What to do about…?
Sooner or later questions will arise about a person who dominates conversation or those who don’t have basic social courtesies in house church. Paul faced this too, for human nature has not changed.
The (home based) churches at Corinth were a diverse group. Acts 18:1-8 tells us of the founding of the church there, which began in Justus Gaius’ house, a Roman who lived next door to the synagogue. Joining him were Crispus, the leader of the synagogue with various Jewish believers, and an assortment of Greeks from Corinth who believed. From Justus’ house they quickly spread to other homes as they outgrew his house.
Imagine 3 cultures meeting together in a living room for the first time: Greek, Roman, Jewish!
The city of Corinth had a motto: “Liberty and knowledge”, which basically meant “if it feels good do it, it’s right for you”. The Jews on the other hand, were very ordered and separated. Their women wore veils in that region and no Jew mixed with Romans or Greeks in their homes…until they found Christ.
Remember that Paul is writing to these people meeting at first in (Roman), Justus’ house, so in 14:26-40 he addresses basic social courtesies for meeting in someone’s home. Actually, he started dealing with it earlier in the letter, in chapter 11: 1-16 where some wives were taking off their veils and praying and prophesying dressed that way, which was contrary to local customs for some.
The wives were finding their freedom in Christ, meeting and mixing with Roman and Greek women for the first time (who had more liberal or no veiling customs), so they were removing their veils and participating. Paul told them to follow cultural customs and dress properly to honor their husbands – they could pray and prophesy all they wanted, just dress appropriately.
Then in 11:17-34 Paul discussed the proper way to honor the Lord in the Lord’s Supper, which was part of a larger meal. In that culture, the higher social groups did not eat with commoners, so they were eating before meeting for ‘church’. So in 11:17-22 he tells them to refrain from eating ahead of time, that they have their own houses to eat in, but when they go to meeting in someone else’s home they should prepare mentally, spiritually, and walk in love socially, which means eat with everyone else and don’t be a snob.
So we know some were eating before meeting, the wives were taking off their veils, and now in 14:26-40 he addresses the basic guidelines for a meeting in someone’s home – and they are all social courtesies!
In v26 he says all may participate; some have a revelation, some a teaching, some a prayer or worship, and others will move in the gifts of the Spirit. He says at the end of the verse, “Let all things be done to build up others”, which is the guiding theme of this passage.
In verse 27 he says if someone has a tongue that requires interpretation, limit it to 2 or 3, take turns sharing, and let others interpret. In v28 he says if no one is there who can interpret, then don’t speak in that tongue, just speak it to yourself and God.
This is a major point: Just because you have something from God doesn’t mean you have to share it. Many meetings have been dominated or ruined because someone will insist on pushing their pet doctrine, or they have something from God and must give it. Paul says no you don’t. If the timing is wrong or no one is there to receive it, or it just doesn’t fit, just speak it to yourself and the Lord – you have not sinned.
This goes for conversation with children present that is more adult in nature, or married’s talking of marriage issues in a group of predominantly singles, and so on. Be sensitive to others present.
In v29-31 he again talks of prophesying and sharing, saying that all may speak if they take turns, defer to the one next to you and let them share first or instead of you, and ‘let the other(s) judge‘. This is another major point: Anything you share is subject to scrutiny, discussion, acceptance, or even rejection.
Often we find that someone will share a “word,” but when someone says they don’t agree or it’s not for them, that person will become upset they are rejecting ‘a word from God’.
If you have friends over for dinner and ideas are presented that generate a heated discussion you wouldn’t be offended, yet attach a ‘thus saith the Lord’ and people take offense. Calm down, you’re among friends, don’t take it personally – learn and grow. You’re part of a community of believers and as such, no one has to swallow everything said without determining for themselves if it is for them, or not.
Remember, in house church you actually get to know the person you’re sitting with in that living room, so do what Paul said to the home based churches in and around Ephesus in chapter 4; do all you can to keep the bond of the Spirit in love, and make allowances for one another.
He sums up these instructions in v32 saying “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets”, meaning, you are in control of what is in your spirit. If there is no opportunity to share, keep it to yourself. If you want to talk but someone next to you has something to share, defer to them. If 2 or 3 have already shared and the meeting is running on, remain quiet. If you speak, some may not accept it. You are in control and therefore responsible. He concludes this section with his main point: “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace…” v33 which reinforces his opening instruction in v26; Let all things be done for the building up of others.
