A primary function of the assembly of the Church is to edify believers. But what does “edification” mean? The basic definition is “the act of building or building up.” In relation to the church, the meaning expands a bit: “the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness” (Strong’s Lexicon).
So when Christians gather together, one of our primary functions is to promote the spiritual growth of others.
Paul said this to the believers in Corinth:
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. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Cor. 14:26a-33)
I understand that some people believe speaking in tongues, interpreting them, and prophesying were gifts that have ceased, but setting aside that controversial aspect of this passage, there are some very clear principles. The main point seems to be this: When you assemble as the Church, everything should be done for the purpose of edification.
In the book of Romans, Paul talks about edification in a different context, but he uses it in juxtaposition with pleasing our neighbor and doing good for him instead of pleasing ourselves.
I’ve heard a number of sermons about church not being about me “getting something out of it,” but about giving. I understand that, especially in light of this idea that all is to be done for edification. That means my participation is to be done for the edification of others. I’m not sure non-participation can be edifying to others.
At the same time, however, what did Paul mean when he said, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment”? Isn’t the idea of “passing judgment” connected with determining the truthfulness and the value of what was spoken? In other words, we who listen need to do so actively, testing the spirits, judging whether we’re being taught aright.
We aren’t to judge whether the speaker was entertaining, however. We’re to judge whether what he said exhorted us to godly living, to following Christ more consistently, more correctly.
There’s one way a preacher can be sure to exhort the Church: preach the gospel—that is, the good news about Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus begins in Genesis and continues throughout the entire Bible to the last verse in the book of Revelation.
It’s the story of God’s reconciliation with fallen humans and how the restored relationship with God turns our lives right-side up. When a preacher opens God’s word and explains it more fully, he is giving the Church the exhortation we need.
Honestly, we don’t need a pep talk. We don’t need pats on the back. And we don’t need to be accused or condemned. The Holy Spirit can incite and encourage and convict of sin, all through the teaching of God’s word.
I guess there’s a fine line between a pastor’s manipulative prodding and his faithful instruction and exhortation. I guess that’s why I believe in expository preaching.
When a pastor is working his way through a book of the Bible, he addresses the topics that the next passage up brings. A pastor who teaches topically, on the other hand, may never get to some very needed subjects, while he may brow-beat his congregation with the topics he thinks they most need to hear.
Still, what Paul said to the Corinthian church makes it clear that edification is really the responsibility of all of us. We aren’t to assemble ourselves together and then behave selfishly. It’s not about me; it’s about us.
Of course church is also about worship. That’s another one of the main functions of our gathering. But I think corporate worship is different from private worship. The Corinthian passage seems to say as much.
Paul tells those believers that some of them needed to exercise self-control—a nice way to say, shut up and sit down, it’s someone else’s turn to talk. They were not to talk over one another. They were to listen to each other so they could learn from one another. They weren’t to be in their own private world of ecstatic worship that ignored everyone else. When they were together, they were to do what would edify others.
I’m thinking that a part of worship in many evangelical churches might be leaning toward the “private” instead of the “corporate” when it comes to worship. Of course, I’m not in other people’s churches, so I don’t really know. But churches seem to fall into trends. I don’t know if worship leaders and pastors are watching videos and copying each other or going to conferences or what, but it does seem as if there’s a lot of keeping up with the Joneses. And Sometimes I think the Joneses just might be heading off to left field.
I’d rather see a church follow the instruction of Scripture instead of the latest fad.