Another aspect of becoming established is knowing where we fit in His body. This is perhaps a greater challenge than blessing our city. Why? Think about how most congregations function when compared with what I am sharing below. Is how much of our church life has developed a good thing?
The key new testament verse on the functioning of congregational life is below.
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. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NKJV)
Paul further says,
27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 1 Corinthians 14:27-32 (NKJV)
Granted, the house churches in the first century were smaller than many of our congregations (until the 4th century under Constantine the common expression of the church was house churches). That aside, there are a number of principles above. First, when we gather as the body we are expected to bring something. Secondly, a plurality of gifts should be expressed – we need one another has to offer.
The practice of creating space for people to exercise their gifts helps people grow in them. Making space for gifts was the fruit of Paul’s teaching. Lest we think this was abnormal and a plurality of gifts need to be curtailed, read 1 Corinthians carefully. Many view the Corinthian church through the lens of excess, which is simply poor exegesis. While there was excess and aberration in how gifts were expressed, Paul’s response to the many and varied uses of spiritual gifts was not to try and curtail them. Paul focused on trying to get the Corinthians to use their gifts properly while at the same time encouraging an even greater use of them (see 1 Cor. 14:1, 40).
What Paul encouraged was the exercise of gifts by many in the body in the context of corporate discernment; a practice that helps shape and refine one another. Functioning this way requires knowing one another’s gifts, creating space for their use, dialogue when the body gathers, and the exercise of spiritual leadership.
I strongly believe that we as the church need to once again be established in this type of functioning on a broad scale to see the body grow up into Christ (Eph. 4:9-16). We once again need to see His rule in His church on a broad scale. I recognize that for this to happen significant change will be required in our familiar cultural constructs. So be it. He is the head and He wants His body back and has every right to take it!
In closing, I believing we need to function in our gifts and calling to feel whole and complete. I recently watched the classic film Chariots of Fire after having not seen it since it was released decades ago. The key character is Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner who later died on the mission field in China. Eric’s story was made famous not so much for his speed as for his stand. He was one of the favorites to win the gold medal in the 100 meters in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. However he refused to run in the heats because they were held on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. He ended up being entered in the 400 meters and won the gold medal.
Leading up to the Olympics Jenny, the love of his life outside of the Lord, tried to dissuade him from running and to focus on mission work. His response is a famous quote and is featured in the movie. “Jenny, God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” (It works best if you hear it with a Scottish accent). Do you want to feel His pleasure? Love Him and learn to function in what He has called you to. It will bring pleasure to both!