One of the most referenced verses in the New Testament in support of a “Spontaneous Church” or a “Totally Participatory Church,” is 1 Corinthians 14:26. In that verse the Apostle says to the church at Corinth;
“What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” (NASB)
The King James version translates it this way;
“How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
These slightly different translations represent the tension that exists between two approaches to this text.
The first way of looking at this text is that Paul was encouraging the church to continue in like manner. Local congregations should have the liberty and opportunity to participate in gatherings as the Spirit directs with little or no liturgy. Many house/simple/organic churches function in this way. The sense in this view is that it is the true rule to be observed in the use of gifts. It is the natural outcome of what happens when the congregation comes together and lets the Spirit lead. This seems to be most natural understanding when considering previous contextual passages like 1 Corinthians 14:15;
“What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.” (NASB)
In other words, “as the result of” certain conditions… these things will naturally happen.
The second way of looking at this text is that Paul was exhorting them to “get things in order.” There are more than a few commentators like Locke, Stanley, and Hodge, that regard Paul here as exposing a state of things which needed to be corrected. The thought is that these eager and passionate believers were being hasty, bringing confusion and dissonance into the local gathering, and detracting from its purpose. To not allow everyone to participate in a local gathering is the trend of most “churches” today. Many institutional churches function in this way.
So, which do you think is the better way to look at this passage, as an encouragement, or an exhortation? Why?