Wednesday, October 29, 2008

1 Cor 14:26 - Then & Now

Thanks to those who emailed me the articles, they were of great help.
I'm busy working on New Testament models of "worship gatherings" with a view to practical implementation. Personally, I'm glad that the NT doesn't give us an order of service. I like the variety of various churches. In fact, I would argue that variety is definitely needed.
I think what we need is to study the Scriptures and our context and negotiate what we deem the most essential elements and values of a Christian community, and then ask ourselves how we're going to put them together in a sustainable network of relationships that allows these elements and values to shape our praxis. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here, I want to analyse one verse that has been put forward as an "Order of Service".
1 Cor 14:26 What follows, then, my dear friends? Suppose that when you assemble together each contributes a hymn, an item of teaching, something disclosed, or speaks in a tongue, or puts the tongues language into words, the point remains: “let everything serve the building up of the community.” [Thiselton]
It is strange that the reading of scripture, prayer, the Eucharist, the offering, baptisms, church discipline, and various other elements should not be mentioned. This should quickly alert us to the fact that Paul is here more focussed on the communal work of the Spirit and Spirit activities, especially on the use and abuse of “tongues in the assembly”, whereas at other times he will encourage other elements, such as the public reading of scripture (1 Tim 4:13).[1]
Paul’s overarching principle in all these matters has consistently been the well-being and benefit of the community. Everything is to be done for the building up of the community (14:3, 5, 12 and 26). Paul is more concerned about strengthening the body, and correcting various over-emphases than he is on describing an orderly pattern of gathering for worship. We would do well to remember this thought as we navigate through this pericope.
Some have suggested that this verse (14:26) amounts to an “order of service” or “the description of a typical gathering for worship.”[2] Others then take this further and declare that this is a call to participatory, open, and interactive meetings. “Everyone”, it is suggested, must have the opportunity to share, and “everyone” must bring “a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation” (NKJV). But this seems highly unlikely for several reasons, the simplest being 1 Cor 12. Here Paul has clearly articulated that each member of the body is different, has a different gift, and thus will contribute differently to the gathered community. Thus, those without the gifts of knowledge or wisdom, cannot contribute a teaching. Those without the gift of tongues, cannot contribute a tongue. Those without the gift of discernment or interpretation, cannot discern or interpret a tongue. In fact, Paul makes this even more emphatic when he notes in 1 Cor 12:27-30:

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

The clear answer to the final verses here are, “NO!” So, the point of the verse? We’re all different, so expect different people, with different gifts, to do different things. Those without the gift of teaching, should not bring an “item of instruction”, since that could be disastrous for a community concerned with truth and accurate doctrine.
In fact, it seems rather pastorally insensitive of Paul to suggest that people move in gifts they don’t have. And in fact, placing to much emphasis getting people to share creates an unhealthy environment. Gifts emerge within appropriate contexts. In a theological conversation or setting, my gift emerges. In a business meeting with lots of administration, I have little or nothing to say. And when I have tried to contribute, people look at me like I’m an alien – because I’m moving beyond my gifting. This is clearly not what Paul has in mind.
The first thing to note is that Paul does not expect “everyone” to participate. The logistics of having 40 or more people sharing and participating would be impossible for the early Church. A few reasons for this would include: a) Christians had to work, and since they met on Sundays, which was a working day, most of these gatherings took place before or after work, i.e., before sunrise or after sunset. The length of time it would take for each person to participate would make it unlikely b) The word “everyone” should better be translated “each one”, and by that, given the context and content of 1 Cor 12, Paul means “each one” with a gift in a specific area. Thus, teachers (those recognised as having a teaching gift) should share. Prophets, (those with a recognised prophetic gift) should share, if they feel prompted to do so.
So verse 26 is definitely a call for participation, but it is a call to the participation of those with a gift in a particular or specified area. And this list is definitely not exhaustive, because look at how many vital elements are missing. It also means that those with gifts in other areas, won't share in the Christian gathering. Thus, those with the gift of mercy will probably use their gift most of the time outside the community. Those with the gift of administration will be busy before or after the gathering, but probably not during. Again, 1 Cor 12 notes that these gifts are still to be honoured, even though they’re not seen in “corporate” times of worship.
Now, this should also be set within the context that Paul encourages prophecy as a gift available to one and all. And thus, everyone with a word of prophecy should be given an opportunity to share. And if someone with another gift feels they want to share, this should be submitted to the leadership that it may be assessed and encouraged (1 Thess 5:12-22).
[1] Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth, pg. 285

[2] Dunn, The Theology of Paul, pg. 583

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