Day 10: Let’s get building

Sunday. Traditionally the day of the week Christians set aside for God, following the idea of the Jewish Sabbath. Lots of Christians will be going to church today, following in the footsteps of the communities that people like Saint Paul set up so long ago. Will you be amongst them? In many ways, CU is like a church in some ways.

Today I want us to read the following passage (1 Corinthians 14:26-40):

What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached? Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized. So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order.

We need the context of this letter from the video yesterday in order for it to make sense. Paul is writing to a church where regular worship is chaos; everyone wanting to do their own thing and all at the same time! It’s such a far cry from the usual order and serenity of the church services most of us will be used to that it’s perhaps hard to imagine! It gives us great insight however into what the early church was like; for a start they didn’t seem to have priests or anyone leading the worship as ‘professional’ ministers.

I turn to William Barclay again, as he has some great commentary on this to reflect upon:

“There was obviously a flexibility about the order of service in the early Church. Everything was informal enough to allow any man who felt that he had a message to give to give it. It may well be that we set far too much store on dignity and order nowadays, and have become the slaves of orders of service. The really notable thing about an early Church service must have been that almost everyone came feeling that he had both the privilege and the obligation of contributing something to it. A man did not come with the sole intention of being a passive listener; he came not only to receive but to give. Obviously this had its dangers, for it is clear that in Corinth there were those who were too fond of the sound of their own voices; but nonetheless the Church must have been in those days much more the real possession of the ordinary Christian. It may well be that the Church lost something when she delegated so much to the professional ministry and left so little to the ordinary Church member; and it may well be that the blame lies not with the ministry for annexing those rights but with the laity for abandoning them, certainly it is all too true that many Church members think far more of what the Church can do for them than of what they can do for the Church, and are very ready to criticize what is done but very unready to take any share in doing the Church’s work themselves.”

Read the whole thing from by clicking here.

I can’t finish without acknowledging the middle paragraph of this passage regarding women in churches. These verses are unfortunately examples of ones which have been taken out of context by some to argue against women having an equal role with men in the church, something I personally strongly believe they should have. All I can say is that it’s important to understand the role that women had in society in the days when Paul was writing, and his comments above are consistent with that. The world has radically changed in many ways since then, and this is one of them. For me, these verses are very valuable to us in giving us historical insight, but are not guidance for how I believe we should live in our modern society today.

Some things to think about today:

  • What is the purpose of Christians gathering together regularly?
  • What is your experience of church? If you go regularly, what are the important aspects of it for you? If not, is it something you’ve considered?
  • Do we have a responsibility to be building up God’s church as described in Paul’s writings? How should we go about this?

If you have extra time today, I recommend reading the part of 1 Corinthians that precedes this passage (chapters 11-14). It’s an interesting section which gives even greater insight into what the early church in Corinth was like.