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Orderly Worship

While the New Testament does not contain any examples or prescriptions of particular liturgies, Paul does address the matter of service order in 1 Corinthians 14:26–33:

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. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

Apparently the Corinthian church at the time favored a kind of free, spontaneous worship where any individual could offer a favorite hymn, a lesson, a prophecy, or a message in tongues, resulting in a disorganized and chaotic service (v. 26). Paul corrects this practice by emphasizing that “God is not a God of confusion”—in other words, disorder—“but of peace” (v. 33). On this basis, Paul provides clear principles for order in a worship service.

The purpose of prophecy, Paul contends, is the “upbuilding” of the church (vv. 3–5). “Only two or at most three” people may speak in tongues in any given service, “and each in turn” (v. 27). If there is no one to interpret the tongues, “let each of them keep silent” (v. 28). Only two or three prophets should speak, others should weigh what is said (v. 29), and they should do so one at a time (v. 30) so that “all may learn and all be encouraged” (v. 31). In contrast to what may have been common expectation in pagan worship of the day, worshipers should not expect to be overcome with God’s presence such that they lose control in an experience of ecstasy; rather “the spirits of the prophets are subject to prophets” (v. 32).

Although there is debate as to whether tongues and prophecy continue in the church today, the principles in this passage apply to all aspects of a Christian worship service. Paul insists that in a worship service, “all things should be done decently and in order” (v. 40).

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

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