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Feb 26, 2012

Worship Order

Passage: 1 Corinthians 14:1-40

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Objects for Worship--1 Corinthians 8-14

Category: Life Together

Keywords: worship, gifts, order of worship, dynamics of worship


How much of what we do in our church worship services really comes from Scripture and how much is from our traditions? Is what we are doing really what made the early church great? Is it really doing what God designed church to be or are we creating whole generations and groups of passive listeners rather than active worshipers?


Worship Order

I Corinthians 14

February 26, 2012


How much of what we do in the average Protestant or Evangelical “church service” is modeled for us in the Bible? 


As Evangelical Christians who pride ourselves on our Reformation roots, we declare along with Martin Luther or old, “sola scritura.” That Latin phrase means essentially, “Scripture alone,” and was used by our Reformation fathers as the rallying cry to get the church back to the teachings and authority of the Word of God rather than the encrusted traditions of over a millennium of the Roman Catholic Church.


So how well have we done at sticking to Scripture rather than conforming to church traditions?  Well, let’s see. 


If you walk into any Protestant church today, what are the basic components of the “worship service” though the order might differ?  [Which of them are actually found in the N.T. as part of church worship?]

  • Greeting—by usher, pastor, bulletin-passer-outer, etc.  Some churches may encourage a “greeting” time or “passing of the peace”—“Peace be yours.”  [Holy kiss?]
  • Song Service/music—whether organ music or bands, hymns and choirs or congregational singing.  [Eph. 5:19]
  • Prayer [I Tim. 2:1]
  • Scripture readings  [I Tim. 4:13]
  • Sermon  [I Tim. 4:13]
  • Communion [I Cor. 11]
  • Offering  [I Cor. 16:2]
  • Announcement  [???]
  • Benediction/parting blessings

So…how much of this do we see actually occupying the life of the early church when they got together?  Can we point to specific verses that tell us the early church was doing these things in their corporate/family gatherings?


NOTE:  Before we go any further, it is important to make a couple of clarifications here.

1.)     Just because we can’t find something in the Bible and life of the early church doesn’t mean it is wrong.  Things like sound systems, clocks, bound copies of the 66 books of the Bible, musical instruments and hundreds of other things are never found in the early church life. We are, therefore, free to use whatever items and actions that aid in drawing us closer to Christ.  But we must always be ready to critically examine whether or not something is actually helping us experience Christ more or hindering us from doing so.

2.)    Just because we DO find something used or done in the early church doesn’t mean we are bound to do the same today.  For example, the early church met together every day in some form, they greeted each other with a “holy kiss,” they met together almost exclusively in homes or Jewish synagogues, the women wore head coverings, they read from parchments and took offerings for far-away churches.  We are only bound to obey what is commanded in scripture, not what is simply talked about or even modeled. 

3.)    There is, therefore, a HUGE arena of freedom given to the church in every place in every generation.  But whatever we choose to do or not do should help us obey the clear commands of Scripture and follow the timeless principles of the Bible. 


Last week we took a look at the all-church spiritual gift experience Paul described in I Cor. 12.  There were 3 major truths that Paul brought to the surface that should impact what we experience in the church in the 21st century:

1.)    Every follower of Jesus is given at least one spiritual gift to use for the benefit of the church body when they become a Christian and are baptized in the Holy Spirit at spiritual rebirth.  To fail to exercise your gift is to undervalue what the Holy Spirit has given you and to rob the rest of God’s people of God’s gift in you.  (12:1-11, 27-30)

2.)    Some followers of Jesus have a spiritual self-image problem when it comes to their gift(s).  They underestimate the importance of the gift(s) God has given them and are often jealous of others with different gifts.  (12:14-20)

3.)    Some believers have the opposite problem—a spiritual-superiority complex.  They see their gift(s) as more important than others gifts and therefore often dominate the time the body of Christ shares together.  (12:21-26)


So today we come to chapter 14 which begins by talking about the whole matter of tongues and prophecies being used in the church gathering.  We’re going to come back to that next week and take a more detailed look at that and what God may want to teach us today.  But today I want us to pull back the lens of the camera and look at the bigger picture of church worship and what God has to say about what could or should be going on when we come together as the church.  That section begins in 14:26.


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.

 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.


So try and picture what Paul is describing in vs. 26.  “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.”

            First question:  When and in what settings did the Corinthian church come together in the manner described here?  Answer:  we’re not sure.  The best early description of the believers in Corinth comes to us in Acts 18.  There we’re told that Paul spent a year and a half (Acts 18:11) in Corinth “teaching them the word.” 

Initially, Paul met a Jewish couple by the name of Aquila and Priscilla who where recent transplants from Rome where, along with other Jews, they had been run out of town by the emperor Claudius who had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.  They were, like Paul, tentmakers. Paul apparently worked and lived with them and spent “every Sabbath” reasoning “in the synagogue” with all the other Jewish immigrants and Greek converts to Judaism in the synagogue at Corinth, trying to persuade them to believe in Jesus. 

