Wednesday, October 24, 2007

'Korean' Prayer

This is about the phenomenon of so-called Korean prayer, which I think is a big and potentially very divisive issue.

What is it?

Basically put, it's everyone praying in their own words out loud at the same time. Sometimes they'll all be praying about the same topic, sometimes it'll be split so some are praying about one thing, some another.

Why 'Korean'?

Allegedly, it started in the Assemblies of God churches in Korea. It certainly wasn't used at the presbyterian service I went to while I was there, so it's probably unfair to tarnish a whole nation because of the practices of one group. Oddly, the Assemblies of God is something I used to be pretty much convinced was some kind of cult, but now lots of people I know seem to think is perfectly respectable...

Why is it controversial?

Charismatic-y types seem to be very keen on it, yet to be completely oblivious to the fact that conservative types find it unhelpful and offensive.

This means that 'Korean' prayer leads to conservatives thinking that charismatics care more about being entertaining than they do about faithfulness to Scripture, which isn't always true by any means (though it may be in this case), and is a very unhealthy thing to think for church unity.

What is the problem with it?

On a practical and personal level, I have to concentrate so hard on not listening to what the person / people next to me are saying that I can't concentrate on saying anything of my own. Sometimes I manage to say the Gloria in Excelsis though...

On a doctrinal level, conservatives tend to argue that it's banned by 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 -

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
1 Corinthians 14:26-33, ESV

Although it doesn't specifically address the practice of 'Korean' prayer, it does say that both speaking in tongues and prophecy should be practiced in an orderly way, with each speaking in turn, and when one person starts speaking, other people should be silent. Furthermore, it argues this from the nature of God, which makes it look awfully like it applies just as much to praying.

So why do charismatics do it?

When I ask charismatics about it, many of them haven't really thought about it. Others argue that 1 Corinthians 14 doesn't apply to praying and that the way that Korean prayer is done is orderly, which looks to me like it ignores Paul's argument from God's character, but seems to satisfy them.

They also cite Acts 4:24

And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said...
Acts 4:24, ESV

I suspect it's also because sometimes it's difficult to concentrate when it's just one person, who isn't me, praying out loud - it's a kind of entertainment thing.

So what do I make of Acts 4:24
  • Acts is descriptive, not normative
  • Even if this bit is descriptive, the Greek word translated "together", homothumadon, means "with one mind", "with common consent", "together". It doesn't imply them all speaking at the same time.
  • Even if they does mean all at the same time, in Acts 4:24, it goes on to say exactly what they said when "lifting their voices together" - that suggests it's more of a liturgical thing than anything else.

I think that 'Korean' prayer probably is wrong to do in church, because it looks like it is prohibited by 1 Corinthians 14, and the arguments for it are pretty rubbish. It is especially inappropriate in a service which is aimed at building bridges between conservatives and charismatics (for example).

However, if a church wants to do it that way, no-one objects, and the leaders involved have thought and prayed through the passages, and come to the honest conclusion that it's ok, I'm not going to object.

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