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Orderly Worship September 30, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 14:26-40.

Summary: Paul begins by asking the Corinthians to assess the state of their worship services; he knows that whenever they gather for worship, one is ready to sing a song of praise to God, another is prepared to teach, a third is ready to exercise the gift of prophecy, a fourth is prepared to exercise the gift of speaking in tongues, and a fifth is ready to interpret any tongue that may be employed – yet all of these gifts must be exercised for the benefit of the entire church. Now only two or three of those who can speak in tongues should use that gift during a particular worship service; they must speak in turn, and someone must be able to interpret their speech. If none of the believers present can interpret a tongue that may be employed, the speaker of that tongue should not audibly exercise their gift at that time; they should only exercise it silently by talking with God.

Also, only two or three of those who have the gift of prophecy should use that gift during a particular worship service, and those who have the gift of distinguishing between spirits should assess their revelations; now if one receives a revelation from the Lord while another is exercising the gift of prophecy, they should remain silent until the speaker has finished. By speaking in turn, the prophets facilitate the teaching and comforting of the entire church. Indeed, the Holy Spirit does not compel those with the gift of prophecy to cast off their self-control while exercising that gift. This follows from the fact that God is characterized by peace – and not by commotion.

Now in the churches of that era, it was common for women to be silent during worship services – and so the Corinthians should observe this practice; women should be silent in accordance with the Old Testament doctrine that stresses the subordination of women to men. If women have any questions regarding Christianity, they should ask their husbands in private – as it is abhorrent for them to speak during worship services. Paul then challenges the Corinthians, since their allowing women to speak during worship services implies that the Gospel originated in Corinth. Now if anybody considers himself to have the gift of prophecy – or any other gift – they should submit to Paul’s directions in this passage, as Paul is led by Christ in this regard. If anybody refuses to accept Paul’s authority in this regard, he will leave them to their own devices. It follows that the Corinthians should seek after the gift of prophecy, and the gift of speaking in tongues should not be muzzled. Paul concludes by noting, though, that these gifts should be exercised during their worship services in such a way that propriety and order are preserved.

Thoughts: The focus of this passage – and, to be more precise, the entire chapter – is the proper conduct of worship services. Now the disorder that prevailed in the Corinthian church primarily arose from members who were anxious to exercise the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues. This picture of disorder is decidedly foreign to modern-day churches, especially the Baptist, Presbyterian and non-denominational churches that I’ve attended. Of course, this makes me wonder if a modern-day Pentecostal service serves as a poor approximation to the situation in the Corinthian church. I’m assuming that order still prevails in a modern-day Pentecostal church – how is order enforced, though?

Verses 34-35 stress that women should not speak during worship services – at least in the churches of that era. Hodge offers some head-scratching thoughts on this issue:

The rational basis for this prohibition is that it is contrary to the relationship of subordination in which the woman stands to the man if she appears as a public teacher…The scriptural basis is expressed in the words as the Law says – that is, the will of God as made known in the Old Testament. There, as well as in the New Testament, the doctrine that women should be in subjection is clearly revealed.

This is certainly one of the most controversial passages in all of Scripture, and Hodge’s thoughts do not resolve all of the doubts in my mind. For example, many churches – including the one that I attend – have ordained female pastors and female ministers; would such actions be contrary to the directive that Paul spells out here? Also, many churches have female Sunday School teachers, especially for children’s classes; would that state of affairs be contrary to Paul’s directive?

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