Category Archives: Gifts of the Spirit

Why doesn’t God heal everyone who is prayed for?

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(Image courtesy Dr. Elroi)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Is it God’s responsibility to heal all people who are prayed for?

If was he who stated: ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’ (Mark 11:24 NIV). Isn’t it signed, sealed and delivered – right from the mouth of Jesus?

Then Mark further affirms: ‘And the people who believe … will lay their hands on sick people, and they will get well’ (Mark 16:17a, 18b ERV)

Surely that is what Jesus meant when he taught, ‘Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you’ (Matt 7:7 ERV)?

Since he doesn’t do this in the real world of the twenty-first century, who is to blame?

clip_image004 The person who prayed didn’t have enough faith?

clip_image004[1] The person prayed for had insufficient faith?

clip_image004[2] It is wrong-headed to demand that God must heal when we ask him;

clip_image004[3] Have God’s supernatural gifts ceased?

clip_image004[4] What about false or insufficient teaching on healing?

clip_image004[5] Where does the sovereignty of God and human responsibility fit into God’s will for healing?

This person started a topic:

Me personally, I really don’t think so and I think that it’s a load of manure. The reason why I ask this question is because I just found out about this today after Yoga class and it was being discussed. I only go to Yoga because of the fact that it relaxes my mind and has caused me to become more balanced and flexible. I wouldn’t do anything if I thought somebody believed that they had the power to “heal” me because that’s where I personally draw the line and find it very sacrilegious but that’s just imho. It might just be considered therapeutic but I just would never personally get involved with it.

The topic this person started was, ‘Can God Really Give The Power to Heal Somebody?’[1]

1. Does God heal supernaturally today?

This person doesn’t think so, but mixes her belief with attending Yoga classes that ‘relax her mind’. Really? What is Yoga?

My response was:[2]

Do you believe the Scriptures? They state:

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27 All of you together are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of that body. 28 And in the church God has given a place first to apostles, second to prophets, and third to teachers. Then God has given a place to those who do miracles, those who have gifts of healing, those who can help others, those who are able to lead, and those who can speak in different kinds of languages. 29 Not all are apostles. Not all are prophets. Not all are teachers. Not all do miracles. 30 Not all have gifts of healing. Not all speak in different kinds of languages. Not all interpret those languages. 31 Continue to give your attention to the spiritual gifts you consider to be the greatest. But now I want to point out a way of life that is even greater (1 Cor 12:27-31 ERV, emphasis added).?[3]

Do you believe the Bible??

Are you not aware that Yoga is a practice of Buddhism??

Do you understand that Buddhism denies the existence of God??

2. God CAN and DOES heal

Another person responded to the information about and I replied:[4]

Thank you for your encouraging comment about my post. All people don’t have all the gifts because …

?A person has only one body, but it has many parts. Yes, there are many parts, but all those parts are still just one body. Christ is like that too. 13 Some of us are Jews and some of us are not; some of us are slaves and some of us are free. But we were all baptized to become one body through one Spirit. And we were all given the one Spirit. 14 And a person’s body has more than one part. It has many parts (1 Cor 12:12-14 ERV).

clip_image008Paul draws an analogy with the human body which has MANY parts. Then he states why there are many gifts in the body of Christ:

(image courtesy Faith – Grace – Jesus)

‘If each part of the body were the same part, there would be no body. But as it is, God put the parts in the body as he wanted them. He made a place for each one. 20 So there are many parts, but only one body’ (1 Cor 12:18-20 ERV).?

We need many gifts in the body of Christ for it to function properly. This person online wrote:

We read other things 1 Corinthians, like where Paul states boldly to desire the gifts, thereby indicating that we are to desire all the gifts, not just this one or that one. And in Mark it reads, Mk 16:18 “… they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” By saying “they will” it does not exclude any of His followers.[5]

You missed emphasising another guarantee, ‘They will recover’.

Is Mk 16:18 teaching that all those will be healed who have hands laid on them and the prayer of faith is prayed for them?

Jesus’ audience for this teaching was the ‘eleven followers (disciples)’ while they were eating (Mk 16:14 ERV). You have raised some good issues with ‘they will lay hands on the sick’ and ‘they will recover’.

  1. That’s not what I see happening in Christian churches in Australia. Most healing is left to the medical profession.
  2. Is God lying to us when he states ‘they will recover’? God is not a liar (Heb 6:18).
  3. So what is happening here? There is an apparent contradiction of God’s people laying hands on the sick and ‘they will’ recover and practically in the 21st century it doesn’t happen. We can blame lack of faith but there are reasons of more substance than that, based on the text.
  4. Firstly, in Mk 16:18 (SBLGNT) the three words are future tense in the Greek language: epithesousin (they will place) and kalws exousin (they will recover, or ‘they will have/get well’). So they are future statements of what will happen. But it doesn’t happen most of the time people have hands laid on them and there is prayer. How come?

3. The request to heal has a faulty foundation

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There is a fundamental reason that is explained by one of the eminent Greek grammarians of the 20th century, Dr A T Robertson, who wrote of Mk 16:8:

At this point Aleph [Sinaiticus] and B [Vaticanus], the two oldest and best Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, stop with this verse. Three Armenian MSS. also end here. Some documents (cursive 274 and Old Latin k) have a shorter ending than the usual long one. The great mass of the documents have the long ending seen in the English versions. Some have both the long and the short endings, like L, Psi, 0112, 099, 579, two Bohairic MSS; the Harklean Syriac (long one in the text, short one in the Greek margin). One Armenian MS. (at Edschmiadzin) gives the long ending and attributes it to Ariston (possibly the Aristion of Papias). W (the Washington Codex) has an additional verse in the long ending. So the facts are very complicated, but argue strongly against the genuineness of verses Matthew 9-20 of Mark 16. There is little in these verses not in Matthew 28:1 ff. It is difficult to believe that Mark ended his Gospel with verse Matthew 8 unless he was interrupted. A leaf or column may have been torn off at the end of the papyrus roll. The loss of the ending was treated in various ways. Some documents left it alone. Some added one ending, some another, some added both (Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol 1, Mk 16:8).?

This is one piece of information that leads me to conclude that Mark 16:9-20 should not be in the canon of Scripture. That’s why many translations have this kind of statement after Mk 16:8,

Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20…. Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9-20 immediately after verse 8. A few manuscripts insert additional material after verse 14; one Latin manuscript adds after verse 8 the following: But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Other manuscripts include this same wording after verse 8, then continue with verses 9-20 (ESV)?

4. False doctrine in Mark 16:9-20

The false doctrines in these verses convince me it should not be in Scripture:

  • Baptismal regeneration (Mk 16:18);
  • Drinking deadly poison (Mk 16:20);
  • Handling snakes (Mk 16:20).

So why in one place does the Bible talk about elders laying hands on the sick and in another it reads “they will”? Isn’t it because we are growing in Christ, or at least should be?

The simple explanation is that Mk 16:9-20 is not in the Bible. It has been added by a later person, so we get false doctrine mixed with the truth. I would never use these verses as a foundation for any church doctrine or statement of faith. I wouldn’t preach from them either.

5. The Spirit of God gives you power to heal the sick.

clip_image012You stated online:

If you care to believe it; if you have the Spirit of God you have the power in you to heal the sick. That is obvious, but still it might be hard to believe. So we find a Christian confessing a doubt that God can “Really Give The Power to Heal Somebody”, like in the OP. At this point we have a testimony from a Christian who does not yet care to believe God can really give the power to heal somebody. Happily, our faith grows.

There is only the power to heal given as a gift of healing to SOME people. To those people, those they pray for will be healed. We’ll know them by their fruits. Further, you said:

So we have newer Christian’s (sic) that simply have trouble believing God can heal, even though they believe they have the Spirit of God in them and obviously the Spirit of God can heal people. And we also find pastors and elders, who also believe they have the Spirit of God in them and even believe prayer can get things done, but can’t believe God can use them to heal cancer.

Is it that simple? There are other factors influencing the ministry of healing.

5.1 Not enough teaching

My view is that this is because there is too little teaching on God’s view of healing and the gift of healing. More teaching is needed on:

clip_image014 God’s spiritual gift of healing (1 Cor 12:27-31 ERV)

clip_image014[1] The elders anointing the sick with oil (James 5:13-18 ERV)

clip_image014[2] God’s will and his sovereignty in the world and over people.

5.2 False healers

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We have too many fake healers around us to influence people to become skeptical.

I have a friend who went to a local Pentecostal Church for 3 years. That church laid hands on, anointed with oil, a person with terminal cancer. One person announced and kept affirming he would be healed in an alleged word of knowledge.
The person died of cancer. My friend left that church because of this kind of fake teaching and manifestation.

You stated:

If we are saying that God can’t use people today to heal, how much do we believe in Jesus Christ, when that is exactly what was happening then? Let’s learn our lessons and get on with it.

I don’t think it relates to how much we believe in Jesus Christ but speaks to God’s sovereignty in the giving of gifts. I can assure you I don’t have the gift of healing but people say I demonstrate the gift of teaching. That’s how I understand it as well.

6. Conclusion

We are faced in the modern-day world with manifestations of the alleged gift of healing. It comes mixed with the genuine and the false.

God does not state that everyone who is prayed for will be healed. A wrong verse in the Bible teaches that (Mk 16:18-20).

God does give the gift of healing to some and they will demonstrate that with God healing people. However, that is only one gift of the Spirit.

I consider it is the height of arrogance to claim that God will heal a person when we should pray, ‘According to your will’. When Jesus taught his disciples and us how to pray, he said:

We pray that your kingdom will come—that what you want will be done here on earth, the same as in heaven (Matt 6:10 ERV).

clip_image017 See my article, Does Mark 16:9-20 belong in Scripture?

My conclusion is, ‘No’.

clip_image017[1] Dr. James White admits that 1 John 5 7, Mark 16 9-20 and John 7 53-8 11 ARE FORGERIES

The Last Page of Mark in Codex Vaticanus

This is a hand-made replica of the last page of Codex Vaticanus. The verse-numbers in the margins are not present in the manuscript; I added them for the sake of convenient reference. In Vaticanus the text ends in the middle column, and is followed by an ornamental line and, further down, the subscription “KATA MARKON” (“according to Mark”). The third column is blank….

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7. Notes

[1] Christian Forums.net, 11 January 2019. HeIsRisen2018#1. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/can-god-really-give-the-power-to-heal-somebody.78572/ (Accessed 15 January 2019).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#21.

[3] The ERV is the Easy-to-Read Version, Copyright © 2006 by Bible League International. Available at: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+12&version=ERV (Accessed 15 January 2019).

[4] op. cit., Christian Forums.net, K2CHRIST#28. Unless otherwise stated, quotes from her post are indented.

[5] Ibid.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 January 2019.

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C H Spurgeon’s conflicting views on the gifts of the Spirit

Compiled by Spencer D Gear PhD

A cessationist has the theological view that the gifts of the Spirit ceased when the canon of Scripture was completed. Dr Peter Masters of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London (where Spurgeon preached for 38 years) states:

We believe … that the ceasing of revelatory and sign-gifts in the time of the apostles is very plainly taught in God’s Word, so plainly, in fact, that the opposite view has only seriously appeared in the last 100 years or so.1

A continuationist is a person who is convinced from Scripture that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, as in 1 Cor 12-14, continue into the twenty-first century. Sam Storms explained:

All the gifts of the Spirit, whether tongues or teaching, prophecy or mercy, healing or helping, were given (among other reasons) for the edification, building up, encouraging, instructing, consoling, and sanctifying of the body of Christ .2

C Peter Wagner’s definition of a spiritual gift is …

a special attribute given by the Holy Spirit to every member of the Body of Christ, according to God’s grace, for use within the context of the body.3

1. Spurgeon the cessationist

Spurgeon preached:

“I have little confidence in those persons who speak of having received direct revelations from the Lord, as though He appeared otherwise than by and through the Gospel. His Word is so full, so perfect, that for God to make any fresh Revelation to you or me is quite needless. To do so would be to put a dishonor upon the perfection of that Word”.4

C. H. Spurgeon the prominent 19th century Baptist preacher and pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, for 38 years, wrote that …

those gifts of the Holy Spirit which are at this time vouchsafed to the church of God are every way as valuable as those earlier miraculous gifts which are departed from us.… As you would certainly inquire whether you had the gifts of healing and miracle-working, if such gifts were now given to believers, much more should you inquire whether you have those more permanent gifts of the Spirit which are this day open to you all, by the which you shall work no physical miracle, but shall achieve spiritual wonders of the grander sort.5

In my preparation of an article on my homepage, Truth Challenge – ‘Cessationists through Church History’,6 I engaged in email discussion with my friend, the late Philip Powell of Christian Witness Ministries.7

2. Spurgeon the contuationist

Philip alerted me to several incidents in the life of Spurgeon which indicate he was not a consistent cessationist. Spurgeon provided these descriptions and an explanation, as supplied by Philip Powell (I have located the following quotes from other sources):

Spurgeon (1834-92) was the prominent Baptist preacher in England during the 19th century, who spoke of a “sermon at Exeter Hall in which he suddenly broke off from his subject and pointed in a certain direction. This incident is told in C H Spurgeon’s Autobiography (1856-1878), vol 3, compiled by his wife and private secretary:

“At the Monday evening prayer-meeting … Mr. Spurgeon related [an]

Incident [from] the sermon at Exeter Hall, in which he suddenly broke off from his subject, and, pointing in a certain direction, said, “Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for; you have stolen them from you,’ employer.” At the close of the service, a young man, looking very pale and greatly agitated, came to the room which was used as a vestry, and begged for a private interview with Mr.Spurgeon. On being admitted, he placed a pair of gloves upon the table, and tearfully said, “It’s the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won’t expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard that I had become a thief.” The preacher had drawn the bow at a venture, but the arrow struck the target for which God intended it, and the startled hearer was, in that singular way, probably saved from committing a greater crime’.8

“I remember quite well, and the subject of the story is most probably present in this congregation, that a very singular conversion was wrought at New Park Street Chapel. A man, who had been accustomed to go to a gin-palace to fetch in gin for his Sunday evening’s drinking, saw a crowd round the door of the chapel, he looked in, and forced his way to the top of the gallery stairs. Just then, I looked in the direction in which he stood,—I do not know why I did so, but I remarked that there might be a man in the gallery who had come in there with no very good motive, for even then he had a gin-bottle in his pocket. The singularity of the expression struck the man, and being startled because the preacher so exactly described him, he listened attentively to the warnings which followed; the Word reached his heart, the grace of God met with him, he became converted, and he is walking humbly in the fear of God.”