The basic love walk applies: Someone will be leading that meeting which is one level of authority; and you are a guest in someone’s home which is the next level, so ultimately the host/hostess has the final authority for what goes on in their home, no matter if you attach a ‘thus saith the Lord’ to it. You’re a guest in someone’s home, remember that.
Then he returns to the issue he covered lightly in chapter 11 where the women were discovering their freedom in Christ and throwing off their veils once inside these Gentile homes. They were also no longer sectioned off behind a wooden lattice work like in the synagogue, where they could not ask questions nor participate; they were now sitting with their husbands and children and had lots and lots of questions! In this open format which is discussion based, they were peppering everyone with all these stored up questions.
He already told them they could pray and prophesy as long as they were dressed for the culture of the day, but here he tells the wives if their questions would lend to confusion, they should wait and ask their husbands at home. He wouldn’t tell them they could prophesy and pray in chapter 11 and then contradict himself in chapter 14 by telling them they couldn’t talk at all – he just says if it will contribute to confusion just hold the questions until you are home.
That’s why Paul concludes with balancing his instructions of these basic social courtesies with: “Therefore do desire to prophesy, and don’t forbid tongues. But let all things be done properly and in order.” v39-40
On the practical application side of things we do this. I ALWAYS teach this passage to new house churches because like in Paul’s day, some may try to dominate, or insist what they have is from God, or otherwise not know how to act as a guest in someone’s home.
We take a person aside privately, one on one, if they have a pattern over 2-3 weeks of dominating or stubborn insistence that all hear (and/or accept as from God) what they share. Usually that takes care of it. If their heart is right they will learn and become part of the group for they don’t wish to offend.
If their heart is not right, that is if they are looking for a pulpit or they have a pet doctrine they insist all hear and accept, they will not return once they find no place for their “gift”. They either grow in Christ and in these social courtesies, or turn aside, choosing to remain where they are spiritually and socially. It’s their call, we don’t run after them. Usually these people are spiritual islands with no one to speak into their lives and no real friends in Christ. Sad, but their choice. They would rather take offense and separate themselves rather than taking the bold step to learn and grow and invest in the lives of others in a balanced and healthy way.
When we first started we had a family whose kids were unruly. They broke rocks around our water garden, throwing rocks and sticks in trying to kill the fish, and were otherwise destructive to house and plants. After 3 weeks of this during which we gently urged the parents to take control of their kids with no results, we finally spoke privately to mom and dad in straight terms. Instead of apologizing, recognizing they were our guests in our home, they were offended at us! (never saw them again after that Sunday)
While some in house church advocate no leadership, that is to say we all sit around like the Friends denomination and wait for God to speak through someone, I don’t find that in scripture. As I shared last week, while there are prayer meetings where no one is in charge in scripture (Acts 2:1 and Acts 13:1-3), usually wherever Jesus, Paul and Peter went, they had something to say.
House church leadership serves from the bottom up rather than top down. It is understated leadership,
seeking to empower others in Christ as they desire to mature in the Lord. Leaders serve by function and grace rather than title and office. Mark observed in 4:33 that Jesus only spoke to people ‘as they were able to receive it’ – leading, patterning, modeling life in Christ – giving the opportunity to others to make right decisions. Such is New Testament leadership.
They organically rise to the surface because their heart, their grace, naturally flows that way. Paul called the leaders of the Ephesus area (house) churches to a meeting recorded in Acts 20:17-38. He describes their heart in v28: “Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.”
People who have the grace to lead have the 2 points above naturally occurring within themselves; they have a seriousness about their own walk, and secondly, they love and care for the ‘flock’. It’s just in them.
These are the ones who naturally wonder where so and so is, who hasn’t been to a meeting in 3 weeks.
These are the ones who naturally think about taking some food to someone in need, or are sensitive to someone’s financial situation and how they can be helped, or will take the time to get together with a person or couple to help them work through issues in marriage, family, or life in general.
Paul told them to ‘feed’ the flock which isn’t the best translation. This word is ‘poimaino’ in Greek, which means to tend a flock – not feed them (Gk ‘bosco’), but to tend them. This action word became the noun we know today as the word Pastor.
They, like all the 5-fold, flow naturally within house church – sometimes I get questions from people about the 5-fold and how it works in house church, and I have to remind them that the whole of the New Testament was written to house churches. That in fact, the 5-fold operating in the traditional church structure of today is a foreign environment and not conducive to the smooth flow of these gifts, whereas house based church is their natural environment.
For the sake of space I will close for today, but in 2 weeks I’ll conclude this series. I hope this has been a help!
Please send all personal emails or questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org