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Assembly of the believers –

the two essential features of meeting

 

And they were devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. – Luke in the Acts (of Peter and Paul)

Compare the related Scripture – And from day to day they continued steadfastly with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house they shared food with gladness and simplicity of heart.

The Scriptures quoted above do not stand in any disharmony with one another. Rather, they completely reveal the unity and complete harmony of the Word of God about the nature and function of the assemblies. Often, some of these Scriptures are wrongly used as proof texts (while others are neglected) by various church groups to support their particular view and method of the way that churches should operate. Sometimes, these Scriptures are seen as proof that either Paul did not write the letters to the Corinthian assemblies and to Timothy or that Paul underwent a downward change in his teachings, first allowing women to speak in assemblies and later forbidding the same. Both of these positions are wrong.

In reality, the Word of God takes both of the positions that some people often allege show a contradiction of the Bible with itself (while other people are quite confused as to the seeming contradiction). Indeed, through Paul, the Scriptures declare that women do and should teach in assembly and, again through Paul, they forbid women from teaching in the assembly! How can this be? The answer is simple. The Scriptures nowhere command or even indicate the singular function of meeting that has come to be universally understood as standard. That is purely a church invention, dating back to the earliest days of Catholicism and subsumed by the Protestant churches as well. This invention of men has mythological staying power along the lines of, “there were three wise men who visited the infant Jesus”, or “Mary Magdalene was a prostitute” or, better yet, from the past, “the universe is geo-centric”, as the whole world (churched and non-churched people alike) once believed. Of course, simply teaching and believing something does not make it God’s truth, no matter how universally accepted the doctrine is. What the Scriptures indicate, imply, and command – command through regulations of the meetings – is that there are and should be two distinct functions, that is, two essential features of meeting. Where early Catholicism changed and combined the distinct features of assembly into the one function of the hybrid church, the Word of God reveals that there must be two distinct features and that these features are distinct and separate from each other. Only as the assemblies function in the God-appointed two essential features of meeting will the people of God be properly built up as Christ’s body as all the members employ their gifts and knowledge for the common good!  

The two essential features of assembly were indicated very early through Luke in the Scripture quoted above in his Acts of the Apostles. I quote again. “And they were devoting themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” Luke traveled with the great Apostle Paul. Whether or not he learned the following rabbinical technique from him cannot be known, but the Scripture just quoted used an established rabbinical method of inclusion when describing the function of the earliest apostolic assemblies. (The method, sometimes called doubling, was also used in the ancient Hebrew wisdom literature.) This kind of inclusion employed a structure now known as Ab-bA in order to highlight its essential components – four in all. This technique used this structure in order to highlight the fact that the two essential parts that were declared in turn revealed two more essential aspects of the thing considered (in our case, the assembly). The two parts themselves each revealed two characteristics. The characteristics AA stand together and are reflexive of one another just as the characteristics bb stand together and reflect the features of each other while they all, AA and bb stand in total unity with one another. In short, this method was used to underscore the four salient features of the one unified thing. This is how the Scripture is to be understood:  

A – And they were devoting themselves to the teaching of the Apostles

  b – and the fellowship

  b – to the breaking of bread

A – and to the prayers.

A and A stand together: And they were devoting themselves to the teaching of the Apostles – and to the prayers.

And b and b stand together and reflect each other: (And they were devoting themselves to) the fellowship – (and) to the breaking of bread.

In our modern sense, we could accurately call these two features of meeting the formal and informal features of assembly. Both are absolutely necessary to accomplish God’s will. On the whole, though, these two essential features have become both altered (the informal more than the formal) and convoluted in the churches and are, therefore, missing as necessary for the true assembling of believers. All of the Scriptures quoted at the beginning of this article are understood and seen as completely in harmony with one another when the two features of meeting are understood.

