God is not a God of disorder but of peace

In a comment on my Theology quiz results post, TS asked about 1 Corinthians 14:33 “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” (TNIV):

Is it relevant only for prophets speaking in turn, or is it a case against “untoward” manifestations in church service? Are non-charismatics right in accusing charismatic services as being out of order based on this verse?

This is an excellent question!

It seems to me that this verse gives a general principle, which here is being applied specifically to gatherings of the church but can be applied more widely. I don’t think the specific application here is only to prophecy, but to everything described in verses 26 to 32. Indeed the point is basically to support the last part of verse 26, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (TNIV). Thus it does apply to “untoward” manifestations of any kind, but of course that depends on exactly what is considered “untoward”.

On the second question, I wonder if it is based on a misunderstanding of typical charismatic church gatherings. Now I accept that some charismatic meetings are disordered, and thereby wrong according to Paul’s teaching here. But these are the minority, or at least I hope they are, and I don’t seek to defend them. However, from my own experience the majority of charismatic gatherings are in fact rather well ordered. It is just that the type of order found in them is not the same as is found in more formal church services. But in fact these meetings are much closer to what Paul is recommending here than those formal church services are.

It is I guess hard to define a typical charismatic gathering, and my own experience is not all that wide. But from what I have seen, these meetings are usually clearly led by one person who is in charge of what is happening, and who may delegate to others authority over parts of the meeting. In fact times when the meeting is thrown open for congregational participation are usually a small part of the whole, if they occur at all; Paul’s “two or three prophets” (verse 29) tends to be a guideline. In most cases people only speak if given explicit permission by the leader – it helps that in larger meetings they need a microphone. Good leaders exercise discernment by giving permission to speak only to those they know and trust, and when they are unsure of the appropriateness of what is said they make this clear and ask God to give them and the congregation discernment. There is little disorder here.

The times which might seem disorderly are “ministry” times, when people are invited to respond to the message by coming forward for prayer. This necessarily involves several things happening at once; but then I don’t suppose the 3000 baptised on the day of Pentecost were dealt with strictly one at a time. But the prayer for each individual is generally led by people authorised by the church to do so. The difficulties for some are with the manifestations which sometimes occur at these times such as falling over, laughter and other loud noises, of the kinds associated with the Toronto Blessing. I can appreciate that these are disturbing to some, but in general they are happening with the blessing of whoever is leading the meeting, and so can hardly be called disorderly. In well run meetings those who manifest very openly will be talked to by experienced stewards, and if necessary taken aside for special prayer.

So, the principle “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” certainly applies to charismatic church meetings. And it is one which leaders of those meetings generally seek to put into practice. But I don’t think it can be used as a general condemnation of those meetings. Rather, it teaches that meetings should be led firmly but sensitively, by leaders authorised by the church and following the leading of the Holy Spirit.

6 thoughts on “God is not a God of disorder but of peace

  1. Thanks so much, Peter. I am in agreement with you completely, it seems. Like you, I find more biblical support for charismatic worship, including “blessings,” in the Bible than starched, form-over-function services where the focus is outward religiosity. The question was prompted by something I read on another person’s blog here:
    http://mcshoo.blogspot.com/2006/08/some-thoughts-on-spiritual-gifts.html#comments

    Here is the particular point I took issue with and my response:

    “9. With regards to other claims of holy spirit manifestation (holy laughter, slain by the spirit, uncontrolled dancing, the like), I think they are rightfully disowned by conservative cessationalist and continuationalists alike for completely throwing Paul’s words about order in the church out the window.”

    Actually, Paul’s words about order were simply that prophets should talk in turn. Nothing more, nothing less. When people try to make Paul’s statement mean more than that, they are interpreting scripture in light of their own experience–what they think a church service should be like.

    But an actual examination of “church service” in the Bible yields a picture radically different than what we usually think of.

    Cases in point:
    1) The disciples were accused of being drunk in Acts 2.
    2) Peter and John held an impromptu healing service in Acts 3 that got them arrested.
    3) The friends of the paralyzed man cut a hole in the roof in order to have Jesus heal their friend.
    4) Jesus invited all the little squirmy children and babies to come and be blessed by Him–much to the disciples’ chagrin.

