The Early Church - Chapter 10 - Functioning as a Body

Chapter 10 - Functioning as a Body

The great concern of I Corinthians 12 is to teach believers to recognize the sovereignty of God in distributing spiritual gifts to His people ("as He will" v. 11). Each needs to learn to appreciate the others and to exercise his own particular gift. In chapter 13 the spirit of love is stressed as absolutely vital to the functioning of the body of Christians. Without this all activity is futile and without the blessing of God. Unless there is love the local church is sure to flounder and to fall.

How are these gifts to be exercised? Chapter 14 gives instruction concerning the conduct of the meetings of the local assembly for edification of itself. That all gift may have opportunity to develop, there should be liberty. That there be no confusion there must be order, one at a time. That the assembly be not excessively wearied by too lengthy a meeting a limit of several for each activity is suggested. Through it all the goal must be that of body strengthening and building up. "Let all things be done unto edifying" (I Cor. 14:26).

How often today these truths are ignored to the poverty of the local assembly! There is no question but what individual participation contributes to personal growth and maturity far more than just listening to a good sermon. The work of preaching the Gospel is another matter. Here we consider the edification of the local church.

Recently in reading a modem psychology text book by Floyd L. Ruch, PSYCHOLOGY AND LIFE, 6th edition (Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1963), this writer was struck by the relevance of certain principles which are applied to Group Dynamics (pp. 422-423). Some of these principles are taught in the Scriptures mentioned above and it is interesting to see them recognized in a secular textbook. The study of group dynamics has as its goal the discovery of those principles which will enable a group to operate most effectively with each member making his maximum contribution. Surely this should be the goal of every assembly of Christians. Every member functioning, every member fulfilling his destiny. This does not come about automatically; "group members are made, not born."

What are some of these principles which will enable a group to fulfil its function to the fullest degree? First of all, atmosphere is stressed. The physical setting will either help or hinder a group in its functioning. The setting should make members feel comfortable. Here one would consider comfortable seating and a moderate temperature. The arrangement of seating is important. Seating planned so that all can see one another is more conducive to active participation than rows of seats with the leader in front.

Besides the physical setting the size of the group itself tones the atmosphere. Size should be kept small; a large group causes people to withdraw from discussion. Of course, there can be some flexibility here, but experience has proven that a group becomes ineffective if it becomes too large.
Threat reduction is discussed. The newcomer must be made to feel at home and at ease. People must get acquainted, must get to know one another for a group to function properly. Each must feel accepted and a part of the group.

Another point discussed was that of distributive leadership. Groups can function without a formal leader. Different members can assume and share the various functions of leadership. This eliminates the tension of an autocratic leadership. Here we can see the wisdom of a plurality of elders in an assembly, all sharing the leadership (Acts 14:23).

There must be goal formulation if a group is to prosper. Unless each member feels he has something to contribute and something to gain from group membership he is unlikely to continue. His relationship is unproductive and sterile. Why should he continue it? Is not this why some local churches die out?

Another point made is that of flexibility. Meetings planned too far in advance lose their original interest. Also immediate conditions may demand a change of approach. There should be flexibility in the group to allow for such changes. Here one sees the value of the "open meeting" of I Corinthians 14. The Holy Spirit should have liberty in the church to meet the immediate needs of God's people.

For true group unity there should be consensus of opinion. No formal voting on an issue should be required; in fact, this will tend to destroy the group by causing members to take sides, thus creating factions. An issue should be discussed until there is unanimity of opinion, the right solution being obvious to all (cf. Acts 15:22). Surely in an assembly of Christians this is oneness of mind and purpose. Without this God's full blessing is impossible (Ps. 133).

As a group developes the members learn to work together, to function together as a body. Each becomes more and more sensitive to the abilities and needs of the others and of his own role in the group. The author calls this process awareness. Scripture describes the assembly as a body with each member having a care and love for the others. All are knit together, functioning together, to accomplish the purposes of God (Eph. 4:16).

Finally, the need for continual evaluation is emphasized. A healthy group is constantly taking stock of its program, continually evaluating its accomplishments and its goals. Is the group accomplishing what it desires? How can its goals be better defined? What better methods can it use for the good of all? A stagnant group is one which has ceased to evaluate and in time it will disintegrate.

One can see the great wisdom of our God in giving instructions for the local assembly. These principles enunciated by the Apostles as they went about establishing assemblies are designed to provide an atmosphere which will stimulate Christian growth and maturity. They have never been im proved, but often neglected in Christendom. The vasti structured organizations of many churches often put on an interesting program for the congregation, but their sheer size and deadening formality tend to discourage individual participation and growth.

Perhaps some assemblies of Christians need to rethink their goals. In some cases, there may have come in a spirit of discontent with simplicity of meeting, perhaps a desire to imitate the program of the large, formal church. If there is a lack of spiritual growth and of zeal for the lost, let us confess our individual failure to God. If some of our methods are outdated and unsuitable, let us change them. There is a constant need to evaluate the program of the local church. However, through it all let us remember that the basic framework for the assembly as found in Scriptures embodies principles which are being recognized by the world today as vital (Luke 16:8). If followed in humility and in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, these principles for God's assembly will produce spiritual Christians, mature men of God. This is His desire for His people today (Eph. 4:13).