01 Jul 2011

Intelligible Worship

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I skipped Chapter 14 in our sermon series for a few reasons. First, I didn’t want to preach on this right after our art fair in case there were newcomers present. Secondly, the sermon series needs to end quick! Lastly, Chapter 14 is more or less a summary and application of Chapters 12 and 13.

But let me say a few thoughts regarding Chapter 14. It’s really about priorities when it comes to worship. Loving God and loving others is the supreme goal. Our gifts are to be used to that end. Specifically, the usage of our gifts must be intelligible.

That is why in v.1, Paul prioritizes prophecy in worship.  I’m not talking about nutty “end time prophecies” type of prophesies here. Rather, prophesy is simply conveying God’s word to God’s people through the discernment of the Spirit. However, the Corinthian church was enamored with speaking in tongues in public worship. The point Paul is making throughout that it is better to be intelligible in worship for the edification of the body, so if there’s a choice to be made between prophecy and tongues, prophesy wins out. Notice Paul doesn’t forbid speaking in tongues in worship, but expects a translator so that worship can be intelligible to everyone. He gives some pretty specific application to be orderly rather than chaotic for worship. [Presbyterians love that part]

We have yet to encounter a specific situation like this, but it’s not to say that such a situation won’t occur in the future. But there is a principle to be extracted here. It’s important to be intelligible in worship because there is an explicit message to be proclaimed. I’ve  learned over the years that “intelligent” is not necessarily synonymous with “intelligible”. You can be intelligent without being intelligible. We can be easily entrenched in our own insider language or a particular vocabulary that only Christians have. It’s important for us to know how to speak and convey gospel truth in ways that are accessible, yet stays true to it’s meaning. I don’t claim to be an expert in this at all, but I do want to be aware when I use terms, phrases, and idioms that don’t translate. That’s why we need each other to help each other when we don’t realize we are slipping into “Christianese”. Since we are a church that is comprised with folks who are monolingual, bilingual and even trilingual, we will need to extend even greater effort in making sure that our worship is intelligible and understandable to as many people as possible. This isn’t going to be perfect by any means, but by his grace, we use our gifts to make that happen.

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