kinds of behaviors we need to be wary of are those who cause division or strife in the Body:

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” (Romans 16:17)
Also look out for those who seek to have their way or to run the show. If this is something that you’re not called to do, then it’s certainly not something that anyone else has the right to do:

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” (3 John 1:8-10)

Rather than allow one person to have their way and drive others out of the church, you should step in with other elders and ask this person to leave if they cannot fellowship without throwing their weight around.
You, of course, need to watch out for people who claim to be Christians but who are actually not following Jesus at all. As Paul explains:
“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Cor. 5:11)
What Paul means, literally, is that we should not allow these people to gather with us when we eat and fellowship as a Church.
As always, the goal is reconciliation and restoration in the Body, not to damage people or to condemn people. So, if you’re doing this right, no one else in the

Body will ever know that you’ve met with anyone to discuss anything because you’re honoring the people you love, not engaging in gossip or slander.
Again, this is not about control. We don’t want our church fellowships to be about making people act like us or think like us. Please don’t use this as a license to police the behaviors of your church family.

Defend the Liberty of Everyone

This one, to me, is the most difficult but one of the most important things to remember in an open meeting. In our church family we like to say that “everyone is in process” and this means that we’re all coming from different denominational backgrounds and we’re all at different levels of maturity in various areas of our walk with Christ.
This means that we do not ever attempt to get everyone else in the Body to agree with us on every point of doctrine. Our group does not have any Statement of Faith for this very reason. Our only criteria for gathering together, and for accepting people into this Body is simply this: “Do you love Jesus? Are you actually seeking to follow Him in your daily life?” And if your answer is “Yes” then you are welcome to be a member of this Body.

All we ask is that you don’t attempt to change us to believe what you believe and we promise not to try to change you to believe what we believe.

This simple attitude of liberty has allowed our group of former Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc. to fellowship together for over six years without heated arguments over doctrine. We gather only to seek Jesus together and to help everyone else in the group to follow Him in their daily lives.

Unless you want to create a church that is full of people who act and think and believe just exactly the way you do (and to me that’s a nightmare), I encourage you to learn how to disagree agreeably and to major on Christ when you come together, not on this or that little pet doctrine or theory.

You’ll not only learn things from people who think different from you, you’ll also fulfill Christ’s desire that everyone in His Body be one, even as He and the Father are one. Our unity isn’t based on agreement on doctrines, but on our sincere love for Christ alone.
Did I miss anything? If you’ve got any further questions about anything I’ve talked about in this series, please leave a comment below. I’m open!

The Anatomy of an Open Meeting; Part 4 of 5

Anatomy of an Open Meeting: Creating Experts?

BY KEITH GILES

Part 4: THE DANGER OF CREATING HEROES AND EXPERTS

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I’ve written about this before on my blog and shared my concerns about elevating leaders within the House Church/Organic Church movement to become our own versions of “Pastors” and “Bishops”. If we do that we’ve now become as guilty as the rest of the traditional church we left behind in order to pursue Christ as our only Head.

This is a two way street, by the way. It can be the Leader who seeks the fame and the name, or it can be the people who seek after a guru who will tell them what to believe and how to behave. Or, it can be a little of both.

As someone whose personal sin is Pride, I have to admit that I’m very aware of this tendency in myself and I work very hard to sit in the background of our own church family and not take the Lord’s place in the Body. I used to limit myself to only two “soap box moments” every meeting. Then my goal was to try not to share a comment on what every person shared during the meeting (which created a sort of conversational ping-pong where someone would share and then I would comment and then another person would share and then I would comment again, etc.). Now my goal is to keep silent unless the Lord really prompts me to share something. Otherwise, I sit quietly and I listen.

I know that sometimes people who read my blog or my books will visit our house church and they’ll expect that I’ll have some cool teaching to share every time. But that’s not what happens. If anything, I’ll rarely talk at all unless the Lord has given me something to teach or to share.

I’ll never forget when one brother visited our group for the first time after reading my blog. He came on a Thursday evening and after I played the guitar during the shared worship time, I got up and left the room. He told me later that he thought it was very weird that I would do that, but the group didn’t miss a beat and people were sharing and teaching and praying for one another spontaneously without me in the room. Eventually he did notice that I had returned to the room when I spoke up and shared something, but until that moment he was oblivious to my presence, which is sort of the point, really.