Before considering these, it is very instructive to evaluate what the churches have falsely substituted for the Word of God, thereby stifling many members of Christ’s body from effectively functioning as the body. Early in the Catholic churches the two distinct features of assembly were changed and fused. All aspects of the formal features that were changed are very important, but they all do not really concern us now. Suffice it to say here that the most tragic change that earliest Catholicism wrought on God’s Word regarding formal gathering was tying the salvation of the souls of men exclusively to submission to the bishops and the Catholic Church – the church as defined and defended by the bishops. The informal, yet essential aspect of assembling was also radically changed and it is what mainly concerns us. This change was accomplished through the great feast, which is based on love, being reduced to its symbols in the loaf or piece of bread and the cup of wine. Additionally, these symbols were changed in meaning and incorporated in a preeminent way into the worship of the formal meetings of the churches. These symbols were never meant to be anything other than symbols which declared that the love-feast must constantly occur! They have been exalted by the churches above the substance to which they point. When Jesus took the bread and the cup after His last meal with His disciples before His crucifixion, He meant it to be understood that these symbols stood for the new way in which His disciples would thereafter view and function in their daily main meals with one another! This is beyond any doubt because of the interpretation that Peter, Jude, and especially Paul placed upon this very act of Jesus and His very words that accompanied it. When Paul explained the meaning of this last meal of Jesus with His disciples and its application to all believers, he explained it and guarded it as a real meal of mercy and compassion shared among believers under Jesus Christ! Without the interpretation of the Spirit through Paul, the episode known as the “last supper” could only be viewed as an event exclusive to the immediate Jewish Apostles of Jesus, akin to other events that were unique to them alone. Indeed, without Paul, even the references of Peter and Jude to the love-feast can only be seen as occurrences. It is through Paul to his letters to the Corinthians that the love-feast is explained, vindicated, and mandated for the assemblies everywhere – Gentile and Jewish alike. Until Paul, the “last supper” cannot be seen as anything extending beyond the original 12 apostles. With Paul, the symbols and the scope of this meal are thoroughly revealed.

Let us know consider the formal and informal aspects of the assemblies of believers. Again, both are essential to proper assembling, as both are essential for the complete functioning of the body of Christ.

The formal feature of meeting is referred to in the Scripture as “attending to the public reading of Scripture, the exhortation, and the teaching” and the “Proclaiming of the Word”. (In our formal assembling we sometimes refer to it as gathering to “hear the Word”, which simply views it from the receivers’ side.) These references are found in Paul’s letters to Timothy quoted above. The nature of the assembly of believers gathered to hear the Word and its interpretation was based on the Jewish synagogues. It shared prominent features with them. In the synagogues of Paul’s day, the Jews gathered to pray and to listen to the proclamation and teaching or interpretation of the Scriptures. The New Covenant keeps these functions intact and adds to them singing praises to God and the employment of specific orderly spiritual gifts. In the synagogues, women were not allowed to teach or even to be heard. Through Paul, the Spirit of God keeps this characteristic also intact for New Covenant believers. In fact, Paul quotes the Jewish Oral Law as his support for this commandment from God. Many wrongly interpret his words, “Women must be silent in the assemblies; for they are not permitted to speak, but they are to be subordinate, as also the Law says … For it is a shameful thing for a woman to speak in assembly” as finding support in Genesis 3:16. This passage from Genesis does not mean this. It stretches this judicial declaration beyond its scope to make in mean that women are not permitted to speak in assembly. Rather, Paul is directly quoting the Oral Law of Israel. That Law stated, “Let not a woman read in the Law for the honor of the synagogue.” Another way to state this is, let not a woman be heard in the synagogue so that the synagogue not be dishonored. This is another instance wherein the Oral Law of Israel revealed the will of God where the written Law did not. Here it prescribed the kind of dignity and decorum needed for people gathered to worship in the presence of the Holy One specifically to hear His commandments. This was the only proper behavior for people gathered at the feet of God with this primary purpose in view – to hear His commandments. This decorum has nothing to do with the worth or value of women. Instead, it has everything to do with the Divinely ordained hierarchy of order, issuing through the Father and the Son down through redeemed humanity for the manifestation of God’s glory!

Paul’s first letter to Timothy gives one of the clearest declarations of structure for the assemblies when they are gathered specifically for the public proclamation of the Word of God – again, what may be called the formal feature of meeting. The only things missing in this letter are singing and the corporate function of the gifts of the Spirit among various gifted people in the assembly. We will broadly consider this structure now.

