NT Wright tells the story of two medieval builders to introduce Paul’s contrasting the gift of tongues and prophecy in the passage we had read out to us today. There were two builders, he says, both very gifted and talented, one went to work each day on his own house. He lived in a time when the outsides of houses were very plain. All his skill and talent went into making the inside of the house beautiful, so he and his family could enjoy it.
The other builder went to work on a building being erected in a public square in town. He worked with other builders with different skills and abilities doing what needed to be done, for this building to be completed. Slowly the building began to take shape and it inspired all who say it. The building was a cathedral and was for all to come and to worship God. The emphasis at Corinth on speaking in tongues without interpretation says Paul may build up the individual believer, that is what it is given for, but when we gather to worship the emphasis should be on prophecy so that the whole body can be built up. The emphasis of the one is personal spirituality, no problems with that, but when we gather together we need to have things that are intelligible and in order so that we all may, hear from the Spirit and be built up.
Our vision here at St Peter’s is to be a vibrant, sustainable, authentic community, growing as followers of Christ and inspiring others to join us on that journey, and we come to the scriptures as a means by which the Holy Spirit can shape us into such a community.
Then he had turned to the issue of the use of Spiritual gifts in public worship. It seemed that some in Corinth has thought that spiritual manifestations, and in particular the gift of tongues was a sign of them having arrived spiritually. It was over used and emphasized in public worship. Paul argued against this by going back to first principles. He started with the nature of God. That unlike the mute idolsthe Corinthians had been used to, that God was able to speak and act, throughand too his people, intelligibly and in a whole raft of different ways. Just like with creation, God’s new creation should be teeming with a great diversity of life.
Out of Love says Paul, we should desire spiritual gifts so we can serve each other and prophecy, that is making the timeless word of God timely is of great value in public worship. It is greater because it edifies the whole church. He is not putting down tongues as a gift, or writing it off. In fact I think Paul surprises the Corinthians by telling them how useful he finds it in his own private devotional life. But Paul points to the act that when we come together what happens should edify and build everyone, and for that to happen it should be intelligible and orderly.
Paul puts tongues in the personal spirituality basket. When someone speaks in tongues it is communication between them and God. It can be praise and singing, it is our spirit speaking with God. What is said is a mystery in the sense that the hearer does not know what is being said. Quite rightly, it is seen as one of the ways the Holy Spirit is able to pray for us as it says in Romans 8:26 ‘in groans too deep for our words’. It’s not the only way mind you. So says Paul when it comes to public worship it is not that edifying to others who do not understand it. To be able to build up the community it needs to be interpreted. Paul does says yes it is a sign, but not of spiritual maturity like some at Corinth thought, it’s a sign says Paul for unbelievers if they come into your midst and your all speaking in a language no one understands that you are all mad. Let me emphasis again, he is not writing it off as a legitimate spiritual gift from God, rather he saying that it has a place which is not the prominent one in Public worship.
Paul also talks of Christian worship being conducted in good order; again he is contrasting this with the pagan worship the Corinthians would have been used to. Where people would whip themselves up into an ecstatic state and manifest all kinds of things. That does not reflect the God who we worship says Paul, who is a God of peace not of disorder. Therefore people should control themselves the service should be well put together; people should come prepared to contribute. WE don’t know how the early church ran its services. They may have been small house churches, we do know that prayer and teaching and worship and the Lord ’s Supper were part of it. It maybe that it was shaped by the Jewish background of many of its early leaders. In most places Paul went the church grew out of the Jewish population into the wider gentile population. This may give some insights into dealing with the two very difficult verses dealing with women speaking in church.
which we are going to look at now...
Some conservative groups have seen it as a blanket ban on women speaking in church. However as we saw when we looked at how Paul started talking about public worship this did not reflect Paul’s praise, the only time he really praises the church in Corinth, for keeping the tradition of women praying and prophesying in Church. It seems to go totally contra to this. If it is Pauline and does fit in here, then the context must be about disruptive speaking, that is speaking out of order because we know that Paul has already affirmed women speaking in public worship. The two best fits seem to be, that women and men were sat separately in Jewish Synagogue worship, and women would talk among themselves trying to understand what was going on, or that they were calling out to their husband to ask questions. It was a new thing for women to be totally incorporated in a worshiping community so it may have taken some getting used to. One of the affirmations that Paul gives is that Women should be theologically trained, that if they didn’t understand anything they should ask their husbands on the way home. We forget how radical that may have been at the time. In our society we are used to women participating fully in worship and women being theologically trained, but we don’t sanction men or women calling out across church or carrying on disruptive conversations in Church.
How does this all connect to us today in this place?
Lastly, the challenge I guess is that it is easy to think that as things should be done in order to get caught up in worshiping the order. As human beings ritual is important to us, it helps us focus on God, but sometimes it is easy simply it can become simply going through the motions and we can order out the God who is here and wanting to move in us and through us. I’m not suggesting that we throw our order of service out the window and have spiritual free for all. I actually like the reformed tradition of a service based round the reading and preaching of the word. Everything we do before prepares us to hear God’s word and everything we do after is a response to that. But I am also aware that we need to allow time for the spirit to speak through God’s people. For more people to use the gifts that God is giving them to edify the whole church. That is not the end in itself, One of criticisms of the charismatic movement in the 1980's is that it became almost all about self actualization because God calls us to be his people in the world, to share our faith, to seek justice, care for the poor.
Let me finish by just sharing a little bit about my recent experience of what we've been talking about… At the Presbytery prayer and healing meeting that I went to a few weeks ago, which was done in very good Presbyterian order but also where the spirit was able to move through his people. Colin Prentiss spoke at the service and as an ex school principle and elder st St Columba gave a very dispassionate and well put together message on the healing of Nahum in 2 Kings. It was solid, precise teaching about God healing. When Roy Christian got up after that to invite people for prayer people came forward for prayer. In the prayer meeting before the service I had felt the spirit ask me to pray for people in the service who were going through a desert time in their lives. Another minister who was there said that while I was praying that she had a vision of a person lost in the desert who couldn't find their way out from where they were. She was happy to admit is may simply have been that she has an overactive imagination, however as we talked about it we discerned that it was the spirit wanting to minister to people there. At the end of the service Roy invited that person to share what she had seen and about four or five people came up for prayer. I ended up praying for a young guy who was involved at University and in youth ministry who was wrestling with a real dry patch in his spiritual walk. I can’t tell you what the long range outcome was in people’s lives. But I know that as I prayed this young man experienced God in a new way. That is my prayer for us all that as we allow God to speak and move through all of us that each of us would be strengthened, encouraged and comforted. That the church would be built up.