My goal is really to encourage everyone else to share. I really want to hear what my two teenage boys have to say. I want to hear from those quiet wives who

never speak out. I want hear what that five year old boy has to say about Jesus. Those are always the most profound things, really. I’ve learned so much from the most unlikely sources. It’s amazing, really.

This kind of thing is a movement of God. No man can take credit for this. When I hear from people all over the nation, and even the world, that God is leading them in this same New Testament model of “being Church” it excites me. Because we’re not moving in this direction because we read a blog or a book or attended a conference. Every one I’ve spoken to shares their story about how God did this to them. God called them to step outside the traditional model of Church and they obeyed Him and followed His leading, even at a great cost – usually friendships, or salaries, or the respect of others, etc. But when I hear those testimonies I rejoice because I know that God is purifying His Bride and He’s doing something marvelous that no man can dare take credit for.

In our final installment we’ll look at a few other things a leader in an open meeting might be called upon to do.

The Anatomy of an Open Meeting; Part 3 of 5

Anatomy of an Open Meeting: How Do I Lead One?

BY KEITH GILES

Part 3 - HOW DO I LEAD AN OPEN MEETING?

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This is probably the hardest thing to write about. As someone who grew up in the traditional church, was trained to be a leader in the church and has never even attended an open meeting before transitioning to an open house church model, leading others in this kind of meeting is very difficult to do.

For the first several years of our house church gatherings, I tried to encourage this sort of open meeting. Sometimes we would manage to come close, but it was years really before we started to actually have the sort of open meetings we long for.

If anything, the leader in an open meeting should begin by exercising great self- control and restraint. Honestly, a successful open meeting is more about what I don’t do than anything I do to make it successful. For example, I don’t prepare a teaching every time we gather. I don’t answer every question about the Bible that comes up. (As Neil Cole suggest, “Be the Bible Question Man, not the Bible Answer Man”). I don’t decide in advance what we’ll talk about or what we’ll study. I don’t choose the worship songs ahead of time. I don’t orchestrate the meeting. I don’t fill the awkward silences with noise. I don’t create a dependency on myself. I don’t lead the communion time. I don’t have a follow-up or illustration to wrap up everyone else’s testimony or scripture verse.

So, once we know what we don’t want to do, what is it that we should be doing? For starters, we should spend time in prayer before the meeting to ask the Lord Jesus to reveal Himself and have His way in the gathering. We should allow everyone a chance to speak. We should make sure the quietest person in the room is invited to share something, if they would like to. We should respect the opinions of others, even if they are not our own. We should learn how to disagree agreeably, which is all about your focus. If your focus is on Jesus then you won’t get distracted so easily by disagreements on doctrine.

We should try to keep the group focused on Jesus if things begin to stray off the mark. We should learn to ask intelligent and insightful questions more than we bring clever answers to show our intelligence. We should find ways to bless everyone else in the group. We should pray during the meeting for the Lord to speak, and to move, and to have His way, and to reveal His heart to everyone. We should listen to the Holy Spirit if He prompts us to stop and pray for someone

in need, or to sit quietly and listen for His voice, or to sing another song to respond to something inspiring we’ve just heard someone share with us. We should allow others to lead the group as they hear from the Lord. We should not see ourselves as leaders filling a position of authority but as servants fulfilling Christ’s command to serve others in love.

Overall, the leaders of an open meeting should be seen and almost never heard unless it’s necessary.

Granted, there are times when a visitor, or even a regular member, might become hostile, or attempt to take over the group or monopolize the share time. That’s when the leaders in the Body need to defend everyone else in the group and lovingly suggest that there might be someone else who would like to share something. If that doesn’t work, you might need to pull this person aside after the meeting and explain to them how an open meeting is designed to work and why it’s better if they take time to listen more than they share so that others can participate and everyone can grow together.

In our next installment of this series we’ll discuss the danger of creating heroes and experts within the Body of Christ.

The Anatomy of an Open Meeting; Part 2 of 5

Anatomy of an Open Meeting: What does it look like?

BY KEITH GILES

Part 2 - WHAT DOES AN OPEN MEETING LOOK LIKE?

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Essentially, what we try to do is to come together and “take hold of Christ” as a Body. In other words, try to imagine that your church was sitting together in someone’s living room and suddenly Jesus walks in the door and stands in the center of the room.

