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.