In our community are a handful of church structures that are around 200 years old or more. If we could go back in a time machine and attend a service of that era, we would hardly recognize what was going on. The elements of the worship would seem very odd to us. Even so, it would surely consist of some forms of worship, instruction, fellowship, and remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ. Now, multiply the time from this illustration by a factor of 10, and that is what would be needed to take you back to the church in Corinth that Paul addresses in these letters.
For a brief time when Diana and I first moved to Texas to begin my seminary studies almost 41 years ago, for a short time we attended a newly-formed church that some relatives in Dallas had been attending. It was a group of about 40 people who met in a decidedly New Testament style of meeting. There was a weekly dinner as we gathered late in the afternoon. We knew that there would be a communion observance at some point, and there would be songs, teachings, testimonies, prayers, and words of edification, but there was no established order. The idea was for everyone to come prepared in light of your spiritual gifting, looking for the Lord to lead and guide the congregation through the time of meeting. It was very interesting and there was much to applaud about the gathering, even though it was not a church where we continued indefinitely … as I later began service as a worship pastor in a large church for most of my Dallas years.
A phrase that was used in this fledgling congregation that believed this way of meeting was the prescribed and correct pattern of Sunday gathering was this: “Apostolic practice is apostolic precept.” What this meant was that the ways in which the church gathered in the earliest years were to be understood as a divine pattern to be followed. Therefore, churches that had pastoral staffs with designated preachers, using choirs and hymnals in pre-planned services, were very contrived and manmade rather than Spirit-driven.
I don’t think we can take that from the text. We again need to understand the context and the cultural settings involved. These were indeed the earliest days of the church. The New Testament was only just beginning to be penned and circulated. There was a dependence upon prophetic words and phenomenal guidance in their gatherings. Not a lot of history could be referenced. And, as written recently in these devotionals, many of the patterns that were followed were those familiar to Jews and their experiences with the synagogue system of gathering and worship.
It was surely easy for the gatherings to become disordered, especially in the growing context of Greek background followers of Christ who came out of faith systems involving idols. We’ve already seen the abuses going on concerning the rich who came first and ate all the food and got drunk before the poorer people could arrive. So much of Paul’s writing indicates that disarray and disorder was a common situation. All of this was not glorifying to God, and it was a shameful presentation for unbelievers who might attend and witness some crazy antics going down.
Paul’s exhortation in these verses we read today was to command that things be done in an orderly and dignified fashion, considering again that thought needed to be applied toward the whole body being served by all that occurred. There was to be instruction, but not so many varied teachers and topics that the content would be watered down and lost. Though tongues and such might take place, this too was to be orderly with a continual consideration as to how it edified all those attending.
And along this line we also come to a strange paragraph about women being silent and not speaking at all, as this would be shameful. Again, consider the times and the culture. Women were largely not educated. And also again, this was Corinth where some wild things occurred with women in the idol temples. The church was to be different and distinct.
These are prescriptions for that time. Yet, timeless truths come from such passages. Yes, there is to be order in the church meeting. There will be worship, teaching, edification and people of the family of faith exercising their gifts for the common good. The focus is on God, particularly the remembrance of the work of Christ. The goal is the growth in every way of a family of God’s people who will be equipped to live different lives as shining lights in the midst of a dark and sinful world.
It has been a thought in my mind to have us at TSF gather on some occasion in the manner that I wrote of here today – a Sunday evening gathering around a meal, etc. Everyone would be encouraged to come and share their gifts. Some of our musicians would be ready to present some group songs (or special songs) they felt led to possibly share, while also being ready to play and lead various songs that might fit with the teachings or requests of others. At some point, someone would lead us in the communion. I believe we would be enriched … so long as we did it in good order … 😊
1 Corinthians 14:26 – What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
14:29 – Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.
14:34 – Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 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.
14:36 – Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.
14:39 – Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.