Prior to writing, “(I write) in order that you may know how one must conduct oneself in the household of God, which is the assembly of the Living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth”, Paul gave these directives: “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made on behalf of all men, on behalf of kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and majesty. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the full knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony in its own times.” The first act of worship for the assembly is prioritized -- prayer. This is the largest statement about the various kinds of prayer considered together in all the New Covenant Scriptures. It deals with four vital aspects of prayer. These aspects will be considered separately on the alphabetized page. Suffice it here to say that these kinds of prayer are commanded for proper worship in the presence of God. One particular fact must be brought out. Prayer as purely prayer, thanksgiving, and adoration to God as God is assumed in Paul's declaration. This is understood because he immediately demands these kinds of prayer on behalf of men. There are two reasons why it is of utmost importance that men must be prayed for. First, kings, men in authority, and men of every rank are to be prayed for so that God will rule over them and through their decisions and actions for the peace of His people. Only in the realm of tranquility and quietness, which is brought about through the actions of men, can the people of God fully flourish for the glory of God and the salvation of men's souls. This latter goal is itself the second reason for praying for men. God would have men of every rank and station of life to be saved and come to the full-knowledge of Jesus Christ in order that His mercies and glory be revealed as extending to all of mankind. So, the expectation of prayer is that God would rule over all men for the good of His people and that He would also save some of these very persons and unite them with His followers. Next, the posture and attitude of prayer is dealt with. “Therefore, I desire that the men in every place (of prayer) pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger and dissension.” This commandment requires that the males in every such assembly pray while lifting up pure hands in the sight of God. The lifting up of pure hands is a living symbol which testifies to prayer offered to God from a pure heart and a clean life. Indeed, this is emphasized through the absence of anger and dissention regarding the various men prayed for. Love and holiness rule all things among God's people, especially prayer. For prayer is direct fellowship with God. Of the women in the assembly the Spirit states, “Likewise, I will have women adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and with soundness of mind, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness.” There was a powerful reason for these injunctions for the women. In various places throughout the ancient Greco-Roman world, and man's status was revealed in the person of his wife. In our culture this is not necessarily the case. In our day, a man's status is primarily revealed in his own person. In fact, because of our western de-emphasized and weaker family ties than those found in the ancient Greco-Roman world, the status of people in general is revealed in themselves, regardless of that of their relatives. For instance, a person's wealth and/or position is often revealed in the value of the house that he lives in, the car that he drives, the food that he eats, or the jewelry and/or clothes that he wears. This was not the case throughout the ancient Greco-Roman world. There was no such independence in that world. A man's wife was viewed as the honor of his person and her demeanor and appearance directly reflected and affected his name, standing, reputation, and prestige. These commandments to the women of the assemblies are juxtaposed to those of the men. It is assumed that most of the women of the assemblies had husbands. Nevertheless, for those who did not, the injunctions stood because of the Divine order.

 – Interjection: The question naturally arises, are these commandments to the women cultural? That is, were they only for the women of that day who were grounded in and whose behavior was highly regulated by the culture of that time? The answer is emphatically “No!” because of the reasons for these commandments to those women, which is yet to be given. I’ll give the reasons presently. End of Interjection —

Just as the men were commanded to pray while lifting up holy hands that revealed love and harmony, the women were commanded to pray and show themselves in all modest character, revealed outwardly in their apparel. They were (and are) to show through modest and simple dress that they with their husbands (and households) were of God’s Ways and did not love the world or its things, that is, that they serve the Living God and not Mammon. The modesty of dress that reveals the eternal character of the women of the assembly also extends to their very bodies. For not only did Christian women (and remember, Christian literally means “Christ-like”) not show conformity and love of the world through expensive clothing and jewelry, but they did not even use elaborate hair styles in their deportment. The braiding of the hair referred to was an elaborate system of braids that ancient women used to style their hair. These hairstyles were part of the standard of being “in style” or prosperous or seeking conformity to prosperity or worldly approval. In short, this overall physical demeanor was a declaration of the household’s possession of wealth and worldly status or it was at least a declaration that these were the goals of the men and these women reflected. The cultural differences aside, women of our day fall into the exact same sins regarding immodesty. Their expensive clothes, hairstyles (some of the exact same hairstyles are shared by both cultures – this braiding is one of them), and jewelry and the overall amount of money that they spend on these and other things in order to make themselves “beautiful” reveal conformity to the expectations and demands of the world. These things also reveal that they are not given to God in the service of others, but rather, spend a substantial amount of what they have on themselves. Just as the lifted pure hands of men at prayer in the assembly reveal the clean life before God in His purposes, the simple dress and style of the women in the assemblies reveal the very same thing!