Spurgeon gave further examples of his word of knowledge ministry:

“While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, `There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took nine pence, and there was four pence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for four pence!’

“A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, `Do you know Mr Spurgeon?’ `Yes,’ replied the man `I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place: Mr Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir.

“I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took nine pence the Sunday before, and that there was four pence profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul’”.9

2.1 How does Spurgeon explain this revelatory ministry?

“I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, `Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, `The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door.’”10

3. Conclusion

How are we to conclude concerning C H Spurgeon’s ministry in London in the 19th century? Was he a cessationist (he makes statements to confirm this view) or a continuationist – his experience supports the latter view.

Sam Storms makes a helpful conclusion:

My opinion is that this is a not uncommon example of what the Apostle Paul described in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25. Spurgeon exercised the gift of prophecy (or some might say the word of knowledge, 1 Cor. 12:8). He did not label it as such, but that does not alter the reality of what the Holy Spirit accomplished through him. This information could not be found by Spurgeon from reading the Scripture. But surely we do not undermine the latter’s sufficiency by acknowledging that it was God who “revealed” this insight to him. If one were to examine Spurgeon’s theology and ministry, as well as recorded accounts of it by his contemporaries as well as subsequent biographers, most would conclude from the absence of explicit reference to miraculous charismata such as prophecy and the word of knowledge that such gifts had been withdrawn from church life. But Spurgeon’s own testimony inadvertently says otherwise! 11

 

See Sam Storms (2014); Why I Am a Continuationist. (The Gospel Coalition).

For an opposing view, see Thomas Schreiner (2014), Why I Am a Cessationist (The Gospel Coalition).

4.   Notes

1The Sword & Trowel 2011, issue 2. Cessationism — Proving Charismatic Gifts have Ceased (online). Available at: http://www.metropolitantabernacle.org/Christian-Article/Cessationism-Proving-Charismatic-Gifts-have-Ceased-Sword-and-Trowel-Magazine (Accessed 21 August 2018).

2 Sam Storms 2014. Why I Am a Continuationist. The Gospel Coalition (online). Available at: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-i-am-a-continuationist/ (Accessed 21 August 2018).

3 C Peter Wagner 2017. Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (rev ed). Bloomington, Minnesota: Chosen Books, ch 2.

4 Spurgeon from sermon No. 3336, ‘Beauty for Ashes’, published 9 January 1913, delivered by C H Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington UK). It also is available in C H Spurgeon, The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 59: Sermons 3335-3386.

5 “Receiving the Holy Ghost”, sermon no.1790, vol. 30, Year 1884, p. 386, available at: http://adrianwarnock.com/2004/05/what-would-c-h-spurgeon-have-made-of-charismatics/ (Accessed 20 June 2010).

6 Spencer D Gear 2010, Truth Challenge (online), Cessationists through Church History, 20 June. Available at: https://spencer.gear.dyndns.org/2010/06/20/cessationism-through-church-history/ (Accessed 29 July 2018).

7.  72759 Logan Road Eight Mile Plains, Brisbane, QLD 4113, Australia. See: https://www.cwmf.org.au/about-us (Accessed 21 August 2018).

8 C H Spurgeon’s Autobiography, vol 3, Chapter 60, p. 59, Prince of Preachers (online). Available at: http://www.princeofpreachers.org/uploads/4/8/6/5/48652749/chs_autobiography_vol_3.pdf#page=4&zoom=auto,-37,552. (Accessed 29 July 2018).

9  C H Spurgeon 1899, The Autobiography, vol. 2, pp226-227.

10  Charles H. Spurgeon 1973. Autobiography: The Full Harvest , 1860-1892, vol 2. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, p. 60.

11  Sam Storms 2013. When a Cessationist Prophesies, or, What are We to Make of Charles Spurgeon? (online), 25 October. Available at: https://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/when-a-cessationist-prophesies–or–what-are-we-to-make-of-charles-spurgeon (Accessed 21 August 2018).

 

 

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 23 August 2018

Augustine’s last illness: A divine healing encounter


(Augustine, image courtesy Wikiart)
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(Saint Possidius, image courtesy Province of St Augustine)

By Spencer D Gear

The ministry of St Augustine of Hippo demonstrates the failure of cessationism in relation to the gifts of the Spirit. The gift of healing was alive and well through Augustine’s ministry. He lived ca. AD 354-430 [1]

Bishop Possidius (fifth century, died ca. 437), Bishop of Calama (in the Roman province of Numidia),[2] was a friend of Augustine of Hippo and wrote in the first biography about Augustine, Life of Augustine (Possidius 1919, ch XXIX), about ‘Augustine’s last illness’:

And it chanced at one time while we were seated with him at the table and were conversing together that he said to us: “I would have you know that in this time of our misfortune I ask this of God: either that He may be pleased to free this city which is surrounded by the foe, or if something else seems good in His sight, that He make His servants brave for enduring His will, or at least that He may take me from this world unto Himself.” And when he had taught us these words, together with him we all joined in a like petition to God Most High, for ourselves and for all our fellow bishops and for the others who were in this city. And lo, in the third month of the siege he succumbed to fever and began to suffer in his last illness. In truth the Lord did not deprive His servant of the reward of his prayer. For what he asked with tears and prayers for himself and the city he obtained in due time. I know also that both while he was presbyter and bishop, when asked to pray for certain demoniacs, he entreated God in prayer with many tears and the demons departed from the men. In like manner when he was sick and confined to his bed there came a certain man with a sick relative and asked him to lay his hand upon him that he might be healed. But Augustine answered that if he had any power in such things he would surely have applied it to himself first of all; to which the stranger replied that he had had a vision and that in his dream these words had been addressed to him: “Go to the bishop Augustine that he may lay his hand upon him, and he shall be whole.” Now when Augustine heard this he did not delay to do it and immediately God caused the sick man to depart from him healed (emphasis added).

This demonstration of the gift of the Spirit of healing is a further acknowledgment that a gift of the Spirit – the gift of healing – had not ceased in the 4th-5th centuries. Augustine was a leader of the Christian church and not some occult practitioner. Augustine, philosopher and theologian, ‘is looked upon by Protestants as one who was a forerunner of the Reformation ideas’ [3].

In the above citation, Augustine’s belief in the continuing gift of healing is demonstrated. For another example of this emphasis in the life and ministry of Augustine, see my article: St. Augustine: The leading Church Father who dared to change his mind about divine healing. In this article, I have shown Augustine’s change of theology in relation to divine healing.

Notes


[1] Donald X Burt 1996. Reflections on Augustine’s spirituality: Saint Augustine – His Life and Times. Villanova University. Available at: http://www41.homepage.villanova.edu/donald.burt/augustine.htm (Accessed 16 October 2015).

[2] Midwest Augustinians 2015. Saint Possidius, May 16 (online). Available at: http://midwestaugustinians.org/st-possidius/ (Accessed 8 September 2015). This article states that ‘he died in exile around the year 437’.

[3] Earl E Cairns 1981. Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, p. 149.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 May 2016.

Spiritual gifts sign of Christian maturity

Image result for question marks public domain

By Spencer D Gear

Have you ever heard Christians say things like: (1) I’m not interested in those Pentecostal-charismatics because all I hear when I enter their meetings is that hokus pokus of raving on in that tongues nonsense. (2) Those Pentecostals are into gibberish and I want nothing to do with that subjective garbage. (3) I’ve moved beyond that immature stuff to grown-up Christianity.

As John MacArthur began his exposition of 1 Corinthians 14, he stated:

I was listening to a well-known charismatic preacher this week who was saying that to receive the Spirit of God, you must receive, you must receive tongues. And he was saying, “It isn’t like you’re seeking tongues. It’s that you’re seeking this fullness of the Spirit, and tongues comes with it.” And he said, “The way to illustrate this,” and it was interesting because he didn’t really use Scripture, but he said is, “When you go to a shoe store, and you look in the window, you don’t say, ‘I’d like to buy those tongues.’ You just want to buy those shoes, and the tongues come with them.” And so he was saying that, “What you really want is to buy or to purchase or to gain the power of the Spirit of God, your spiritual walking shoes, and tongues come along with them” (MacArthur 1977).

John MacArthur (public domain)

MacArthur then gets into what he thinks is an elevation of spiritual superiority among charismatics. He wrote (remember that this is back in 1977 when he preached on this):

‘Well, what happens in this thing is you divide the church into the spiritual haves and the spiritual have-nots.  And this is the tragedy of the thing; the haves cannot help but feel a sense of superiority over the have-nots.  It’s just kind of built in.  And even though they may resist it and fight it and some may succeed, the vast majority of folks cannot help but feel that everybody else is missing something that they’re not missing.  I guess I would have to say that I’m among the have-nots, and even once in a while, I get a little intimidated about that.  But I’ve wondered if the intimidation doesn’t even reach right into the charismatic ranks.  I’m afraid that maybe some of them are intimidated.  Some of them perhaps tempted to exaggerate or dramatize or fabricate miracles because of peer pressure or the desire to also belong in the group that’s sharing rather strange and bizarre things’ (MacArthur 1977).

Miracles, tongues and spiritual maturity

Image result for charismatic worship public domain

Rev Frank Hughes Jr (public domain)

I met some of MacArthur’s kind of sentiments on a Christian forum in 2015. I had been defending a continuation of gifts of the Spirit for today and stated that in church gatherings I have heard the genuine gift of tongues with the required accompanying gift of interpretation. I have been edified and to call it ‘mad raving babbling’ is insulting to those whom God uses to manifest the genuine gifts of tongues and interpretation.

The biblical mandate is: (1) ‘Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy’ (1 Cor 14:5 ESV). (2) ‘So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:39-49 ESV).[1]

I asked another person, ‘So was Paul contradicting himself because he also said: ‘Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy’ (1 Cor 14:5 ESV)?’[2] His response was, ‘Not at all. He was speaking to the Corinthians. He said, “I want you all’.[3] Then he went on to say that ‘Not at all. He was speaking to the Corinthians. He said, “I want you all”’.[4]

After this kind of interaction I encountered the reaction regarding

The test of spiritual maturity

He wrote:

It was not my intention to say that miracles indicate poor spiritual maturity.  It is my intention to say that miracles or tongues are not a test of strong spiritual maturity.  My point is that there is nothing in the Scriptures that indicate these gifts have anything to do with maturity.  If anything, Paul says these gifts do not aid in the maturity or building up of others.  This is why he encouraged prophesy.  So again, I am not saying these gifts are a sign of immaturity (if they are legitimately taking place today), but I just don’t see any evidence that they have anything to do with maturity.  That is the claim many Charismatics often make and I find it to be entirely baseless.  This brings me to a couple thoughts about these gifts:[5]

My retort[6] was that I did not know why he placed this emphasis on maturity vs immaturity when God has clearly told us this about the spiritual gifts: ‘All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’ (1 Cor 12:11 ESV). Are we open to the Holy Spirit giving us the full range of charismata that the Spirit gives? His general emphasis in his post indicates that he is not interested in the gift of tongues being manifest by the Spirit in his life. Have I gained a correct understanding of your view?

