In my many years of being part of the home based organic church fellowship, one of the areas I’ve struggled with involved the meetings of New Testament believers (and non-believers) in the Synagogues.
From studying on it, I’ve discovered a few things.
One, God never told the Old Testament priests to build synagogues, but to build a Temple. Very specific directions were given and the Temple was built. Synagogues, to my understanding, were designed to read and study scriptures (which in turn developed into a place of worship, of sorts).
Second, the Pharisees were the ones who ruled the synagogues and added all kinds of human traditions which in turn became “law” (not the law of Moses, but additional “law”s enforced by the Pharisees). Third, Paul was found “preaching” and “teaching” many times in these places (synagogues) so would that constitute a modern day traditional/institutional church service?
In understanding scripture, I’ve found it critical in also understanding cultural influences and also examining the original language (or root/origin of words) used in scripture, much to my dismay. I’m not an analytical person, quite the opposite. I like broad and big pictures, not details and small brush strokes. Give me the whole thing in one big swipe, not lots of little things that lead to an end result.
But with God, all things are possible. Bear with me as the big picture comes into focus.
Paul often preached in Synagogues and even one time “preached” so long in a home that someone fell out the window and died.
Getting to the technical side, let’s clear a path here. Don’t let the Greek cause you to glaze over with all it’s definitions (about the time when my mind would get mushy), but instead, I challenge you to look at it in light of what we consider “preaching” or “pastor-led” in today’s church.
Something will begin to appear that differs from our modern pew (or contemporary chair) sitting of a pulpit congregation.
“And upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread Paul preached unto them ready to depart on the morrow and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber where they were gathered together” Acts 20:7,8
Not all versions say he “preached”. Others say he “talked” or such. But regardless, we know it was a long night. What was interesting is that the Greek origin of this “preached” comes from Strong’s #1256, dialegomai. In versions such as NAS or INT the word used is “talking” and “talked” from the similar Greek, dielegeto also spelled dialegeto (another form of Strong’s #1256). This word also happens to be the root of our English word, dialogue. Below, I’ve highlighted some of the areas for emphasis from “preach” or “teach” from its original Greek definition:
- Dialegomai- Strong’s definition: verb, to converse, argue, reason, preach; HELPS Word-Studies: (from 1223 /dia, “through, from one side across to the other,” which intensifies 3004 /lego, “speaking to a conclusion”)- “getting a conclusion across” by exchanging thoughts (logic)—“mingling thought with thought, to ponder”; usually of believers exercising “dialectical reasoning”. This is a process of giving and receiving information with someone to reach deeper understanding—a going back and forth of thoughts and ideas so people can better know the Lord; NAS Exhaustive Concordance: to discuss, to address, to preach, argued, carrying on a discussion, discussed, discussing, reasoned, reasoning, talking; Thayers STRONGS to converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss, dispute, preach unto, reason with
In Acts 20:7-8, Paul’s “preach”ing ‘til midnight would’ve been a discussion-type of meeting with dialogue. That doesn’t mean Paul didn’t do a teaching and it was a random free-for-all.
I believe this would be more like Paul sharing revelations, insights, discussions he’d had previously with other Apostles or Jesus Himself, teaching where there was a lack of knowledge, etc as he discipled them about God’s revealed nature through Jesus Christ. But none the less, it would have been an open floor for questions, remarks, shared insights from others, discussion, dialogue, and such by those in attendance for the edification of the hearers.
In fact, “according to Paul’s custom, he went to them (in the Synagogues), and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures” Acts 17:2. So this was “Paul’s custom” to “reason” with people, which meant discussion possibly heated ones at that.
Then there are scriptures which have different meanings (from dialegomai) to the “preach” and “teach” which simply are:
- didasko–STRONGS: to teach, to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them, deliver didactic discourses, to be a teacher. There are 97 occurrences usually as “teach” or “taught”, with 16 of them in Acts (1:1, 4:2, 4:18, 5:21, 5:25, 5:28, 5:42, 11:26, 15:1, 15:36, 18:11, 18:25, 20:20, 21:21, 21:28, 28:31)
- kerusso-STRONGS: to proclaim, to herald. Where I’ve seen this used (sometimes as the word “preach”) was in conjunction with evangelizing or presenting the Gospel to unbelievers with 61 occurrences, 8 of them in Acts (9:20, 10:37, 10:42, 15:21, 19:13, 20:25, 28:31); 32 of those occurrences happening in the Gospels
- euangelzomenoi-STRONGS: to bring good news. There are 6 occurrences of this in Acts as “preaching” or “proclaiming” depending on the version of Bible you are using (Acts 5:42, 8:4, 11:20, 14:7, 14:15, 15:35)
Bottom line: both kerusso, euangelzomenoi types of “preach” were primarily to unbelievers or those coming to hear the Gospel for conversion (or for repentance as seen in its use in the Gospels). These were declarations of Good News, but there is no mention in definition that these would be in a monologue format.