 – Interjection: Only one kind of immodesty is covered here regarding women. It is the immodesty of over-dressing. The New Covenant Scriptures do not, correspondingly, teach at length on the other kind of immodesty, that of under-dressing, primarily because it was not the problem in the ancient eastern world that it is today in the western world. This is really an amazing cultural phenomenon. The ancient Greco-Roman world was more sexually loose and perverted than the modern western world. However, in regards to dress, they were more conservative than is our western world. Many wrong conceptions of ancient dress have been acquired through Hollywood’s and filmmakers' renditions of these times. It is my intention to thoroughly cover the subject of modesty of dress on the alphabetized page. Suffice it here to say the following: It is God’s will that all clothing worn publicly – meaning around people other than your spouse, whether in your home or away from it – by both men and women should appropriately cover the body. The Scriptural standard is ample clothing that covers the upper torso and at least comes to or approximates the knees. It does not approximate to the genitals. This means that the lower body covering is closer to the knees as a terminal point than to the private parts. It does not even allow the mid-thigh as the terminal point. This lower body covering must apply whether a person is standing or sitting. The subject of modesty in dress, like many other ones in God’s Word, has been ignored and largely obliterated by men and, therefore, never properly taught. When it is taught about, only the area of the correctness of wearing modest apparel in order not to incite lust in the opposite sex is the subject. This aspect is important, but it is actually the secondary application of this Biblical subject. The primary application concerns holiness and reverence before God. It was adhered to in ancient Israel and acquired by the Christian assemblies through their early leaders, the Jewish apostles. This subject of complete modesty of dress by both sexes is very important before God. It reveals whether a person reverences God or not. I bring this up now because it would be a shameful thing for Christian women (and men for that matter) to honor the Lord through obedience to His commands about immodest clothing regarding over-dressing and grieve His Holy Spirit regarding the other aspect of immodest apparel, under-dressing! The Scriptures brand this last type of immodesty as nakedness in God’s sight. The Biblical definition of nakedness is nudity or poorly/shabbily clothed (not enough clothing to protect from the weather) or not properly clothed (not enough clothing to appropriately cover the body according to the Divine standard). End of Interjection –

Now, immediately after giving these commandments that reveal the glory of Spirit controlled lives of holiness and dedication to God and which are revealed in His assemblies, the Spirit commanded that women were furthermore to be – in their very persons – even more submitted to His eternal purposes. For He said, “Let a woman learn in silence with all subordination. I do not allow a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence.” Here the two-part reason for this behavior is given. “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression. But women shall be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with save-mindedness.” The first part of the reason is often missed because of the second part. Firstly, it is because of the Divine order that women must remain silent in the assemblies. This has to do with the dignity of headship and does not devalue women at all. In fact, they are honored as thus bearing in themselves the revelation and manifestation of Divine headship. The order of headship is: God, Jesus, man, woman. The silence of women reveals utter respect and reverence to God and His order and parallels that of God's angels in His order. The order of headship regarding angels is: God, Jesus, Spirit, angels. The subject of angels is grossly misunderstood. It is my intention to take a closer look at God's angels on the alphabetized page when God's temple is considered. Here, I will briefly say the following. Unlike people who are multi-functional, angels have a singular dignified function. There are literally tens of thousands of them and their tasks are to carry out blessings, judgments, and deliverances on behalf of God for His people and to bring accounts to God about His people. They are the hosts who are often referred to in the phrase, “the Lord of hosts”. In these transactions among men, the angels carry out these functions in silence. (I am not referring to particular angelic episodes between God and certain people at high points of God’s purposes – for instance, Peter in prison and the angel who came to deliver him – but I am referring to the normal function of angels among people.) Their power is in the image that they bear and in the execution of the Divine will. If voices are heard, they are not those of the angels. They are not undignified or devalued by this silence. Rather, their silence only points to the dignity of the ones for whom they exist. The silence of women in the assemblies gathered to hear God’s Word has precisely the same dignity. The second reason why women are to remain silent and not teach men does deal with weakness. This does not erase the first half of the reason for the commandment. Instead, it fully covers the grounds for the silence. This is a case of not “either/or” but “both/and” regarding the purposes for the silence. Secondly, the general and natural propensity of women leads them to be deceived. This was, in fact, the case with Eve, the first woman. This really views this tendency of women as being general and not only one concerning the functions of the assemblies. Therefore, the general remedy is given. Women shall be saved (or preserved from this tendency to deception) if they continue in their God appointed lot of raising children, if they do so in faith, love, and holiness in godly thinking. Immediately after these injunctions, Paul gives the requirements that qualify men as Overseers and Servants. He then ends this entire segment of Scripture that deals with believers assembled to hear the Word of God with the commandment listed near the top of this page. “(I write these things) in order that you may know how one must conduct oneself in the household of God, which is the assembly of the Living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” All of this is profound! It is God’s will for reverence in His Divine order of worship and must be obeyed! And yet, this is one-half of the truth of what it means to assemble to worship God. The second function of the assemblies is just as important for the celebration of God’s love and glory and for the edification of God’s people!

