Providing the opportunity for spontaneity
“I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified” (1 Corinthians 14:5).
“Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39).
My impression in reading chapter 14 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church is that their worship services were more than interesting. It sounds like there was a hullabaloo of tongues and people shouting each other down with prophecies. Paul attempts to bring balance to church services that ranged from fleshly to almost profane.
I have not been in a single Baptist church where this passage would even remotely apply. But, strangely, we are fearful that if we relax just for a moment chaos will reign.
“If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God” (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).
If you are addressing the church it must be interpreted. If you are speaking to God, he is not hard of hearing. As leaders, if we want our church to have spiritual gifts then we must give people permission to be expressive, make space in the service, trust our people and teach our way through.
“Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29).
It is all about Jesus and revealing him, not about you and your right to be heard. There will be excesses but, being Baptists, they will mostly be mild. We need to encourage those gifted to step out.
Paul finishes the chapter by saying, “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” I believe this means we should prayerfully plan our services but be flexible enough for God to redirect us at any time. If God never deviates from your plan, you could be controlling the service and your fears and insecurities are defeating you.
Most Baptist churches in New Zealand would accept that the gifts of the Spirit operate today and the correct operation is desirable for the Church’s health and benefit. The problem when you make space in your services for the gifts to function is that there is also the potential for fleshly or, worse, demonic imitations of the Holy Spirit’s work. The way to avoid error is to teach truth from the scriptures, then the church is equipped to correct itself.
Disorder in a church service is when the flesh and fleshly motives dominate under the guise of spirituality. The base sin of humankind is to be like God, to be elevated above others. The gifts of the Spirit, or the imitation of them, present a great temptation to take the opportunity to be somebody.
This is the hard part. Leaders have to be prepared to speak to people at some stage to help them and to help the church – for example, the dear brother who jumps at the opportunity to pray long prayers for every missionary since William Carey, leaving the service feeling like a spiritual swamp. Or the sister who has the same “prophecy” every week or tries to direct the church, preach a mini-sermon, or bring correction.
If you speak out in public you must be open to be taught or corrected by the leaders. That protects everyone.
• Maurice Atkinson is pastor of Oxford Baptist Church