It’s not a matter of maturity vs immaturity. It’s based on a biblical, spiritual answer to this question: Am I open to the Holy Spirit apportioning to me whatever gifts he chooses, including tongues and interpretation? I’m not hearing that he is open to the latter. He continued:

There is no indication in the NT that miracles or tongues were gifts that were given for those who sought them passionately enough.  In fact, we see tongues simply falling on people without any coaching, expectation or desire for this gift.  To say that someone does not have the gift because they don’t seek it enough tor because they do not have enough faith (which is a constant theme in charismatic circles I am aware of) finds no validation in Scripture whatsoever.  Yes, Paul wished that they all spoke in tongues, but he preferred they all prophesy.  So why are we so focused on tongues as such a meaningful gift when Paul not only indicates that not all would have this gift, but that there are other gifts to be much preferred.  Again, Paul makes it clear that not all have the gift of tongues.  And we see from the issues in the Corinthian church, that tongues is certainly not a barometer for  one’s spiritual maturity.  If anything, it has nothing to do whatsoever with maturity or faith.  I find no basis in the argument that all Christians should have a “prayer language” or should seek to speak in tongues.[7]

This is not so.[8] First Corinthians 14:1 (ESV) makes it very clear that spiritual gifts (a range has been given in 1 Cor 12-14) must be desired: ‘Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophecy’.

I am not here to validate what he considers is ‘a constant theme in charismatic circles’. When does he visit charismatic churches? How many has he attended in the last 12 months?

I’m here to discuss what the Scriptures state and I’m hearing from him a denigration of the scriptural gifts, especially of tongues. Tongues fell on people on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) but we have a different manner of manifestation given in 1 Cor 12-14 where there ‘are varieties of gifts’ (1 Cor 12:4 ESV) manifest in the local church. Speaking of the range of the gifts of the Spirit (including tongues and interpretation), Paul stated, ‘All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’ (1 Cor 12:11 ESV). Someone does not have the gift because God has not given it to that person. However, his opposition to these supernatural gifts is a fair indication that he is providing a block in his own life that prevents such manifestations coming through him. Paul’s command to us is: ‘Earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues‘ (1 Cor 14:39 ESV).

There is no such coaching for spiritual gifts but I tell you what is needed more and that is careful exegesis of the text and exposition of passages such as 1 Cor 12-14.

He says, ‘So why are we so focused on tongues as such a meaningful gift when Paul not only indicates that not all would have this gift, but that there are other gifts to be much preferred’. Simply put, ‘One who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God’, uttering ‘mysteries in the Spirit’ (1 Cor 14:2 ESV). Surely everyone should want to speak to God in the Spirit? Well, I do. I praise God using the gift of tongues when he gives it to me. Non-charismatic churches will not allow me to do that, so I do it in my prayer time at home. ‘The one who prophecies [another spiritual gift given by the Spirit] speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation’ (1 Cor 14:3 ESV). So the gift of prophecy is clearly a manifestation among the people of God for spiritual edification. This is surely not to call such people immature but is to ‘build up the church’ (1 Cor 14:4 ESV). What does the person do who speaks in tongues? He or she ‘builds up himself/herself’ (1 Cor 14:4), which is not an egotistical ministry but one that is perfectly legitimate according to Paul.

He states, ‘And we see from the issues in the Corinthian church, that tongues is certainly not a barometer for  one’s spiritual maturity.  If anything, it has nothing to do whatsoever with maturity or faith.’ That’s his perspective. It’s not what 1 Corinthians teaches. It teaches that what was happening in Corinth was disorder (which is also in some charismatic-Pentecostal churches in my region) and they needed to get back to this emphasis: ‘But all things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40 ESV). That emphasis is one that should be taught to many in the charismatic-Pentecostal ranks. But the problem is not with the nature of tongues and interpretation, but with how they are being exercised in the church. Extreme examples should not deter us from biblical emphases. I don’t allow the Mormon view of prophecy to interfere with a biblical understanding of prophecy.

He said of the gift of tongues: ‘If anything, it has nothing to do whatsoever with maturity or faith.  I find no basis in the argument that all Christians should have a “prayer language” or should seek to speak in tongues’. His is not a biblical emphasis. Speaking in tongues has everything to do with maturity or faith because when a person has the genuine gift of tongues, he or she ‘speaks not to men but to God’ (1 Cor 14:2 ESV). Is that what he wants to do – speak to God?

He could possibly respond, ‘But I can do that in English’. He can, but the Holy Spirit comes upon people with the gift of tongues so that they speak to God through ‘mysteries in the Spirit’ (1 Cor 14:2). I never knew anything about such an understanding when I was a cessationist Baptist who did not believe in the charismata, including tongues and interpretation. That changed drastically for me in the early 1970s when God came upon me through a genuine manifestation of the gift of tongues where I was able to speak to God in a way that brought edification that I previously did not know.

Why are tongues and miracles not in every church?

He continues:

You still did not answer the question about your view on tongues and miracles.  If these gifts exist for the purpose of building up the local body, as you assert, why do we not see them in every local body?  Does God not want most churches to be edified?  Isn’t it the Spirit who gives these gifts freely?  Why is it that only those congregations that are coached to expect and desire these manifestations have them when this is not what we see in the NT?  Again, I am not going to try to discount any supposed prophet and his miracles.  I don’t know the man and I am not in a position to claim you or this prophet are being false.  I just simply think that if these gifts are for the purpose of the body being built up and not functional (they have a very specific function and should not be expected as a regular part of the Christian experience) then we should see them in most churches…and not just hear about them in remote places as very unusual circumstances.[9]

I think he should now have some understanding of my view on tongues. However, why are these gifts not in every local body? Simply put, if tongues were to be manifest in the evangelical Presbyterian Church my wife and I currently attend, the person would be quickly ushered out of this cessationist church by the elders. It would cause such a ruckus that the person would be told never ever to engage in that kind of thing again. Frankly, it is NOT WANTED so it is never likely to happen in that church. I’m of the view that the Holy Spirit’s ministry is frustrated, even grieved or blasphemed, when something like this happens. So, people who are open to the full range of gifts of the Spirit go to charismatic-Pentecostal churches where they will have the opportunity for the Spirit’s manifestation through the gifts.

(public domain)

I think he is excessively harsh with his statement: ‘Why is it that only those congregations that are coached to expect and desire these manifestations have them when this is not what we see in the NT’? That might be what he has seen or heard about in his region, but I have never ever been part of a charismatic-Pentecostal church that has engaged in ‘coaching’ (I find that to be pejorative language). I have been part of churches that have pursued the biblical mandate, ‘Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…. Do not forbid speaking in tongues’ (1 Cor 14:1, 40 ESV).

He will not see the gifts in churches that are denying that these supernatural charismata should be happening. I know from personal experience that cessationist churches would censor a person who wants the supernatural gifts to function. I attend a mid-week Bible study of another denomination and the pastor has come from a South African Pentecostal denomination. He has been told by the denominational leaders here in Australia that he MUST NOT ALLOW THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS – especially tongues – TO HAPPEN IN THAT CHURCH.

Tongues as ‘ecstatic utterances’

This forum poster wanted to place tongues with ‘ecstatic utterances’.

You also did not answer my question as to your Scriptural validation that tongues is merely an ecstatic utterance and not a miraculous speaking in another human language. If tongues does exist today, I am still not convinced that what is happening in most charismatic circles meets the NT definition of this gift.[10]

I’ll start with his last comment. What I have seen in some charismatic-Pentecostal churches (not all of them that I have attended) is not consistent with the biblical manifestation of tongues and interpretation. For example, if tongues are manifest (aloud so all can hear) in a congregation, there MUST BE the accompanying gift of interpretation. Otherwise, ‘I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me’ (1 Cor 14:11 ESV). The biblical emphasis with the gifts is to ‘strive to excel in building up the church’ (1 Cor 14:12 ESV). That means there must be intelligibility – English in Australia, Spanish in Spain, Arabic in Saudi Arabia, etc. ‘Building up the church’ is a ministry of edification. Surely that cannot be described as an immature ministry!!!

I would not use the language that tongues is ‘an ecstatic utterance’ because that is not a biblical emphasis. Tongues is a divine gift of the Spirit that needs the accompanying gift of interpretation.

Tongues may be a miraculous gift in another human language, but who am I to tell God what he should do when he gives the gift of tongues? He has told us what he does: The one speaking with the Spirit’s gift of tongues – given in love – ‘utters mysteries in the Spirit’. I would never ever be so brazen as to tell God that he MUST DO IT with human languages that are spoken on this earth? I would be foolish to tell the omnipotent Trinitarian God what he must do to satisfy my inability to understand all he does through ‘mysteries in the Spirit’.

For this I pray that it will happen in more and more churches: ‘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’ (I Cor 14:26 ESV). One of the great tragedies of the contemporary church is that the people of God are convinced that only a handful of people – pastors, elders, teachers, etc – have gifts and most of God’s people are not allowed to function when the church gathers.

‘Crazy dog’ behaviour

I can understand some of the objections to charismatic excesses. See an example of the ‘Crazy dog man’ behaviour of the Toronto Blessing on YouTube. This pandemonium is not only shameful, but in direct conflict with the exhortation of Scripture – in the context of teaching on the gifts: ‘But be sure that everything is done properly and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40 NLT).

Further assistance

designQuiltsmall You might be interested in my explanation of a bad experience I had in a charismatic house church. See: Charismatic chaos in a Brisbane house church.

designQuiltsmall Gift of tongues is gibberish?

designQuiltsmall Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?

designQuiltsmall Can cessationism be supported by Scripture and church history?

 

Works consulted

MacArthur, J 1977. Where does the Bible end? Part 1, February 13. Grace to You. Available at: http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1364/where-does-the-bible-end-part-1 (Accessed 1 July 2015).

Notes


[1] OzSpen#9, Christianity Board, Christian Theology Forum, ‘The Administration of Tongues’, 19 June 2015. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/21597-the-administration-of-tongues/ (Accessed 1 July 2015).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#10.

[3] Ibid., Butch5#12

[4] Ibid., Butch5#13.

[5] Ibid., Wormwood#59.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#61.

[7] Ibid., Wormwood #59.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#61.

[9] Ibid., Wormwood#59.

[10] Ibid., Wormwood#59.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 June 2016.

Is the spiritual gift of tongues ‘gibberish’?

By Spencer D Gear

Stir up the Gift

(image courtesy ChristArt)

It is not unusual on public Christian forums on the Internet to be exposed to all kinds of strange or different teaching. I came across this one:

Speaking gibberish has no relation to the Holy Spirit. It is uttered by a person’s spirit. The Holy Spirit will not indulge in such cheap gimmicks and degrading behavior to make known the will of God when He can directly speak to people as evidenced in the entire book of Acts without a middle man designated as an interpreter![1]

Yet one of God’s special ministry gifts to the body of Christ, A W Tozer, wrote, after citing Rom. 12:5-6 and 1 Cor. 12:4-7, that

The Bible teaches us that the genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit are a necessity in the spiritual life and ministries of every Christian congregation serious about glorifying Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord…. It seems to me that Paul was trying to make it as plain as he could in his epistles that any segment of the Body of Christ, anywhere in the world, should recapitulate – gather up and sum up within itself – all of the offices and gifts and workings of the entire church of Christ (Tozer 1978:21, 22; emphasis added).

How is it that a person in the pews is so opposed to the gift of tongues to call it ‘gibberish’, yet one of God’s special gifts to the body of Christ, A W Tozer, should claim that the Bible’s teaching that genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit are needed in every congregation? And these gifts include ALL of the offices, gifts and workings of the entire church. Tozer was adamant: ‘A careful study of the Apostle’s teachings concerning Jesus Christ and His church should persuade us that any local assembly ought to demonstrate all of the functions of the whole body’ (1978:22). Tozer is inferring that if God gives the gift of tongues to any local assembly of Christian believers, that gift should be allowed to function. Of course, the gift of tongues requires the gift of interpretation to make tongues intelligible for the congregation.

Sneering language against God’s gifts

How does one reply to such pejorative language of the Holy Spirit’s gift of speaking in tongues being described as ‘gibberish’, ‘cheap gimmicks and degrading behavior’? My response was:[2]

So what are we told not to forbid in this verse: ‘Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:39 NIV)? Does this verse apply to the 21st century church as much as it did to the Corinthians?

What I often find in these discussions is that a person avoids some of the specific content of what is said. When this happens, it is called a red herring logical fallacy. The Nizkor Project explains that ‘a Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic’.

That is what happened to me in this circumstance. The response I received was:

Paul was referring to people who had already practicing this emotional part of personal prayer. I have nothing to say about personal prayers done in private in whatever language they want. But as one grows in the knowledge of the Lord, one would prefer greater gifts as Paul advised. That happened actually. Speaking gibberish diappeared (sic) after sometime (sic).
Now deluded Christians backsliding to bring back the worst conditions of Corinthian church![3]

This person continues with derogatory language for the gift of tongues, ‘emotional part of personal prayer’, ‘gibberish’, and ‘deluded Christians backsliding’ in the Corinthian church. Also the gift of tongues is not included in the ‘greater gifts’.