The informal feature of meeting is referred to in the Scripture as “coming together to eat” and “the fellowship” and “the breaking of bread”. Here the function of women is opposite to that of the formal setting. In that setting, women are required to remain silent. They are not allowed to teach men. In this informal setting, women are expected to be heard. They are expected to teach men. This informal setting is the second feature of meeting of the assemblies. It has been obliterated by the churches because it was changed and then wrongly fused with the first feature spoken of above. The churches call it “The Lord’s Supper” or “Communion” or “The Eucharist” and make it a, if not the, high-point of worship in their congregations. They reduced it from its original setting, meaning, and effect. The main meal of the day – the evening meal – was originally set aside as the Lord’s main meal of the day. It was called the Lord’s main meal because through it the needy were fed and on its occasion the people of God proclaimed and shared the true spiritual food with one another in Jesus Christ. This is precisely the meaning of, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” It was reduced to pieces of dispensed bread (or modern-day crackers) and a dispensed cup of wine or grape juice (or modern-day tiny cups – one per worshipper) among the worshippers in the formal setting of worship. It was further reduced by being reinterpreted to convey the meaning that these elements of bread and wine either signify or actually render spiritual grace to the recipients, depending on the particular church that one belongs to. Furthermore, it was reinterpreted to teach that Jesus Himself is either spiritually conveyed or actually literally eaten and assimilated by the participants, again depending on the particular church that one belongs to. The Word of God teaches none of this that is taught by the churches! Rather, the Scriptures reveal that, as previously indicated, the main meal of the day, the evening meal, was set aside as directed by Jesus for togetherness and sharing, especially with those who were poor. Hence, the name, The Lord’s main meal. Yet, as noble as that was, it was not the end of the matter. This meal had and has the double effect of supplying food to the needy through God’s people and being the occasion of worship and edification among God’s people. It is precisely in this setting that women fully function spiritually before men. All of this is made known in Paul’s letter that we know as First Corinthians. Significantly, it is also the misinterpretation of this very letter that has given rise to the false doctrines of the churches regarding both the nature of the assembling of believers and the meaning of the Lord’s main meal.

In First Corinthians, Paul responds to various situations found in the Corinthian assembly and answers questions from that assembly. It is during these answers that he deals with the situation of women in the assembly. What he does, though, which is completely missed by interpreters, is teaches about the position of women both within the formal and informal settings of the assembly. First he covers the condition of women in the informal setting. Because Paul’s nature, method, flow, and message of teaching have not been grasped, the will of God concerning women functioning in the assemblies and the very characteristics of meeting together has been missed. The outcome has been quenched love and spirituality. Paul’s way of teaching in written form often involves elaborations, digressions, and transitions. These facts can make his style hard to follow and interpret. Objectively and faithfully following him as the teacher, that is; hearing him as the author of his message and not subjectively reading, renders the clear meaning of his words. For the connection with the assembling of believers and women, (beginning in Chapter 8) Paul takes up the subject of eating idolatrous sacrifices. Then he enters a long digression (the whole of Chapter 9). After that, he returns (at the beginning of Chapter 10) to the subject of idolatry and deals with related sins. He then ends this topic by focusing on two issues. First, he commands the powerful forsaking of idolatry and makes a detailed comparison of sharing in the meal table of Jesus to that of sharing in the meal table of demons (the actual objects of idolatrous sacrifices) and forbids any participation in the latter through eating their sacrifices. Then he allows the eating of all food as long as it is outside of the immediate context of idol-worship and is not even remotely connected, through the endorsement of another, with idolatry. Holiness is the rule of Christianity!

