I believe that one of the most avoided and misunderstood chapters in the NT is I Corinthians 14, especially verses 23-40. (Have you ever heard a sermon, or been in a Bible study which addressed this portion of scripture? Have you ever asked a church leader who claims to "go by the Book", "How are we putting ( or should we put) this portion of scripture into actual practice?" Or "In which of our gatherings can the instructions of this passage be consistently obeyed?")
Have you ever wondered what a church gathering would look like if it was governed according to this portion of scripture?
This question was first brought vividly to my mind many years ago when our children were small and we had begun our journey of homeschooling. We had become good friends with another Christian family who lived just a few houses up the street from us and who also homeschooled their children.
While we were part of a "brethren" assembly and (at the time) believed that spiritual gifts such as prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues etc had ceased by the time the NT scriptures were completed, our friends up the street were Pentecostals who believed that all those gifts were still in operation and that the evidence that a believer had been baptized in the Holy Spirit was that they spoke in tongues. So you can see that our perspectives on the gifts of the Spirit were poles apart!! And yet we often enjoyed fellowship together in each others' homes.
But one evening our neighbour, Mike, came over to have a conversation with me. He was evidently concerned for me and I was convinced that he wanted the very best for me. Since he knew from previous conversations that I had never spoken in tongues, he was concerned that I had never experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit. So he came as a brother in Christ to speak to me about this matter. I told him that there was much in the Bible that I did not understand and I knew I had lots to learn. I also told him that I certainly wanted all that God desired I should have. But from previous experience with other friends who "spoke in tongues" I had observed many things which did not seem to line up with the Word of God.
At that time, I would have claimed that in our assembly gatherings we actually practiced and obeyed the regulations of I Cor.14:23-40. BUT, since we believed that the gifts of prophecy, tongues and interpretation had long ago ceased, the only thing left in that passage to actually practice today was the silence of women! (We were also taught incidentally from this passage that there were two classes of believers: (1) There were those who were "in fellowship" with our particular kind of assemblies and thus were allowed to "break bread" and (2) there were other believers who were "unlearned", were not "in fellowship" with our assemblies and thus were not allowed to "break bread" among us!)
As brother Mike spoke to me about "receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit" and speaking in tongues, I was sure that I could silence him with I Cor.14! So I asked him a series of questions:
(1) Did he believe that the scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit? (He did.)
(2) Did he believe that the Holy Spirit would ever lead believers to disobey the scriptures which He had inspired? (He did not believe the Holy Spirit would ever do such a thing.)
So I took Him to I Cor.14:23-40 and showed him how this passage taught that in the church gathering it described....
- speakers were to speak one at a time,
- no more than 2 or 3 were to speak in tongues,
- no one was to speak in tongues unless there was an interpretter who could interpret what was spoken so all would be edified, and
-women were to be silent, i.e. not to speak.
Then, thinking I would certainly show him the errors of what he had been taught and accepted, I asked him the following questions:
(3) In your church gatherings where tongues are spoken... is there only one speaker at a time? (He replied that there were often many speaking at once.)
(4) In these gatherings, are there ever more than 3 people who speak in tongues? (He replied that there were usually many people speaking in tongues.)
(5) In these gatherings is there always an interpretter? (He replied that often there was no interpretter and no interpretation of the tongues which were spoken.)
(6) In these gatherings, are the women always silent or refraining from speaking? (He replied that often, there were many women speaking.)
So triumphantly, I responded to Mike that it was for such reasons that I could not accept that what went on in such gatherings was lead and directed by the Spirit of God. For, as Mike had already acknowledged, the Holy Spirit would never lead anyone to do something which was in disobedience to His own Word. At this, Mike had nothing left to say and seemed pretty discouraged in his desire to have me speak in tongues.
But I concluded with this challenge to my brother, "If you ever discover a gathering of Christians where tongues are spoken and all of I Cor.14:23-40 is consistently obeyed, I would like to observe that gathering! So would you contact me and take me with you if you ever encounter such a gathering? (Mike agreed that he would do that for me and soon left for home.) He never again spoke to me about speaking in tongues.) I believed I had "won" a debate with my brother and that therefore my thinking did not need to change at all. But the Lord had other things in mind!!!
A few short weeks later, as I recalled the conversation with Mike, a thought came to my mind which I believe was a challenge to me from the Lord. It was this question, "What would you do ...
(1) if Mike came back to you acknowledging that what he had believed and practiced regarding speaking in tongues was not according to I Cor.14... and
(2) if he asked you (since you claim that all your assembly gatherings are conducted scripturally)...to take him to your assembly meetings so he could see I Cor.14:23-40 practiced consistently in your gatherings ???
I had to acknowledge in my own heart before God that I had NEVER participated in or even observed such a gathering! I also had to acknowledge in my own heart that I Cor.14:23-40 left no room for human pre-appointment of speakers and gave liberty to any brother to speak in the gatherings it described and regulated. Yet in almost all of our assembly gatherings speakers were pre-appointed and thus all the other men were virtually muzzled contrary to I Cor.14 !!!
I had been very smug thinking I had shown my brother Mike that his gatherings were in violation of I Cor.14 and that our own were consistent with the same passage of scripture. But now I had to face the fact that if I Cor.14:23-40 condemned the practices of our Pentecostal brothers and sisters in their gatherings, it equally condemned the practices in our own "brethren" assemblies!!
I had accused other denominations of denying the headship of Christ over His church by appointing a particular man as their pastor/minister/preacher/speaker but now I realized that we were just as guilty by appointing speakers in most of our meetings and denying the Lord Jesus His rightful place as Head over us to use whom ever He chose to minister!
This was the first major challenge to my thinking from I Cor.14, but it was not to be the last! But the account of that next challenge will have to wait for the next blog post!