What is the purpose of the church when it gathers together? I have been revisiting this question through the posts by Alan Knox on his blog.
While I would personally love to see mutual edification in the form of Bible Study and encouraging one another dominate all gatherings, this is a personal preference and not something I find commands for in Scripture. Certainly, there are numerous examples that the early church did something like this in their gatherings, but just because the early church did something does not mean that we must do it also.
Two of the favorite passages trotted out to defend the idea of mutual edification as the commanded purpose for church gatherings are 1 Corinthians 14:26 and Hebrews 10:25. I’ve done extensive studies on both, and while I can’t post all the research here, let me summarize my findings.
In my commentary on 1 Corinthians, I introduced the section of 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 with this:
Paul is not providing a prescription for how all teaching in all churches must be conducted. To the contrary, when it is recognized that in Paul’s surviving letters to the Corinthians, he nowhere addresses elders, this section is best seen as a description of how a church could get it’s teaching when there are no trained and qualified elders to perform the teaching. In Paul’s other letters, when he is providing correction or instruction, he always addresses the elders, and calls upon them to lead their church in the direction he advises.
I go on to point out that this in no way limits the participation of all members of the church, but rather expands and magnifies it. Regardless, the instructions Paul gives to the Corinthian believers cannot be universally applied to all believers everywhere throughout time. It is not a universal command. His instruction is for a specific group of believers in Corinth about 2000 years ago who were dealing with some very specific issues.
So how about Hebrews 10:25? I recently made a post on this for the book I’m writing, and you can read more there, but here is the summary:
So what does Hebrews 10:25 teach? It is telling believers to fulfill their God-given purpose, and encourage others to do the same. And what is this purpose? Each person has their own unique purpose in God’s plan, but the general purpose for us all is to live life and love others like Jesus. Sitting in a building for two hours on Sunday morning may not be the best way to accomplish this purpose. This may be helpful for some, but not for all. To allow people to fulfill their purpose, we must set them free from the man-made requirement of “attending church.”
Bottom line, I’m not really arguing with Alan Knox. I have really enjoyed his posts, and I encourage all my readers to add him to their Blog Reader. Like Alan, I would personally love to see mutual edification as the main function and goal of all gatherings of believers. And I suppose it could be, depending on how you define “mutual edification.”
Is “mutual edification” happening when two believers go volunteer at the homeless shelter, or work together to raise support and awareness for human trafficking? I think so, but such things are never mentioned (that I’m aware of) in the “mutual edification” passages of Scripture. If mutual edification is happening in such mission-oriented actions, then I’m all for saying that mutual edification is the purpose of gathering as believers. If, however, mutual edification is limited to sitting around on couches (or in pews) to sing songs, pray, and study the Bible, I’m not sure if I can agree. I’m all for such things, but only as part of the purpose of gathering, not as the totality.
Maybe, if I could suggest it, Alan Knox could do a final post in his Mutual Edification series in which he defines the term. What is and is not “mutual edification?” Maybe he kind of already did in his “Principle” post.
But what do you think the term means? When you think of “mutual edification” what comes to mind?