After these things, Paul called upon the Corinthians to fully follow God and praised them because they continued in the traditions that he previously gave to them. Yet, they lacked in one important custom that needed correction. It is at this point that the standing of women is dealt with. How they held themselves out in the culture and, therefore, in the assemblies was the important issue at hand. By custom, all women of the ancient Grecian mainland and its reaches wore veils. These veils signified honor and submission to their fathers or husbands on the one hand and decency and decorum in society on the other. The city of Corinth was a leading and influential city in regards to worldliness. It was a receptacle of many things that were novel and established concerning religion and morality. Because of this state-of-affairs, it had its own “spirit” or attitude, in the same way that one might regard New York or Los Angeles in our day. In this environment, some of the recent female converts to Christianity wrongly believed that they could individually express their newly-found liberty in the area of dress. This freedom was specifically expressed in removing their veils. While this act did, indeed, exhibit women’s liberality, it went too far in this demonstration. The removal of the veil in that culture was associated with independent and loose-living women and was highly scandalous. It was a shock to that culture and can be precisely paralleled to the removal of the bra in the latter 1960’s and early 1970’s in our own culture. At both of those periods of time these acts were seen as social disturbances and expressions of rebellion that caused at least public irritation and often resulted in outrage. The Spirit of God would have none of this! During the correction of this particular sin of immodest dress, Paul reestablished the propriety of the veil. As part of his instruction he made this statement, “But every woman who has her head uncovered (unveiled) while praying or prophesying disgraces her head.” Now, the very meaning of prophesying or to prophesy is to instruct or teach for edification and exhortation and consolation. It is a proclamation of the Word of God. Its very function was fundamentally doctrinal. That was its unique feature. While there were Prophets in the early history of the New Covenant order who were predictors of God’s providence among men, the main function of Prophets and the only function of the gift of prophecy were instructive. This gift was dispensed by God among the women disciples of Jesus and He intended for them to use it for the common good of His people. God intended – God expected (and expects)! – for women to teach men this way so that they would be built up in faith. (This will be made clear presently because of the setting of the reproof concerning unveiled prophesying women.) Paul fully developed the norm of veiled women in that culture as the foundation for veiled women in the verbal service of the assembly in that culture.

Now, for the direct connection: While Paul established the propriety of Corinthian women praying and prophesying among God’s people in the expected decorum of the day, he had a very powerful rebuke to render to the entire assembly because of their behavior as the assembly. He said, “But in this instruction (about the propriety of veils), I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better, but for the worse. For in the first place, when you come together in assembly, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. For there must also be divisions among you, in order that those who are approved may become manifest among you. Therefore, when you meet together, is it not to eat the Lord's main meal? (This is a full vindication of the subject of faithful eating that he began in Chapter 8.) Yet in your eating, each one takes his own main meal first; and one hungers and another is intoxicated! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the assembly of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you!” Next, Paul reestablished the sanctity, witness, and purpose of the Lord's main meal by quoting the words of Jesus that established this meal. These are the well-known words regarding His body and blood that He spoke to His apostles after the last meal He shared with them before He was crucified. Paul said that to eat of this meal in a profaning way was to incur guilt and judgment, even the judgment of physical death. He ends this declaration with these words, “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home so that you may not come together for judgment. And the remaining matters, I shall arrange when I come.”