He eventually wore out his welcome in the synagogue so, we are told, he “went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God” (Acts 18:7).  The only other thing we know is that one of the synagogue rulers named Crispus along with his “entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized” (18:8).

So apparently the church came together in houses, which would have limited their size to the size of a house.  [In fact, the very oldest physical building known that served as a church gathering place in the Middle East was found in Syria, in a town called Dura-Europos.  It was actually a house in which two rooms had been joined together by taking down a wall between them.  (See picture.) 

This room in a house at the wall of the city had frescos of a man (Jesus) healing a paralytic, walking on the water with Peter, and acting as the Good Shepherd.  There is also a picture of three women approaching a sarcophagus/tomb with the name of Salome (commonly thought to be Mary, the mother of James) written under one.  There are also frescos of David & Goliath and Adam and Eve.  That city was destroyed in 235A.D. by the Persians in a battle against its Roman defenders.  Scientists have even found evidence of chemical warfare (bitumen and sulphur crystals were ignited to create poisonous gas) that was used in tunnels the Persians dug to undermine the city.]


Second question:  Who is Paul speaking to?  Everyone in the church?  Just certain gifted people?  Just leaders?  Here we might have a little more information.

            I Cor. 11 uses the same phrase when it is talking about the church coming together for the Lord’s Supper/Love Feast (11:17, 18, 20, 33, 34--“…when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you….”).  Paul also talks about the “whole church” coming together just before this passage in I Cor. 14:23—“So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues…” 

            First, I don’t think Paul’s use of “everyone” in this passage must mean that everyone spoke in a tongue. We know from his list of rhetorical questions at the end of chapter 12 that not everyone has the same gifts.  So when we get to our passage in 14:26 and Paul says, “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation,” I don’t think he means 100% of the church either. 

            Some have suggested that Paul is simply talking about the church leaders who had those roles/gifts in the assembly of the church.  Others have said it might refer to anyone in the church who had those gifts.    Others say it could be anyone in the church, period. 

            Even if you go with the most restrictive possibility (church leaders with those gifts/roles), you have multiple people in the church gathering involved in leading out in hymns, in the giving of “a word of instruction”, in “a revelation,” “in a tongue or an interpretation” of that tongue. 

            Paul goes on to clarify HOW both tongues and prophecy are to be exercised or limited in the church gathering.  In both cases, no more than 3 people are to share either a tongue or a prophecy AND, in the case of tongues, only if there is an interpreter for each tongues-speaker.  (How that would be known is not stated.) 

            We’ll talk more about those two gifts next week.  What I want us to think about this week is the dynamic that was operating in the gatherings of the church. 


First, there were lots of people involved—several, at least, leading in musical praise, several giving a word of instruction, several a revelation, several a message in tongues.  In fact, it appears that there were more people anxious to share something with the whole gathering than there was time to share.  The fact that Paul instructed them to limit the number of prophecies and tongues speakers to 3 each seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit might have moved on far more than 3 prophets or tongues speakers to bring something to the body that day.

            So a gathering of God’s people might have 3 prophecies, 3 tongues messages/prayers, a quantity of hymns, several words of instruction and who knows how many other things. 

            It’s important to note what Paul did NOT command the Corinthian church to do.  He didn’t rebuke this very participatory style; instead he simply specified some order and some boundaries to it all.  He didn’t tell them to turn it into a teaching time…or a worship and praise time…or a group serving time.  He encourage them to continue to make it a highly participatory event at which a good percentage of the church got very personally involved.

            That’s quite different from what most “worship services” are in church today, right?  In fact, the larger the gathering of believers becomes, the more difficult that format becomes and the more controlled we think we need to make the service, right?  After all, unless you are planning on 5-10 hour services, you’re probably not going to be able to experience the sort of thing talked about in I Cor. 14 in a group much larger than 40 or 50 believers, right? 

APP:  So how should this inform our worship services?  Our Love Feasts?  Our home gatherings or smaller groups?  Clearly big gatherings of God’s people where there were well-orchestrated “services” with a few leaders/performers and lots of spectator-observers was NOT what caused the first-century church to explode across the world.  Instead, believers approached “church” as something that would require them to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and attune to how they might build up the Body of Christ, the church. 

            Is that how you and I approach church?  Are we thinking all week long, “I wonder if God might want to use that God-experience I just had or that God-sighting I just observed to bless the body this week?  I wonder if what the Holy Spirit just spoke to me about from his Word…or in that conversation…or during my prayer time…if He might want me to share that on Sunday… or in my small group? 

            I know from 30 years of experience that when you know God’s people are going to be looking to you to bring some “word of instruction” in some church gathering each week, it changes how you live your week listening and looking for God to give you something to share with others. 


Second, this passage makes it clear that all of this spiritual family-life gathering was to be under the empowering of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of God was apparently so active in the hearts and minds of the church participants that many if not most of them felt a desire to participate in the gathering by giving something personally of benefit to everyone. 