In fact, even when Jesus spoke there were discussions going on. Sometimes children interrupted Him to sit on His lap or He would direct His attention to what others were saying while He was teaching (for example the Pharisees grumbling against Him). Jesus even specifically addressed some to engage in conversation with them while He was in a crowd. But it was always done for the glory of God to be manifested.
Besides that, Jesus always taught outside in the streets, along lakes, at the outer courts, but never from inside the Holy of Holies of the Old Testament priests.
Now when Paul wrote his letters to the church, he would write to the entire church (without addressing leaders/elders upfront), but entrusted each individual with the message. For example, he never started his letters: “To the elders of Corinthians, read, teach, and preach these instructions to your people” or, “To the pastors of Galatians, take this letter and advise your people to what I’m saying to you (elders & leaders)..”
No! He wrote to the church as a whole, encouraging each member to function as the Body with many parts. These operating parts of His Body are a witness to the outpouring of the Spirit on His people. Paul even said, let 2 or 3 speak and “let the others judge” 1 Corinth 14:29, requiring discernment and discussion.
This was to Corinthians! One of the worst abusers of the gifts of the Spirit, so much so that Paul said they looked “out of their mind”.
But Paul did not even tell Corinthians to stop operating in the gifts given by the Spirit and revert to teaching that might resemble a monologue format. Nor have we seen any mention of pastor-led meetings.
Paul also did not discourage dialogue (even though the Corinthians were getting carried away with some of the gifts), nor did he encourage restraint. Instead, he tried to correct the disorder which hindered the edification of the hearers. While also encouraging them to continue in the manifestation of the Spirit evidenced by His outpouring on the gathered believers, for their edification.
Operating as the Body with many parts (whether mature or newly developing in Christ), allows His Spirit to edify us more fully through the many parts, instead of just one or two parts.
Paul even said: “Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.” 1 Corinth 14:12
That is key. It must be for the edification of the whole church, led by the Holy Spirit as He sees fit in each person.
When it comes to other believers, baby or mature meeting together, the Spirit teaches them all things for the edification of His Body. Not for miracle sessions to be the focus of the meeting or even the gifts to be the focus, but purely for edification by the Spirit pouring Himself out through others!
Finally, when it comes to the didasko, dialegomai, dielegeto “teaching”, “preaching” it would indicate there was discussion, discourse, and dialogue taking place during these “preaching”s and “teaching”s.
My concern when it comes to a predominate monologue fashion of teaching (without much or without any dialogue), is that it creates a dependence on that format (monologue-style teaching). Which in turn, atrophys, stifles and quenches the operation of the Spirit by the Body parts required to sit passively and listen.
More importantly, I do not see scriptural precedence for a monologue format of a small group of gathered believers.
Each has the Holy Spirit and each have been given various talents and gifts for the edification of His Body. So in a traditional, pastor-led monologue service, the Holy Spirit is very limited in operation because He’s only operating through a small number of the Body. That is the staff. The same is true of a small body or group which meets and leans heavily on a monologue-type teaching without room, space, or initiation of dialogue to discuss (or “judge”) the words, psalms, or teachings which arise from the meeting.
In scripture, I see the Spirit pouring Himself out on all believers for the edification and glorification of Jesus Christ. So whether we meet in small groups, larger ones, or even more traditional (pastor-led) ones, we must be aware that the Spirit is limited, or not, depending on the allowance of His operation there. Hence, the edification is either small or full and robust depending on the liberty with which we allow Him access in those places.
Church in a Circle: http://www.churchinacircle.com/2012/08/28/the-medium-is-the-message-preaching-in-church-leads-to-preaching-as-outreach/#more-179
Alan Knox’s article: http://www.alanknox.net/2012/07/replay-dialog-during-the-meeting-of-the-church/