All of this very clearly establishes that this eating together was eating the main meal of the day together – and this meal was named the Lord's main meal because through it the hungry were fed and the believers were built up in their faith. It is beyond any doubt that this was the real main meal of the day and not a spiritual meal like the churches purport it to be. Indeed, the rebuke reveals that poor people who expected to be satisfied with food were not and remained hungry. It also reveals that the offenders who consumed the meal in their own groups went too far in their drinking and became intoxicated on the wine. Likewise, the remedy reveals that this was an actual meal meant to satisfy the physically hungry. Those who were offending should have previously satisfied their hunger at their own homes so that the truly needy would have had more opportunity to eat. They were commanded to wait for one another before they started eating because lovingly eating together was the purpose of their coming together. It is impossible to be sated with food by eating either a small piece of bread or a small piece of cracker or to get drunk on a sip of diluted wine (the kind of wine which would have, according to custom, been used on such an occasion), whether it is from a shared cup or a very tiny individualized cup. In fact, the churches who have falsified this meal do not intend for it to satisfy physical hunger and thirst. Furthermore, it is clearly established that all the believers – the women included – were expected to operate in their spiritual gifts at the time of the meal for the benefit of one another. This is evident in the very flow of the instruction from Paul. He first established that it was necessary for women to pray and prophesy with their heads veiled. Then he said that in giving this injunction he had yet another related sin to correct. This is obvious in the structure of his writing. Again, he said that in giving this instruction, he did not praise them, because they came together to eat the Lord’s main meal not for the better, but for the worse. There were two sins corrected here. The first concerned a certain group of women at the meal. The second was larger and more offensive because it concerned the greater assembly and was a deeper violation. It directly violated and abused the Lord’s meal. It was during this meal that the women previously spoken about were praying and prophesying. It is very clear from what later follows, that the gift of prophecy is for the whole assembly and is not restricted to or from anyone. The gifted women at the Lord’s main meal, the informal meeting, were prophesying to all – that is, they were instructing all, they were teaching all – for their edification, exhortation, and consolation. Unlike in our day, where the corrupted church version of the meal obtains, the ancient assemblies did not restrict the meal to an occasional event; either weekly or monthly or some other extended period of time. Rather, this was a daily meal in the very essence of the case. These same daily meals were referred to by Peter as feasting and by Jude as Love-feasts. Before continuing, the last fact that underscores that women prophesied to the gathered believers is established because they were instructed to veil themselves “because of the angels”. The angels are always present at all assemblies of believers as they are a significant part of the Divine headship between heaven and earth and function, accordingly, as messengers from and to God regarding His people. They were commanded to veil themselves so that they would not incur discipline because of the witness of the angels who were present and attending to their fellowship.  

After Paul corrected the related sins of immodest deportment and violated love-feasting, he moved on to fully cover spiritual gifts. This he did in the entire 12th chapter. It is at the beginning of these instructions that he established that the gift of prophecy is given to women as well as to men when he said that it is “God Who works all things in everyone. To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common advantage. For to one is given a word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another a word of knowledge according to the same Spirit. To another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of cures by the one Spirit. And to another operations of powers, and to another prophecy, and to another discerning of spirits, to another kinds of tongues, and to another interpretation of tongues. The one and the same Spirit operates all these things, distributing individually to each one as He purposes.” Then Paul arguably makes the greatest divergence in all of his writings. It is a zenith-divergence and takes up the entire 13th chapter. It is about the love of God which both supports and transcends all these gifts.

After this divergence, he returns to the gifts of the Spirit again in Chapter 14. At this point, Paul teaches about the functioning of the spiritual gifts in the formal assembly. The gift of prophecy is shown to be preeminent among the spiritual gifts precisely because through it knowledge and understanding are given. It is in this chapter that the statement already referred to was made: “One who prophesies speaks to men for edification, exhortation, and consolation.” It is important to stress the teaching ministry of prophecy by quoting the next statement of Paul: “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the assembly.” These truths stood in the assembly, whether it was formally or informally meeting. That Paul is now teaching about spiritual gifts in the formal assembly is established by his very statements and the instruction given. The following points establish this: (1) unlike what he said earlier about various spiritual gifts, he only gives commandments about the superiority of the teaching function of spiritual gifts. (2) He is speaking about the whole assembly of Corinth, not the smaller assemblies who gathered together for the daily main meal. This is clear in the statement, “If, therefore, the whole assembly comes together and all speak in tongues and uninstructed ones or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you rave?” In the ancient Greco-Roman world of the first century, persons who were well-to-do owned multi-story houses that occupied an entire side of a block, if not the whole block. Normally, their business operations took place on the whole first floor and they lived with their extended families, including their slaves, on the upper floor levels. During the times of the apostles, the disciples of Jesus were not infiltrated with swollen numbers of pseudo-Christians and were small in number. Jesus declared that His followers would be a tiny number of people. The whole assembly of Corinth met in the home of one of their well-to-do members named Gaius, as Paul reveals at the end of his letter to the Roman Christians when he said, “Gaius greets you, who is the host of me and of the whole assembly (of Corinth).” Also, these instructions expect unbelievers to enter and hear the Word of God and repent. Again, in that first century world culture, people did not keep their houses closed like we do in our culture. But, very early in the morning, they opened their front doors so that anyone who passed by could gain access. In this act, a portion of their houses became public. The living quarters, kitchen, and dinning room were not public. You had to be invited to eat with someone. So, when the whole assembly gathered, the front door was opened, according to the custom of the day, and anyone had access. Again, it was expected that unbelievers would enter and converts would be made during the time of the functioning teaching gifts of the assemblies so gathered. (3) Nothing is said here or in the related teaching of Paul to Timothy (covered above under the formal feature of meeting) about eating. Finally, (4) it is at this place and in this context that Paul gives the instructions for women to remain silent in the assembly. I will quote it again: “Women must be silent in the assemblies; for they are not permitted to speak, but they are to be subordinate, as also the Law says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home. For it is a shameful thing for a woman to speak in assembly.” Very clearly, what Paul allows and expects in women at the assembly gathered to eat the Lord’s daily main meal, he forbids in them when the assembly gathers to proclaim the Word of God. In the one assembly context women fully function and teach everyone present. In the other assembly context they remain silent and receive the Word proclaimed. After Paul gave all of these instructions and commandments he ended his entire doctrine regarding the functioning of the assemblies with these very powerful and sobering words: “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or spiritual, let him fully know that the things I write are commandments of the Lord. But if anyone ignores this, he is ignored (by God).”

