When it comes to a modern day church service, people have varying opinions as to what the service should look like and what should happen. Singing, prayers, music, people speaking are all common things one would see in a modern Western church service. But what about the Bible’s idea of church? What would the church have been like after Jesus during the apostle’s time? What should be done during church? We are going to answer those questions today.
To start, let’s go to 1 Corinthians 14. The church in Corinth was a mess to say the least. They weren’t doing a lot of things the way they were supposed to, so Paul tries to help them out. In the latter part of chapter 14, Paul tells them about their worship services or when they gathered together. This is what he says, “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Paul gives us some ideas as to some things that should go on when we meet for church or get together. Songs, preaching, a revelation, or a tongue or all things that can happen. Things like prophecy were also common in this day which were messages God gave His people to share with others. The main thing we see here is what Paul ends with. Whatever it is that we do, it should be done to build the church up. No degrading messages, or callouts, but things that are done to encourage the church as a whole. That is the point of meeting together as the writer of Hebrews explains (Hebrews 10:25).
Paul then goes into detail about having order during a get-together. People should not be speaking over one another but let people speak and if someone wants to speak the other should sit. Everything is done in an orderly fashion because God is a God of peace not disorder (14:33).
There has also been much debate about women in the church and if they are to be silent as Paul says here in chapter 14 or if they are allowed to speak. Women are clearly allowed to prophecy and pray as directed in chapter 11, so they are allowed to speak in a church service. But Paul also details some of this with Timothy in 1 Timothy 2. Paul urges Timothy not to have a woman teach or have a leadership role in the church like an elder or overseer or even speak. There could have been many reasons for this command such as aggressive and uneducated women in Ephesus or the culture of the city, or perhaps this is a command that all churches of Jesus should obey. How do we decide? Well we know that women are allowed to pray and prophesy in church (1 Corinthians 11). So if Paul really means what he says here, he contradicts himself, and thus erring Scripture. This is clearly not the case, so there must be a different option.
In this day, and even in Ephesus, women were most likely uneducated and teaching falsely. The only way to learn is to be taught by someone else. So Paul instructs the women in Ephesus to learn quietly, and if they are learning, then they should not be teaching or be in a position of authority in the church. Paul then goes back to Genesis 2 and 3 for his reasoning. He says that Adam was created first and Eve was the one who was deceived first. So following that order, Paul wanted the women here to be taught first so they are not deceived by false teachers. This explanation avoids a contradiction with other passages that allow women speaking in church. Women are allowed to prophecy and pray in the church (1 Corinthians 11). But here in Ephesus, Paul tells Timothy to limit their teaching and authority so they can learn in quietness. This means that this was a temporal command by Paul to Timothy for a specific situation.
There has also been debate about musical instruments in worship. Should they be allowed? Those who oppose often use Ephesians 5:19 to prove their point. This verse says, “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”. Those who are against instruments in worship argue that because Paul says “with your heart”, this means that no instruments should be used. However, if we are to sing psalms, these were usually accompanied by instruments and were written to be accompanied by them. This would also make sense because the word for “making melody” is used to describe a plucking or touching of an instrument. As for the “with your heart” phrase, this does not mean without instruments and does not indicate such meaning. Rather it means that we should be worshiping in the Spirit with the right mindset and a good heart. Our heart should be fully in worship with joyfulness and thanksgiving as Colossians 3:16 explains. As we sing, we should be doing it to and for the Lord.
Everything done in the church should be done to encourage one another. Since we are all temples of God, we should be encouraging one another and building one another up. Services may look different and we may even meet on different days. The technicalities are not important in God’s church. What is important are the people, and what we do to help each other and the world come closer to Jesus.