A Spirit-Filled Church
What is a Spirit-filled church? Is it one where there is freedom to worship God in whatever way our hearts are led? Is it where there is no structure and order to how worship is carried out or where there is structure and order? Does God set guidelines of how worship should be carried out?
The Corinthian church itself was eager to be Spirit-filled. Paul says to them, “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12).” In a few verses later in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, he gives instructions on worship in a Spirit-filled church and what it should look like.
First, in verse 26 Paul says, “when you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” At least two things stand out from this part of the verse. He says each person brings one thing or another to the service – notice he uses or instead of and. What Paul is implying here is that the gifts of God will be spread out among the believers. It is not right or more spiritual for a single person to perform each portion of the service, but for them to be spread among several people who are gifted.
Secondly, Paul says, “when you come together each one has a hymn…”, etc., rather than each one will have a hymn. Paul is saying here that whatever is done in church – songs, teaching, preaching – it is brought in. In other words, it is prepared beforehand. Therefore, prayerful and serious preparation are not activities that stifle the Spirit during worship. This is not to say the Holy Spirit is not involved in the preparation and will not lead in powerful ways, but Paul’s expectation is that preparation will be done.
Paul then concludes the verse by saying, “…let all things be done for building up.” This shows that those who are led by the Spirit when leading a service are not interested in self-promotion but in building others up.
Next, Paul moves onto a discussion of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). There is a wide disagreement among Christians about what speaking in tongues mean and if it is a gift that still exists in the church. Regardless of your beliefs on this subject, Paul is clear here that if someone is speaking in tongues and there is no one to interpret, they should not speak. Here Paul is revisiting what he wrote earlier in chapter 14 about the importance of interpretation when tongues are spoken because when there is no interpretation there is no building up.
Paul then discusses prophets and revelation in verses 29-32. This is typically understood to mean what we would call preaching today. It is not a prophetic word of what will happen in the future, but a prophetic word of what God has spoken. Again here, Paul speaks of order. He says that only “two or three” should talk and that there should be others there to weigh in and comment. This immediate feedback is not something that is common in churches today in the west, but Paul’s theme is consistent. There is an order and purpose, “so that all may learn and be encouraged (1 Corinthians 14:31).” Paul then concludes the section affirming that, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33).”
In the next section Paul deals with the role of women in the church service. This again is a topic with a wide variety of interpretations and applications. The goal of this article is not to go deeply into what this section means; however, it can be said that Paul’s overarching theme still is about maintaining order.
He then concludes his writing on a Spirit-filled church by defending his apostolic credentials and with the conclusion that, “all things should be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40).”
Structure and order are not the things we tend to think of when we think of being Spirit-filled. In fact, order and structure sometimes are considered boring and a sure sign of the absence of the Spirit. I am not making the case for any one specific form of worship style, but my desire is to show through Scripture that our understanding of what it means to be Spirit-filled may need some re-evaluating. When our preconceptions do not line up with what the Word of God says, we should be sure it is our preconceptions that bow down to God’s Word, and not God’s Word that becomes subject to our preconceptions.