    My point is that there is very little evidence for insisting on an “orderly service” as we know it today. The biblical evidence actually points to what we would think of as an “out-of-order” service.

    God’s intention can be most clearly in Luke 13, where the Pharisees criticize the healed lady for being healed on the Sabbath. They were so wrapped up in their idea of an “orderly service” that they completely missed the point. Jesus rightly put the emphasis on the work of God, not “order.” In the same way, we ought not criticize those who are blessed by God simply because they are out of order.

    * An important clarification: I don’t believe the service should have a cacophony of animal sounds and people running around. In our church, for example, there is always one person who is leading the service. Those who have a prophesy must wait to speak. The laying on of hands is orderly, and not a mess. But the focus is not on rules, but on what God is doing. I’m not saying we are doing things like the Acts church or that this is the only way; I’m just trying to show that I do believe in order, but don’t believe in order that emphasizes religiosity rather than the work of God.

  2. Thank you, TS. I agree with you. Well, not entirely with “Paul’s words about order were simply that prophets should talk in turn. Nothing more, nothing less.” But they should not be interpreted as outlawing what is in fact typical charismatic practice. As for “a cacophony of animal sounds and people running around“, I think it is important to allow that God deals with people in different ways and sometimes these ways are noisy. But if this happen it should be within the context of a meeting which is properly controlled.

  3. TS, I had a question for you… how can you use references from Christ’s ministry to support your view about church services when the church had not yet been established?

    Also, the examples you sight regarding the disciples, and Peter and John, in support of your view of a “church service” seems a bit suspect since they were not having a church service at the time but rather were out doing ministry.

    The truth is that the picture we are given in the NT and church history (regarding the later half of the first century and the whole of the second century) show us a body that utilizes deacons and elders which soon included bishops and prebyters. Their services involved the reading of scripture and the partaking of the Lord’s ordinances which included baptism (for those who had not yet been baptised in water) and the Lord’s supper.

    It seems a stretch to claim support for your position from those scriptural refernces you made. I have to tell you, I am not emotionally clinging to a point of view here but want to challenge you guys to present some true biblical support for your point of view.

    Anyone can feel free to answer.

  4. Newsboys, I want to come in here with a few observations. I have also drawn your comment to TS’s attention and he may also comment.

    Surely Jesus’ example in leading meetings as well as his instructions should be taken as guidance on how Christians should meet together, even if technically these meetings were not yet “church”. Christians follow Jesus’ example in celebrating the Lord’s Supper; why not his other examples?

    Your picture of meetings of believers as described in the NT is very one sided. You mention that “Their services involved the reading of scripture and the partaking of the Lord’s ordinances which included baptism (for those who had not yet been baptised in water) and the Lord’s supper.” But you largely ignore the longest and most detailed description of Christian meetings, in 1 Corinthians 11-14, and especially chapter 14. Even if we forget the aspects which Paul does not commend, we have a very different picture of Christian worship, involving praying (11:4,5), prophecy by many different people (11:4, ch.14 passim), eating and drinking full meals together (11:21,33), various spiritual gifts (12:7-11 etc), tongues with interpretation (14:5,27-28), falling down in worship (14:25) etc etc.

    I would want to challenge you “to present some true biblical support” for your apparent view that “church services” should consist only of “the reading of scripture and the partaking of the Lord’s ordinances which included baptism … and the Lord’s supper“.

  5. Newsboys,

    If you were an alien come to our planet and didn’t know anything about Christianity, then read the Bible to discover what church service should look like, would you think church services should look like they do today?

    I think if we honestly take a look at the New Testament to get our idea of church, we would have to agree that we can’t say much definite about what a church service should look like.

    I’m not trying to get you to give up reading scripture, baptism, or partaking of communion (those are all excellent things!) … I’m just saying that we should not assume a rigid form of church service is necessary because there is no evidence one way or the other in the Bible.

    -ts

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