Not a Flat Prohibition

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #172

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” (1 Cor. 14:34–36).

Paul has been addressing the use of spiritual gifts in the church, but his real subject was the need for decorum and order in their worship services. And so here, when he shifts to the question of how their women are to behave in church, he is not really changing the subject.

The prohibition of v. 34 appears to be a flat prohibition, but this is only if we forget what was laid out a few chapters earlier. There Paul required any women in the service who prayed or who prophesied to do so in a manner that showed tangible respect to their husbands (1 Cor. 11:5, 10). Now in order to be able to show respect to your husband by how you pray or prophesy in church, it is necessary to be allowed to pray or prophesy there. It further means that this prohibition here is contextualized—women are to be “under obedience,” as the law required. An instance of what a disorderly speaking might look like is then given—an impromptu Q&A is out, for example.

If anyone is prepared to dispute any of this—and we have lots of people like that in our day—Paul wants to know if they are the source of the Word of God, or if they were the only ones who received it. Since the answer to both rhetorical questions is no, then we see the Pauline refutation of modern feminism long before it arose.

Continuing to Receive

When we come to this Table to receive the elements of bread and wine, we are coming here to receive Jesus Christ Himself.

We do not do this because we have not yet received Him, but rather we do this as part of our ongoing and lifelong reception of Christ. Of course, when we first received Christ, we were coming to faith, we were ushered out of darkness and into light. When we have come here to receive Him, we are not coming here to receive Him for the first time.

The Pride Part

Pride is a protean thing, a true shape shifter. Whenever a creature desires to believe in his own superiority, this is a desire that can be projected onto anything. When it comes to the erection of buildings and sanctuaries, we can take aesthetic pride in the beauty of what we have done, or economic pride in the efficiency of what we have done, or moralistic pride in the humility of what we have done, and so on down the line.

But the problem with pride is the pride part, not the accomplishment part.

God put us into the world to accomplish things, and we are to be grateful to Him when He enables us to do these things. But when we veer off into pride, we can take pride in having done what God gave us to do, or we can take pride in doing something else instead. The problem is the heart attitude, always.

Troubles at Thanksgiving

One of the fundamental duties of man is the responsibility to give thanks, to be grateful, and one of the fundamental realities of man’s experience is trouble. How are we to function in this kind of ongoing juxtaposition?

Massive cultural apostasies are the result of men refusing to honor God as God, and refusing to give Him thanks (Rom. 1:21). We are told as Christians to give thanks in every kind of situation. “Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:17–18). We are also told to give thanks for every situation. “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). This means that when we gather around our tables later today, we should render thanks for great and good things, obviously, but also for the troubles. In exercising the duty of thanksgiving, we do not seek to withdraw from the world, but rather to embrace it, all of it.

“It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, And to sing praises unto thy name, O most High:” (Ps. 92:1).

We remember that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward (Job 5:7). We are not called as Christians to deny the obvious, and the fact that it hurts is one of the obvious things. “This is my comfort in my affliction: For thy word hath quickened me” (Ps. 119:50). We can be comforted in our affliction by the Word, but the affliction remains what it is. Our desire should be to contexualize the hurt by faith, not erase it. The pain has a point, which is part of the reason it hurts so much.

Thanksgiving has arrived, but your back pain has somehow not left. Your friendship with someone dear to you has gone south. Financial pressures continue to mount. Rumors of layoffs are flying through the plant. You don’t know if you can handle another week working for your boss.

Keep On Keeping On

When God established His church in the first century, there were a number of unique things about it. The surrounding world was overwhelmingly pagan, and so the burgeoning Christian movement had to make certain decisions about priorities. The first thing that happened after Pentecost was not a building campaign. Neither was it a political movement. The initial explosion of conversions was followed by a century more of evangelism. The Christians met in all kinds of ad hoc circumstances. The catacombs are justly famous, but the New Testament also records multiple times how believers would met for worship in homes (e.g. Col. 4:15).

By the second century, the number of Christians was much greater, and almost from the beginning they challenged the pagan establishment on a number of issues. The Christians were adamantly pro-life, and rebuked the pagan tolerance of abortion and infanticide. If you want paganism without an attendant contempt for life at the margins, you want something that has never existed. The Christians modeled a different approach to compassion during plagues and epidemics, shaming the pagans by their compassion for others. The Christians also opposed the gladiatorial games. Killjoys from the beginning.

