Why do we gather together as a church?
This is an important question at a time when one can listen to a podcast of a church service, watch one on a television, bring up some great preaching on YouTube, or read a fantastic book by a dynamic spiritual writer. Why pull on your church clothes, get into your car, and drive across town to “go to church?”
Asked a different way, when Christians gather together, what is the most important aspect of that gathering?
American Christianity has become thoroughly individualized. We gather together, but we want to have a “personal touch from God.” “We” is really just a group of individuals who each want to have a “deep connection with God in my spirit during worship.” We want to feel like that sermon was “really speaking to me.” “I” need to hear what “God wants to say to me today.” Communion is a time of private introspection about my “personal relationship with God.” For a lot of American Christians, church is all about harnessing the power of a group for the personal benefits that come to the individual.
It seems something similar was happening in the Corinthian church. The ability to speak in tongues (which in this passage does seem to indicate speaking in an ecstatic unknown language indecipherable to the casual observer, c.f., 14:2, 23) was being held up as the supreme gift. Why? Because it created that intimate and personal connection between the worshipper and God. Because it benefitted “me.”
Paul makes it abundantly clear that this is not what church is all about:
Let everything be done for the general upbuilding. (14:26b)
Since you are so eager for spiritual matters, try to specialize in doing things that will build up the church. (14:12)
Four other times Paul says the goal of spiritual gifts is to “build up the church” (14:3, 4, 5, 17). In other words, we gather together for the good of all. We assemble for “us.” Communion is communal, as the name implies. The deepest connection with God comes in our collective spirit as we worship together and serve each other. Lessons are intended to be discussed and applied together. Quite the opposite from how some see it today, church is all about harnessing the power of the individual for the corporate benefits that come to the group.
So the actions of the church that promote that communal spirit are to be most highly valued and incorporated.