After the Cymbal Crash — 1 Corinthians 14:26-40
Shaun continues the series in 1 Corinthians with a look at some of Paul’s instructions for worship. This week we’re looking at the instruction to pursue order to mirror God’s peace in the world. The way that we worship matters – at affects how others see us and that in turn affects the effect of evangelism. Do we present a picture of God’s peace amid chaos?
Audio note – the recording this week mistakenly used the laptop microphone, so it’s more of a “bootleg” recording than usual. The manuscript is copied below but Shaun would like to give the usual caveat: the preached sermon is always different from the sermon as it was preached, however it is close enough to get the point. With that caveat aside, here is the manuscript:
Last Sunday I was mixing the sound while the musicians practiced. And in the middle of a song, Andy went “full-animal” on the cymbal. When I looked up startled, Tim (who was playing bass) had eyes about the size of dinner plates. It wasn’t that the cymbal was out of place. It’s just that neither of us quite expected it in that way. When you get startled it grabs your attention. Being startled plays out in other ways too. If you suddenly see car lights ahead of you while driving you might instinctively reach to brace your passenger. Sometimes when we’re startled we try to protect what is important to us. Others when startled and come out swinging.
If you feel startled this morning, I get it. The news around us is full of examples of ways in which women have been profoundly mistreated; individually and systemically. And we must become more aware of those abuses so that those profound injustices can be tended to. I say that both as a dad of daughters, and as a guy who just thinks other humans are important.
Some of you might find part of this text startling and your impulse is to come out swinging. Some of you might find part of this text startling and you’re ready to protect your positions; whether about tradition or progress either one. If you want to hear more about my framework for understanding difficult passages related to gender in a more thorough way, I will shamelessly plug a sermon I preached on 1 Timothy 2:8-15. You can find that on our web-sight if you search for that passage or type in “Institutionalized Interdependence”.
But I want to encourage you to try to suspend some of your potential shock to hear how the teaching in the passage fits the context of the letter and instructs us. I also don’t want to press the points of another text into this one without warrant. So let’s do our best to take this text for itself and see where that takes us. That is a lot for me to ask of you, but let’s try together.
What Is Happening Here?
So what is happening in this passage? We can make our way to understanding that by starting with the cymbal crash of verses 34-35. The instruction to keep silence is curious. Does Paul mean absolute and unqualified silence? Unless Paul has forgotten what he wrote earlier in the letter, then I don’t think so. Back in 11:5 Paul assumes that women are indeed praying and prophesying in the service, and he gives instructions on how that would continue, so absolute unqualified silence doesn’t fit.
Another question has to do with “the women”. “The” could refer to women as a general class. Paul does that in chapter 11, although there he largely uses the word “woman” without the definite article. But even in that case, it would seem that Paul was leaning against a specific issue in the life of the Corinthian church; namely, the flattening of gender distinctions in the life of the church.
However, “the women” could refer to a specific “the”. I believe that in this case it indeed does. In Corinth it appears that there was a group of “super-spiritual” women who were claiming that the resurrection had already happened. And as those who had attained this, gender distinctions were irrelevant and their bold expressions of spiritual manifestations in worship were the height of elite spirituality. Some scholars refer to this movement as the “Eschatological Women” of Corinth.
The New Testament is full of examples showing that the message of Jesus changes the way woman must be valued in the world, both inside and outside of the church. And that message was being heard by woman in the 1st century. It is estimated that 2/3 of the church was women, while women only made up 1/3 of the Roman population. The message of Jesus is a message of hope for women. But Paul was also quick to point out that the “Eschatological Woman” movement isn’t the same as what we’re doing as the Church.
Some of you might find this text startling and you’re ready to protect or fight for your positions; whether about tradition or progress either one. But before we move on let’s say a few things. Paul has spoken about how celebrating differences between genders demonstrates the glorious variety of God (1 Cor. 11). And in 1 Tim 2 there are some limitations that involve gender in a tightly applied way. But as we’ve said over and over again in this series, there is no hierarchy of worth in the Kingdom of Jesus. The systems of the world are built on structures of power and control that do not reflect the message of Jesus. The Gospel turns world systems of power and control on their heads as the weak are strong, and last first. The Kingdom is about power, but not that kind of power.
I believe the point of this passage is that these woman who have been disruptive in public worship, and so clouding the message of Jesus, must stop grandstanding their supposed higher spirituality and submit themselves to the love-order of the Body of Christ.
