How Should Public Prayer Be Practiced In The Worship Assembly Of The Church?

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It is written:

1 Corinthians 14:15-What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.

Usually in the church of Christ, when we join together for worship, there is public prayer. We find precedent for this, of course, in the pattern of the New Testament Scriptures. For example, we are told that when the Christians in Corinth gathered together for worship, they would have public prayer:

1 Corinthians 11:3-5-But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4  Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5  But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.

When Paul wrote this, he was addressing the public worship of the church:

1 Corinthians 11:18-For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.

Again:

1 Timothy 2:8-9 (TPT)-Therefore, I encourage the men to pray on every occasion with hands lifted to God in worship with clean hearts, free from frustration or strife. 9  And that the women would also pray with clean hearts, dressed appropriately and adorned modestly and sensibly, not flaunting their wealth.

Like with his Epistle to the church at Corinth, Paul here addresses public prayer in the church in Ephesus where Timothy was preaching. The phrased translated in the Passion Translation as “on every occasion” was a phrase that was used in the early church with the basic meaning of “in every public worship assembly of the church.”

“These words about women learning but not teaching are hardly applicable to home and private settings (Titus 2: 3-5). The conclusive point to my mind is the phrase “in every place” (1 Timothy 2: 8). Although it is often taken to mean “everywhere,” there is another Greek word that means “everywhere” (pantachou), and this phrase “in every place” often appears in Jewish and Christian usage with an almost technical meaning of “in every place of meeting” (1 Corinthians 1: 2; 2 Corinthians 2: 14; 1 Thessalonians 1: 8). 20 This phrase would be equivalent to the phrase “in church,” or “in assembly” in 1 Corinthians 14.” (Everett Ferguson, Women in the Church: Biblical and Historical Perspectives, 488-493 (Kindle Edition); Abilene, TX; Desert Willow Publishing)

What was this public prayer in the worship assembly like?

Did everyone speak different prayers out loud at the same time?

Did one person lead in prayer publicly and everyone join together and say Amen at the end?

Did everyone pray the same prayer (with the same words) out loud in the assembly at the same time?

Let’s study.

The first thing to notice is that there is precedent for the Christians publicly praying prayers together with the same words. This was one of the reasons for the Book of Psalms (which was a Book of prayers that the Jewish people often prayed together). These prayers could be simply verbally prayed together or even sung together. We see this from at least two passages of Scripture:

Ephesians 5:19-speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,

Colossians 3:16-Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

There is also precedence for the Christians coming together in worship and having one person lead in public prayer with the church saying Amen (“let it be”) at the conclusion. We see this in 1 Corinthians 14:

1 Corinthians 14:15-16-What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. 16  Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?

Paul here was dealing with the situation in the church in Corinth. Some of the Christians there had received the miraculous gifts of speaking in tongues through the laying on of the Apostles’ hands (Acts 6:1-6; 8:14-19; 19:1-6; Romans 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:6). These tongues were the languages of other nations which the person who had this gift had not previously studied. Paul makes this clear:

1 Corinthians 14:21-22-In the law it is written: “WITH MEN OF OTHER TONGUES AND OTHER LIPS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE; AND YET, FOR ALL THAT, THEY WILL NOT HEAR ME,” says the Lord. 22  Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.

The members in the church at Corinth had visitors from other locations who spoke in many different languages. Those with the gift of tongues were able to speak in the language of those visitors which was a sign to them: but to the rest of the assembly who did not know that particular language, what the tongue-speaker was saying made no sense. There were some in the church who were given the gift of interpretation to translate the foreign language so everyone could understand it.

1 Corinthians 14:27-30-If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28  But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29  Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30  But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.

To illustrate with a modern scenario:

Imagine that the miraculous gifts were still available today and a man from Iraq came to an English speaking church. While there, a man in the English speaking church had the gift of tongues and began to speak to the Iraqi man in his own language. The Iraqi man is amazed to hear the Word of God being eloquently proclaimed to him in his native tongue from a man who had never studied that language. While he is able to understand what the tongue speaker is saying, however, the rest of the church (who speak English and do not know Iraqi) are stumped about what is being proclaimed. So, there may be one on the congregation who has the gift of interpretation so that he is able to miraculously translate from Iraqi to English what the tongue speaker is saying.

Paul says that in that similar situation in the church at Corinth, the tongue speakers were to stay quiet in the assembly unless there was one with the gift of interpretation also present.

More to the point (and especially relevant), there were some in Corinth who had the gift of tongues and were all speaking at the same time in the public assembly of the church. Paul told them:

1 Corinthians 14:23-25-Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24  But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25  And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.

Paul says that where there are situations where some were all praying at the same time out loud or speaking in tongues out loud at the same time in the worship assembly that this was disorderly and should not be practiced. Everything that takes place in the assembly should be done for the purpose of edifying (building up) the church:

1 Corinthians 14:3-17-But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 4  He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5  I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. 6  But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? 7  Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? 8  For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? 9  So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10  There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. 11  Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. 12  Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. 13  Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14  For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15  What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. 16  Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17  For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.

1 Corinthians 14:26-How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

Notice: if everyone is speaking at the same time and no one is able to comprehend what is being said, then how can we say “Amen” at the conclusion of prayer? Shall we say “Amen” (“let it be”) to a prayer that we have no idea what was spoken?

Of course not!

1 Corinthians 14:30-31-But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31  For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

Usually when I am in an assembly of my denominational friends who all speak out loud at the same time in prayer, I just remain quiet and pray quietly. Perhaps they have never studied the Scriptures here in 1 Corinthians 14; perhaps they have not been taught how to pray (cf. Luke 11:1). However, I am reminded of what Paul wrote at the end of 1 Corinthians 14:

1 Corinthians 14:40-Let all things be done decently and in order.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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