Sunday, January 23, 2011

Charismatic Chaos?

Many preachers today when preaching through 1 Corinthians get to the passages in chapter 14 that give instructions to the church and declare that what Paul is correcting in the church is the chaos of the gathering.  Clearly this is a correct understanding of what is going on in Corinth.  Believers were coming together and trying to speak over each other.  There were folks speaking in tongues all at the same time with no interpreter.  There was no order.  So, Paul writes instructions to the church regarding the gathering.

What then, brothers? 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. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace,...(1 Corinthians 14:26-33a ESV)
 So we can see in this passage that when the church gathered (when you come together) everyone was bringing something to add to the gathering (each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.  Now the question is:  was this the problem?  Clearly it is not.  The problem was that they were bringing things in a way that was not intentional for building up others.  In fact, Paul in order to correct this, instructs them how to bring order to their gathering.  Yet, contrary to what we see today, Paul does not instruct them to appoint one spiritually mature person to speak for the building up of the body.  Rather, He instructs them to let two or three members speak in tongues (with an interpreter).  Then he says let two or three prophets speak.  Then if there is a revelation made to another, let the first be silent.  Also there are the other prophets who are to weigh what is said.  If correction needs to be made it is understood that that person would be speaking as well.  Then there is the mention from the beginning of the passage regarding hymns and lessons.  Earlier in this letter and in numerous other places we see that public prayer was a part of the gathering and that a meal was shared and it would be crazy for us to think that they were completely silent throughout the meal.

So how many people are speaking?  Three tongues, at least one interpreter, three prophets, someone speaking to weigh and correct the prophets if needed, someone bringing a song, a lesson, a revelation...what are we up to now...eleven?  This was Paul's instruction to bring order to the gathering and today we have one preacher and a handful of others (hand-picked by the pastor) to contribute a prayer or a public reading of scripture.

Those who would contend that there was charasmatic chaos in the church of Corinth are absolutely correct but these same men discard Paul's instruction on how to make the gathering more orderly and replace it with an order of worship that centers on their sermon.  In my opinion, the sermonized centerpiece is another facet of the problem Paul was addressing where gifts were being put on display in such a way as to draw attention to the person in order to build themselves up.  This is evident by the numerous mentions by these men of the  authority they have been given over the church.  The only authority in the church is the Word of God.  That word became flesh and dwelt among us and now has come to live within us.  Each and every believer is in Christ (who IS the word) and has Christ in them.

The solution for charismatic chaos is not a sermon.  It is to have the mind of Christ in which mutual edification is the intention and the purpose of those who gather.


  1. Correct analysis.

    Two questions, though:

    1. Just because Paul instructed the Corinthians to do this, does this mean we must do it the same way?

    2. It often seems when I am in setting like this, one person still tends to dominate. When/how do you approach this person and tell them they are talking too much and too often?

  2. Bobby,

    You are right on target brother.


    As per question number one, all instructions to all churches were given to certain people at certain times in certain places. If this section of I Corinthians doesn't apply to us, then how can we say that any of the rest of Paul's letters have any application for us?

    As for question number two, that is certainly a difficult situation. I suppose you approach them in a spirit of love and grace, and pray that they will listen to what you have to say. God bless you if you are in this situation.

  3. Jeremy,

    thanks for the questions. In response to your first question, Paul is dealing directly with the problems in the Corinthian church and instructs them how to correct it. If we can see the same problems in our gathering then these instructions would most definitely apply. Still yet, even if our gathering doesn't share the same problems as what we see in the Corinthian church the principles (multiple gifts functioning in love)Paul lays out in Chapters 12-13 still apply and we must seek the Lord's guidance as to how we should make application of these principles as we gather together.

    In every gathering there is likely going to be some difficulty with having someone who is functioning more than others. This problem is two-fold. Some are dominant, others are passive. Both issues can be dealt with in the same way. God's Word speaks in many ways about the need for the entire body to be functioning. As this word is proclaimed and taught in the gathering as to how these principles apply to our level of participation, we can trust that God will do the convicting work in the hearts of both the dominant and the passive. Combined with prayer against imbalance and in favor of a more full experience of the body of Christ there is a level of confidence that comes with knowing you are participating with God in bringing about His eternal purpose. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if the dominant ones are stirred in a way that leads them to encourage the passive members to exercise their gifts more often.

  4. Eric,

    I'm afraid that I stick my neck out too far sometimes. There are so many faithful men who teach the things I argue against here. Some of them I know and love very dearly and have preached similar messages recently.

    Thank you for your encouragement and confirmation. It means ALOT.

  5. very good post

    I've been thinking recently that the problem on both "sides" (pentecostal/charismatic vs anti-talking-in-tongues) is mainly a "institutionnalization" of each positions... ?

    for Jeremy's question #2.... hard one! and a practical one. A first step would be for sure to pray. And a second would for sure to refrain from gossip when that person is not there. I wonder that maybe it would be the role of an elder to take care of this (cf Titus 1). Most of these folks are just too passionate. But they ought to learn humility, and to learn that other have also relevant things to say. Some are just to much full of themselves, and for them a approach as thaught in Matthew 16 would be the good one... I guess.

    this is part of the cross bearing that cause "growing pains" but could end in glorification for God!

  6. Tommy,

    institutionalism certainly comes into play. There is always a danger when the basis for the unity of the church is an agreed upon set of favorite doctrines. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  7. Thanks for the feedback everyone!

    Regarding application of Paul's letters, I really struggle with "application." When I read any other book, they affect me, but I generally don't seek to "apply" it to me. Have we been misreading the Bible by always trying to apply it?

    I'm not saying this is so. I'm just asking. It's something I've been mulling over for a while.

  8. Jeremy,

    Good question! I've never thought of it before but I wonder if our efforts to apply scripture are in the same category with our trying to examine ourselves and working for change by our own strength.

    You got my wheels turning.


As in a biblical church gathering, my word is not complete or final. Participation is allowed, encouraged and expected. Please, don't leave without adding something.