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The Christian Assembly

 The following paper is the final assignment for a course that I am taking to complete an undergraduate degree at Horizon College & Seminary. The course I am taking is B263 1&2 Corinthians tahght by Adam Z. Wright Ph.D (Cand.).



In 1 Corinthians 14:26—33 we have a passage of scripture that provides an important discourse on the Christian “church” meeting. In these verses the apostle Paul concludes a discussion that began in Chapter 12 with a final practical application of the use of spiritual gifts in the assembly of believers. What we find is a practical example of mutual participation and the building up of the body that is hardly present in the contemporary (western) church.

In this passage and its preceding verses we catch a glimpse of what it must have been like to gather with believers in the early church. There was no apparent program or liturgy and the meetings were spontaneous. The manifestation of the Spirit through a diversity of gifts was the dominating factor for the edification of the body. The pattern of the New Testament church was a community where Christ and the Sprit are distinguishing features, that is, the grace of Christ and the charisms given by His Spirit, with all that that involved.[1]

When we study the New Testament we learn about the early church and that a great deal of what we presently do on Sunday mornings more resembles the traditions and practices from pagan culture in the post apostolic period.[2] What we observe is that the majority of Christian meetings in the contemporary church hardly resemble that of the New Testament:

If the truth be told, we Christians never seem to ask why we do what we do. Instead, we blithely carry out our religious traditions without asking where they came from. Most Christians who claim to uphold the integrity of God’s Word have never sought to see if what they do every Sunday has any scriptural backing. How do we know this? Because if they did, it would lead them to some very disturbing conclusions that would compel them by conscience to forever abandon what they are doing.[3]

We must refer to the New Testament scriptures as the source of authoritative instruction related to church function and there is no better passage that examines the way the first churches met and conducted their gatherings then Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 12-14. We will begin by looking at the context of the church meeting followed by an examination of what happens when the believers “come together” (14:26). Through this study we will learn valuable information that will aid in our understanding of the vibrant New Testament church meeting.

The Context of the Meeting: 1 Corinthians 12&13

The participants are Christian. “No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4). Those who shared in the fellowship and community of the New Testament church were those who had made a personal confession of “Jesus is Lord” under the inspiration of the Spirit (12:3). This confession was not with meaningless words, but one that “declares absolute allegiance to Him and accepts His absolute authority over every aspect of life”.[4]

Paul advises that this confession is only possible through the help of the Holy Spirit and therefore all who make this sincere confession are spiritual. In the Corinthian church there were those who considered themselves more spiritual because they possessed distinct spiritual gifts and thus set apart from the rest of the body.[5] However, Paul at the start of this discussion makes it clear that “All who are in Christ have entered the realm of the Spirit, and no one should be despised”.[6] From these verses it is clear that those who participated in the New Testament church were spirit filled Christians, no longer pagan or led astray by “mute idols” (12:2) and completely devoted to the Lord Jesus and his church.

The Participants are charismatic. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (12:7). “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines” (12:11). A charism by definition is “the result of God’s gracious act; it is divine grace come to effect and expression in word or deed”.[7] Paul’s most common usage is in reference to charisms for the assembly.[8] The grace gifts of the Spirit, also known as “manifestation (phanerosis) of the Spirit” were for the common God of the church (12:7).

Paul provides a representation of these gifts in verses 8-10 that reflects the Corinthian situation with no intention of providing an exhaustive list or systematic discussion.[9] There are many “gifts of grace” besides the gifts prophecy and speaking in tongues and Paul puts the Corinthians favorites at the end of the list. This was to emphasise the point that not just the public (inspired) speaker receives the groups attention and respect when compared to the gallery of listeners.[10] In today’s setting perhaps we would compare this to the “pastor” or “preacher” as the one who uses his gift with the exclusion of all the other “spectators” in the congregation.

The Participants are members of one body. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (12:12). Paul uses a metaphor of the human body to illustrate how “the functioning of each part contributes to the health of the whole, to show that in the church, ‘the body of Christ’, a variety of endowments and ministries was necessary for the general well-being”.[11] They are interdependent on each other each relying on the other in order to remain as part of the whole (body). This is something that is difficult for us to understand today: “Each part of the body has a unique function that gives it worth. In a capitalistic society the corporate model is extremely powerful and tends to dominate the way the church thinks of itself. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if contemporary Western church took Paul’s model seriously?”[12]

