For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
1 Corinthians 14:33a (ESV)
Growing up, I often saw this verse weaponized against the charismatically inclined. I attended a Church that believed strongly in the existence of the gifts of the Spirit, but practiced a very heavy policing of those who operated in them. It was absolutely acceptable to be prophetic in our Church, but not necessarily as acceptable to actually prophesy. It was perfectly honorable to have the gift of healing, but would be considered disorderly to go up to someone in a wheelchair and tell them to stand in the name of Jesus. This was our reality. Seek the gifts, but please, don't use them while you're here.
I remember a specific instance where the student leadership , of which I happened to be a member, was sat down and read this verse. We were told that God had blessed some of us with extraordinary insight and prophetic sensitivity, but that because God was a God of order, He had placed spiritual authority in place to temper the individual pieces of the body. We were told that the appropriate way to prophesy was to go to your Pastor or another spiritual leader and to tell them what God had said to you. They further explained that although we all hear from God and are a contributing part of the Church, it was the Pastor's responsibility, alone, to lead the Church and so it was his responsibility to determine whether or not what we were hearing was accurate.
Reasonable. Logical. I completely agreed with what we were told. The Pastor is the person chosen by God to lead the Church, right? So who better to filter the claims of divine inspiration? And the Scriptures are clear. God is not a God of confusion (often interpreted as disorder) It is absolutely reasonable to interpret this scripture to mean that it is unwise to allow anyone to speak into the Church without challenge... unless, of course, you read that scripture in context.
In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
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 14:21-33a (ESV)
Contrary to how 1 Corinthians 14:33 is typically applied in the modern Church, Paul was not discouraging the open use of the revelatory gifts. He was encouraging them!!! He was calling the Church into an open practice of the gifts that respected the call to edify one another. He was saying, "Prophesy! Speak in tongues! Do the thang!!! But make sure you do it in a way that is actually effective!"
The Church is absolutely accurate in taking this text to mean that God does not like disorderly displays of the gifts. With that said, there are two things that are generally misunderstood here:
1. The Nature of Order
I am a Father. I go to work every day, which means I see my kids less often than Elizabeth does, but I play an equally vital part in their lives. I spend time playing with them and teaching them about Jesus and transforming them into weird little creatures whenever i'm allowed to do their hair. Behind the scenes, I keep them in a home and with food on the table, clothes on their backs, etc. I have a role to play. Elizabeth plays an equally vital, though completely different part. She spends all day, every day with them. When she does their hair, she turns them into little princesses. She teaches them their letters, reads them stories, buys them their favorite snacks and toys, and so much more. She is the personification of consistency and security in their lives. Olivia is the first born. With that title, she inherited a bossy little attitude, the lions share of the chores and responsibilities and the unspoken right to always choose what movie they watch. Whereas Anastasia, as the youngest child, gets to take longer naps than the rest of the family. Not to mention the ridiculous amount of cuddling time she is allotted.
Every part of the family plays an entirely different part, and the family unit is only healthy when each part plays its part... simultaneously.
Don't get me wrong, our "roles" are not set in stone, and we often share responsibilities. There are plenty of nights where I cook dinner, and there are several days a week where Elizabeth is the one to go to work and I am the one to stay home with the girls. But despite what role we are playing, everyone is playing one.
As a culture, we have made the mistake of believing that "order" means corporately doing one thing at a time. There is a time for worship, a time for learning, even a time for responding to what God has done in the service. For every aspect of the Church, we have provided the body with a date and time where that expression is appropriate. But that's just not how a body functions. The heart and the lungs and the brain and the kidneys do not take turns expressing their benefit to the body. Even when you do something as simple as walk, your entire body is involved. Your heart quickens to pump more blood through your veins. Your lungs expand to pull in fresh air and then detract, pushing it all back out. Your eyes focus on the path head, giving your brain the information it needs in order to decide where to move your legs. And as your legs move in obedience to your brain, your arms swing at your side, and your ears listen subconsciously for danger.
Paul paints a picture of the body's many parts and functions coming together to present a full expression of Christ's body. That means that for "order" to happen, everyone must be allowed to contribute their gift. That means that, if someone begins singing in worship to God, it is inappropriate to stop them because "worship time" is over. It means that if someone is teaching and another person has a thought to contribute, they should be heard, not silenced because they weren't asked to speak that weekend. It means that if the Lord speaks to someone, they should be heard with reverence and care. And it means that if someone teaches the Word or speaks for the Lord and is wrong, the body has the right and responsibility to immediately address it.
Order, in this instance, and structure are not the same thing. Over policing the assembly is not orderly. It violates the design of God. We are all responsible to lead.
2. The Keeper of Order
It has been the belief of the Church for several hundred years that the Pastor, alone, is the keeper of order in the body. But that is not what Paul taught here when discussing the assembly. He said, "What then, brothers"... plural. This is not a "pastoral epistle" (a phrase I will wait until another blog to object to), it is a letter being addressed to the entire Church. So Paul's instructions for proper order within the assembly was meant to be read, and honored, by the entire assembly.
It was Paul's intention that the entire body would understand the need for orderly worship so that the entire body would worship orderly. He expected the entire body to respect the body's needs and to weigh every teaching and prophecy that was presented. Not just the spiritual leaders.
Guys, Pastors play a huge role within the body, but that does not mean they should be expected to shoulder everything. We have a responsibility to the body as well. In fact, if you follow Paul's teaching, you'll notice that the body was always meant to be carried by the body. It is not your Pastor's job to hold the everything up alone. (This is not a slam on the Pastoral office. It has its place in the body and I do not dispute that. But let's not make it something it isn't.)
Order is only maintained as the entire body determines to obey God's Word, express the gifts God has given them, and honor the body's needs. It is not one man's job, or even a team of men's job, to keep the Church moving in health. It is the responsibility of every part of the body to be who God made them to be, to contribute to the life and health of the rest of the body, and to hold the remaining members of the body accountable. So please... take it seriously.
***I would love to hear your thoughts! Please share in the comment section below. Specifically, let me know what you think of my thoughts on the nature of order and the body's responsibility to keep it.***