Online, I ran across a local Pentecostal church’s worship service. Wild! I couldn’t tell if the congregation was all singing or all speaking in tongues or both. Wasn’t what I call “in order”.
On the other hand, I know of some churches so “in order” they allow no room for spiritual gifts or the God of spontaneous joy.
The Corinthians definitely needed to be put “in order”. That’s Paul’s aim here, because a visit there was “a walk on the wild side”.
GETTING TONGUES AND PROPHECY IN ORDER
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two– or at the most three– should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints . . . (1 Corinthians 14:26-33).
Paul starts his ending observing how every member contributes to the Corinthian church gathered for worship. Then this repeated reminder: “All of these must be done for the strengthening (Greek, oikodomay—literally, of a building; figuratively, of making something stronger) of the church”.
Again, the aim of gathered worship is the common good, not the supposed spirituality of the individual.
Probably Corinthian tongues-speakers were many, all at once, without interpretation. Interpretation is absolutely necessary (without a known spiritually-gifted interpreter present, the tongues-speaker should keep silent). At the most, three tongues-speakers may speak. And one at a time. This seems a well-duh-yeah rule; but the Corinthians were copying the frenzied, out of control ecstatic speech of the pagan idol worshipers.
Same with prophecies—three at most. And “the others” (not named—others gifted with prophecy? all other church members?) “should weigh carefully (Greek, diakrayetosan—used of evaluating the difference between things, “discern”—same word used of the gift of “discerning of spirits” in 12:10).
Paul writes of prophecy as a “revelation” and insists “if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down”, the first “prophet” should stop and allow the second to speak. However that was to work out, Paul’s meaning is clear. All with the gift of prophecy can speak in turn with the goal of building up the church (“so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged”).
Like speaking in tongues, prophecy is not being uncontrollably “seized” by the Spirit. The speaker can control his speech. And the reason for control and order lies in the character of God, who “is not a God of disorder but peace”.
The NIV makes “As in all the congregation of the saints” part of 14:33, though there is question as to where it belongs. But what you’re really interested in is what I’ll say about the next two verses, right?
GETTING WOMEN IN ORDER
. . . women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34,35).
Wow! Not a wise title, right ladies? Well, according to Dr. Gordon Fee (and many others) these verses probably were not written by Paul and don’t belong here. Probably they were added by some scribe somewhere along the way (manuscripts were hand-copied).
One reason for doubting their authenticity is 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 where Paul addresses the issue of women praying or prophesying with their head uncovered. See the problem? In chapter 11 he wants women to cover their heads when they pray or prophesy in the gathered church; in chapter 14 he’s supposedly forbidding they speak at all. (There are other “technical” reasons for doubting the authenticity of 14:34,35 which I won’t dig into because they bore me.)
If these are Paul’s words, here’s the traditional interpretation. Wives were openly questioning their husbands, thereby creating a nuisance. So Paul forbids them to speak “in the church”. Again, though, it’s most likely these verses don’t belong at all.
Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored. Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way (1 Corinthians 14:36-40).
A bit of a confrontation to put the Corinthians in place: “Did God’s Word come out of you? Or did he send it to you only? Think you’re spiritually gifted? Then you’ve got to admit I’m writing the Lord’s command! Ignore my words and you’ll be ignored!” Pretty strong stuff! Paul was serious about his instructions!
For this reason, Paul summarizes (one more time) what he wants the Corinthians to do: (1) “be eager to prophecy” (intelligible speech in the gathered church is absolutely necessary); (2) “do not forbid speaking in tongues” (here he means in the gathered assembly and with interpretation as he’s urged); and (3) “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (this for the upbuilding of the church and to be consistent with the character of God).
The centrality of God’s Word in gathered worship is enjoying a revival these days, at least among some. How great is that? Without God’s Word, interpreted as written by the authors, we’re left with anecdotal stories at best and human wisdom at worst.
But God has given his church another source of upbuilding–the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They must be ministered in line with God’s Word. And they must not be ignored because of faulty interpretation (gifts died with the apostles!) or chronic abuse.
And abuse must be admitted. So must the fear of pastors and elders to exercise discipline toward abusers. But abuse can’t be a reason for throwing out what God gives.
Let’s admit something else: the local church is spiritually weaker than we think. We need all God offers! No, we can’t “drum up” the gifts. God gives them sovereignly as he wills. But we can pursue them in prayer. Yes, it’s unnerving for “up-front” leaders to allow congregation members to respond to the Holy Spirit and prophesy. But a church where gifts are flowing only from “up-front leaders” is a church running on too few cylinders.
I don’t know your church situation. But, if gifts are lacking, don’t beat your pastor. Pray. Maybe God will unexpectedly pour out the Spirit. And a bit of his spontaneous joy might spring up!
HOPE IN SUFFERING