By making a contribution in the body, the believer experiences the life giving flow of the Holy Spirit (v. 13). “What draws and keeps the believer’s together for Paul was not simply a common membership of a congregation, but the common experience of the Sprit. It was the awareness that their experience of the Spirit was one in which others had also shared which provided the bond of mutual understanding and sympathy”.[13]

The experience of the Spirit was a distinct characteristic of the New Testament church, “we were all given the one Spirit to drink” implies “a much greater experiential and visibly manifest reception of the Spirit than many have tended to experience in subsequent church history”.[14]

In verse 18 we are advised that God chooses the parts and this is important, “Assuming Middle Eastern traditional culture, if the parts of the body were free to choose their own functions, every part of the body would be an eye, a right hand or a head, and the body would die”.[15]

The Participants are consumed by love. “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:4). In chapter thirteen, in the middle of encouraging the use of spiritual gifts for the edification of the body, Paul points the Corinthians towards the context in which all these things are to happen: “the way of love”.[16] Love (agape) is the underlying attitude of everything that is done or said within the church of Jesus Christ. It is the command given by the Lord himself, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13).

This kind of love must be understood through the lens of the cross, “Though God and Christ are not mentioned, the cross of Christ as the manifestation of God’s love for the world is the central defining reality for Paul’s understanding of agape. He is speaking not about some human virtue but about love that is rooted in God’s love in Christ”.[17] Only when love is the focus and the motivation will the church be capable of functioning as it should, “Love is the most excellent way for a Christian to use his spiritual gifts”.[18] “Otherwise, they are meaningless, no matter how sublime and admirable they may seem to be”.[19]

The Participants seek to prophecy and edify the body. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3). As a manifestation of the Spirit (12:10) there is the potential for any believer to prophecy and speak under the inspiration of the Spirit in the assembly of the saints. In fact Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “eagerly desire” the gift of prophecy (14:1). The early Christians understood the prophecy of Joel 2:28 to have been fulfilled: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions”.

Prophecy was the gift preferred above all the others listed by Paul: “The evidence in chap. 14 indicates that it consisted of spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, intelligible messages, orally delivered in the gathered assembly, intended for the edification or encouragement of the people”.[20] It was desired over the use of unintelligible tongues (without interpretation) as it edified the church, whereas in speaking in tongues one builds himself up in seeking “spiritual fellowship with God”.[21]

The Meeting

To conclude his arguments in chapter 14, Paul provides a practical application and example of what an ideal Christian assembly should look like. Through the verses in 14:26-33 we are provided a description of what should take place at any given meeting:

26 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. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

Everyone has something to contribute (26). When the church meets, “each one has opportunity to participate in the corporate ministry of the body”.[22] Here we find the attitude very different then what is portrayed in the today’s church, “People apparently attended worship thinking about what they were going to contribute, not about what they were going to receive”.[23] Each believer was encouraged to come prepared to minister and edify the body and this would have looked radically different then what happens in a modern day church service. Four examples of individual contributions are provided:

The hymn (psalmos) was probably a reference to one of the 150 Old Testament psalms that were widely used in the early church as prayers or sacred songs of praise. Throughout the New Testament the use of the psalms was an important feature of early Christian worship.[24] There was no lengthy song service of preselected and rehearsed music performed by a talented group of musicians on a stage accompanied by a flashy light show. The singing was spontaneous, spirit led and sung from a heart full of gratitude and grace. Teaching also translated as doctrine, or a lesson in Christian truth and this, “would appear to require a sustained biblical reflection rather than something spontaneous”.[25] Possibly several teachings would occur that would assist in the spiritual growth of the many young converts of the early church. Revelation was something divinely disclosed and presented in a comprehensible language and could happen prior to or during worship. The congregation was hungry to hear from God and would listen with great expectation as the Holy Spirit moved amongst the people revealing things that needed to be shared within the body. [26]Glossolalia (tongues) within the context of the public meeting involved an utterance that had no meaning unless it was accompanied by someone who could provide interpretation so that the listeners would understand the message behind the unintelligible words: “Paul grants that speaking in tongues is a way of communicating with God (14:2) but now insists that it should become public only when someone is present to interpret what it means in plane language”.[27]

Everything must be done to edify (26–30). At the heart of edification is the manner in which the participants conduct themselves during public meetings. Paul spends a lot of time establishing guidelines for the Corinthians so that they will conduct themselves in way that will promote edification for everyone in attendance. It appears that a lot of emphasis was placed on the utterance gifts such as public displays of tongues and prophetic words. These displays were to be synchronised with other gifts such as interpretation and discernment. They were to have their place in the order of things and not dominate the meeting and therefore limitations are recommended: Two or three at a time for prophecy and two or three tongues at the most in any given meeting and only if someone interprets (27).

