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Sharing Christ with One Another . . . Not Listening to a Pulpit Monologue Jon Zens Although I have problems with some of William Barclay’s views, the following observations on Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14, taken from his The Letters to the Corinthians [1], may be the best concise summary of...

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“That You All Agree” (1 Cor.1:10): Discernment, Dialogue & Decision-Making in the Church: Part I

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 29-02-2012

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Decision Making.

One of the most basic elements in the fabric of church life is decision-making. Every church makes decisions (even not making a certain decision in itself still constitutes a “decision”). Churches decide such things as when to meet, who will be received into the church, how to use church funds, who will teach, and how they will be governed. Yet it is precisely in the area of decision-making that most churches are totally untrained and unprepared, The inability to resolve conflict is a central reason why churches are splitting at epidemic levels.

Two key reasons why churches split are (1) the lack of participation by the whole congregation in decision-making, and (2) the refusal of the leadership and/or congregation to confront problems, which then repeat themselves in the future (Wayne Kiser, “Church Splits,” Evangelical Newsletter, 9:6, March 19, 1982).

The most important thing a church must learn in its life as a body is how to work through things together. To put it in the language of 1 Cor.1:10, we must learn “how to agree.”

1 Cor.1:10 — “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

The Corinthian believers had a serious problem: they were clustering around personalities, which then caused divisions. To solve this problem, Paul appeals to them “to agree” about the sinfulness of this situation. If they “agreed” the divisions could no longer exist.

The participle in verse10 is significant (katartismenoi). It is from the same verb used in Eph.4:12, translated there as ‘‘equip” or “prepare.” It is the verb used when the disciples were “mending” their nets (Matt.4:21; Mark 1:19). We could loosely translate the verb as “mending with a view toward rendering something functional again.” This idea emerges in Gal.6:1 (“restore such a one” ).

As used in the context of 1 Cor.1:10, I think we can see an important implication of being “perfectly united”: it is implied that the Corinthians must work through this matter with a view toward finally “agreeing.”

A process which results in unity is in view. What elements would comprise such a process in church life? At a minimum, discernment and dialogue among the members are necessary in order to accomplish decision-making in unity.

Discernment.

All in the believing community are “anointed” by the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20,27). While “anointing” was limited to a few under the old covenant, the entire priesthood experiences “anointing” under the new covenant.

The “anointing” equips and enables all Christians to “test” and ‘‘discern” (1 John 4:1; Phil.1:10; 1 Thess.5:21; Rom.12:2; Eph. 5:10). The church is, therefore, first of all a discerning community. They are capable of ascertaining God’s will.

This fact is too often not taken seriously. It is usually assumed that churches are incapable of discerning the truth. This is demonstrated in practice by shifting the nexus of decision-making from the body-at- large to the pastor or a board. For example, Abraham Kuyper removes “the right to judge” from the congregation and asserts that “the administrative authority over the church rests not with the members, but properly with the presbyters” (“Pamphlet on the Reformation of the Church,” The Standard Bearer, October 1, 1979, p.14).

But Jesus asserted that “the church” was capable of making judgements (Matt.18:17), and Paul echoes this in 1 Cor. 5 and 6 where the congregation is encouraged to “judge” concerning matters affecting the body of Christ.

The elders will be an important part of the “discerning” process in the body, but the N.T. will not sustain the idea that elders are the process itself. It is arbitrary for Jay Adams to equate “take it to the church” with “take it to the elders” who then forgive or excommunicate, and such a notion is informed more by presuppositions than by the text itself (Ready to Forgive, pp.3-4).

Dialogue.

In order for the church to be “perfectly united,” a high level of communication must be cultivated in the church. To come to one mind and one accord requires open conversation among the brethren. J.L. Burkholder’s words touch the nerve of what has to be one of the greatest needs in churches today:

The mode of dokimazein [testing] is conversation. One is tempted to say that nothing is more crucial to the prophetic community than the quality of its conversation within the koinonia. The community which is organised to “test the spirits” must be a community in which conversation is both free and required. The prophetic community is one in which each individual is viewed as a channel of the Holy Spirit.

John R. W. Stott states that in preaching “a silent dialogue is going on between the mind of the preacher and the minds of the congregation” (Wittenburg Door, Oct. – Nov., 1983, p.17). I suggest that in light of 1 Cor.14: 29, it would be healthy to have verbal dialogue between the teachers and those who are taught: “let the others discern.” Conclusion: ‘Oi alloi’ [the others] refers to the entire congregation.

The preceding arguments have shown several serious difficulties in attempting to place any restriction on ‘oi alloi,’ and have provided reasons for letting the phrase have reference to the whole church. As a prophet was speaking, each member of the congregation would listen carefully, evaluating the prophecy in light of the Scripture and the authoritative teaching he already knew to be true. Soon there would be an opportunity to speak in response, with the wise and mature no doubt making the most contribution. But no member of the body would have needed to feel useless (cf. 1 Cor.12:22), for every member at least silently would weigh and evaluate what was said (Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Cor., p.62).

Written by Jon Zens

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