Taking that view I believe, also fits within the rest of the passage. Let’s finally notice the rest of the text. In vss 26-33 Paul is not setting prescriptions for how many people must prophecy, or give a lesson, or a revelation, or a vocalization of praise in an interpreted tongue. Rather, he is putting boundaries on how it all goes down so that it doesn’t turn into utter chaos.
Spirit-filled worship doesn’t lead to ecstatic mania, or out of control expressions of spirituality. Rather it leads to manifestations of the Spirit in concert with people who are listening and responding in praise to God and edification for one another. It isn’t just the “Eschatological Women” but also the prophets, and teachers, and revelators, and interpreted-tongue-praisers, and message-weighers, who all need to know when to zip it for the sake of ordered peace. In fact in verse 30 Paul uses the same term for the long-winded revelator to be silent (sigao) as he does for “the women” in verse 34.
The Big Message
Let’s get to the big idea by thinking about this morning’s service. Having spoken something out of the nothing, God took the tumultuous chaos and molded it into a vibrant ordered-ness that reflected the unity-in-distinction that is true of God’s own Trinitarian self-existence. But then Adam’s sin made a horrible backward lurch toward chaos and violent disorder. Still the Lord sat enthroned even over that flood (Psm 29:10). He kept a place of peace floating on the sea of our sin. It was full of variety, and a fair amount of messiness. But that messy ark was a microcosm reflecting the Lord’s intention to save, to recreate, to make the vibrant-variety of his ordered creation-temple whole again.
And that is now us as the Church. Self-centered spirituality leads to destructive chaos as we clamor to be heard and clamor to get our way. Instead of peace within God’s order we get chaos. But the Church is to be the picture of God’s intentions through Christ for a world of chaos and confusion. So our worship must reflect the character and purpose of our God. The character of God in all of his vibrantly unified distinction. The purpose of God to save by means of his unique son, our King and Christ. When this passage calls us to peace and order (33, 40) it is not a stoic snuffing out of Spirit-expressions, but an ordering of the broken chaos we bring into our assemblies as a group of sinners in need of that same message of Jesus. God brings order out of chaos so we must pursue his kind of peace in our public worship.
How can we do that? First I want to acknowledge an application for “me”. I need to work hard to guide our worship-life in a way that reflects God’s ordered variety. “Order” doesn’t mean this bulletin necessarily. We do what we do in our worship for reasons, but there is more to ordered worship than a covenant-renewal liturgy with the imprint of western cultural expressions. When I was in Haiti, the call to worship wasn’t after a bell or a moment of silence. It was a lady up front who started clapping and singing by herself until the rest of the village eventually showed up. But order doesn’t mean every possible cultural expression checked off a list. It means rather the whole body, in full expression where we are, with hearts open to the rest of the Church wherever she is found. The message of Jesus didn’t start with us so we need to exercise some cultural humility (36).
And it goes beyond cultural variety. The whole Body also means varieties of affect, and intellect, and personality, and all in a way that both stretches us and is still reachable regardless of one’s spiritual maturity. I need to work on those things and I’m committed to doing so along with others who help plan and lead our public worship.
There is also an application here for “you”. Would you approach your worship as part of our corporate evangelism? I know that non-Christians aren’t sitting in spectator stands every week. But showing up on Sundays, and how you engage in this weekly event around the Lord’s Table says something to your neighbors. How it shapes you is visible to others. What does your engagement in worship say about the God you identify with? Does it picture his vibrantly-ordered peace? Or does it reflect self-serving consumerism, or attempts to be noticed as spiritual?
I’ve been around the Church long enough to have heard plenty of discussions on worship. Many of those discussions have been arguments about what things belong or don’t belong in a service. They often end up in questions over whether you should have old songs or new songs, screens or no screens, suits or shorts, rock or classical, juice or wine. I think that most of those discussions have grown out of genuine desires to show Jesus to the world. How can our worship reflect the surrounding culture or be winsome to the surrounding culture? Now, it isn’t that I think those are terrible questions. I just think that there is a more fundamental question; the question of this text. Does our worship reflect the character and purpose of the God who makes peace from our chaos?
The last few chapters have been a lot about worship. And what we come to at the end of this section is this: our never-ceasing praise must reflect the vibrantly ordered peace of our God before a world that is in chaos.
Will you pursue that kind of peace in our worship?