restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


The Rule of Paul

 David Alan Black  

Church meetings today tend to be somewhat monolingual. By contrast, the early church seemed to welcome participation by all. This becomes clear when we read 1 Corinthians 12-14. The power of Christ's upside-down kingdom lies in the corporate and community life of its citizens.

Interestingly, this notion of mutual participation, this dialogical liberty, was described by Zwingli as "the rule of Paul," even though it never became a part of the national church in Switzerland. It would be up to Zwingli's erstwhile disciples, the Anabaptists, to flesh it out. In other words, the Zwinglians and the Anabaptists did not answer the same question differently. They asked different questions. And the key was the question of biblical authority rather than adherence to different theological traditions.

I think it would be helpful to recall this "rule of Paul" whenever we read and study Paul's Corinthian Correspondence. Clearly, highly participatory meetings were not what the Magisterial Reformers intended when they argued for the perspicuity of Scripture and the priesthood of all believers. As a result, the "radicals" of the Reformation were driven into isolation. Certainly, today there is a need for such radical Christianity -- the term "radical" referring not to specific societal issues but to the degree of thoroughness with which one attempts to implement reform. In a more communal and less monolingual context (such as is practiced by Messiah Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC), we have a sign of those fresh wineskins Jesus spoke about.

This task of rebuilding the church is an urgent mandate for our generation. Are we willing to embrace a community in which kingdom citizens can participate as the Spirit leads them? Or are we using our positions of authority to perpetuate inequity? Are we building pyramids of power that Jesus cannot bless because His kingdom is flat? Do we allow edification to gravitate to the hands of a few? Do we work hard to decentralize ministry as much as possible? These questions cut to the core of our identity as followers of Jesus. His way unnerved the religious authorities of His day, and it will do the same thing today. His life and message assaulted the status quo. Likewise, Paul's appeal to every-member ministry offers an alternative model of community. Paul isn't just teaching church polity. He's unpacking bigger things. He asks us to remove the handcuffs that limit service to paid professionals. He invites kingdom citizens to become blind to status differences. He teaches that pastors are not to monopolize ministry but to equip others for works of service. He urges us to see others as more important than ourselves.

There can be no misunderstanding here. Paul turns our notions of "doing church" on their head. He defangs the clamor for status that drives so many of us. He replaces ladders of power and prestige with towels and basins. We need to grapple with these issues -- even seminary professors whom "Joe Student" is very careful to address by their titles. Let's face it -- pecking orders are deeply embedded in every area of our Christian experience.

Ought this to be? If not, why not?

May 19, 2011

David Alan Black is the editor of

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