Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What Defines a Meeting as "Decently and In Order" (I Cor.14:40)?

Many believers have been hindered from embracing Holy Spirit meetings (such as the meeting viewable here) because they've been taught that it is "confusion" and that it is not "decently and in order".

But what is really meant by "confusion" and "decently and in order" (I Cor. 14:33,40)? I think these may be two of the most commonly misunderstood verses in the Epistles. Yes, God is not the author of confusion; and all things must be done decently and in order - but how should we define "confusion" and "decently and in order"? The Bible's definition might not be the same as ours.

For example, remember in Acts chapter two, how the Holy Spirit enabled 120 people to speak with tongues out loud at the same time - it caused a whole multitude to feel confounded and to think they must have been drunk. If that happens in a church service today, should we define it as "confusion" and not "decently and in order"?

In Acts 10:44-48 the Holy Spirit fell on a congregation, interrupting Peter's sermon while he was still preaching - and the whole congregation began to speak with tongues out loud. If this happens today during a sermon in our church, should we decry it as "confusion" and not "decently and in order"?

At Ephesus the Holy Ghost came upon about twelve people and they spoke with tongues and prophesied (Acts 19:6,7). When we hear of the same thing happening today - of twelve or more people speaking with tongues in a meeting at the same time and prophesying - should we label it as "confusion" and not "decently and in order"?

In each of the above situations there were many people speaking with tongues publicly without an interpreter; and it even caused people to feel confounded and to think they were drunk, and yet notice - the Apostles were okay with it.

So, what did Paul mean when he said to "let all things be done decently and in order"? Obviously, Paul could not have been against a scenario where 120 people might speak with tongues out loud all at the same time; and he could not have been against a scenario where a sermon might be interrupted when an entire congregation suddenly begins to speak witb tongues out loud; and he could not have been against a scenario where about twelve people might speak with tongues and prophesy out loud publicly - or else he would have been contradicting the Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit.

So, what was happening at Corinth that Paul sought to correct? Well, the text explains it in Paul's own words. The Corinthians were thinking that having different gifts meant they had different spirits (I Cor.12:1-11); and that different gifts made them spiritually different from one another (vv 12-14); and that having different gifts made them better than one another (vv 15-31). Consequently, they had become unloving, impatient, envious, proud, self-promoting, badly behaved, irritable, annoyed with each other, irrationally behaved and unnecessarily noisy in their expressions of their spiritual gifts without considering the need to edify one another during their gatherings (I Cor.13).

So doctrinally, there was some "confusion" which Paul needed to correct: he needed to remind them that despite having differing spiritual gifts, there is still only one Lord, one faith, one baptism; and as far as their attitudes and motives go, Paul needed to remind them not to be childish and immature, but to consider what is appropriate behaviour to the circumstances, and to think of one another's benefit instead of one's own, and to have some common sense.

Also, Paul was discussing the function of the congregation during regular church-services, not about extraordinary occassions when from time-to-time the Holy Spirit gets poured out in a special way. Meetings like Acts 2, Acts 10 and Acts 19 didn't happen everytime the disciples gathered together - it happened that way when a congregation was first baptized with the Holy Spirit and then also from time-to-time again in the future (Acts 13:52) - but not necessarily every meeting.

But what was happening at Corinth is that too many individuals, with wrong motives, were wanting to stand up and hold the floor, one after the other, Sunday after Sunday, and address the the congregation, expecting the attention of the whole congregation, and speaking with an unknown tongue, when no-one could understand them. Of course that was pointless, which any sensible person, even an unbeliever, should know.

But that didn't mean there weren't situations in which it was entirely appropriate that everyone spoke with tongues publicly without an interpreter - even in the Bible. In Acts 2, 10 and 19, the people weren't seeking attention, they weren't addressing the congregation - they were speaking to God.

Here is an illustration about different things being appropriate in different situations. Imagine 65,718 people in a football stadium during the World Cup. Everyone shouts at the same time. Everyone carries on a conversation with his friends sitting beside him. Everyone in the stadium has his own culture and language - and it's okay that everyone is talking and shouting his own language and it isn't necessary that everyone understands everything that everyone else in the stadium is saying. However, it would be pointless if, one-by-one, individuals wanted to stand up, hold the microphone, address the whole stadium in his own language, and expect everyone to listen even though many in the crowd wouldn't understand. That wouldn't be appropriate to the circumstances - it would be childish and immature. And if people persisted in doing so, you'd question their mental health.

That is the type of occurrence Paul was correcting. He wasn't saying there can't be times when the Holy Spirit gets poured out on a congregation in a special way when everyone might begin to speak with tongues out loud at the same time without the need for an interpreter and to prophesy (otherwise, Paul would have been contradicting his own meeting at Ephesus in Acts 19). What Paul was talking about, rather, was regular, every Sunday meetings, where individuals were behaving in a non-sensical way which even unbelievers would think was useless.

When Paul said unbelievers would think they were mad, it wasn't because of the fact of speaking with tongues - Paul said tongues are a sign to unbelievers. There are circumstances in which any sensible person knows - even unbelievers - that it's quite okay for many people to be speaking in different languages at the same time - such as spectators in a stadium during an international football match, or believers during group-prayer or during an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That doesn't mean a group of people are mad.

What anyone will think is crazy, however, is if grown adults are standing up, holding the floor, going on and on in a different language, expecting people's attention, even though no-one understands them - and thinking that's beneficial. Anyone with a bit of common sense knows that's pointless.

But when a whole church gets filled with the Spirit for the first time and all begin to speak with tongues - no individual is expecting the congregation to give him their undivided attention; no-one is addressing the congregation. They are all speaking to God, as in Acts 2, 10 & 19. That's entirely Scriptural and okay - and it's not what Paul was addressing.

The linked video was not one of the church's regular Sunday morning services. It was a season of special revival in the church. Many were getting filled with the Spirit for the first time. The church did not experience this type of outpouring every Sunday. It was an extraordinary season, like Acts 2, 10 and 19. In the video, no-one was using the gift of tongues in the manner which Paul was correcting in I Corinthians. Rather, they were speaking with tongues in a way that was consistent with Acts 2, 10 & 19. They were speaking not to the congregation, but to God. Yes, it caused some people to feel "confounded" and others to wonder whether they might be drunk. But those people ended-up hearing the Gospel and getting saved!

So it's important to compare Scripture with Scripture, and gain a balanced understanding of what really defines a meeting as "decently and in order". Every sensible person knows it doesn't serve any purpose if one-by-one individuals stand up and address a congregation in languages which no-one understands; but it's also entirely okay, Scriptural, beneficial and positively impacting even upon unbelievers if everyone speaks with tongues out loud at the same time without an interpreter and prophesies when the Holy Spirit is being poured out. It draws people to God. Since "tongues are a sign to unbelievers" it follows that we needn't shield unbelievers from ever hearing tongues.

Those are my thoughts about I Cor.14:33,40. Does this liberate you?

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