When a prophecy is given it is recommended that those listening “should weigh carefully what is said” (29). The congregation is not to receive everything that is said just because a person claims to speak under the influence of the Spirit, “The assumption is that the prophets do not speak with unquestionable divine authority”.[28] “No inspired utterance should be accepted as a prophecy simply because it was inspired; rather it had to be tested and evaluated”.[29]

Orderly conduct was vital to the success of the gathering and no person was to dominate the meeting, “It appears that after brief remarks by up to three prophets, they were to break into a general discussion regarding what had been said. It sounds like an informal setting with presenters and responders”.[30] It is true both now and during the time of the early church that when opportunity is given for sharing in a public meeting there will be those who try to dominate the spotlight, “In offering these guidelines, Paul may not be concerned simply to promote good ‘order’. He also may wish to check any selfish monopoly of prophecy by those who may esteem themselves as belonging to a select circle of prophets and who are used to taking center stage during worship”.[31] Even so, these guidelines did not appear to include a human moderator: “What is striking in this entire discussion is the absence of any mention of leadership or of anyone who would be responsible for seeing that these guidelines were generally adhered to. The community appears to be left to itself and the Holy Spirit. What is mandatory is that everything aim at edification.[32]

Everyone should be instructed and encouraged (v. 31—32). The meeting receives a positive evaluation on the basis that those who have attended the gathering have received something constructive: They leave having experienced the grace and presence of the Holy Spirit. They have been edified through the ministry of the body of Christ. This edification is primarily as a result of the function of prophecy and this is why Paul recommends prophecy as the gift that should be desired (14:1).

Through prophecy believers are instructed and learn something that will impact their walk with God and will help them live out the gospel in day to day life. Perhaps they came to the meeting discouraged and weary from life’s challenges and need encouragement. Encouraged (paraklontai) is a strong word and Paul uses it twenty three times in in the Corinthian correspondence alone. “The worshippers who come with their pain should find comfort. Those who are estranged should see open doors for reconciliation, and the depressed should find encouragement. Paul’s language includes all of these nuances.[33]

Everything must resemble the character and peace of God (v33). “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace”. Having given the guidelines of conduct in open Christian meetings, Paul now validates these recommendations in the very character of God, “For God himself is not characterized by, and is therefore not the cause of, disorder” and equally, “peace in the society is a mark of the presence and work of God”.[34] The peace of God is the prevailing atmosphere of all that is said and done.

The point that Paul now makes is crucial as it bases his instruction on theology and what is known about the God of peace. It was vital that a sense of harmony be evident in the Christian gathering as this was the true mark of God’s presence and manifestation. “The theological point is crucial: the character of one’s deity is reflected in the character of one’s worship”.[35] The peace that so many seek and need is truly found in God through Christ and this must be evident in the lives and assemblies of those who gather in His name.

Conclusion: All the congregations of the Lord’s people

With the concluding words in this section, “as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people” (33), Paul sets a precedence that the instruction he is giving is the standard for all the churches. His coaching was not just pertinent to the Corinthian assembly, with all of their difficulties and mistreatments in corporate practice: It was applicable to how Christian assemblies were to be conducted everywhere. The question needs to be asked: Does this apply to the modern day church? Can we gather together today in the same manner that the early church did and experience true body ministry and edification?

On many occasions I have heard disillusioned church attenders exclaim, “I did not receive anything at church today” or, “I am not being fed at the church that I attend”. Usually this is followed up with a well-meaning response by someone who advises: “you should not attend church with the attitude of receiving, but with the attitude of giving”. However, the question remains, are people provided the opportunity to contribute when they attend a church meeting? According to the passage of scripture that we have just examined, effective edification happens in the context of body ministry. Perhaps they are not receiving because there has been no occasion for the operation of spiritual gifts in the gathering? Maybe they are only permitted to take a pew as spectators, watching the few “ordained” who perform the ministry? Perhaps over time many who attend the modern day church have become obfuscated and no longer have a desire to assemble with other believers? “By and large the history of the church points to the fact that in worship we do not greatly trust the diversity of the body. Edification must always be the rule, and that carries with it orderliness so that all may learn and all be encouraged. But it is no credit to the historical church that in opting for “order” it also opted for a silencing of the ministry of the many”.[36]

In order for the church to edify itself and attain the “fullness of Christ” we must once again incorporate the diversity of gifts that all too often lay dormant and stagnated within the assembly of the church. This begins by understanding the Lord’s design of having a body made up of imperfect and interdependent members; recognizing that it was the Lord’s intention that we need one another and that each one has a part to play no matter how unimportant the part seems (12.12—31). When we come together we must also allow the Holy Spirit to lead and orchestrate His divine purposes in our gatherings, manifesting the grace of God through whomever He chooses. And finally we must make every effort to conduct ourselves in way that reflects the God in whom we serve, a God of peace and order, a God that is worthy of our adoration.

