14:26-33 What then emerges from all this, brothers? Whenever you meet together, let each have his psalm, let each have his teaching, let each have his message direct from God, let each have his tongue, let each have his interpretation. Let all things be done for the spiritual upbuilding of the congregation. If anyone speaks with a tongue, let it be two, or at the most three, and let them do it by turns, and let one interpret. If there is no interpreter present, let him who has the gift of tongues keep silent in the congregation, and let him speak to God when he is by himself. Let two or three forthtellers of the truth speak, and let the others exercise the gift of discernment. If someone who is seated is conscious that he has been given a special message, let the first be silent, for you can all forthtell the truth one by one so that all may learn and may be encouraged--and the spirits of those who forthtell the truth are under control of those who do forthtell the truth, for God is not the God of disorder but the God of peace, as we see that he is in all the congregation of his dedicated people.
Paul comes near to the end of this section with some very practical advice. He is determined that anyone who possesses a gift should receive every chance to exercise it; but he is equally determined that the services of the Church should not become a kind of competitive disorder. Only two or three are to exercise the gift of tongues, and then only if there is someone there to interpret. All have the gift of forthtelling the truth, but again only two or three are to exercise it; and if someone in the congregation has the conviction that he has received a special message, the man who is speaking must give way to him and give him the opportunity to express it. The man who is speaking can perfectly well do so, and need not say that he is carried away by inspiration and cannot stop, because the preacher is able to control his own spirit. There must be liberty but there must be no disorder. The God of peace must be worshipped in peace.
There is no more interesting section in the whole letter than this, for it sheds a flood of light on what an early church service was like. There was obviously great freedom and an informality about it. From this passage two great questions emerge.
(i) Clearly the early Church had no professional ministry. True, the apostles stood out with special authority; but at this stage there was no professional local ministry. It was open to anyone who had a gift to use it. Has the Church been right or wrong in instituting a professional ministry? Clearly it is essential that, in our busy age when men are so preoccupied with material things, one should be set apart to live close to God and to bring to his fellows the truth and the guidance and the comfort which God gives to him. But there is the obvious danger that when a man becomes a professional preacher he may sometimes be in the position of having to say something when he has really nothing to say. However that may be, it must remain true that if a man has a message to give his fellow men no ecclesiastical rules and regulations should be able to stop him giving it. It is a mistake to think that only the professional ministry can ever bring God's truth to men.
(ii) There was obviously a flexibility about the order of service in the early Church. Everything was informal enough to allow any man who felt that he had a message to give to give it. It may well be that we set far too much store on dignity and order nowadays, and have become the slaves of orders of service. The really notable thing about an early Church service must have been that almost everyone came feeling that he had both the privilege and the obligation of contributing something to it. A man did not come with the sole intention of being a passive listener; he came not only to receive but to give. Obviously this had its dangers, for it is clear that in Corinth there were those who were too fond of the sound of their own voices; but nonetheless the Church must have been in those days much more the real possession of the ordinary Christian. It may well be that the Church lost something when she delegated so much to the professional ministry and left so little to the ordinary Church member; and it may well be that the blame lies not with the ministry for annexing those rights but with the laity for abandoning them, certainly it is all too true that many Church members think far more of what the Church can do for them than of what they can do for the Church, and are very ready to criticize what is done but very unready to take any share in doing the Church's work themselves.