At this point, I will make a clarification upon an anticipation of a misconstruing of the statement before the end which says, “For you are all able to prophesy, one by one, in order that all may learn and all may be instructed.” This does not apply to women in this assembly setting, not only because of everything examined above, but also because of the immediate context of these words. At this particular point, Paul is rejecting disorder in the assembly and replacing it with the standards of God’s order. He commanded, “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let it be two or at most three, and in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the assembly and let him speak to himself and to God (only). And let two or three prophets (at most) speak, and let the others (prophets) discern. And if something is revealed to another (prophet) who is sitting, let the first (prophet) be silent.” Then he makes the statement quoted above, “For you are all able to prophesy, one by one, in order that all may learn and all may be instructed.” He immediately went on to say, “And the spirits of prophets are subject to (those) prophets. For God is not of confusion, but of peace, as in all the assemblies of holy ones.” This whole segment deals with order and specifically with that of men who were known as Prophets in the ancient assemblies. After this he gave the commandment that I referred to several times – Women must be silent in the assemblies …

One other issue needs clarification. In the normal state of things, the assemblies met in separate places for the formal and informal meetings, respectively. However, large houses could host both kinds of meeting. When this happened, there was an obvious break in order to serve the food. The resumption with the Lord’s dinner constituted the second, informal setting of meeting. The commandment that Paul gave to women in First Corinthians to ask their own husbands at home for instruction clearly only applies to the formal aspect of meeting when both aspects occurred at a large house. He gave this commandment to ensure the dignity of the formal gathering of the believers. It is noteworthy that although many houses in our American culture are not as large as those of some of the well-to-do of the first century, still they are large enough to accommodate both kinds of meeting of believers. Wherever that happens, this clarification applies.

Before concluding, I must make a timely application of these Scriptures regarding the gift of prophecy. Although the gift of prophecy has been transcended by the completeness of God’s Kingdom, these pronouncements about it still apply today. This is grounded in the fact the very function, the essential feature of the gift of prophecy is to teach, to instruct, to build up faith. It was the word spoken and as such stood preeminent among all of God’s spiritual gifts to His assemblies. The completeness of this gift heightens its purpose in filling it to fullness. Today, instead of women actually functioning in this gift, they function in the purpose and goal of it; edification, exhortation, and consolation for all the believers – that is; they still teach men and women in assembly!

In conclusion: The assemblies of God have two essential and distinct features of meeting. They should assemble in both the formal setting in which to hear the proclamation of the Word of God and they should gather together in fellowship to edify one another during the main meal of the day. This meal is renamed the Lord’s dinner because in it the hungry are literally satisfied with food and all believers feed one another the true spiritual food – faith and love in God. (The churches have corrupted these two essential features of meeting by convoluting the two into a hybrid one, by changing the Lord’s main meal and its meaning, and by stifling the spoken ministry of women among men.) In the formal setting of the proclamation of God’s Word, women remain silent in utter dignity regarding the holiness of God. In the informal setting of sharing the Lord’s dinner together, women operated in speaking God’s Word, the teaching ministry, precisely in order to build up their brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

theodore@hearjesus.net

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