Reformed Worship, The Regulative Principle, etc.


Temporary Officers and
Practices Related to Worship

Throughout the Bible, we find accounts of temporary gifts and officers among the people of God. That is, men sometimes receive special abilities to perform particular tasks; these endowments are not expected to be permanent gifts or practices within the church.

For example, when the Lord sent Moses to deliver the children of Israel, the revealed word of God was accompanied by peculiar signs and wonders; many supernatural actions were per formed by the hand of Moses.

When Moses received the law and the tabernacle ordinances, the Lord provided a divine pattern for the furnishings of the tabernacle. The worship in the tabernacle included many practices which were established as ongoing observances. Nevertheless, at the outset, God provided special gifts to certain individuals who were chosen to build the implements of tabernacle worship. The Lord "called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri" and "filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; and to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work. And he hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he and Ahioliab. Them hath he filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work" (Ex. 35:30-35; 38:21-23).

After the tabernacle was completed according to the divine pattern (Ex. 39:43), there was no expectation that the special gifts of Moses and Bezaleel would be needed in an ongoing manner. Nor did the Lord appoint successors to Bezaleel to continue fashioning new implements for the tabernacle.

We find a parallel case in the pages of the New Testament. The death of Christ ushered in a new era; Jerusalem was no longer the focal point of public worship. The Saviour instructed the apostles to take the gospel to the farthest reaches of civilization. As the gospel spread, the apostles fulfilled a foundational role in building up the church, which is likened to the temple (or tabernacle) of God (Eph. 2:20-21).

When this new era of gospel worship was inaugurated, the Lord furnished the apostles with special gifts, "God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with diverse miracles" (Heb. 2:4). Thus, we read about tongues of fire, miraculous healings, and supernatural deliverances. There were also special assistants to the apostles, called evangelists, some of whom wrote the gospel accounts in the scriptures. And there were New Testament prophets among the churches.

There is no indication in the Bible that these special gifts and officers were expected to become permanent fixtures in the church. On the contrary, just as Moses and Bezaleel had no permanent successors to their special offices and functions, so the apostles and prophets had no designated successors. Rather, their special offices and functions gave way to the ordinary operations of the church, conducted by ordinary ecclesiastical officers ­ pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons.

In Acts 14:23, we read of Paul and Barnabas ordaining elders for the government of the churches they had planted. They did not appoint new apostles. (As long as the apostles lived, they possessed a peculiar authority as Christ's special messengers. But once the apostles passed from the scene, the responsiblities regarding church government fell to elders.) From these facts, we conclude that some aspects of worship, as described in the New Testament narratives, were never intended to be permanent, since they were practices linked to the special gifts of apostles and prophets.

For example, we do not presently conduct public healing services. Certainly the apostles performed some healings in the course of their ministry. But the normal directions for the sick are to resort to individual prayer, appropriate medicinal substances; and, in special cases, they may seek a visitation from the elders of the church (2 Cor. 12:7-9; 1 Tim 5:23; James 5:14-15).

We freely acknowledge the instantaneous gift of foreign tongues, which was manifest on the day of Pentecost. But that was an altogether extraordinary occasion. There is no indication from the Bible that this miraculous event was to become a routine ordinance in Christian worship. A strong case can be made that the only persons who actually spoke with these tongues on the day of Pentecost were the apostles, since the response of the hearers was, "Are not all these which speak Galilæans?" (Acts 2:7).

Moreover, it is certain that the tongues mentioned in Acts 2, and in other references in the New Testament, were known languages ­ not an unintelligible dialect, as claimed by modern-day charismatics. When references are made to unknown languages in Paul's epistles, the apostle is emphatic that a message spoken in a foreign language cannot profit the hearers, unless there is an interpreter present.

For centuries, Protestants criticized the Papists for conducting worship services in an unknown language (Latin), wherein the general public could not understand the content of the worship. The criticism was warranted, because, as the apostle notes, "If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?" (1 Cor. 14:23). Likewise, charismatics are guilty of similar folly when they advocate the practice of chattering in unintelligible gibberish as a central part of their worship.

Questions have been raised as to whether the tongues mentioned in the apostolic era were revelatory in nature. Regardless of the answer to this query, the apostle's restrictions apply to any spoken word in the church, whether revelatory or not. No service of worship should be allowed to degenerate into a chaotic scene where multiple speakers are blithering in unintelligible noises which cannot be understood by any of the hearers.

If we conclude that the gift of tongues was a revelatory gift, we still have no indication that it was a permanent gift. In fact, the evidence is to the contrary, since tongues were associated with the apostolic signs and wonders which were passing away as the New Testament writings were nearing completion. As noted, there were many special (but temporary) operations of the Spirit when the new era of Christian worship was inaugurated.

Further, true spiritual knowledge is now acquired through the patient study of scripture (2 Tim.2:15-16; 3:14-17; 4:13) ­ not direct revelation. Hence, the apostle commends studying and the use of books.

Throughout this booklet, we have sought to emphasize how the precepts of the Bible apply to the historic narratives of the scriptures. The accounts in Kings and Chronicles are understood in the light of the commandments previously given in the book of Deuteronomy. That is the proper approach to hermeneutics, because not all of the recorded actions of biblical characters are approved examples of behavior we should imitate.

We remind readers of this basic principle of interpretation as we consider a portion of the 14th chapter of Paul's epistle to the Corinthians. These verses have been variously cited by diverse groups ­ from charismatics to Plymouth Brethren ­ to justify their peculiar methods of worship. A key to understanding this passage is the proper interpretation of verse 26, "How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation."

The crux of the issue may be resolved if we answer a basic question. Is Paul's statement here prescriptive? or is it merely descriptive, without implying approval for the practice of the Corinthians?

Charismatics and Plymouth Brethren contend for the former, claiming that Paul's remarks establish a warrant for free-style worship services, wherein church members may independently introduce various elements of worship. But this position violates the sense of the immediate context of the verse, as well as the general tenor of Paul's letter as a whole.

Earlier in his letter, Paul chides the Corinthians for a number of problems within the congregation. He first describes their current practices, and then explains what needs to be done to remedy the situation.

For example, twice in the eleventh chapter Paul commences a statement with the words, "when ye come together," as a prelude to a corrective admonition: "First of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear there be divisions among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's Supper. For in eating everyone taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not" (1 Cor. 11:20-22).

In chapter 14, the apostle is rebuking them for their chaotic worship because, when the church convenes, various persons bring competing preferences, and their conflicting desires promote anarchy. "How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation" (1 Cor. 14:26).

Paul's rebuke is clear from the latter portion of verse 26 and verse 33. "Let all things be done unto edifying. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints." For this reason, the apostle places restrictions on the proceedings, that "all things be done decently and in order" (vs. 40).

Regarding speakers using unknown languages, the apostle is clear: "In the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." Hence, those who speak in a foreign language may speak in church only if there is an interpreter present. Moreover, speakers of all types are restricted to specific numbers (1 Cor. 14:18, 27, 29). And women are not permitted to speak at all (1 Cor.14:34-35), since they are not allowed to exercise authority over men or teach in church (1 Tim.2:11-15).

Return to Table of Contents.

Copyright ©1995 by Kevin Reed


Back to swrb home page