|In our debates about speaking in tongues or the role women have in ministry, we lose something. There is a need to discuss those issues, of course.
For example, Paul sets boundaries on how to actualize the gifts of the Spirit. He also has a word to say about women in worship. Both conversations make sense in light of the historical context of Paul’s letter. Plus, a good call back to what Paul has already said helps us better grasp what he’s saying and what he’s not saying.
Many of us put a lot of effort into defending our beliefs surrounding those issues. For now, let’s put that aside. Not because it’s not important. It is. Not because you shouldn’t reflect more on why they’re important. You should.
Today, I want to pause on the first line of scripture we read. 1 Corinthians 14:2 says, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” In our world of paid, full-time pastors and ministry staff, we probably miss what Paul said. Our sense is there are those among us who plan and steer worship and ministry. It’s their job, after all. That’s why we pay them.
I recall listening to an interview with a biblical scholar. His focus is Pauline studies. During the interview, some version of this question came up, What would Paul think if he went to a church today? Paul would wonder, he argued, what in the world is happening. Paul’s sense of church and what constituted a local congregation was different than ours. We think of large gatherings and try our best to get more people to attend worship. We frame pictures of our buildings and send postcards, newsletters and emails with them to invite people to join us.
Paul knew smaller gatherings. They weren’t in large stain-glassed sanctuaries. They worshiped in homes and didn’t have their eye on 12 o’clock. Worship flowed with fellowship and communion. There was bread and wine for communion, but also for breaking bread.
Besides the food and the house, Paul would miss something else in our worship today. Think back to the verse we mentioned. His guidance was that “each one” would have something to offer to the church’s worship. Worship, then, wasn’t a passive observance. Everyone participated in some way.
Think about what a typical worship setting for us looks like. I don’t have to guess that a lot of us would be uncomfortable with some expectation that we all participate. I’ve been told countless times. Why do you think we have trouble with Paul’s idea about “each one?” Is it because we’re supposed to leave worship to the professionals? Have we convinced ourselves the point of worship is just to be where it might be happening?
Now, giving 100-200 people something to do in every worship gathering is excessive. But this idea could give us a chance to reflect on what we put into our church’s worship. Showing up for worship is great, but we also have a call to build up the church as we do.
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