[1] James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 561.

[2] Frank Viola, and George Barna, Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of our Church Practices, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 2008), 6.

[3] Viola, Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of our Church Practices, 5.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 572.

[5] Such as speaking in tongues. See Fee, 571 ff., for further discussion.

[6] Richard Hays, First Corinthians. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 208—209.

[7] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 554.

[8] Romans 12.6; 1 Corinthians 12:4, 9, 28, 30—31

[9] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 585–86.

[10] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 562.

[11] F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 273.

[12] Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011), 342.

[13] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 562.

[14] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 605.

[15] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians, 339.

[16] The “way of love” used in 1 Corinthians 14:1.

[17] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 606.

[18] W. Harold Mare, “The Expositor’s Commentary,” Romans-Galatians, Vol. 10, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 267.

[19] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 609.

[20] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 595.

[21] Mare, Romans-Galatians, 272.

[22] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 690.

[23] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians, 406.

[24] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 658; cf. 14:14; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16

[25] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 658.

[26] Cf. 2Cor. 12:1-7; Gal. 1:12, 16; 2:2.

[27] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 658.

[28] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 662.

[29] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 557.

[30] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians, 406.

[31] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 660.

[32] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 691.

[33] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians, 407.

[34] C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013), 329.

[35] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 697.

[36] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 698.


 The following paper was submitted as an assignment for a course that I am taking to complete an undergraduate degree at Horizon College & Seminary. The course I am taking is B263 1&2 Corinthians tahght by Adam Z. Wright Ph.D (Cand.).


Introduction: The Corinthian Delusion

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines delusion as: “something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated” Other words in the dictionary that portray the same idea are illusion, hallucination, and mirage and they all mean basically the same thing: “something that is believed to be true or real but that is actually false or unreal”.[1]

In the New Testament we find a group of Christians that believed that they were wise and knowledgeable when it came to following the “way” of Jesus Christ. When we read the epistles to the Corinthians, we become painfully aware that this was not the reality. The apostle Paul, who founded the church, wrote two lengthy letters addressing several obvious areas of concern. Among others issues, there was an attitude of enlightenment in which the ‘men of the Spirit’ at Corinth placed a lot of emphasis on wisdom (Sophia) and knowledge (gnosis). They measured these qualities by the secular standards of the day, whereas the message that Paul preached, the gospel of Christ crucified, made these standards look foolish.[2] The Corinthian believers had deceived themselves into believing an illusion that they had somehow “arrived” spiritually.

Self-deception is the common fate of those who mistakenly fancy themselves wise; deluded in this, they are deluded in many other matters also…In Corinth the particular danger is that men (even within the church) may delude themselves into thinking that they are wise, because they estimate wisdom by the wrong standards. Such men need to take new standards and reverse their judgements[3]

We live at a time that is not that very different then the period of the early church. In our day we have become an increasingly “enlightened” society with vast amounts of “knowledge” (information) at our finger tips (acquired through the use of technology and the internet). We find ourselves living in what has been termed as the “Postmodern” era, where we profess a “greater understanding” of things. Truth that is defined in the bible is considered primitive or no longer relevant due to our modern advancements and sophistication.

Perhaps the church of today has fallen victim to the attitude that prevails in our world. Perhaps we have developed an exaggerated sense of pre-eminence. We have become deceived supposing that we are wise “by the standards of this age” (1 Corinthians 3.18). We have become proficient in the “eloquence or human wisdom” (2.1). The apostle Paul would respond, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1.20); “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1.18). Perhaps like the church in Corinth, we are in danger of becoming a church that is deluded and deformed?

When the apostle Paul became aware of the problems in Corinthian church he initially responded by writing a letter known today as 1 Corinthians. In this letter he uses a metaphor of a building to re-establish the correct view of the Church of Christ (Read: 1 Corinthians 3:10—17).[4] In this passage he defines three components of this building: The builders (3.10), the foundation (3.11), and the structure itself (3.12—15). By examining these three components we will have a better understanding of how and what the church of Jesus Christ should look like and hopefully avoid the delusions of our day.

