Several months ago we spent time working through 1 Corinthians 12-14. Within this “Early Church Worship Guide,” we clearly find the apostle Paul writing, “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order” (14:39-40). For many, these two verses seem to be mutually exclusive statements. For the apostle Paul, they were not. Several months ago, a young lady attempted to explain to me what she believed speaking in tongues was (though she clearly had not studied the whole of Scripture) and over the years I have heard many other people attempt to either explain away this passage or to find support for practices and experiences that Paul clearly did not intend. At the very heart of exegesis is the desire to allow the text to speak for itself. We are not to read into this passage, nor any other passage of Scripture.
We could obviously spend hours discussing the role of the charismata (gifts of the Holy Spirit), but before one engages that conversation, we need to clearly understand seven characteristics that the apostle Paul explicitly states will characterize Christian worship gatherings. These seven characteristics should be pragmatic and not simply rules and regulations that we check off. Note the seven characteristics:
(1) Christian worship is to be vocal – As you’ll note, Paul does not say, “When you come together bring a holy silence!” Rather, Paul writes to the Corinthians, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” (v. 26). As you’ll note, each of the contributions that Paul lists are vocal contributions.
(2) Everything must be understood by the majority – In just forty verses, Paul emphasizes the importance of worship contributions being intelligible in well over nine separate statements! As you read through 1 Corinthians 14, one cannot ignore Paul’s explicit statement that the early Christians should “strive to excel in building up the church” (v. 12). This should be a foundational characteristic for what occurs during a corporate worship gathering.
(3) True worship must be balanced – No congregation should ever become “the church of prophecy” or the “church of tongues” or “the church of healing.” According to Paul, each of the gifts has a special and unique purpose and function and they are all for the building up of the local congregation! So there should never be “too much” of any one gift. This is better understood by recognizing that we should never focus on one gift to the determinant of others or in a way that would minimize the importance that each of the other gifts have. This happens far more than it should! Perhaps a better way to state this would be to say that we cannot truly have “too much” of a gift but we can certainly focus “too much” on a gift, ignoring others!
(4) True worship must be orderly – While this is not always embraced by those of us in the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement, we must note that chaotic worship is not Biblical! This is not to say that your understanding of what is chaotic is unbiblical, because for some, simply raising hands to the Lord is chaotic. In verse 40, Paul states that “all things should be done decently and in order.” Order is the English translation of the Greek word taxis which is defined as an arrangement, order, or a fixed succession observing a fixed time. This verse gives serious support to the concept of having a Liturgy or an “Order of Service” that many mainline denominations have. While there are issues that arise with that model, we can certainly find agreement with the guiding principle. Any worship gathering that is chaotic, confusing, and outright uncontrolled is not Biblical. Please do not read into this. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not allowed to move; it simply means that our flesh, emotions, or personal preferences cannot become the excuse for chaos. This is further supported when the apostle Paul writes, “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (v. 32), clearly implying that a person has the ability to restrain his or her self.
(5)True Christian worship should be shared worship – It would be unthinkable, in the 1st century, to have a corporate worship gathering that did not, at the very minimum, give people the opportunity to participate. Read that again. It would be unthinkable to have worship gatherings where everyone simply showed up and “watched the show.” Corporate participation is the foundational benchmark of 1 Corinthians 14! Again, verse 26 indicates that the Corinthians understood this! Evidently, people were showing up prepared to contribute to the worship gatherings. In fact, Paul had to give some regulations regarding the prophetic ministry because it was getting out of control! At the very least we should be willing to contribute and this requires that we spend time asking God for opportunities and taking them when they arrive.
(6) True worship must always be Scriptural – Experience can never supersede the written text of Scripture. Paul could not express this any clearer than by writing, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (v. 37). The Scriptures are able to make us “wise for salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15) and are specifically “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). The Scriptures are, quite frankly, our safety net. To go beyond them is to enter into an area that can easily become ensnared in the methods and philosophies of the world. We are wise to recognize the inspiration of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit.
(7) True Christian worship should be real – Paul, as a Hebrew scholar, would have been well aware of that which was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isa. 29:13). Christian worship should be authentic for numerous reasons, not the least of which is that when the people of God are real and transparent with the Lord, who sees all, His presence manifests itself. This, in turn, will cause non-believers to worship God and state, “God is really among you” (1 Cor. 14:25). Authenticity must characterize our worship gatherings because God cannot be fooled. What we do and say in the secret of our heart will be exposed (cf. Eccles. 12:14).
I honestly believe each of these seven characteristics could be expanded into seven chapters and possibly even seven books! Seriously, there’s a lot of content within Paul’s commandments They each carry an overwhelming amount of support from more than just the Pauline corpus and certainly it is not limited to 1 Corinthians. Our main concern, I think, is to align ourselves individually and corporately with how God directs us through what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write some approximate 2000 years ago.
What are your thoughts? Where have congregations gone wrong and what can we do to bring about change? Why do you believe Paul made these “rules and regulations,” as one author labeled them.