I am taking a closer look at the case for participatory church meetings outside 1 Corinthians 14. I will concede that 1 Corinthians 14 is the closest that we have to a model/command to do so, and that in general there is a dearth of scriptures describing church meetings. One might argue that means it is up to us to do as we wish, or one might argue that the structure of the meeting was assumed. Whatever the conclusion one draws in light of these unanswered questions, it would be foolish to simply ignore the evidence that we do have. With that in mind, I posit the following...

In general, we are not left with very many instructions in the NT regarding meetings of the church, but what little that we do have seems to point to a more participatory meeting than what we are used to seeing in modern churches.

The clearest case for this type of meeting is in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church.

1 Cor 14:26-38
v26- “Everyone has”... All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church

A good exercise is to consider the “one another” passages throughout the NT. After reading each of them, follow it with a “...but not at the church meeting unless you are a leader” and see if it sounds like it is in keeping with the plain meaning of the passage.

Romans 15:14
I am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
“...but not at the church meeting unless you are a leader”

Ephesians 5:19
Speak to each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
“...but not at the church meeting unless you are a leader”

Colossians 3:16
Teach and admonish one another with all wisdom...sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
“...but not at the church meeting unless you are a leader”

Colossians 4:2
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful
“...but not at the church meeting unless you are a leader”

1 Timothy 2:8
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing
“...but not at the church meeting unless you are a leader”

1 Timothy 2:11
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent”.
“...and so all men should be silent at the Church meeting too, except for an occasional ‘Amen bro!’ unless they are a leader.”

There are other fragments of evidence scattered throughout the NT pointing to a more participatory meeting.

Acts 15:4-5
The believers that belonged to the party of the Pharisees were apparently able to stand up during a meeting express their convictions. These were notably not the elders or apostles (v.4).

Acts 15:22-
The apostles and elders, together with the whole church, make a decision.

Acts 20:7
Paul may have been “dialoguing”

Perhaps the most powerful argument of all is to think of all the teaching sessions/ ‘church meetings’ that Jesus held. Were they participatory or rigidly structured? Did people ask questions or sit silently in their chairs? Look through countless scriptures in the gospels- Jesus taught through dialogues much more often than monologues! Jesus ‘taught’ by asking questions- and often not rhetorical ones!

What is the likely format in a church in which all of the members were ‘priests’ that was born in the synagogues and met in each other’s homes? Would it look like the old Priest-officiating-over-the-wretched-people-model?

This is clearly not an air-tight case for participatory meetings. The truth is that, as with many questions we have, we are not left with 100% certainty about the answers. Surely Ockham’s Razor would seem to be an appropriate philosophy when posed with these questions. The simplest explanation is that the early church had clear, dynamic leadership and participatory meetings in which the various members of the church were able to exercise their gifts. The reasons that modern churches are not conducted in this manner have much more to do with centuries of tradition than they do with a careful study of scripture.

As for our current church situation... during several tears of intensive group Bible studies, we began making changing to how were used to practicing Christianity in order to adhere more closely to the Bible. Gone is tithing, an OT command, replaced by generous giving as there is need in the church (and beyond). Gone are sermons and song leaders, replaced by 1 Cor 14 style participatory meetings. Gone is the rented/owned church building, replaced by homes. Gone are separate ministries, of which the Bible is almost silent, replaced by one family all together. Gone are standardized "studies", replaced by with the basic teachings of the gospel tailored to a person’s unique situation. Gone is the push to invite people to church (not in the Bible), replaced with the imperative to GO make disciples (and we have!). The kids stay with us in the meetings by design. The Lord's Supper is the center of our meeting- lasting at least half an hour, with a deep discussion about Jesus each time. Unity with other churches is achieved through relationship rather than structure. The "one another" passages are lived out in our lives without extra-biblical constructions such as discipling partners... It feels like unrealized potential waiting to explode. It feels a little bit like the real thing that I think we all hunger for when we read the scriptures...

The dream I have is of a Spirit-led, 'organic' church that feels like what we read about in Acts and in Paul's letters. One in which God's word reigns and human traditions, though sometimes enjoyed, are never given supremacy over the word. Breaking bread in one another's homes. Where needs in the church are met generously rather than taking a tithe for a building and interns and playgrounds. Where any brother moved by the Spirit can stand and pray or sing or share scriptures.