Rejection of mocking language for the gift of tongues

How should one reply to such negative views and mocking language against the gift of tongues? I wrote that[4] this person referred to tongues as ‘this emotional part of personal prayer’ and ‘speaking gibberish’ and that it is associated with ‘the worst conditions of Corinthian church’. To refer to God’s gift as ‘gibberish’ is something that I find pejorative towards God the Holy Spirit and the gifts that he gives. I note that he provided no biblical exposition for his position.

God’s language for the gift of tongues

What do the Scriptures state about the nature of the gift of tongues (glossolalia)?
The gift of tongues is a gift that God continues to give by his Spirit as a spiritual gift. We know this from 1 Corinthians 14:1-5,

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up (ESV, emphasis added).

We are to earnestly desire all spiritual gifts, especially prophecy, but the genuine gift of tongues and interpretation continues. There is no place in the church gathering for any who speaks in tongues without interpretation. The exhortation from 1 Cor 14:13 is, ‘One who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’. Why? It is in order that the gift is intelligible to the remainder of the congregation that does not understand the tongue.

However, these verses teach that there is a genuine gift of tongues where one ‘speaks not to men but to God … for he utters mysteries in the Spirit’ (14:2). Please note that the biblical language does not speak of glossolalia as ‘gibberish’ but as speaking ‘to God’ and people uttering ‘mysteries in the Spirit’. I find it offensive that this person calls a ministry of the Spirit ‘gibberish’.

While the apostle Paul gives a preference for prophecy as a gift in the church as it ‘builds up the church’, he still gives this important teaching about tongues:

clip_image002_thumb‘I want you all to speak in tongues’ (1 Cor 14:5).

So the gift of tongues was available to all NT believers. Notice the contrast:

clip_image0021_thumb‘The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up’ (1 Cor 14:5).

So the gift of prophecy approximately equals tongues with interpretation for the building up of the church.

Contemporary evangelical scholars and the gift of tongues

While a person who posts on an evangelical Christian forum regards the gift of tongues as ‘gibberish’ and a ‘cheap gimmick’, how do some evangelical scholars describe this gift?

These three evangelical, New Testament scholars from very different traditions provide their definitions of the gift of tongues.

cubed-redmatte Jack W MacGorman, distinguished professor emeritus of New Testament, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, does not consider the gift of tongues to be a demonstration of ‘gibberish’. He wrote of the glossolalia in 1 Corinthians as, ‘Holy Spirit inspired utterance that is unintelligible apart from interpretation, itself an attendant gift. It is a form of ecstatic utterance, a valid charismatic endowment’ (MacGorman 1994:390-391). MacGorman considers that this definition is supported by these verses from 1 Corinthians 14:

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:2, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (ESV). McGorman’s argument was that nobody understands the ‘tongues’; he speaks to God and he speaks mystery.
  2. 1 Corinthians 14:13-14, “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful” (ESV). The one speaking with the gift of tongues is not understood but his spirit is praying and therefore the person needs to be interpret.
  3. 1 Corinthians 14:18, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (ESV).
  4. 1 Corinthians 14:26, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (NIV).

MacGorman’s view is that if these verses refer to tongues as real languages, then these verses become sheer nonsense.

cubed-redmatte D A Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity International University, is not of the view that it is nonsense, but Carson considers that the tongue is a real language that is not known to the tongues-speaker. Carson’s perspective is that

the evidence favors the view that Paul thought the gift of tongues was a gift of real languages, that is, languages that were cognitive, whether of men or of angels…. What bearing does the discipline of linguistics have on the assessment of modern tongues? To my knowledge there is universal agreement among linguists who have taped and analysed thousands of examples of modern tongues-speaking that the contemporary phenomenon is not any human language. The patterns and structures that all known human language requires are simply not there. Occasionally a recognizable word slips out; but that is statistically likely, given the sheer quantity of verbalization (Carson 1995:83).

cubed-redmatte Gordon D Fee, professor emeritus, Regent College, Vancouver BC, Canada, a card-carrying Assemblies of God minister, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians states of the nature of the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12:10:

The following seem certain (a) It is Spirit-inspired utterance; that is made explicit in vv. 7 and 11 and in 14:2; (b) The regulations for its use in 14:27-28 make it clear that the speaker is not in “ecstasy” or “out of control.” Quite the opposite; the speakers must speak in turn, and they must remain silent if there is no one to interpret. (c) It is speech essentially unintelligible both to the speaker (14:14) and to other hearers (14:16). (d) It is speech directed basically toward God (14:2, 14-15, 28); one may assume, therefore, that what is “interpreted” is not speech directed toward others, but the “mysteries” spoken to God.

What is less certain is whether Paul also understood the phenomenon to be an actual language. In favour of such a view are (a) the term itself, (b) the need for “interpretation,” and (c) the evidence from Acts 2:5-11. In the final analysis, however, this question seems irrelevant. Paul’s whole argument is predicated on its unintelligibility to both speaker and hearer; he certainly does not envisage someone’s being present who would be able to understand it because it was also an earthly language. Moreover, his use of earthly languages as an analogy in 14:10-12 implies that it is not a known earthly language, since a thing is not usually identical with that to which it is analogous. Most likely, therefore, the key to Paul’s – and their – understanding lies in the term “the language of angels” in 13:1 (q.v.) [Fee 1987:598].

Yet, a lay person on a Christian forum wants to call the gift of tongues, ‘gibberish’ and the Holy Spirit does not engage in ‘cheap gimmicks’. Such is not consistent with an exegesis of the passage as MacGorman, Carson and Fee have demonstrated.

There have been excesses

My experience is that there is such poor teaching on the correct approach to the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit – especially tongues and interpretation. I have seen too much existential chaos allowed by church leaders at the local church level that is too much like Toronto ‘blessing’ and Brownsville Pensacola ‘revival’ excesses that I’ve seen online and on DVDs. I can understand, but not endorse, this Christian forum person’s use of the language of ‘gibberish’ to describe tongues. I also have witnessed much disorder with the gift of tongues in a church gathering when there is no gift of interpretation taking place.

However, I have been in church gatherings when the gifts of the Spirit of tongues and interpretation have been manifested and I have been built up in my faith.

Paul was correcting excesses at Corinth with language such as the following in 1 Corinthians:

  • ‘If with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said?’ (14:9);
  • ‘Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church’ (14:12);
  • ‘One who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’ (14:13);
  • ‘I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue’ (14:18-19);
  • ‘Tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers’ (14:22);
  • ‘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’ (14:27-28).

God’s gifts functioning when the church gathers

However when the church gathers, this should be how the gifts of the Spirit are manifested by brothers and sisters in Christ: ‘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’ (1 Cor 14:26). Imagine if that were allowed in many churches today! The dominance of a few people in worship could be replaced by ‘each one’ being allowed to function in ministry. There is this biblical proviso, ‘All things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40).

So, the gift of tongues with the gift of interpretation should continue in the church gathering. These are gifts from the Holy Spirit of God and are meant for the ‘building up’ of the church. We have as much need for this building up in the 21st century as the 1st century.

The excesses should not cause us to reject the correct biblical teaching of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit that include tongues and interpretation. Faulty use of the gifts should not negate the gifts. It should mean correction of improper use of the gifts of the Spirit and promotion of the need for the Holy Spirit to be allowed to function with supernatural gifts when the church gathers.

It is important for us to remember that ‘God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose’ (1 Cor 12:18). Since he arranges the gifts of tongues and interpretation in the body, who are we to label one of them as ‘gibberish’? God did not arrange for ‘gibberish’ in the body of Christ. He arranged for His gifts by His Spirit and I dare not diminish them to a humanistic standard. However, there is always the need when the church gathers for believers to ‘weigh what is said’ (14:29) – weigh prophecy in this context.

What is the biblical exhortation about the gift of tongues? ‘Earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order’ (14:38-39).

The person who wrote negatively about the gift of tongues on this forum, also wrote:

I am going by the dictionary definition for speaking unknown tongues as gibberish just as Paul claimed himself as an apostle based on a similar understanding. There are only twelve apostles according to spiritual understanding, and in that Judas was replaced by Matthias.[5]

Which kind of dictionary was he using? Is it an English dictionary or a Greek dictionary (lexicon)? [6]

So what was he meaning when he said that ‘there are only twelve apostles according to spiritual understanding’? He did not explain how that relates to the gift of glossolalia (speaking in tongues).

I wrote: ‘The gift of tongues is a gift that God continues to give by his Spirit as a spiritual gift. I know that from 1 Corinthians 14:1-5, we are to earnestly desire all spiritual gifts, especially prophecy’. His response was:

Sorry, you are wrong here! Paul did not say to desire all spiritual gifts
1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.

I replied that he was correct. It was an error of mine to write, ‘to desire all spiritual gifts’. This we do know that Paul taught the Corinthians, ‘Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy’ (1 Cor 14:5). So Paul was urging all of the Corinthian believers to be open to speaking in tongues, but even more to prophesy. He wrote:

No way God wants an agent’s agent to speak on behalf of the Holy Spirit!
1 & 2 Corinthians were early letters of Paul. He was still growing in the knowledge of the Lord that he had missed out since he was not a part of the ministry of Jesus on earth.

So he was inferring that the theopneustos (God-breathed)[7] Scripture of 1 & 2 Corinthians is a lower level of knowledge since he said that Paul ‘was still growing in the knowledge of the Lord’. Was Paul writing the truth about spiritual gifts or not? Was Paul writing the truth in the Corinthian correspondence or was he writing a lower knowledge since he was still growing in the Lord’s knowledge (his words)? He wrote:

One need (sic) to read 2 Corinthians to understand the 1 Corinthians. 2 Corinithians (sic) is nothing but a boastful and confessing letter of him that puts him in the right perspective.

I haven’t read anything in 1 or 2 Corinthians to say that I have to read 2 Corinthians to help me to understand 1 Corinthians. The second letter is addressing mostly different matters to the first letter. This person wrote:

This piece-wise interpretation is misleading. Let us see the entire verse:
5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
So do you accept that Paul is calling one gift is superior to another! That cannot happen when it comes to gifts of God! (emphasis in original)

The greater gifts are the intelligible ones. We know that from 1 Corinthians 14:9-12:

So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church (ESV, emphasis added).

The emphasis here is on gifts that are intelligible, understandable. The gift of tongues, as long as there is the gift of interpretation, is intelligible.

He asked an excellent question: ‘What do you mean by ‘approximately’? Do you have a yardstick to compare?’

This is what I wrote to which he was responding: ‘So the gift of prophecy approximately equals tongues with interpretation for the building up of the church’. I was referring to 1 Cor 14:5, ‘The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up’. Here, the use of the word, ‘unless’, shows that the gift of prophecy is like the gift of tongues PLUS interpretation. That’s what I mean by ‘approximately’.

He wrote: ‘One need (sic) to imitate Jesus Christ, not Paul, Apollos et al with their claims based on their personal traits!’

The biblical perspective is that ‘All Scripture is theopneustos [breathed out by God] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV, emphasis added).

Instruction for my Christian living to become competent and equipped for my Christian life and ministry, is from ALL Scripture and not just from Jesus Christ. That’s what the Bible teaches.

This person wrote:

No theory or behavior should be based on one verse, one author, one book, etc. Show me where else in the Bible you find the mention of this business of speaking unknown language supported by interpretation?

Since all Scripture is God-breathed, the book of 1 Corinthians comes with the authority of God. I dare not reject the gifts as articulated in 1 Corinthians when God has given them authoritatively for the edification of the church. Acts 2:1-11 does speak of ‘tongues’ but in a different context and understanding to the exposition in 1 Cor 12-14.

This person wrote that ‘from this it is obvious that what was happening and what is happening now in many churches is uncontrolled emotions elevated to spurioius (sic) spiritual status!’

I agree that there is excess happening in some churches regarding the gifts of the Spirit. The truth is that excesses and spurious teachings should be corrected, but excesses do not negate the truth of the spiritual gifts that are available for the 21st century.

This was the response from that person to what I wrote above:[8]

‘Since we are communicating in the known English language, any emotional blurting out by a person of an unknown language – when God has given one of the greatest gifts of speaking an intelligible language – can be branded as gibberish!’

My response was as follows:[9]

I find it offensive that he would call the Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues to be ’emotional blurting out’ and ‘gibberish’.

Why didn’t he answer what I wrote about going to the Greek language to obtain the meaning of the Greek lalein (to speak) in glwssia (tongues)? Even though we speak the English language, we need to go to the original NT language of koine Greek to obtain the meaning of glossolalia. Why did he ignore this input that I provided? Is it because he does not read and understand NT Greek?

Then this man wrote:

As I indicated earlier, the answer to this is found in 2 Corinthians when Paul admits the use of his craftiness to bring order there. Let us consider a situation wherein one person speaks an unknown tongue, and there is no interpreter. His sayings go as a waste. That can never happen if the Holy Spirit is prompting that.[10]

Paul’s craftiness has nothing whatsoever to do in context with an understanding of the gifts of tongues and interpretation in 1 Cor 12-14.As for there being nobody with the gift of interpretation in the church gathering, the person who spoke in tongues should be told by the elders that he/she is out of order and should not have spoken that gift.

