Early Church Worship Wars

Jeff Munroe

READ : 1 Corinthians 14:1-12, 26, 39-40

Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church. (v. 12 NIV)

If we try to imagine the worship of the early church through the filter of our own experience we may have trouble. There was no building to go to, no beautiful sanctuary to sit in, no hymnals, no pew Bibles (or pews to put them in), no order of worship, no organ, no worship band, and no professionally-trained minister guiding the service.

Instead, the picture we get from reading 1 Corinthians 14 is that worship services in the early church tended to be more chaotic than orderly and could resemble free-for-alls. The Corinthians were desirous of spiritual gifts and seem to have fixed on tongues as the gift of choice. Paul counsels otherwise. Their exercise of tongues resembled children playing side-by- side in a sandbox without actually playing with each other. Paul wants unity over individual expression.

Prophecy, the gift of speaking God’s word understandably, is to be preferred. Prophecy builds up the body while tongues build up individuals. As he has done throughout this letter, Paul is asking the Corinthians (and us) to think about what is best for all instead of just best for me. This is a principle that transcends cultures and circumstances and should mean as much today—whatever the style of worship in which we participate—as it did to those early believers in Corinth.


Lord, help us focus not on ourselves but on what builds up the body in all things.