Thursday, October 18, 2007

Order in Church

Thursday, October 18, 2007 -- -- Week of Proper 23
(St. Luke the Evangelist)

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
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Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Prayer Book, p. 988)
Psalms 18:1-20 (morning) 18:21-50 (evening)
Jeremiah 38:1-13
1 Corinthians 14:26-33a, 37-40
Matthew 10:34-42

Paul's conversation about order in worship and about tongues reminds me of a Sunday visit to a Florida church while on vacation several years ago. We were at the beach, and on Sunday morning went to a nearby Episcopal church. It was a congregation that practiced a charismatic spirituality and was known for the exercise of the spiritual gifts of tongues, praying and singing in the spirit, prophecy, healing, and words of knowledge. The rector was an acquaintance of mine and someone I was fond of. I had visited the church several times before. I find that I enjoy and am energized by charismatic worship, but it's not something I would want as a steady diet.

Just as we were finishing communion, the music was dying down, people were quietly praising God in whispered voices and tongues; the rector had nurtured a reverent peace within the congregation. Suddenly a voice arose from the back, just a few rows away from me. He was speaking in tongues. I listened very carefully trying to get some sense of the syntax. There were certain phrases and syllables that were repeated over and over. It was beautiful and exotic, and left a mysterious tone in the air, although I thought I had perceived some slight sign of annoyance from the rector as the speech began.

My sense seemed confirmed when the rector resumed with a prayer thanking God for this word -- if it be from God -- and wondering if there might be some interpretation. He began restoring the air of reverent peace. After about fifteen seconds another voice began, this time speaking in English. Again I listened carefully, seeing if I could catch some patterns that might match the syntax and repeated syllables from the earlier speech. The English interpretation had none of the patterns or repetitions that might connect it linguistically to the unknown tongue. In fact, it sounded very much like the Gospel of John. The language and style was very reminiscent of the 4th Gospel. Again, I thought I detected an annoyed gesture from the rector as this second voice began. When the interpretation was finished, the rector made no attempt to return to the carefully orchestrated mood of quiet prayer, but quickly launched into the closing postcommunion thanksgiving.

In this chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, Paul gives some instructions to the congregation in Corinth about their worship. The assumed backdrop is come controversy about relative order and disorder.

Note that verses 33b-36 are omitted from the Prayer Book office lectionary as they were omitted in the 1928 Book. They are in parenthesis in many Bible translations. This is the famous "women should be silent in the churches" passage that has angered many through the ages. There is a dispute about the location of these words as some ancient authorities move these verses to the end of the chapter. Nowhere else is the role of women discussed in this section of chapters 12-14, and these instructions disagree with Paul's lengthy discussion of chapter 11 where it appears that women normally pray and prophesy in the church. We know that the church in Philippi met in the home of a woman, Lydia, and Paul includes a woman in his list of apostolic colleagues toward the end of Romans and elsewhere mentions Prisca and Phoebe. Many scholars doubt that the "women should be silent in the churches" passage was written by Paul. It seems more consistent with the later writings in his name by the unknown authors of the letters to Timothy and Titus. It appears that Paul's practice of including women among the leaders of prayer and prophecy was something that some church leaders began to compromise within a couple of generations. Many see the Episcopal Church's ordination of women in 1974 as a return to an ancient model more faithful to St. Paul's practice.


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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.


At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do I hear an Amen? Yes, indeed.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

Thank you for including a discussion of the missing verses. I think we miss a great deal of juicy stuff when we are given an expurgated lectionary to hear.


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