The wise (master) builder: (1 Corinthians 3.10)

In this passage of scripture Paul introduces three classes of builders: (1) those who are truly wise; (2) those who are unwise and introduce wrong material but do not leave the foundation; and (3) those who are fools and try to destroy God’s temple.[5]

The wise builder is one that depends on God’s wisdom as he labours to establish the work of God. Paul instructed the Corinthians that each one that labours must do so knowing the plan that God has for the building: “[we] speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2.6—8). He goes on to say that these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God (2.10).

The wise “master” builder is wise because he possess “spiritual” wisdom. The “spiritual truths” of God can be understood only through the Holy Spirit, just as human wisdom needs the human spirit to understand it.[6] Others that build on the foundation of Christ and attempt to use the wrong materials do so with a warning that they may suffer loss when their labour is tested. Those that attempt to build on a different foundation are considered fools for there is no other foundation in God’s building other than Jesus Christ.

“To build upon”, refers primarily to the task of preaching and teaching that happens within the body of Christ. This undertaking is not limited to the leadership of the church (the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers), since they are given to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11—12; cf 4:16, 29). Each member of the body “must use fit materials and follow the plans of the architect (who is God, not Paul) and the building code.[7]

The True foundation: (1 Corinthians 3.11)

There is one true foundation and that is the person of Jesus Christ. The knowledge and experience of Christ crucified forms the basis of Christianity. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;  But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22—23; KJV). And again in chapter two, For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (v. 2). Jesus himself is the foundation of the church that bears His name.

This revelation is something that would easily have been understood by the first followers of Christ. They witnessed His ministry and authority as He healed the sick and raised the dead. They saw firsthand His death, resurrection and glorious ascension into heaven. They experienced the powerful arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost when everyone present was filled with the Sprit and spoke in other languages (Acts 2.1—4). These living eye-witness accounts glorified Christ and paved the way for a solid foundation for the early church to build upon.

However, it would also be easy to confuse those who bore the first testimony of Christ as the actual foundation of the church; they demonstrated a powerful witness of the Spirit’s power (Acts 4.33; 1 Corinthians 2.4). This has been the case in the tradition of some, who have exalted the apostle Peter and have misunderstood the promise given by Jesus that he would build His church on “this” rock. Jesus did not intend that Peter or any man would ever be a substitute for His divine purpose as the foundation and exalted head of the church (cf Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18; 2:19).

The Permanent Structure: (1 Corinthians 3.12-15)

“The quality of the superstructure must be appropriate to the foundation”.[8] The permanent structure is composed of good materials that are imperishable, as compared to those that will not endure when burned by fire. Paul compares incombustible materials such as gold, silver and precious stones, with combustible things such as wood, hay and straw.

A Day of Judgement is coming and fire will judge the quality of materials used in the construction of our building. In this warning Paul is reminding us that a day will come when the quality of our work will be exposed and rewarded. For some there will be no reward and they will suffer loss (v. 15). “At the final judgement, all such building will be shown for what it is: something merely human, with no character of Christ or His gospel in it”.[9]

What are the materials that we are using today to build the church? What and how are we building our churches with? Will these modern day materials result in a lasting structure and eternal rewards? Let us examine two building materials that are common in today’s church assembly:

The contemporary “worship experience”. We live in the day where music is the predominant force behind the corporate worship service. Over the past 2 years I have visited countless churches and I have observed that the vast majority of people are not engaged in the singing aspect of the service. People have become more interested in attending the Sunday “worship concert” and listening to a performance, rather than worshiping Jesus; they are more interested in singing a song about Jesus rather than directing their worship to Jesus.

We are at a worship crossroads between two models of worship leading: Congregationalism: a model of worship leading that views the engagement of the congregation as integral to the success of a worship service. And Performancism: a model of worship leading that views the engagement of the congregation as incidental to the success of a worship service. This is about substance. It’s more about the “And so?” and less about the “And how?” It’s more about the heart of the leaders and less about the preferences of the worshippers.[10]

If we desire to be a church that has an “eternal purpose” we must ask ourselves some important questions pertaining to the substance of our contemporary worship services:

  1. Are people engaged in the worship of the saviour? If not, then why are they not participating in worship? Is this not the purpose of corporate worship?
  2. Does our worship times focus primarily on the singing of songs? Are there ways to express our adoration to God other than singing songs?
  3. Are people looking for a music experience? If they are then how can we steer them away from the “concert” mentality and towards a deeper communion with the Lord?
  4. How can we as leaders provide instruction that will build up the body and encourage worship that is done in “Spirit and truth” (John 4.23)?

