I have read that early Christian worship was influenced by the order of worship in Jewish synagogues.
The picture that Paul gives us in 1st Corinthians 14:26-40 (and in all of chapters 11-14, really) is a very disorderly kind of worship as practiced by the Christians in the city of Corinth. I introduced this concept last week here. In the beginning of chapter 11 and later in 14, he talks about how disgraceful their women might have been handling themselves. We talked about that extensively here and here. In 11:17, about their practice of the Lord’s Supper, he says “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.” He describes his concern further as stemming from disunity and selfishness, which we talked about here and here. In chapter Later on in chapter 14 he gives the impression that people were misusing spiritual gifts, placing speaking in tongues on a pedestal, using it harmfully. And now Paul concludes his long teaching about their unruly worship services by saying that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”
I agree. But aren’t you missing something Paul? What about the order of worship? No comment?
In verse 26 he describes how “everyone” was involved, which I find very helpful. Worship should not be a spectator experience where only a few paid professionals do the work. The smaller the group, the more easy it would be, I suppose, for everyone to be involved. But what if a church has 100 people in the audience? What if they have 10,000? What are some ways that we can have worship services that are more participatory? Do we have to stop having large group worship services?
We also need to note what Paul felt was important about the purpose of worship. Sure we worship to glorify the Lord. I have a feeling that Paul assumes that. Notice what else he says in verse 26. All the ways everyone participates in worship (singing, teaching, etc) should be done “for the strengthening of the church.” That raises a couple questions in my mind:
How do we help strengthen the church if we just sit there during worship? Is giving and singing enough?
What about the sharing of tongues and prophecy and revelation that Paul mentions? Have we cut them off? And if so, is it wrong? To consider the possibility that it might be wrong, consider Paul’s closing comment in verse 39: “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” Should only the pastors be eager to prophesy? Paul certainly didn’t limit prophesy to the paid professionals.
“But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”
I for one am glad that Paul or any other apostle didn’t give us a specific order of worship that we had to follow. Maybe it would make things easier if he did. I have the sense that it is much, much better for us to implement principles as we see fit. As the comment discussion bore out in last week’s intro post, it seems to me that different churches with varying approaches to worship can be a very healthy expression of God’s Kingdom. We are unique people with so many kinds of personalities. We love to express ourselves in many ways. And it is okay if we are different. Thus is it okay if some churches are more intellectual in their worship, if some are more emotional, if some have the same order every week, if some mix it up.
A few months ago I was talking to a visitor to Faith Church, and he asked what kind of worship service we have. Was it traditional, was it contemporary? I said “We call it experimental.” He got a really strange look on his face. At Faith Church we like to change things up from time to time. We stopped printing an order of worship a long time ago because we wanted people to stop focusing on words on a page, and instead to focus on worshipping God that morning. We know that people can still worship God by looking at a printed order of worship in a bulletin, but we made the change anyway as a small way to symbolize the attitude that we believe is central to experimental worship: humility. At the heart of experimental worship is a belief that we do not have worship figured out. Instead we see ourselves as learners. We look to many traditions, many sources for teaching about how to worship God. By containing ourselves to only one style of worship, to only one order of worship, we felt that we were potentially missing out on learning a wider richness to the concept of worship. That’s why we’ve had Church Has Left The Building Sundays, Silent Sundays, Artistic Sundays, Worship in the Park, and more.
We know that experimenting can run the risk of coming off as gimmicky. We’re okay with that. Our heart is anything but trying out something for kicks and giggles. Instead, we are passionate about learning more and more how to worship God. We committed to doing things in a fitting and orderly way. We know we have much to learn and we’re eager to experiment more so that we can learn more!
Sure, on most Sundays, if you worship with us at Faith Church, things will feel pretty much the same week to week. But as you look back over the course of a year, you’ll see that we have experienced worship in a variety of ways. We’re still looking to experiment! So if you have suggestions for us, please comment below.