1 Corinthians 14:26-40
Decently and in Order
Having discussed the mutual need of the members for one another in the one body, Paul now turns to the very real need of decent and ordered corporate worship. From the commonsense rules that Paul lays out, it seems that worship in the church in Corinth was more a melee than a worship service with each member insisting on being heard. We see again that love was not present but instead an insistence on personal liberties. The same could be found in churches across America.
I would only offer these observations: 1) As these two letters to the church at Corinth were perhaps written in the mid-50s, worship in the early churches was still in something of a state of flux. We do not read of overseers, deacons, or some other official capacity, with the exception of apostle. Even “prophet” and “teacher” seem not to be offices but gifts granted to certain individuals by the Spirit. By the mid-60s, offices such as overseer (i.e., pastor or bishop) and deacon had been created, no doubt under the Spirit’s leading, as seen in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. This is all to say that church organization developed in the New Testament era; it was not given on the day of Pentecost. And when we witness what was happening at Corinth, we see why this came about—which is to say that the specifics of the way worship was done at Corinth is neither authoritative nor a model for us. Many contemporary churches have made a mess of things when adopting such a model. 2) That “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” shows us that neither prophecy nor tongues was an ecstatic or “out of body” experience as was the case in pagan temples; the Spirit does not come over someone so that he loses his mind. 3) We must be sure to understand that prophecy is not here understood as adding to or taking away anything from that which is recorded in Scripture. Prophecy today may be defined as insight which God gives someone into the times in which we live or even into people’s lives, but not in the way of “Thus says the Lord” on a par with Scripture; the canon is closed.
Finally, God is not a God of confusion; worship should be structured. And what saddens me is that the Church has numerous resources in her history with creeds, confessions, prayers, and sermons of which churches in America are completely ignorant or would simply reject choosing instead to be “moved by the Spirit.” I do not say that there is only one way to structure a worship service; I do say that evangelical churches in America could afford to deepen their worship services with more than another praise chorus.
In the middle of this passage is instruction on women to “keep silent in the churches” and that “it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” I shall not address what that means for “our day” as that is entirely irrelevant; we are to view the time in which we live through the lens of the Scriptures and not the other way around. However, there are some issues dealing with the interpretation of this passage which must be addressed.
In the first place, with regard to head coverings, Paul has already admitted that women both pray and prophesy in the church. There, he said nothing contrary to the practice but only addressed the matter of propriety, that is, that women should keep their heads covered while doing so. Second, the passage seems to some as being out of place; that is, some think that verse thirty-six follows quite seamlessly with the first part of verse thirty-three. Thus, some insist that these few verses were not written by Paul but added by a later editor. The trouble with this argument is that we have no manuscript in which this passage is missing, and so to dismiss it is quite irresponsible. A third possibility is that Paul was addressing some women in the church who were troublemakers. These were the ones who dismissed conjugal relations within marriage because they had become “super-spiritual” (7:1-5), were refusing to cover their heads while praying, and were causing a ruckus in worship by insisting on prophesying out of order. Not only is this a questionable reconstruction of the events, but I cannot feature Paul saying that the silence of women was practiced “in all the churches of the saints,” as neither Acts nor Paul’s other letters bears this out.
Another possibility with which I agree is that Paul is actually quoting what some Corinthians had written to him before or that he had heard from others about them. We have seen this already at 6:12-13, 7:1, and 8:1. Granted, 14:33b-35 would be a long quote, but so what? And I think that verse thirty-six then answers that quote. In other words, Paul quotes the Corinthians to say that women should not speak a word during worship—and that while the men cannot maintain any semblance of order themselves! And then Paul sarcastically answers back to the men (to paraphrase): “What? Are you the oracles of truth? Has the word of God only reached your ears? Do share!”
I may be incorrect. I certainly do believe that Scripture teaches male headship in the church (and home) but to silence women altogether is not something I see anywhere else in Scripture. And I cannot simply dismiss the passage as a later addition until such an ancient manuscript is discovered. In the end, let love abound and let us defer and learn from one another, both men and women.