The wisdom (Sophia) of the day that emphasises church growth techniques. There is a prevailing school of thought today that believes that it is acceptable to pattern a church after the felt needs of unbelievers. The mission of the church becomes centered on growing “big” churches and its success is measured by how many people are attending the meetings. The function of the church then becomes “pragmatic” and focused on the shallow purpose of growing numbers or “purpose driven”:

Pragmatism is the practice of relying on methods or techniques rather than our Sovereign Lord for results. Pragmatism is the notion that meaning or worth is determined by practical consequences. It is the philosophy that looks to the world’s marketing methodologies or poll results rather than Biblical examples or mandates. When determining how to “run” a church a Bible-based pastor will ask the question “what most honors God or is clearly revealed in Scripture” while the pragmatist will take a survey.[11]

When church leaders obtain their inspiration from the world this should be a warning for those who want to uphold and practice biblical truth. Many church leaders today have been influenced by these secular marketing techniques. “They believe that in order to be successful, we must target and appeal to our audience. This is the same concept used in advertising to market a product. Entertainment is how the world sells their products; should we advertise the church as a better product than the rest?”[12]

The Apostle Paul states that the purpose of the church is to be “eternal driven” for on the day of judgement, fire will test what has been accomplished (the building) and “If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss…” (1Corinthiams 3.14—15).

What are the good and lasting materials that we are to build with? The central element that will stand the test of fire is good doctrine (teaching) that is centered on Christ: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (I Corinthians 1:18). Another vital building material is the example of good leadership: Leaders that work together in serving God (3.6—9), who are servants and stewards of the gospel of Christ (4.1—2), and are good examples of selfless humility (4:6ff). Through these instruments the “building” of Christ is being erected; keeping in mind that ultimately the source of growth comes from Christ who is the foundation, “From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4.16).

Conclusion: A holy dwelling place for God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 3.16-17)

The description of the building is now completed by a picture of the ultimate purpose of the church: To be a holy dwelling place of God’s Spirit. “Paul here is reflecting on the church as the corporate place of God’s dwelling, who, when gathered in Jesus’ name, experienced the presence and power of the Lord Jesus in their midst”.[13] The definitive outcome of the construction of Christ’s local body of believers is that it is a residence of the manifested presence of a living and holy God.

One of the desperate needs of the church is to recapture this vision of what it is by grace, and therefore also what God intends it to be. In most protestant circles one tends to take the local parish altogether too lightly. Seldom does one sense that it is, or can be, experienced as a community that is so powerful indwelt by the Spirit that it functions as a genuine alternative to the pagan world in which it is found. It is perhaps not too strong to suggest that the recapturing of this vision of it’s being, both in terms of it’s being powerfully indwelt by the Spirit and of its thereby serving as a genuine alternative (“holy in the most holistic sense) to the world, is it’s single greatest need.[14]

Paul concludes the building metaphor with a final warning: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (v. 17). “God in his justice and holiness cannot allow part of his holy work to be damaged without bringing retribution. Here is a fitting warning to every Christian minister and worker”.[15]

[1] Merriam-Webster.Com, “Delusion.” Accessed November 8, 2014.

[2] F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 261.

[3] C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013), 93.

[4] The bible version used will be the NIV unless otherwise stated.

[5] Paul A. Hamar, “The Complete Biblical Library,” Study Bible, Romans-Corinthians, Vol. 7, ed. Ralph W. Harris and Stanley M. Horton (Springfield, MO: World Library Press Inc., 1989), 291.

[6] W. Harold Mare, “The Expositor’s Commentary,” Romans-Galatians, Vol. 10, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 202.

[7] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 115.

[8] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 140

[9] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 145

[10] Jamie Brown, “Worship at a Crossroads: Congregationalism versus Performancism,” Worthily Magnify (blog), September 30, 2014,

[11] Brian Jonson, “An Examination of Rick Warren’s Teaching on “Exponential Growth”,” Monergism (blog), Unknown, RickWarren_growth.html.

[12] Mike Oppenheimer, “The Growth of a Purpose Driven Church,” Let Us Reason Ministries (blog), 2009,

[13] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 147

[14] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 149—150

[15] Mare, Romans-Galatians, 208

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