The same kind of thing happened with church buildings. We did not build the living stones structure because we had all these attractive brick and mortar buildings. It was the other way around. Life, community, fellowship, love, discipline, care for one another, are all the ways you build the actual church. When you have done that, it is time to move on and make an institutional declaration, one that challenges the principalities and powers. But if we are not doing it from homes, and gyms, and open air meetings, we are not going to do it when we have a nice, respectable place. When we get a nice sanctuary, we must always remember what got us to that place—and keep on doing it.

So let the stones cry out.

When the Spirit Says to Put a Sock in It

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #172

“Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Cor. 14:29–33).

Paul has already taught us that no more than two or three people can speak in tongues in the course of a worship service, and, if they do, then the words they spoke must be interpreted. This implies that they need to go one at a time so that the words can be made out distinctly, and translated for the congregation. Some might want to represent this as a view of mine, in which I am seeking to quench the Spirit. It is actually the view of the Spirit, working through Paul, in order to quench us. Quenching ego-babbling is not the same thing as quenching the Spirit.

The same principle applies to any words of prophesy that are given. Two, or at the most three, may speak words that the Spirit inspires. The first principle noted here is that the prophets must be accountable for what they say. The others sit to judge and review what is said. No one gets to speak for God on their own authority. The second principle is that courtesy and deference apply even here. When a word comes to another prophet, the first prophet gives way. Spiritual inspiration does not bring in bedlam. One at a time, with three messages as the most. The result is that everyone learns, everyone profits. The result is that all are comforted. If any are tempted to resist this word because “inspiration cannot be denied,” Paul says no. That’s not right. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, meaning that it possible to put a sock in it. Consider that each prophet is capable of restraining himself, and each prophet is to be subject to the other prophets. The alternative to this is disobedience, which would result in confusion instead of peace. And the Spirit’s work is to create order and peace, as in all the churches of the saints, and not disorder and chaos.

Where He Offers Himself

There are many aspects to this Supper, but one of them is that it is an expression of loyalty. In this meal, the Lord offers Himself to all who come to Him in faith, and all who come to Him in faith offer themselves in return, in a devout imitation.

Christ offers Himself. We may describe this doctrinally, but He does not offer us a mere doctrine. We may enact this liturgically, but He does not offer a liturgical shell. God offers us Himself. He gives Himself, and in the power of the Spirit, He gives Himself wholly.

We are to act as dearly beloved children, which means that we are to imitate Him in this. We come here to express our all-in loyalty. There are to be no double loyalties here—nothing else can be permitted to compete with the place of Christ in our hearts.

We do this fully aware of all the distractions that pull at our sleeves on a daily basis. We know of our faults and failings, and our propensity to wander. But that does not exclude us from this meal—God knows what kind of world we live in, and He knows what kinds of temptations we face. What we are dealing with is “common to man,” and God has provided us with Word and sacrament. But note that these are merely instruments by which He provides us with Himself.

If you would profit by this—and why would you not want to profit by it—then you must receive what is actually being offered. When you do this, your loyalties are aligned with His, and His Spirit equips you fully.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

A Refuge for Honesty

In his great psalm of confession, the psalmist says that he has acknowledged his sin to God, and goes on to say that he had not hidden his iniquity (Ps. 32:5). Because we live in a world full of sin, and because we as God’s people live our lives here, when we come to church one of two things must happen. Either we will come to understand our sin and deal with it properly, or we will come here to hide it.

Hospitals are institutions dedicated to health, but they are not places where we go to enjoy and celebrate how healthy we are. You do not go to the doctor in order to lie to him about all your symptoms. What would be the point?

The assembly of the church is a similar kind of thing. We want to come here for a genuine encounter with God, and this means that we must not come here in order to hide our iniquity. He knows about it already. He knows far more about it than we do. He knows everything there is to know about it. He knows when we come to church and do not confess our sins honestly at the beginning of the service. He knows when we move through the rest of the service pretending that we didn’t track in what He knows we tracked in.

When we do this kind of thing, we demonstrate that we are not really worshiping God, but rather are worshiping the good opinion of our fellows.

And this is why our steeple is going to have a cross on top of it. We erect that symbol because we want our town to know, and we want to constantly remind ourselves, that we have been called to a life of virtue by grace. And because it is virtue by grace, the foundational virtue that the grace of God cultivates in us is honesty. And that is how this building needs to be built—as a refuge for honesty.

So let the stones cry out.