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. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.
(As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 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. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)
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. Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized. So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order.
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing pottery using gold. The idea is that it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of the object, rather than seeking to disguise it. Similar things happened to ancient (and modern) texts, except that it’s much harder to see where this has been done with words. Verses 34 and 35 of today’s reading are in many of the manuscripts of this letter, and only appear as an appendix. It seems that a later editor thought that Paul’s work needed “improving”. Perhaps we might be best advised to discover the real Paul’s views in other verses where women take a full part in the leadership of the Church.
Paul probably wouldn’t recognise the worship in many United Reformed Churches today. There is so much order and peace that one might be forgiven for thinking that everyone was asleep, when compared to the rowdy Early Church. In Corinth, however, it was chaos, and the loudest voices were somewhat overbearing and bossy. Paul is reminding his readers that the point of worship is about meeting a living God, not about the ego or personality of the leaders of the church; and that it’s important to avoid extremes. In the context of Corinth this probably meant that it was better to drink wine from a glass, rather than swigging from the bottle during worship.
Perhaps the United Reformed Church in 2020 doesn’t need as many warnings to avoid extremes in worship as the church in Corinth did all those centuries ago, but does our worship enable as many people as possible as often as possible to meet and have their lives changed by our living God?
May we find you, God, wherever we find ourselves today. Give us eyes to see your presence. Give us ears to hear you speak. Give us wisdom so we may understand you. Give us courage to follow you. May we find you, God, as you move us in us, through us, and around us. Amen.
The Revd Michael Hopkins, Minister of a group of Methodist and United Reformed Churches based around Farnham, Surrey, and Clerk of the URC General Assembly.
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