The Problem with 1 Corinthians 14 Worship

The Problem with 1 Corinthians 14 Worship

In Sunday School this morning we touched on 1 Corinthians 14 and worship. I again brought up the issue I see with the way that 1 Corinthians 14 is applied to modern worship.

On the one hand are those who use it to prevent innovation. To them the key verse is 1 Corinthians 14:40, “Let everything be done decently and in order” (KJV). And it’s generally the KJV that is quoted at this point. This means, according to many, that we don’t need deviations from the order of service. We don’t need words from people that aren’t on the plan for that morning. I’ve heard it used in complaints about excessive loud “amens” or about people raising their hands as they sing. What this has to do with the rest of the chapter, nobody is very inclined to explain. If it doesn’t look like order to you, it’s condemned by 1 Corinthians 14:40.

On the other hand, there are those who see this chapter as a series of rules for managing certain types of activities. What do we do with people who have prophetic words? What do we do with speaking in tongues? If you don’t have these specific things in your worship service, of course, you don’t really need the guidelines. Who cares if there is an interpreter present if no tongues are spoken?

I’m not interested right now in whether or not these activities belong in the modern church. Rather, I’m thinking about the background. In my opinion, we don’t understand this chapter very well is that we really don’t have that many churches with the problems that the Corinthian church had.


How then should it be, brothers and sisters? When you come together each one has a psalm, each one has something to teach, each one has a revelation, each one has a tongue [perhaps message in a tongue], each one has an interpretation. Let everything be done for building up the church (14:26).

Now let’s be honest. When was the last time you went to a church service and found that everyone showed up with something constructive to provide to the worship service? If you go to such a church (and I’ve experienced this once or twice in half a century), then you are very blessed.

We look to 1 Corinthians 14 to tell us how to control something that’s really pretty dead. Here are the Corinthians, with all their problems, showing up filled with excitement and ready to contribute. The problem there was to channel the enthusiasm so that everything can be done so as to build up instead of breaking up into confusion. Thus we have a call for two or three to speak, not everyone.

Learning and Living Scripture

I think we should be asking how we could experience the problem and then we might need to think about the remedy. The problem is a good thing. It’s like the enthusiasm and excitement of a child first experiencing an outdoor ball game. The child is enthusiastic, runs around, and does things with the ball.

Now consider what would happen if we handled children at their first ball game the way we handle people in church. If we had on our church hats, we’d probably tell the kids to go sit on the sidelines until they had completed seminary or something of the sort. Only when they were fully responsible could a very small number of them get involved in actually playing ball.

So how would we get this problem? I think we need to open up the service to more people. My wife Jody regularly tells whoever will listen that every church service should include testimonies. How would we get to the point where many people have something to say? Well, this goes back to making life into worship. If we’re spending our time with God during the week, we’ll want to talk about it when we gather together with other believers. It will happen naturally.

Again, it seems to me that mission provides the driving force. If we’re involved in mission all week, we’ll be filled with the things of God, and sharing and mutual edification will come naturally.

This is one of several points of the Sharing phase of the participatory Bible study method for which this blog is named.

(See my other post on worship today, What is Cutting Edge? from my Threads blog.)

7 thoughts on “The Problem with 1 Corinthians 14 Worship

  1. Great thoughts, Henry! Your analogy of kids with their baseball caps is especially good, as is your point “If we’re spending our time with God during the week, we’ll want to talk about it when we gather together with other believers. It will happen naturally.”

  2. Taken from “How to Meet” by Witness Lee, I enjoyed this excerpt in relation to your blog:
    “The way we meet depends on the way we live. How should we meet? We must live in a proper way. We must live by taking Christ as our life, a life which is always expressed in the form of love. Love suffers, love endures, love forgives. How may we express this love? Just by exercising our spirit to contact the Lord and enjoy Him. Do you think that if you would exercise your spirit all day to say, “O Lord Jesus,” you could hate others? Can we banish darkness and hatred by struggling with them and resisting them? The more we do this, the more we will be in darkness and filled with hatred. If we would simply turn to our spirit and say, “O Lord, Amen, Hallelujah,” the Lord would be with us and be expressed in the form of love.

    Christ is our portion, Christ is everything to us, Christ is the life-giving Spirit, and we are joined unto Him in one spirit. It is by this way that we can live in Him, walk in Him, and have our being in Him. Then when we come together, as in chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen of 1 Corinthians, we gather with such a background, we come together with such a standing, with such a daily life, with such an exercise of the spirit. Then we need only take the initiative in the spirit to prophesy, to say something of and for the Lord Jesus.”

    I agree with you entirely that every church service should include more people. I have never gone to seminary school, but in my experience when I enjoy the Lord throughout the week, when I have genuine experiences of Him as my life and everything, I cannot help but speak Him to others–specifically to the church I meet with. In John 4:24 the Lord Jesus made it clear that we should contact and worship God the Spirit in our spirit instead of in a specific location. Coming to the meetings of the church should not be a “worship mode” we switch on but a continuation of what we have been doing throughout the week. The meetings then would be an exhibition of the Christ we have labored on as the good land, and as I have witnessed, would usher in a living feast of love divine.
    Meeting in a place where each one has a song, hymn, and spiritual song–in other words, where each “one-talented” member functions according to there measure–is truly a blessing. Meetings like these are so rich and bountiful, satisfying a need in the depth of my being because it simultaneously satisfies God’s heart. To witness the church being built up through the prophesies of many is to witness God’s eternal purpose being carried out. Every meeting should be this way and I am so thankful I am in a place that meets according to this scriptural way.

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