First Corinthians 14:13 provides the answer to the question he raised: ‘Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’ (ESV). I have seen this happen on many occasions where the person God gifts with the manifestation of tongues is also given the gift of interpretation. It is very rare that I have ever heard someone manifest the gift of tongues without the gift of interpretation. Does he have any experience in attending a Pentecostal/charismatic church or group where the gifts of tongues and interpretation have been happening? It seems that he is speaking from a lack of knowledge of the Bible (1 Cor 14:3) in this area, and non-exposure to these supernatural gifts of the Spirit in the local church.

How does one respond to his statement, ‘At the same time this unknown tongue is an act of person’s spirit. The Holy Spirit has nothing to do with that’?[11]

I do wish that he would read carefully what I Cor 12-14 states. Yes, the gift of tongues comes through the human spirit as 1 Cor 14:14 states, ‘For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful’. However, who or what is the origin of his gift? ‘For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God, for no one understand him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit‘ (1 Cor 14:3, emphasis added).

In context, 1 Cor 12:1 reads, ‘concerning spiritual gifts’, that person is ‘speaking in the Spirit of God … in the Holy Spirit’ (12:3). Then we are assured in 12:4, ‘There are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit‘ (12:4). As for the ‘varieties of gifts’ (12:4), ‘it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (12:12:6-7).

Conclusion

Therefore, all of these spiritual gifts that are manifest in the ekklesia, are through the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit, the same God. But he wanted to label one of these gifts as ’emotional blurting out’ and ‘gibberish’. I urged him not to impose his pejorative meaning on these supernatural gifts from God’s Spirit. Of course, there can be abuse and misuse, but I am exposed to such in preaching/teaching as well. Abuse and misuse are not the sole responsibility of the spiritual gifts. They can happen elsewhere in the church as well.

And have a guess what? Two of those manifestations of the Holy Spirit of God are ‘various kinds of tongues’ and ‘interpretation of tongues’ (1 Cor 12:10). That is why I find his labelling of the Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues as ’emotional blurting out’ and ‘gibberish’ to be contrary to what the Scriptures state and to be offensive to Christian exegesis of the text. Why is he using such derogatory language to label God’s gifts of tongues and interpretation?

This person is anti the gifts of the Spirit and has resorted to using language that is contrary to what the Scriptures state in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Therefore, this person erected a straw man logical fallacy. When one does that, one is building a non-existent case for a view that comes from somewhere else – perhaps from a person’s anti-charismatic presuppositions. It looks very much like imposing a worldview on the text. Thus, this becomes eisegesis – the meaning is not determined by what the text says but by what the interpreter believes and imposes on the text.

I urged this person not to use such offensive language for two of God’s Spirit’s gifts to the congregation that are designed ‘so that the church may be built up’ (1 Cor 14:5).

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1995.[12] Showing the Spirit: A theological exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press.

Fee, G D 1087. The new international commentary on the New Testament: The first epistle to the Corinthians, F F Bruce (gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

MacGorman, JW 1974. The gifts of the Spirit: An exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Nashville: Broadman Press.

Tozer, A W 1978. Tragedy in the church: The missing gifts. Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications.

Notes:

 [1] Justtruly #26, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Gift of Tongues – Book Research’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7755995-3/ (Accessed 24 July 2013).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #31.

[3] Ibid., justtruly #32.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #33.

[5] Ibid., justtruly #34.

[6] My response is at ibid., OzSpen #35.

[7] Based on 2 Timothy 3:16 which states: ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God [theopneustos] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ (ESV).

[8] Ibid., justtruly #49.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen #50.

[10] Ibid., justtruly #49.

[11] Ibid.

[12] This book was first published by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA in 1987.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 May 2016.

The fake and the genuine mixed in some churches: A dangerous concoction!

Landmine Doctrine

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I’ve been interacting with a missionary friend in a foreign country who wrote of a person from the Bethel Church who feeds 10,000 children, has established churches, and has a humble ministry of bringing healing to the black children of Africa. A film has been made about this person raising people from the dead. This person gains no money from the actions and aches as she sits in the dust with African children, preaching Christ. But she is part of the Bethel Church, Redding, CA, USA.

The question the missionary asked of me: ‘How can this person be misguided and as far from Christ as the church leaders of Bethel church’?

What does the Bethel Church teach?

Bethel Church, Redding CA

Courtesy Wikipedia

The Bethel Church, Redding, California has this teaching on YouTube where there is alleged gold dust falling. See: ‘Gold dust rains during worship at Bethel!

See also:

blue-satin-arrow-smallBethel testimonies’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallJeremy Riddle – Our Father PART 1/2 (Gold dust in the room)’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallGlory Cloud & Gold Dust at Bethel Church’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallBethel’s ‘signs and wonders’ include angel feathers, gold dust and diamonds’.

Critiques of the Bethel Church movement

Empty Words

(image courtesy ChristArt )

What are the issues with Bethel Church, Redding, California, and its teachings? There are many links to assessment of the heresy of Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Apostasy Watch:

blue-arrow-smallWarning – Bill Johnson and Bethel Church’;

blue-arrow-smallSound advice for Bethel Church Pastor Bill Johnson’;

blue-arrow-smallBob Dewaay: Bill Johnson, IHOP [IHOP], & Ancient Heresy Reborn’;

blue-arrow-smallThe dangers of the International House of Prayer’, CARM;

blue-arrow-smallBill Johnson and Bethel – Report from Redding Record Searchlight’;

blue-arrow-smallBill Johnson / Bethel Church, Redding, California’ (links to other criticisms built into the article);

blue-arrow-smallBirds of a Feather Flock Together: Strange Manifestations in ‘Christian’ Circles – from God or not? Feathers in Church? Bill Johnson of Bethel Church, Redding California’;

Let me say up front that we cannot discern a heart before God of any person, whether associated with a church teaching false doctrine or one teaching the truth. That discernment is in God’s hands. But the Scriptures give some strong indicators of what can happen.

What did Jesus say about the mixture of the fake with the genuine?

When I turn to Jesus, this is the truth that he proclaims:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23 NIV)

Only Jesus knows the truth of the human heart and the eternal destiny of people. It is evident from these Scriptures in Matthew 7 that Jesus did not regard good deeds and supernatural miracles to be guarantees that a person is a Christian who will enter the kingdom of heaven. It is evident that people can do many good works, perform miracles, and not do the will of the heavenly Father. It sounds strange to us, but God knows this is so. In fact, God calls these kinds of people, ‘evildoers’ (NIV) or ‘workers of lawlessness’ (ESV). So, these people are false prophets, even though they perform mighty works.

Evangelical commentator, William Hendriksen, wrote of this passage:

‘Does not all of this point to the possibility that also the demon expulsions and other mighty works of which the false prophets of Matt. 7:22 boast had been nothing but sham? Have not investigations proved again and again that among false prophets illusions, trickery, sleight of hand, etc., abound, and that what is presented as genuine is very often nothing but deception?’ (Hendriksen 1973:376).

Matthew 7:23 indicates a very high Christology. Jesus decides who will enter the Kingdom on the last day and he also decides who will be banished from his presence. That he never knew these people is because they falsely claimed him as Lord.

I find it interesting how the writer of The Didache, after the close of the New Testament, puts it this way, ‘But not everyone who speaks in a spirit is a prophet, except he have the behavior of the Lord. From his behavior, then, the false prophet and the true prophet shall be known’ (Didache 11.8). This is a good summary. One can use the word, ‘Lord’, of Jesus, allege to be a prophet and perform mighty works, and still be a fraud before Christ.

Therefore, the application to the Bethel Church is that a person can perform miracles, do other good works, but engage in false teaching and still not be a Christian who will enter the Kingdom. This does not mean that there are no genuine Christians associated with this church. That discernment is in Jesus’ control. However, ‘I never knew you’ are tragic words when they think that they are doing it for Jesus. Let’s understand that who enters the kingdom will be decided by Jesus. But here in Matt 7 there are strong indicators that good works and miracles can be associated with those who claim Jesus as Lord, but he is not their Lord. These are the penetrating words of Jesus.

I understand that we would like to think that there are those who perform wonderful deeds towards the needy, are used in supernatural miracles, but proclaim false doctrine, are misled but are truly Christian. But that’s not how Jesus sees it according to Matt. 7. I have to be true to Jesus and his teaching. It will sound harsh, but I have to answer at the end of my life to the Lord for my accuracy or otherwise with my biblical teaching. I hope people understand this. There is an attack on the truth of Scripture in the contemporary world.

Mark 9:39 states, ‘But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me’ (ESV). Those who proclaim false doctrine are speaking evil of the Lord as what they proclaim is not true.

I do not believe that miracles ceased with the original 12 apostles. See my article, ‘Can cessationism be supported by Scripture and church history?

Worm and Lace

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Which Jesus?

There is the problem we face in the twenty-first century that was also there in the first century: Which Jesus are they/we serving? Is He the one who mixes falsehood with truth, or is he the one who is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ ALWAYS?

Consider these sources of falsehood and truth. We have warnings and affirmations in Scripture:

matte-red-arrow-small ‘But test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thess 5:21-22 ESV).

matte-red-arrow-small‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1 ESV).

They were there in the first century. They are here n the twenty-first century. There will be the fake performed alongside the genuine. To the human eye they may look similar, but to Jesus he is the one who discerns those who knew him and those who didn’t. This we know from his teaching: Genuine good works, genuine miracles, and false teaching do not go together. They are often mixed and Christians are to be people of biblical and spiritual discernment. Too often we are not!

Therefore, the Lord calls all true believers to be people committed to the ministry of discernment:

matte-red-arrow-small ‘But test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thess 5:21-22 ESV).

matte-red-arrow-small‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1 ESV).

The challenge

Here is the challenge that you and I face, whether in an overseas country or here in my country of Australia. We are to be these kinds of Christians: ‘So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes’ (Eph 4:14 ESV). It is tempting to see those who are doing massive good deeds mixed with fake miracles, to be seen as genuine. But the false and the truth cannot be mixed and come out as genuine. That’s according to Jesus and the Scriptures.

Why don’t you take a read of this article about the teaching of Bill Johnson and the Bethel Church, ‘An Invasion of Error: A Review of Bill Johnson—When Heaven Invades Earth

Part of the problem we face in the contemporary church is that teaching the truth through sound doctrine from the pulpit and in small groups is on such a low level in many evangelical churches. Many are too interested in their contemporary worship, topical sermons, and Gospel light, to be pursuing the need to teach true doctrine and refute false doctrine.

My wife and I had an experience of that in the last 18 months when we moved to a new suburb in northern Brisbane and sought an evangelical church that proclaimed sound theology in both teaching and song. We visited 8 different churches before we found one that came close to sound teaching (expository preaching from books of the Bible) and solid lyrics in the songs they sang. Most were into rock ‘n roll Christianity in their music and songs, and light sermon content.

I emailed one pastor whom I had never met as he wasn’t there and preaching when my wife and I visited his church on one occasion. I had enquired about going to one of his cell groups locally. His response was that a cell group at his church would not be suitable for me as it was ‘more contemporary than the church service’. I had not mentioned a word to him about ‘contemporary’ anything. Obviously the one person we spoke to after the service conveyed to the pastor some of the comments we made about the service. As for solid teaching in the evangelical churches, we did not find it – except for one. But the problem with this one, which we currently attend, is that it is super-traditional in all that happens in the services. However, the pastor is a sound expositor of Scripture who is not afraid to exegete the Scriptures and provide careful interpretations of the meaning.

See my articles:

silver-arrow-smallFive ingredients of a healthy church: Colossians 4:7-18‘;

silver-arrow-smallDouble faults and no aces: Margaret Court’;

silver-arrow-smallAre the dead raised today?

silver-arrow-smallSeventh Day Adventist atonement doctrine’.

T

(image courtesy ChristArt)

References

Hendriksen, W 1973. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 April 2016.

What Presbyterians can learn from Pentecostals!

 

clip_image002 clip_image004

(image Courtesy: Wikipedia)                     (image Courtesy: Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

When my wife and I moved to Brisbane from Hervey Bay, Qld., Australia, we left Fraser Coast Baptist Church where the senior pastor, Steve Sauvageot, was a solid biblical expositor of the Scriptures and the church sang only hymns during the services. And have a guess what? There were plenty of youth who came to the church who were part of a vibrant youth group.

When we moved to Brisbane in mid 2011 and settled in a Brisbane suburb, we set about finding a church with solid preaching and sound theology in the songs they sang. We were seeking out an evangelical church that believed the Bible, the Gospel, and preached from the Scriptures.

What did we find?

We went to seven local evangelical churches and for all of those, Baptist and Churches of Christ, the old hymns were out and contemporary, rock music was in. Loud rock music tended to dominate the music. At one church, the music introduction in one of the songs was led by the drummer. In fact, the musical interlude in this song was given by the drummer as the only means of music. Now that’s a hard way for me, a very average singer, to get a note to try to sing.