Would you guys keep talking to one another about the weather, or sports, or even Bible verses? Hopefully you’d all sit quietly and lean forward to hear what Jesus wanted to say to you. You’d talk to Him, not to each other. You’d meet with Him, not have a meeting about Him while He watched. That’s basically what we’re trying to do every time we meet.

Now, it might look different each time. And sometimes, honestly, we’re better at it than at other times. But, usually our times together go something like this:

Some of us meet about thirty minutes early for prayer before the meeting starts. A brother once noted that an open meeting requires more prayer together, not less. This is because an open meeting is led by the Spirit, not by any one person or persons. Everyone is invited to this prayer time, but no one has to come if they don’t want to.

After prayer everyone else shows up for a shared, potluck breakfast together. Eating is an essential ingredient, I believe. It helps us to get to know one another and to be together without being pretentious. It’s also how we build community and find out what people are like, what they’re going through, etc. Real ministry can take place during the meal times, or we can just laugh together and eat some great food. Either way it’s worth the investment of time. Plus, it’s based on the practice of the earliest Christians:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…” (Acts 2:46)

Eventually we’ll finish eating and gather around the sofas and set out the communion elements and wait quietly for a while to pray together before we start singing songs. The singing is always suggested by the members of the Body, or anyone in the room. We have a set of worship songs put together in a songbook format, and we also have a set of old Baptist Hymnals. Or someone can bring a CD with a song to share, or they can just start singing a song that they love accappella and either teach it to all of us, or let those who know it join in.

There’s lots of flexibility, as you’ll notice. We’re very conscious of the fact that we’re not putting on a show. We’re not trying to shush the children or keep to a program. We just try to allow the Holy Spirit to move however He likes and get out of His way.

During the singing time someone might feel led to read a scripture out loud, or to pray for someone else in the group, or to call out to God in thanksgiving and praise. We never know how that might work, but we’re open to whatever happens.

I think this can only work if you’re with a group of people, a family of believers, that you can trust. You have to know that everyone in that meeting cares for you and loves you. They’re not trying to control you or to manipulate you. Over the last six years we’ve been developing that level of trust together and it’s great, really.

Eventually we’ll move from the singing and prayer time to “open share time” where everyone (young, old, male, female, visitor, regular, etc.) is free to share with everyone else what God has been teaching them during the week, or to share something that the Lord spoke to them during worship, etc. But not everyone has to share. It’s ok to be quiet and listen, too.

Transition from the singing to the open share time is very fluid and sometimes we’ll drift back into singing songs again, or spend the whole time praying for one another, or maybe share with one another over a single passage of scripture, or a variety of scriptures if there are a lot of people who have something to share. It varies week to week.

What I really love is when the seemingly random verses and testimonies that each person brings suddenly begin to emerge as a complete teaching on a single topic. Sometimes someone will say, “What is Jesus trying to teach us this morning?” and we’ll realize “Oh, it’s about letting go and trusting Him” or “It’s about forgiveness”, and then we’ll try to respond to Him and thank Him for teaching us this lesson as a Body.

Our meetings usually run from about 9am for morning prayer to around 1pm or so. Sometimes it goes to 2pm but usually 12:30pm to 1pm. We usually end with Communion together and sing a song before we depart.

Now, even though this is our usual meeting format, what I love about an organic church is that we always have freedom to change things around whenever the Lord directs us to.

In the past, we’ve had gatherings where everyone creates artwork together, or perhaps we hear a testimony from someone, or sometimes we’ll hear a teaching by someone who brings a study on a particular topic or book of the Bible. Sometimes we’ll meet in a park together, or spend all of our time in worship and prayer.

Breaking our liturgy and embracing our freedom in Christ to do something different is important to the life of the Body.

One of my favorite times was when we asked the children to lead our meeting. They all sat together and we waited to see what they would do. Then one of them said, “Ok, does anyone have something to share with the group today?”

It was so wonderful because they had learned from us that to lead a meeting is to ask questions and invite others to share. How cool is that?

Next installment, we’ll discuss how to lead or facilitate an open meeting.

The Anatomy of an Open Meeting; Part 1 of 5

BY KEITH GILES

Part 1 of 5

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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.