Peter Kirk has a post on one of my favorite topics, order in worship, titled God is not a God of disorder but of peace. I want to call attention to a couple of points in his post.
First, on the context of the passage from which his title was taken, he says:
It seems to me that this verse gives a general principle, which here is being applied specifically to gatherings of the church but can be applied more widely. I don’t think the specific application here is only to prophecy, but to everything described in verses 26 to 32. Indeed the point is basically to support the last part of verse 26, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (TNIV). Thus it does apply to “untoward” manifestations of any kind, but of course that depends on exactly what is considered “untoward”.
This is a good point, because Paul is talking about order in the worship service throughout 1 Corinthians 14. We tend to pick the verses from that chapter that best suit our own style of worship. Those who speak in tongues have one set of verses that talk about positive aspects; those who prefer not emphasize the verses that speak against it. But in order to understand the entire chapter, one needs to realize that the whole question here is what activities will be constructive, or building, in a worship service.
I think Peter is right to relate this text to the entire discussion. Order doesn’t consist solely of organizing the way in which prophets speak, but rather in all the activities of the worship service.
In addition, we need to be aware that the starting point for Paul’s discussion is not the same as we generally have for a modern worship service. In 1 Corinthians 14:26 we have a good indication of this when Paul talks about all the believers coming with something to say or contribute. I know many pastors who would really love to have this “Corinthian problem.” In speaking of most modern church services we would say instead, “Every one of you comes here with a pew in mind to sit in.” It’s easy to be orderly when there is no life. (I discuss this further in my notes on 1 Corinthians 14 on the Participatory Bible Study blog.)
Later Peter comments with regard to such manifestations as might be seen at the Toronto Airport church:
I can appreciate that these are disturbing to some, but in general they are happening with the blessing of whoever is leading the meeting, and so can hardly be called disorderly. In well run meetings those who manifest very openly will be talked to by experienced stewards, and if necessary taken aside for special prayer.
I agree with the major point, but I would like to add that the problem is often simply the viewpoint of the worshipers involved. What looks and feels orderly to one feels like disorder to another. What feels very confusing to one person may seem quite stable to another. I think the key here is that you cannot satisfy everyone with one style of worship service. I worked at Pine Forest United Methodist Church in Pensacola, FL during the Brownsville Revival, and we would often host groups that came to town to attend revival services. They would sleep on the floor in the Family Life Center or in Sunday School rooms. I lived on the church campus at that time and would check the buildings late in the evening as I was able. Sometimes I would find groups that had just returned from the revival meetings trying to digest what they had experienced.
I noticed that amongst those who attended both Brownsville and Toronto, there were those who preferred each experience. Most people said that Brownsville was more disorderly, especially because the prayer time was completely open. People gathered at the front after the altar call, and then speakers from the platform would wade in and start praying for people. If someone was slain in the spirit they went down where they were and people started to step over them. For me personally, I must confess this was disorderly. I don’t like crowds in the first place, and Brownsville handled crowds in a way that was certain to maximize my discomfort.
Toronto was more orderly, I was told (I never attended a service there). There were lines, direction, and more care about keeping things in line. When I first heard that, my immediate reaction was, “That’s how it ought to be done.” But I found that many people found Toronto constricting, while others found Brownsville intolerable. Of course we’re talking here about groups that were disposed to appreciate a fairly open, charismatic service. There were also plenty of people who would be disturbed by either one.
I think we make a mistake in the church when we try to make a one-size-fits-all set of standards for worship services. I prefer a fairly traditional worship service. That doesn’t make it right for everyone; it simply makes it right for me. That’s were I can hear from God and get in a time of worship and refreshing. There are those who will remind me of the unbeliever from off the street. But the question is still this: What will that unbeliever see as disorderly? If he is a young person who would enjoy a rock concert, he’ll probably be more comfortable with a band with drums, guitars, and so forth, and plenty of room to move around and get involved. Such a person would be offended by an orderly service set off by Bach played on a fine pipe organ.
Worship may be about God, but individual people are different, and it is people who worship God, thus styles in worship will also differ, while at the same time being “in spirit and truth.”
Note: I publish a book on the work of the Holy Spirit, Holy Smoke! Unholy Fire! by Bob McKibben, the pastor who succeeded Perry Dalton as pastor of Pine Forest United Methodist Church in the days after the main heat of the Brownsville Revival. I discuss that book here.