The lyrics of these songs were biblical-lite. There was nothing like, ‘A mighty fortress is our God!’, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemers praise’, or ‘How great Thou art’. Since it was 12-months ago, I cannot remember one contemporary song that we sang in those churches.

In one church, there was not a Bible reading in the entire service. Most of the sermons were topical with no expository emphasis. The one exception was the ‘drummer’ church where an elder did give a very good expository sermon. However, we were hardly going to settle at that church as the music was superficially light and the people were not very friendly. Not a person spoke to us after the service.

We settled on a Presbyterian church

While I am not Calvinistic in my primary theological orientation, my wife and I found a Presbyterian church where there was solid expository preaching along with the singing of hymns, most of which we know. Singing is from words flashed onto a projector screen from a computer and digital camera.

But here there is another challenge. The people are friendly, the sermons are expository as the pastor preaches through the Bible, but the services, to use my language, are as dry as dust. It is traditional church order of: introduction from the psalms (generally), hymn, prayer (by pastor),  children’s talk, announcements, hymn, Bible reading, pastoral prayer (by pastor), hymn, sermon, hymn, and benediction. It is dominated by one-way communication. It is quite a contrast from some of the other Pentecostal and evangelical churches with which I have been associated down through the years.

I have been to some mid-week, evening Bible studies in the church and they are a fairly sterile environment with a Bible study gained from the Internet on 1 Corinthians, but there is no prayer and care for one another in the group. It’s a dry, academic study where interaction is allowed.

There was content that came in a sermon on 19 August 2012 on the raising of Lazarus (John 11:11-27) that caused me to think further about the nature of what is happening in this evangelical Presbyterian church. I take notes from all of the sermons I hear and this is one area of emphasis from this sermon (the pastor has been at this church for 9 years) – this is based on the notes that I took during the service:

  • (Australian) Presbyterians are a fearful people; we fear to give and we are an impotent bunch.
  • Pentecostals are more optimistic.
  • Baptists and Pentecostals are more evangelistic.

I have observed this kind of thinking among the Presbyterians in this church also.

How should I respond?

I took the time to send the pastor an email that included this content:

clip_image006 I’ve been contemplating some of the content of your sermon and the contrasts between Presbyterians and Pentecostals. Then there was a chain of people that the elder asked to be formed at the end of the service when we held hands and prayed. The elder had a personal issue that he shared.

clip_image006[1]Would you and the elders be prepared to engage with me in two areas of ministry that I believe will make a major difference at this Presbyterian Church? I’m convinced that this needs to happen at the local church level. There are two areas that I’d like to discuss with you and the elders, based on your sermon contents and the joining of hands of the people at the conclusion of the service.

What are those two areas?

clip_image007Firstly, this has to do with the pastor’s comment about the differences between Pentecostals and Presbyterians. One of the reasons many of the Pentecostals I know are so active in evangelism and vibrant in their understanding of Christian ministry is because of this emphasis: They have a biblical understanding of the need for all Christians to care for one another, weep with one another, hurt with one another, pray for one another and minister to one another. This is the biblical emphasis:

  • James 5:16: ‘Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working’ (ESV).
  • Ephesians 6:18: ‘Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints’ (ESV).
  • 1 Corinthians 12:26: ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together’ (ESV).

What happens when my wife and I go to the church’s Bible study? There is no confessing of sins one to another, praying for one another. It becomes an academic exercise without the involvement of the community of believers and the Community of the King (the language of Howard Snyder). We are the body of Christ and we need to be caring for one another when we meet. I asked for opportunity for me to discuss this with the pastor and/or elders. I believe it is an important aspect of ministry among the body of believers that seems to be neglected at this church (I await a reply from the pastor).

If the elder had not shared his personal struggles from the pulpit at the end of service, I would not have known of his personal struggles with a certain issue. This should not be so with a functioning body of believers. When we meet for Bible study, it should not be just a Bible study. It ought to be a gathering of the body of believers where all believers are able to minister to one another. If anyone is hurting, this is the opportunity to pray for one another and be healed by the power of God. I asked to be able to share further with pastor and elders.

clip_image007[1]Secondly, there is another area where Pentecostals could teach Presbyterians a great deal about biblical functioning. I’m somewhat reticent to broach this subject with the pastor as I know that he opposes this view. However, I asked him to consider allowing me to present some teaching at some elders’ meetings on the biblical understanding of the continuing ministry of the gifts of the Spirit. I was raised in a cessationist Baptist Church but when I exegeted the relevant Scriptures, I could no longer support that view.

What I observe happening at this Presbyterian Church is that it is very hierarchical and one-way communication is dominant when the church gathers. That is not what happened at Corinth and it should not be what happens with any church that believes the Bible in the twenty-first century. I’m speaking of the giftedness of the whole body of believers. We have this teaching stated clearly and overtly in Paul’s correction of the Corinthian Church. He did not condemn them for this practice but told them that this is what ought to happen when the church gathers. Here it is:

  • 1 Corinthians 14:26, ‘What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up’ (NIV).

This is what should be happening in each church gathering, but especially in small groups. I asked for permission to come to elders’ meetings and present teaching on the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit in the body of believers. I am convinced this would address some of the issues raised by the pastor in his sermon about the vibrancy of Pentecostalism when compared with Presbyterianism. I am not suggesting that we adopt a philosophy of pragmatism – doing what works. But I see a biblical need to get back to the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit among us when the church gathers. This is not happening in this Presbyterian Church. Why? It is because cessationism is being promoted. I asked for permission to engage with the pastor and elders on these teachings.

I said that it may sound brazen of me to raise these topics as I’ve only been in the church 12-months, but I consider they are two vital factors in a healthy church.

For some of the articles I’ve written on these topics, I refer you to:

Appendix A: An expose on what is happening to music in the church

I only recently have become aware of this book. My wife, a pianist and vocalist, has just finished reading it. I’m impressed by what I’ve heard so far, but my wife has passed it on to another musician in the church to read. Here is the book by T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal ( 2010. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing).

For reviews, see:

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 June 2016.

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Christianity in free fall: the Toronto blessing

(courtesy thepocketscroll.com)

By Spencer D Gear

I urge you to view what happens when the Scriptures are abandoned and chaos sets in. Take a read of My Experiences with the Toronto Vineyard (Rick Friedrich of Michigan)

Why wasn’t there pastoral leadership that stopped this lunacy and called it for what it was – an erroneous view of Christianity. Correcting false doctrine seems to be low on the agenda of many in the church today. What Toronto (and Pensacola) descended into was something abhorrent.

I pray for God’s leaders to become just that – men and women who are not afraid to correct and stop false doctrine. As a result, in some of these churches there is still a movement of existential nonsense when some churches gather. Sound doctrine goes out the window!

What is existentialism in religion?

clip_image001

Rudolf Bultmann (courtesy Wikipedia)

I use the term ‘religion’ because it is a far cry from the self-denial and commitment of Jesus Christ. Existentialist religion happens when experience is given a prominent place. We saw an example with German liberal, Rudolf Bultmann (AD 1884-1976), when he de-mythologised the Bible in the 20th century. In his chapter on ‘modern biblical interpretation and existential philosophy’, he wrote:

Over and over again I hear the objection that de-mythologizing transforms Christian faith into philosophy. This objection arises from the fact that I call de-mythologizing an interpretation, an existentialist interpretation, and that I make use of conceptions developed especially by Martin Heidegger in existentialist philosophy (1958:45).

See, ‘Rudolf Bultmann: A critique’, for an assessment of Bultmann’s theology.

But what is existentialism?

(courtesy www.wrs.vcu. edu)

 

Wikipedia has a lay-level article on existentialism that tries to help our understanding of what is happening in philosophy, psychology and counselling, and in the Christian churches. This philosophy, which is alive and well in many evangelical and Pentecostal churches around the world, is defined thus:

Existentialism is generally considered to be the philosophical and cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the individual and the experiences of the individual, that moral thinking and scientific thinking together do not suffice to understand human existence, and, therefore, that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to understand human existence. (Authenticity, in the context of existentialism, is being true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.)…. Existentialists generally regard traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience.

When applied to the church, this means that your experience of Jesus is given primary importance. Where do biblical teaching and theology fit into existentialist Christianity? Existentialism is alive and well thanks to liberal Christianity and the Pentecostal-charismatic movement.

However, there is a supposed difference. Liberal Christianity denigrates the Scriptures and has a different view of God. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

1. One assessment of Bultmann’s view was, ‘One could not know much about God, only what God did for one. (When Macquarrie urged him to follow Tillich in using the philosophy of Being to reconstruct a purified theism, Bultmann could only confess: “I myself cannot conceive of an ontological basis.”) One could not do much for God, only gamble one’s life on his reality and on his power to uphold one. One could not say much to God, only give thanks and surrender’ (Edwards 1976). Bultmann himself wrote, ‘The invisibility of God excludes every myth which tries to make God and His action visible; God holds Himself from view and observation. We can believe in God only in spite of experience, just as we can accept justification [by faith] only in spite of conscience’ (Bultmann 1958:83-84). That description automatically excludes Jesus, the second person of the Trinity as God, and his visible actions in our world.

2. How about the Episcopalian, John Shelby Spong’s, view of God? He wrote, ‘I refer here to a deity who is “a being,” not even if we claim for God the status of the highest being. I speak rather of the God I experience as the Ground and Source of All Being and therefore the presence that calls me to step beyond every boundary…. I intend to demonstrate that probing this new God-possibility begins with a search for clues in our religious past…. The limits on the theistic definition of God have been present for centuries…. The theistic God of the past was created by us and in our own image? As I have suggested in a previous book, “If horses had gods would they not look like horses?’ (Spong 2001:60-61). See my analysis of this publication by Spong in, ‘Spong’s swan song – at last!

3. Listen to Paul Tillich! ‘If God is called the living, if he is the ground of the creative processes of life, if history has significance for him, if there is no negative principle in addition to him which could account for evil and sin, how can one avoid positing a dialectical negativity in God himself?… The anticipation of nothingness at death gives human existence its existential character (Tillich 1968:I 210).

The Pentecostal-charismatic movement, at least in theory, confirms the authority of Scripture and of the Lord God Almighty as revealed in the Bible. However, I have my questions after visiting the website of this leading Pentecostal church on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Kings Christian Church (Buderim) and the outreach church that is now known as Noosa Hillsong. A friend of mine who visited this Buderim church called it an ‘ex-church’. The Brisbane Courier-Mail (April 22, 2007) described Kings Christian Church as ‘a new brand of church’ in which this could happen on women’s day:

IN A new building in the Sunshine Coast hinterland a woman spoons froth off a cappuccino. On her left, a teenager has her nails buffed while a silver-haired grandmother deliberates between shades of pearl and puce.

“I’ll take the pearl polish this week,” says the elderly woman. “And I’d love another coffee.”

It’s ladies’ day at the Kings Christian Church, west of Maroochydore, and groups of women are seated around “pampering stations”.

As Pastor Steve Penny dons a headset and prepares to take the stage, the women receive free manicures and premium coffee in the church’s new $4.5 million Champions Centre.

In this article, Pastor Penny ‘says young people expect the latest equipment’. The Courier-Mail goes on to report,

Officials expect to turn heads at the Champions Centre official opening and six-car giveaway next Sunday. The cars, which have been advertised on TV, will be handed out before free pizza and ice cream.

There will be jumping castles, buggy rides and fireworks at the “Event Spectacular”.

Pastor Penny said the giveaways were a means of expressing the church’s interest in the community. He said money spent on cars was donated by members and would ultimately come back to the church.

That sounds awfully like the advertising I wrote in my former days as a radio/TV announcer and copywriter. It is worldly thinking. How would it stack up against the emphases of Jesus’ instructions on being a Christian disciple?

There is some further information about Kings Christian Church, Buderim. The Sunshine Coast Daily reported problems with this church in 2010: ‘Residents fed up with church noise’ (20 January 2010). Part of the article read:

A MAJOR youth conference at a Tanawha church designed to instil community values in the young has instead led to a community backlash over the “deafening” live music at the event.

Unresolved, long-standing issues over the regular live music that blares from the massive Kings Christian Church, which has a congregation of about 1500 and hosts numerous events, reached flashpoint on Monday when the inaugural four-day Queensland Youth Alive Conference opened.

Fed-up nearby residents said years of complaints to the church, Sunshine Coast council and police over the “pounding bass” emanating from the church had landed on deaf ears.

Up to 600 people are attending this week’s youth conference, although it is believed the church’s huge hall can accommodate 1000 people.

“The music started at nine this morning,” one resident said yesterday.

“I feel traumatised. I’m tired … very traumatised.”

Police have been called to the Crosby Hill Road address an astonishing 17 times since 2007 – mainly because of excessive noise and traffic complaints – but said its hands were tied because council had issued the venue with a permit to stage church meetings.

