Church services are a formal structure. They start a certain time. They end at a certain time. There is an order to the flow with prayer, music, speakers, scripture reading, and greetings all taking the place assigned by the leaders who organized the service. Every Church has their own order to this. When I was younger my church tradition had a speaker preach for 45 minutes. I remember visiting a church and being surprised that the speaker only spoke for 5 minutes and the remainder of the service focused on taking the sacraments. When we come to 1 Corinthians Chapter 14, we find Paul giving instruction to a new church in the city of Corinth on how to order their service.
This chapter is controversial for two reasons. First Paul is comparing and contrasting two gifts of the spirit foretelling truth (Prophecy) and speaking in tongues. Some churches today elevate the gift of speaking in tongues to such an extent that one’s salvation might be questioned if not speaking in tongues. Other churches are resistance to tongues to such an extent that they are denied and practically forbidden. Paul emphasizes preaching over tongues because Paul wants the emphasis in the church to be order and instruction.
Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 1 Corinthians 14:19 ESV
The second reason that this chapter is controversial is because Paul has what appears as harsh instructions for the place of women.
women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 1 Corinthians 14:34 ESV
Now there are church traditions where women are not allowed to teach or speak in church at all. And there are other churches where women become the leaders and preachers of the church. For the purpose of this review, we need to understand that Paul was not shutting women out of the worship of Church. Paul was encouraging order and peace within the worship service. The consensus answer to this issue is that the early church separated men and women in the worship service following the Jewish example. Now imagine husband and wife sitting on opposite sides of a room trying to speak over the other attendees with their own personal conversation. Additionally, this comment from Paul that women are not allowed to speak is contrary to his other instruction in this same letter so anyone reading into this verse that women must never speak, ever, is not consistent with the purpose of Paul’s comment.
Before I continue, I want to highlight the point where Paul discusses the appropriate and inappropriate method of women to participate in the worship of the church. Here Paul discusses what is appropriate and no appropriate for women when speaking, praying, and prophesying. Again Paul is looking for order and peace in the worship service.
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 ESV
This entire work must be taken into context of what Paul is communicating to this new church. He wants them to be orderly and uplifting. The role of corporate worship is to be encourage the believers both women and men.
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. 1 Corinthians 14:33 ESV
When Paul is writing this letter, he wants the people of the church in Corinth to be at peace and grow in their knowledge of God. How can this happen if the church is a disaster of disorder and disfunction. What does disorder look like? What is the root of disorder? James has the answer in explicit detail.
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. James 3:16 ESV
What order is the worship at your church? Is it balanced? Is it giving and encouraging? It is organized and fruitful? The Church in Corinth must have been a crazy place. Men and women shouting at each other. Others speaking in tongues that no one understood. And still more trying to speak prophecy all at the same time. The only thing missing was someone handing from the rafters.