Monday, February 11, 2019

Leadership: Tongues and Prophecy 8

Previous posts in this series:
2. Paul has nothing but positive things to say about prophecy at Corinth. When he sets downs rules to bring order to the congregation, his controls on prophecy are that prophets speak one at a time, with there being only two or at the most three (1 Cor. 14:29-32). Further, he makes it clear that prophesies are to be evaluated by other prophets.

On the other hand, he is much more regulative when it comes to tongues. The whole thrust of 1 Corinthians 14 seems to elevate prophecy over tongues (14:1-2). Prophecy is presumably one of the greater gifts (12:31), second on his list in 1 Corinthians 12:28 (tongues is eighth).

The tone of 1 Corinthians 14 is generally dissuasive from the use of tongues in worship. It is true that he twice adds the exception, "unless someone interprets" (14:5 and 13). However, notice that these are quite the minority of the chapter. The rest of 1 Corinthians 14:1-25 argues repeatedly against the use of tongues in worship. Even when he says he speaks in more languages/tongues than all of them (14:18), this is the lead up to a "but" [2]

In the end he says not to forbid speaking in tongues in the worship service as long as there is an interpretation (14:39-40). If there is an interpretation, like prophecy, they should speak one at a time, two or at the most three (14:27-28). Of course these instructions were written to the Corinthian congregation with a view to their specific issues.

Today, there are churches where everyone there seems spiritually uplifted even when there is no interpretation. And there are churches today where the church would split if tongues were spoken. The recontextualization of Scripture calls for spiritual discernment in different times and places. Paul's bottom line is that everything be done decently and in order (14:40).

3. The main point is that the early church--at least some of Paul's churches--were rather charismatic. Prophecy was far more an element of the early church than many of us realize today. When Ephesians 2:20 says that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, it is not likely thinking about the Old Testament prophets but the New Testament ones.

In every age, there is a tension between the church as structured and the church as prophetic. In the first century, the apostles provided the ultimate structure, followed by elders as they became established. Apostles had a clear lineage in the sense that the Twelve could trace their leadership identity to Jesus. Even those apostles who were not from the Twelve could trace their apostleship to a resurrection appearance from Christ. [3] They were the closest thing to an establishment at that time.

By contrast, prophets could come from anywhere. The Spirit could speak through either gender. The Spirit was the great equalizer, regardless of nation or tongue or social background.

Accordingly, false prophets soon became a concern. The latest books of the New Testament deal extensively with false prophets and false teachers (e.g., 2 Peter 2 and Jude). It is no surprise that books like 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are concerned about church structure and the qualifications for a church leader.

Nevertheless, there is nothing in the New Testament that suggests the prophetic role came to an end at some point. 1 Corinthians 13:8 is not saying that prophecy as a function will cease one day but that any individual prophecy has a date stamp on it. 1 John 4:1 exhorts John's community to test the spirits, and it warns that false prophets will abound. But the ongoing validity of prophecy is assumed within the church.

That is not necessarily to say that we should have a "prophecy time" in our worship services. The form leadership and the use of spiritual gifts take will inevitably change from context to context. What persists are the functions of leadership and the gifts, not necessarily the form in which they are expressed or exercised.

[2] This verse reminds me of the girl that told a guy, "I like you, but I don't want to go out with you," and the guy only heard, "I like you."

[3] Although in the case of Paul, many no doubt disputed that he was truly an apostle.

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