Therefore, the provisions of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act did not apply, a police spokeswoman said.

Police were last called to the church on Monday night, but once again residents were left frustrated.

“I would prefer a brothel over there,” another resident said.

“A legalised brothel that was quiet would be better than this. You don’t behave like this under normal Christianity.”

James Macpherson, who recently took over as the church’s senior pastor but is currently based in Townsville, plans to meet with residents when he arrives on the Coast soon.

Mr Macpherson said the church should be a “blessing to the community”.

“So I’m happy to sit down with people and talk things through,” he said.

Jesus gave this solemn warning about the cost of discipleship. This is not the cost of emotionalism and falling over at a meeting. It is more than Christianity in free fall. Discipleship involves a serious commitment:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV).

Related image(courtesy watchman4wales)

So existentialism and materialism are alive and well in this kind of Pentecostal-charismatic church. But also could it be catching on at Lifepointe Baptist Church, North Buderim?

Both the liberals and many Pentecostals emphasise an experience of God, but the experiences are radically different. Both can degenerate into existential encounters, one like Paul Tillich’s view and the other like the Toronto Blessing or Kings Christian Church.

Liberal Christianity and existentialism

Existentialists, in contrast to determinism and set rules or boundaries, want radical human freedom. German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, called any sort of determinism, ‘inauthenticity’. So, when human beings act freely rather than conforming to any church, conventional opinion, or the Scriptures, there is an unquestioned commitment to experience.

Erickson (1997:92) considers that experience is a presupposition, an unquestioned starting point. Erickson gave the example of Jean-Paul Sartre’s atheism: ‘There cannot be a god, for if there were, he would be a major encroachment on my freedom. I know, however, that I am free. Therefore, there is no God’.

Liberal theologian, Paul Tillich (AD 1886-1965), has tried to synthesise Protestant Christian theology with existentialist philosophy. See his Systematic Theology (1968) in which he stated:

The personal encounter with God and the reunion with him are the heart of all genuine religion. It presupposes the presence of a transforming power and the turn toward the ultimate from all preliminary concerns. Yet, in its distorted form, “piety” becomes a tool with which to achieve a transformation within one’s self (1968:II 99).

But who is his God/god? He stated that ‘”God has become man” is not a paradoxical but a nonsensical statement. It is a combination of words which makes sense only if it is not meant to mean what the words say’ (1968:II 109). He explains further,

Ground of Being http://www.doxa.ws/Being/Ground_Being.html

What liberalism does to missions

Take a read of this assessment of liberalism and missionary activities:

The relativistic scientific world view which underlies mainline liberalism finds it hard to be completely comfortable with the exclusiveness of the evangelical claim. Because of its respect for other religions, it is at best ambivalent about evangelization of non-Christians. Its witness is necessarily unaggressive witness, and it is far more comfortable with social witness (Hutcheson 1981).

Now look at the impact on missions when theological liberals are compared with conservative, evangelical organisations (in Erickson 1997:13):[1]

Number of foreign missionaries under appointment 1972 1988
Group A: Liberal in theology

1. American Baptist Churches

2. Episcopal Church

3. United Church of Christ

4. United Methodist Church

5. United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

 

262

165

244

951

604

 

179

72

214

416

435

Group B: Conservative Christian organisations

1. Evangelical Foreign Missions Association

2. Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association

3. Wycliffe Bible Translators

4. Southern Baptist Convention

 

 

7,074

6,130

2,220

2,507

 

 

9,000+

8,000+

2,269

3,839

Where are the sound doctrine and discernment promoted by these church leaders?

I’m saddened to speak like this, but we are called upon to uphold sound doctrine which comes from Scripture itself and not some existential experience. It is certainly true that those who repent of their sins and turn in faith to Jesus Christ alone for salvation, experience new life in Christ. See, ‘The content of the Gospel’.

The promotion of sound doctrine means that false teaching and ungodly manifestations will be stopped by church leaders.

What happened in that video above (Toronto ‘Blessing’) and what is happening in liberal and Pentecostal churches causes me to be ashamed to identify with a Christianity that will allow that kind of manifestation.

Related image(courtesy www.liveleak.com)

 

Where are the people of discernment in these ‘churches’? This is biblical Christianity:

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound [healthy] doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV)

AND

“Teach what accords with sound [healthy] doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV).

In the midst of Paul’s teaching on the gifts of the Spirit, he stated:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2 ESV).

Then in 1 Corinthians we have this need when the gifts are manifested:

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church (1 Cor. 14:12 ESV)

AND

Let the others weigh what is said (1 Cor 14:29 ESV)…. For God is not a God of confusion but peace (14:33)…. But all things should be done decently and in order (14:40).

When Toronto descended into what we saw on the video, we have the Word of God being violated because the people (especially the leaders) refused to implement what was taught in 1 Corinthians 14 and Romans 12.

Are we seeing here the fulfilment of 2 Timothy 4:3 and the movement away from sound or healthy teaching to accommodate people with itching ears? Could ‘itching ears’ include hair cuts, nail manicures, swimming pools and gyms?

I pray that Christian leaders will take the Scriptures seriously and stop this chaotic existentialism that happens in far too many churches. It is still going on around the world. I am a supporter of the continuing gifts of the Spirit, but I cannot promote this unbiblical chaos and movement away from sound teaching to existentialism and/or materialism – all in the name of the church.

Works consulted

Bultmann, R 1958. Jesus Christ and Mythology. London: SCM Press Ltd.

Edwards, D L 1976. Rudolf Bultmann: Scholar of faith (online). Christian Century, September 1-8, 728-730. Available at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1827 (Accessed 13 June 2012).

Erickson, M J 1997. The evangelical left: Encountering postconservative evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Hutcheson Jr., R G 1981. Crisis in overseas mission: Shall we leave it to the independents? (online) Christian Century, March 18, 290-296. Available at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1740 (Accessed 12 June 2012).

Spong, J S 2001. A new Christianity for a new world: Why traditional faith is dying and how a new faith is being born. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Tillich, P 1968. Systematic theology (combined volume of 3 vols). Digswell Place, Welwyn, Herts [UK]: James Nisbet & Co Ltd.

Notes:


[1] Erickson (1997:13, n. 1) gained this information from two mission handbooks: Missions Handbook: North American Protestant Ministries Overseas (1973) and Missions Handbook: USA/Canada Protestant Ministries Overseas (1989).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 November 2015.

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St. Augustine: The leading Church Father who dared to change his mind about divine healing

Augustinus 1.jpg
St Augustine of Hippo (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD [1a]

She was “a woman of the highest social standing in her community,” but disaster had struck. She was dying from a disease that would not respond to any known medical treatment. Two choices were available to her: she could have surgery, or she could accept no treatment. Either way, death was inevitable.

On the advice of an eminent doctor who was a family friend, Innocentia chose to refuse treatment for her breast cancer. But that doctor didn’t realize this godly woman had access to resources he knew nothing of.

In a dream she was told by the Lord to “wait on the women’s side of the baptistry until the first of the newly baptized women would approach, and then ask her to make the sign of Christ on the affected breast.”  She was instantly healed.

The doctor was amazed. His previous examination showed clearly that the tumor was malignant. What special treatment had she received?  He was anxious to hear about the miracle medication.

When he heard her story, his lips and face expressed nothing but contempt, and she was afraid that he was going to begin blaspheming against Christ. The doctor controlled his anger, but sarcastically said, “I had hoped you might have told me something significant.”

Innocentia was shocked by the doctor’s attitude, but her reply was prompt and penetrating: “Well, for Christ to heal a cancer after He raised to life a man four days dead is not, I suppose, particularly significant.”

What makes this testimony of God’s healing power so remarkable is that Innocentia lived in the fifth century when medical science was in its infancy. Anesthetics had not been invented to give to patients before surgery.

Even more profound is the fact that the one who told this story was Augustine, the famous bishop of Hippo in northern Africa and he had believed miracles did not happen in the age in which he lived. This is one of the classic illustrations of the man who dared to change his mind about healing.

Augustine had a Madison Avenue flare. He was “positively angry” that such a great miracle had not been publicized across the city of Carthage. Innocentia had been so silent about the incident that even her closest friends “had heard nothing of the affair.”

Augustine made her tell her story in detail “while her friends, who were there, listened in immense amazement and, when she was done, glorified God.” [1b]  The important question is: What caused Augustine to change his mind about miracles?

A. The doubter becomes a believer

This famous bishop and theologian of the church was a man with a checkered career. Before his Christian conversion he was wild and reckless.  He  indulged  in  drinking, cheating, stealing, and all kinds of illicit sexual activities. To use his own words, he was “a slave to sex rather than a lover of marriage.” [2]

But he was a searcher for truth. At the age of 32 his life was dramatically transformed through an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Augustine became the most important  Christian  writer and preacher of his time. His teachings profoundly affected the church for about a thousand years. “Salvation by grace alone” was the foundation of his ministry, preparing the way for the Protestant reformers in the 1500s.

Like many people today, Augustine had a problem with the supernatural. He knew that the miracles of Jesus were real, but he had doubts about whether they could happen in the day in which he lived. He believed “miracles were not allowed to continue till our time, lest the mind should always seek visible things.” [3]

But about four years before his death he changed his mind: “What I said is not to be interpreted that no miracles are believed to be performed in the name of Christ at the present time. For when I wrote that book, I myself had recently learned that a blind man had been restored to sight in Milan . . . and I knew about some others, so numerous even in these times, that we cannot know about all of them nor enumerate those we know.” [4]

Augustine the doubter once questioned: “Why, you ask, do such miracles not occur now? Because they would not move people, unless they were miraculous; and if they were customary, they would not be miraculous.” [5]

Later he revised that statement: “I meant, however, that such great and numerous miracles no longer take place, not that no miracles occur in our times.” [6]

B.  Why the change?

At the close of one of his most influential writings, The City of God, Augustine tells of a man who was healed of gout; another was instantly cured of paralysis and hernia; evil spirits were driven out of others by prayer. [7] A youth whose eye had been dislocated from its socket and severely damaged, had his sight restored to perfect condition through the prayers of the believers. [8]

A child, dying after being crushed by an ox-drawn cart, was miraculously “returned to consciousness, but showed no sign of the crushing he had suffered.” [9]

The son of Augustine’s neighbor died, “The corpse was laid out; the funeral was arranged; everyone was grieving and sorrowing.” A friend of the family anointed the body with oil. “This was no sooner done than the boy came back to life.” [10]

In his latter years this prominent church leader was witness to, or heard about, demonstrations of God’s supernatural power that were reminiscent of the New Testament church. He had to admit: “If I kept merely to [telling of] miracles of healing and omitted all others. . . I should have to fill several volumes.” [11]

What caused the dramatic turn around in his beliefs? Augustine explains that it came about when “I realized how many miracles were occurring in our own day and which were so like the miracles of old, and how wrong it would be to allow the memory of these marvels of divine power to perish from among our people. It is only two years ago that the keeping of records was begun here in Hippo, and already, at this writing we have nearly seventy attested miracles.” [12]

In spite of initial skepticism, Augustine faced honestly what was happening in his parish. He had to admit that God was at work in the power of the Spirit because of what he saw. To other doubters he recommended: “At least, such people should investigate facts and, if they find them true, should accept them.” [13]

For Augustine, the transformation in his thinking was amazing. “It is a simple fact, then, that there is no lack of miracles even in our day. And the God who works the miracles we read of in the Scripture uses any means and manner He chooses.” [14]

But for Augustine, miracles were not sent primarily by God to relieve pain (although that was a benefit), or to create a spectacle that would attract crowds, or to provide stories that would make a national best-seller. “Miracles have no purpose but to help men believe that Christ is God.” [15] Miracles demonstrate that Jesus Christ is alive and well – they validate the resurrection. He said “the miracles were made known to help men’s faith.” [16]

The miracle that left the most lasting impression on Augustine and his congregation was one that took place in their church one Easter weekend. “It was no more remarkable than others . . . but it was so clear and obvious to everyone that no one who lives here could have failed to see it, or, at least, to hear about it, and certainly no one could ever forget it.”

A brother and sister who were both suffering from convulsive seizures came to town. “Throughout the city they were a spectacle for all to see.”

On Easter morning before the service, the young man was in the crowded church when he fell down as if in a trance. Fear swept across the congregation. But in a moment the fellow stood to his feet and faced the congregation, perfectly normal and well.

The believers erupted in a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord. Many reported the events to Augustine, and there was a striking similarity in all of their stories: the Lord had performed a miracle before their eyes.

Three days later Augustine stood before the congregation with the brother and sister (he was well; she was still trembling with convulsions), and read the young man’s statement of healing.

The sermon that followed was interrupted by loud cries from the woman who was praying in desperation about her condition. God answered her prayer at that moment. She had the same experience as her brother, fell to the floor as if in a trance, but rose to her feet healed.

