Gifts: Regulated for Order

The gifts should be regulated so that the congregation can maintain order (1 Cor 14:26–33a). This means that a congregation should regulate the frequency of exercise of even the edifying gifts that both sinner and saint understand. Paul wants to ensure that a variety of ministry occurs, that even the gift of prophecy doesn’t dominate and rule out the “one who will sing,” the pastor who would “teach,” and another who would “tell some special revelation God has given,” and even tongues and interpretation (1 Cor 14:26). He also may be concerned to assure that edification rather than display remains the object (1 Cor 14:26).

So Paul says two or three messages in tongues, one at a time, and only with interpretation (1 Cor 14:27–28a). Otherwise, speak in tongues to God privately” (1 Cor 14:28b). I would think this injunction can be heeded in several ways. First, you might limit all speaking in tongues that might not be interpreted to your own private times of prayer at home (Matt 6:6). It seems likely that this was Paul’s practice, since when he was among the congregation, he was busy teaching but claimed to speak in tongues more than them all. This would mean speaking in tongues in church only if you also exercise the gift of interpreting tongues or are confident that someone else present does.

Don’t speak to the congregation in tongues, unless they will be interpreted

Second, even in the congregation you might speak inaudibly, in a whisper or less, mouthing the words as some do when reading, but not aloud. Similarly, you might withhold speaking in tongues until there is a time of general prayer in concert, when others are not listening but all are speaking to God in prayer. Then you might lift your prayers to God rather than man, even in tongues. Some would think that this disobeys Paul’s command of silence if there isn’t an interpreter. But I think Paul’s point is this: Don’t speak to the congregation in tongues, unless they will be interpreted; speak them to God. I think either version of this second option would satisfy this in most Pentecostal churches where prayer in concert is frequent and often loud.

Of course, you still need to avoid making the unbeliever think you’re crazy (1 Cor 14:23). I would certainly think that the practice of public singing in tongues disregards Paul’s injunction, since it’s not a private song to the Lord but a public song but uninterpreted. It may be beautiful, but it will most likely tempt unbelievers to say, “you are crazy” (1 Cor 14:23) and certainly won’t fulfill the Pauline recipe for what edifies, namely, understanding. The same would go for any public leading of worship that lapsed into uninterpreted tongues—it should never happen unless it’s intended for interpretation.

We’re not opening the door to the chaos of an ad hoc debating society here

Even prophecy should be regulated in favor of order. So Paul says, two or three prophecies, and only with others judging what is said (1 Cor 14:29). That last note could mean that the other prophets are to make these judgments about what was said; however, I think the whole of the congregation should undertake this task. There’s no reason a clique of prophets should assume the whole congregation’s duty to search the Scriptures and assess the teaching it hears (Acts 17:11). And of course, this assessment should be undergirded by those who have the gift of teaching, the gift of discerning spirits, and perhaps those who deliver a word of wisdom or word of knowledge.

We’re not opening the door to the chaos of an ad hoc debating society here; we’re recommending the confidence inspired by multiple reliable witnesses to the truth of what’s said. It makes way for a congregation to say, “It seemed good to… the whole church…. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:22, 28).

prophets can and should be orderly

Paul says the prophets can and should be orderly (1 Cor 14:30–33a). They should yield to one another in an orderly way so that various ministries will all have their place (1 Cor 14:30–31). No prophet is under the uncontrollable urge of the Spirit; rather, each responds to his own spirit’s impulse to report what God has told him (1 Cor 14:32). To the degree that the Spirit of God is at work, their response will be orderly and edifying (1 Cor 14:33).


Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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