Holding perspectives in tension…

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1 Corinthians 14:26 What should be done then, my friends? 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 anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves 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 someone else sitting nearby, let the first person 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 the prophets, 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. (As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?) 37 Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. 38 Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized. 39 So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; 40 but all things should be done decently and in order.

The apostle Paul is addressing another source of conflict in the Corinthian church – disorderly worship practices. He mentions the use of tongues, prophetic words, and the role of women in the assembly. The question which arises for me is whether these verses represent a word from God which should be applied universally, in every time and place? Or is this a word from Paul speaking to a contextual issue limited to a particular time and place?

Some Christians insist that every word of scripture is to be followed exactly as it is written. They are often referred to as “fundamentalist” Christians. In their view a passage like this should be applied here and now – no matter how contrary to contemporary culture (particularly in regards to the appropriate role of women). Other Christians suggest that much of scripture does not apply to current practice and so we choose which parts of the bible we follow and which we do not.

In my view there is value in both perspectives. Much of scripture is timeless and is intended to be received and applied as it is written. On the other hand some parts of scripture appear to be written for the purpose of addressing specific circumstances in particular places – as is the case in our passage from today. We hold these two perspectives in tension, doing our best to know when to hold to the letter of scripture and when to allow for modern interpretations which make sense in our day. We don’t always get it right, but we do our best – trusting the Lord to lead and guide us in the way we should go.

Lord let it be so. Amen.

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