Augustine described the scene that followed: “Praise to God was shouted so loud that my ears could scarcely stand the din. But, of course, the main point was that, in the hearts of all this clamoring crowd, there burned that faith in Christ for which the martyr Stephen shed his blood.” [17]

C.  Implications

Why is Augustine’s change of mind about healing so significant? First, there are many fine Christians today who believe the biblical-style miracles ceased with the death of the original  twelve apostles. Augustine’s writings clearly disagree with that position.

Second, this famous church leader gives a clear example of what Christian maturity involves. He was flexible enough to change his views when presented with evidence that could not be disputed. Like the apostle Thomas (John 20), his doubt was turned to belief by what he saw.

Third, miracles multiplied in Augustine’s ministry and parish when he was open to such supernatural possibilities. There was little to report about physical healings in his writings when he took the position that miracles were not for his time. God requires people to trust Him for the impossible if the miraculous is to occur.

Christians need to stand firm on biblical principles that never change. But there comes a time when one has to be big enough to admit that a personal interpretation was wrong. Near the end of his life, Augustine revised 93 of his writings and changed “anything that offends me or might offend others.” [18] He had the mettle to admit his mistakes in public and make necessary changes. He dared to change his mind about divine healing.

Notes

[1] This article was originally published as, “The man who dared to change his mind about divine healing,” in the Pentecostal Evangel, September 11, 1983, pp. 18-20.

[1a]  I completed my dissertation-only PhD in New Testament at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, when I was aged 69 in 2015.

[1b] Saint Augustine, The City of God, translated by Gerald G. Waigh and Daniel J. Honan, volume 24 in the series, The Fathers of the Church (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), pp. 437, 488.
[2] Mildred Tengborn, “The Saint and His Saintly Mother,” Eternity (January 1983), pp. 46-47.
[3] John A. Mourant, lntroduction to the Philosophy of Saint Augustine: Selected Readings and Commentaries, (University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1964), pp. 64-65. Quoting from Augustine’s “On the True Religion,” chapter 25:47.
[4] Saint Augustine, The Retractions, translated by Sister Mary Inez Bogan, volume 60 in the series, The Fathers of the  Church (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1968), p. 55.
[5] Saint Augustine, “The Advantage of Believing,” in Writings of Saint Augustine, translated by Luaime Meagher, volume 2 in the series, The Fathers of the Church (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1947), p. 438.
[6] Retractions, pp. 61, 62.
[7] City of God, p. 439.
[8] Ibid., p. 441.
[9] Ibid., p. 444.
[10] Ibid., p. 445.
[11] Ibid., p. 445.
[12] Ibid., p. 445.
[13] Ibid., p. 447.
[14] Ibid., p. 447.
[15] Ibid., p. 456.
[16] Saint Augustine, The City of God, an abridged version from the translation by Gerald G. Walsh, Demetrius B. Zema, Grace Monahan, and Daniel J. Honan- Edited, with an introduction, by Vernon J. Bourke (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1958), p. 513.
[17] City of God (as in endnote 1), pp. 448-450.
[18] Retractions, p. xiii.

 

Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 9 December 2017.

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I Corinthians 14:29, “weigh carefully” [1]

scales by scott_kirkwood
(courtesy Scott Kirkwood, openclipart)

By Spencer D Gear

It seems that we run into problems with confusion and disorder in the church because we do not take seriously (in practice in the gathering of the ekklesia) some of what Paul exhorted in I Corinthians 14. Some of these issues are (NIV):

“Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (14:12);

a. “In the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14:19);

b. “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said” (14:29);

c. “God is not a God of disorder but of peach” (14:33);

d. “Be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (14:39);

e. “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (14:30);

I have observed a number of concerns about the exercise of these spiritual gifts, but two need especial attention in the contemporary church:

1. When prophets prophesy, their messages need to be “weighed carefully.” I have yet to see this done (that doesn’t mean it is not done in some churches). Of this statement about weighing carefully, Gordon D. Fee (1987:693-694) notes that this verb is the same as for “distinguishing between spirits” in 1 Cor. 12:10.

“This is probably to be understood as a form of ‘testing the spirits,’ but not so much in the sense of whether ‘the prophet’ is speaking by a foreign spirit but whether the prophecy itself truly conforms to the Spirit of God, who is also indwelling the other believers. Other than in 12:3, no criterion is here given as to what goes into the ‘discerning’ process, although in Rom. 12:6, we are told that prophecies are to be ‘according to the analogy of faith,’ which probably means ‘that which is compatible with their believing in Christ.’ Nor is there any suggestion as to how it proceeds, but must always be the province of the corporate body, who in the Spirit were to determine the sense or perhaps viability of what had been said”.

I am convinced we are fostering disorder and confusion in the gatherings of believers when we don’t have a procedure for weighing carefully what is said, through the Spirit; and

2. Failing to prevent everything being “done in a fitting and orderly way” (14:39 NIV).

With respect, we are seeing chaos and unacceptable practices in our churches because we do not take these two points seriously.

My son, Paul, wrote an assignment, “The gift of tongues in I Corinthians,” for one of his courses at the Bible College of Queensland (Brisbane)[2] in which he included the following exposition. With his permission, here is a section of his paper, as it deals with some of the topic that we are discussing.

A. Gifts and Intelligibility (14:1-25)

In chapter 14, Paul’s argument takes on its most practical and concrete form. Here he focuses on the distinction between tongues and prophecy and their application to the Corinthian situation. His purpose is to apply the teaching about the goal (the common good) and foundation (love) of spiritual gifts to the practice of tongues in congregational worship at Corinth.

Firstly the apostle Paul deals with the reason tongues are a problem in this setting: intelligibility. He explains this by using a series of contrasts between the gifts of prophecy and tongues (14.2-4):

1. Tongues are directed to God, but prophecy is directed to men.

2. Tongues are not understood by anyone, but prophecy is.

3. The content of tongues is ‘mysteries in the Spirit’, whereas the content of prophecy is ‘upbuilding and encouragement and consolation’.

4. Tongues edify the speaker, but prophecy edifies the congregation.

Paul would rather people prophesy than speak in tongues; prophecy is greater than tongues in that it enables the church to be edified. However, interpreted tongues can function in the same way as prophecy. (14.5)

Paul goes on to explain his intelligibility concern with two examples: musical instruments, and battle horns. In both of them, there is no value if the results are not intelligible (14.6-8). The examples are then applied to the Corinthians: if they ‘in a tongue utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said?’ There will be no benefit to the hearers (14.9-11). Again, he appeals to the Corinthians that, since they are ‘eager for manifestations of the Spirit’, they should show their genuine spirituality by seeking the edification of the congregation (14.12).

The practical outcome of this argument is that anyone ‘who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’ (14.13). For those who pray in tongues, prayer in an understandable language is also necessary, so that outsiders can understand (14.13-17). Paul notes that he speaks in tongues also (and is thankful for it), but he is far more concerned about intelligibility in the congregation than his own benefit (14.18-19).

Following this, Paul presents another reason for seeking intelligibility: unbelievers who may be present. In their uninterpreted form, tongues can only result in judgement on unbelievers (as they did in Isaiah). If unbelievers are to be benefited (hopefully to the extent of salvation), then it will be through intelligible discourse.

B. Gifts and Order (14.26-40)

In this passage Paul sums up the changes he wants the Corinthians to make in their practice of tongues and prophecy and offers some concluding statements.

Paul’s opening statements indicate his expectations of what should happen when the church comes together: there should be a variety of manifestations brought by various members of the congregation for the purpose of mutual edification (14.26). These manifestations must be conducted in an orderly fashion, regardless of their type or origin (14.27-32). In the text as it stands in most versions, injunctions of restraint on women come under the same category as these other instructions (14.34-35). This is God’s will for the exercise of the gifts because that is his nature (14.33a).

With these instructions, Paul becomes firmer. He criticises them for thinking that they can go their own way without heed to the practice of the other churches (14.33b) or Paul’s instruction to them as an apostle. His word is binding on the churches and the Corinthians can expect there to be consequences if they do not recognise this (14.37-38).

Paul’s final statement on the matter needs no summary: ‘[E]arnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order.’

C. Synthesis

1. Spiritual Gifts

Much of Paul’s argument regarding tongues and prophecy is spent with building up an overall framework of spiritual gifts. Thus it is important to outline this framework before moving on to tongues specifically.

a. Spiritual Gifts Are Spiritual

For Paul, all spiritual gifts are spiritual (pneumatikos). While this may seem to be stating the obvious, Paul belaboured the point that the gifts come from the Spirit. The Spirit is mentioned as the source of the gifts eight times in 1 Corinthians 12.4-11. All spiritual gifts are seen as manifestations of the Spirit (12.7). There is no notion of ‘miraculous’ and ‘non-miraculous’ gifts in these chapters per se.

b. Spiritual Gifts Are One in Purpose and Nature

A clear unifying purpose for gifts emerges from the pages of 1 Corinthians, which is that gifts are given by God for the benefit of the Church. This is first introduced with what can be termed the ‘prime directive’ for spiritual gifts: ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (12.7).

This purpose is further reinforced by setting the context for spiritual gifts in the community of Christ (12.1?3), by application of the body metaphor with its emphasis on the necessity of all the parts (12.21-24a), by emphasising love’s focus on the good of others (13.4?7), and by focussing on the benefits that tongues and prophecy can bring to others (14.5-6, 12, 16-17, 26b, 31).

In this respect it must be argued that those who maintain a pre-parousia cessation of spiritual gifts have missed a crucial emphasis in Paul’s argument. Chapter 14 cannot be viewed without the context of chapter 12. Seeing miraculous gifts as a means of authenticating Christ and the apostles and their message (which is surely correct) must not be allowed to outweigh the clearly stated purpose of gifts in the context of 1 Corinthians.

c. Spiritual Gifts Are Many and Varied

Scholars are generally agreed that none of the lists of gifts encountered in the New Testament are exhaustive (given that they are all different), and many would say that neither is the sum total of the lists.

Paul’s consistent emphasis on diversity in the body (12.14, 19, 29-30), and his use of “diaireseis” to qualify gifts (12.4-6) and “gene” to qualify tongues in particular (12.10, 28; cf. 14.10) shows that he expected diversity in the function of gifts.

d. God Is the Sovereign Giver of the Gifts

At various points in Paul’s argument, he reminds the Corinthians that God is the one who gives spiritual gifts, and that he is responsible for their distribution. This is evident in the sections which deal with the Spirit-inspired nature of the gifts (12.3-11), as well as those which portray God as the divine arranger of the body (12.18, 24b, 28).

For Paul, there was no apparent conflict between the notion of divine sovereignty in the distribution of gifts and the instruction for the Corinthians to ‘earnestly desire’ certain gifts (12.31a; 14.1, 12-13), or for him to wish that all of them could speak in tongues and prophesy (14.5, 18).

End of the section from my son, Paul Gear’s, paper.

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What Paul, the apostle, said to the Thessalonians has especial relevance for us in this discussion: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” ( I Thess. 5:19-22).

I believe these Thessalonian verses provide keys to openness to the Holy Spirit’s ministry through the gifts today, but with order established and confusion eliminated by “testing everything.” This will cause us to retain what is good and edifying in the Spirit’s ministry among us and to eliminate confusion and evil among us.

I hope that this contributes to this discussion.

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D. Appendix I

The following is a discussion I had with Edda on Trinity Theological Seminary Forum to which I used to contribute when a student there for a brief time. I no longer have access to that forum. I wrote:

Edda,[3]

I was asking if any other students have attended churches where the “testing of everything” was taken seriously and any particular format was used in the gathering.

As a starter, let me suggest what I think would keep every preacher on his/her toes and be consistent with the biblical revelation:

At the conclusion of the message (preaching or other manifestations of gifts of the Spirit), ask the preacher or person giving the “message” to be open to the congregation and provide an opportunity for free-flowing “testing” according to the Word of God.

The Word is the standard. This will encourage both preacher and listener to be conversant with the Word of God. All feedback and interaction must be done with love, grace and mercy. However, if any “message” is contrary to the Word, it needs to be corrected there and then.

I have not met any preachers or those providing other manifestations of the Spirit, who have submitted to such in 40 years as a believer.

I consider this to be appropriate biblically according to I Thess. 5:19-21 and I Cor. 14:29-33. What do you and other students and preachers think? Is it a biblical requirement? If so, how can it become a practical reality?

If you are interested in viewing my son, Paul’s, paper, it is on his homepage as, “The Gift of Tongues in I Corinthians“.

Works consulted:

Fee, G D 1987. The first epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Notes:


[1] My son, Paul Gear, has helped with a major part of the content of this article. He has an earned MDiv.

[2] It is now known as Brisbane School of Theology.

[3] This message was from the T-DELTA Forum [http://go.CompuServe.com/Trinity], on CompuServe [http://www.CompuServe.com] CompuServe Forum Messaging is intended for private use only. © Copyright CompuServe Interactive Services, Inc., 2002 . The topic was, “Order or Confusion” msg #61498, 6 April 2002. I went under the name of OzSpen. However, it is not available to the general public, but only for Trinity students.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 4 May 2018.