I Corinthians 14:26-40
Christian worship in the first century was very different from modern church services. There was as yet no set liturgy to be followed, and any member of the congregation was potentially able to contribute something. But this brought its own problems, and the meetings in Corinth were becoming an uncontrolled, undisciplined free-for-all.
To prevent this happening, there have to be some ‘ground rules’. There should be space in a service for a variety of gifts to be manifested, but no individual or group should be allowed to monopolise the meeting; just because someone has a gift, this does not entitle them to use it at every service. People should wait their turn to speak, and neither interrupt somebody else in mid-flow nor go on for too long!
Our God is not honoured by a confused and disorderly babble. But, tempting though it is to put church services entirely into the hands of the ‘professional’ clergy, order for order’s sake is just as much of an error in the opposite direction! Some churches (like Corinth) need to be told to tighten up, others to loosen up.
“Women should remain silent in the churches” (verse 34) is probably one of the most contentious things that Paul ever wrote. But I think we can safely say that he’s not imposing a ‘blanket ban’ on female participation, because he assumes elsewhere that women will be praying and prophesying in the church (I Corinthians 11:5), and has already stated that every member of the congregation should be able to take part in the service (I Corinthians 14:26). What he is banning is a chaotic babble of voices, whatever its source (tongues, prophets, or the women’s side of the church).
Corinth was a very cosmopolitan city. It is highly likely that many of the women in the congregation were illiterate, and may not even have understood much Greek. That they should get bored or puzzled during the meeting and start chatting amongst themselves (or even calling out to their husbands on the other side of the room) was hardly surprising – but it was highly distracting for the rest of the congregation and might even bring the church into disrepute. If they needed any explanations, there were other, more socially acceptable, ways of going about it.