Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Gathered round the table

Autumn has hit with a vengeance - not only are the morning's colder but life's busier with programmes kicking in after the summer lay off.

Yesterday evening our men's Bible study started up again and I had an enjoyable afternoon wrestling with 1 Corinthians 14. in particular, I was thinking about the context those words were originally heard in.

We tend to think of church in ordered rows, everyone looking at the back of the heads of those in front of them. Paul's original hearers would either have been reclining in the dining room of a domus-style house belonging to one of the better off members of the congregation or sitting in a workshop on benches and raw materials, squeezing in as best they could.

We tend to think of the church gathered for a meeting. But almost certainly the Corinthians gathered for a meal. Having eaten together, they then shared in a semi-formal conversation known as 'a symposium', a structured conversation kicked off by someone appointed to the task which all the diners were expected to contribute to. This was the pattern of meals across the Roman empire - admittedly more common (indeed ubiquitous) among the more prosperous but also practiced by ordinary working people when they got together.

1 Corinthians 14 was heard in such a context and was intended to give shape to the Christian symposium that occurred after the hearers had shared dinner together.

Having begun to read the chapter with this in mind, I was somewhat sidetracked by how positive Paul is about tongues. I guess I've been schooled in the view that Paul damns tongues with faint praise in these verses. Yet it seems to me that he is saying tongues is good, indeed very good, so good he's happy for everyone to speak in tongues. It's just that prophecy is even better. interestingly he doesn't define what prophecy is except by its effects - that of building up the church, strengthening, encouraging and comforting brothers and sisters in Christ.

And its for that reason that he says people should prophesy rather than speak in tongues in the post-dinner symposium at Corinth.

I'm still wrestling with what he means in 1 Corinthians 14:20-25 where he turns his attention to the effects of these gifts on outsiders. I'll blog further if I think I understand it!

in the mean time, I am composing an ethos and values statement for our church to go alongside the covenant we're discussing.

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