This fits what we see happening in the book of Acts whenever we see a gathering of Jesus’ followers being “filled with the Holy Spirit.”  They couldn’t keep quiet.  They started declaring the wonders of God and telling others of the greatness of Christ.

It also fits what we see a little earlier in this chapter 14:23-25. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

            I wouldn’t mind if that was the experience EVEYTIME we came together as the church!  In fact, that’s what I pray will happen more often than not—that we will experience the power of the presence of Christ so much that even unbelievers among us will call out to God in words of testimony! 

APP:  Not everyone is called to speak something out in every gathering of God’s people.  But may I challenge you that God may want you to lead out in prayer…or give a word of encouragement to the body…or share what He’s been doing in your life…or bring up something He’s revealed in his word that would benefit all of us.  It’s O.K. to have times of silence in God’s church.  (The Quakers practice that quite frequently in their services.)  But the norm should be that when the Spirit of God prompts you to pray or give a testimony or enlighten some passage of Scripture with an observation or application, that we DO SO rather than hiding behind our silence. 


Third, whatever we do when we gather together as the church is to be done orderly and for the benefit/ strengthening of the whole church (vs. 26, 31).  Let’s be honest.  Churches tend to go to either extreme on this.  Either we are so “orderly” that you can predict with 99.9% accuracy exactly what will happen in a worship service and when it will happen…OR…depending on your church tradition, things easily get out of control—the people supposedly experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in them at that moment seem to lose control of themselves and the gathering seems to be marked by lots of noise by lots of people experiencing lots of different things. 

I think that something more in the middle of those two extremes is what delights the heart of God.  This takes real humility on the part of those who feel led to engage in leading the Body.  It means you may need to defer at some point to someone else that has something God wants to say through them.  It means you may have to “cut short” what you had planned to say so that someone else can say what’s on their heart.  (That’s especially tough for preachers like me who are used to making church gatherings primarily about teaching. More about that in a moment.)

IF we are to have this more spontaneous sharing of the work of the Holy Spirit in all of us, it will require that we humbly submit whatever it is we think God is moving us to share to the broader body of God’s people.  Look at vs. 29-- Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.  While there is some doubt as to whether these “others” mentioned here are the whole church or other prophets or the leaders of the church, the clear fact remains that anyone who thinks they have some word or teaching from God needs to be humble enough to have it “weighed” by others in the church to see if it is a sound, solid word that agrees with the full teachings of Scripture.  Nobody, not even pastors and college professors, are beyond being challenged to think, act and speak more biblically and godly.  You’re free to challenge my teaching if you think it is off base just as you are free to challenge, weigh and test the ministry of every person who claims to speak God’s truth (I Thess. 5:19-21—Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20) do not treat prophecies with contempt.  21) Test everything.  Hold on to the good.)


Finally, even in the house-church gatherings illustrated here in chapter 14, there seems to have been somewhat of a priority on the ministry of God’s word. 

            The focus of most of the verbal messages talked about here, whether tongues or prophecies or words of instruction or even hymns, seems to be upon what God wanted to communicate with his people.  We hold in our hands every day more of the inspired, inerrant and authoritative words of God than the first century believers ever had.  Our testing and weighing should, I believe, focus more upon whether or not someone’s ministry in the body is in accordance with the revealed, written word of God or whether it is straying outside those boundaries and getting into the bizarre and weird. 

            This passage is not, by any means, the only teaching in the N.T. about what we should spend our time and energies on when we come together in Jesus’ name.  Here are just a few others of many.

  • I Timothy 4:13-- devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
  • Acts 11:26-- So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church [at Antioch] and taught great numbers of people.
  • Acts 15:35-- But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.
  • Acts 20—Paul at Troas--7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” 11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted. 
  • Acts 20:20—Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders:   You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.
  • I Cor. 2:13-- This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.


Granted, Paul was both a founding Apostle, teacher and preacher of the church.  So his gifting clearly focused upon the gifts that ministered the Word of God to the Church of God.  But it is instructive that the church is seen over and over giving time and priority to God’s word.  The exercise of the Spirit’s gift will seek first and foremost to lead us all into the truth of God’s word. 


So, what do we do now???  Where do we go with this?  Do I open it up for a worship free-for-all next week and for years to come?  Come and find out!  J 

            O.K., seriously, I think we need to consider some changes in the way we experience “church” together. 

  • I think I/we need to allow and plan for more involvement from you in these gatherings. 
  • I think you need to come expecting God to use you in the service just as much as I come hoping he will do the same week after week with me.
  • I think we need to make “small church” the most important gathering of the church every week, whether that is a small group you are in or whether that means keeping our Sunday gatherings small. 
    • New Wednesday night “Changing Lives” group starting March 7, 6-8
    • Multiply church services?  Sunday afternoon/ evenings?
    • Plant more churches that are smaller and self-sustaining. 


What do YOU think?  [Open it up for questions, ideas and prayer response to God.]