To Be Continued part 3

In the blockbuster movie, Signs, Joaquin Phoenix’s character is a former minor league baseball player.  He holds the record for home runs, and, if I’m remembering correctly, for the longest home run.

When asked why, with all that talent, he isn’t in the majors, a by-stander who grew up with him says, “He holds another record, too – for the most strike outs.”

To which he comments, “It just felt wrong not to swing.”

The believers in Corinth were, in a sense, swinging for the spiritual fence in their use and abuse of the gift of tongues.  When we get to chapter fourteen you’ll see that they were all speaking in tongues simultaneously without any concern for interpreting what was being said or for the exercise of other gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Tongues was their version of the home run.  Paul is going to tell them that they were striking out, spiritually speaking.

He begins his argument here, in verses four through eleven.

While there is much to learn here, the main thrust – Paul’s main point – is that God the Holy Spirit has provided a variety of gifts to be exercised and manifested within the church, and that this diversity is far more spiritual than focusing on any one particular gift.

1Co 12:4    There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
1Co 12:5    There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.1Co 12:6    And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.

You can’t help but see Paul referring to God as three-in-one; as a trinity of Spirit (v4), Son (v5), and Father (v6).  He doesn’t explain it; who can?  He assumes it.

The Holy Spirit is especially associated with “diversities of gifts,” in that we are later told He distributes individual gifts to believers as He sees fit.

Jesus is associated with “differences of ministries,” emphasizing the servant aspect of the gifts.
The Father is associated with “diversities of activities.”  It can be translated “effectual working,” emphasizing that the Father has a plan in the the manifesting of the gifts to accomplish His purposes in the church and in Christians.

Since the Holy Spirit gives out various gifts in order for us to serve others in a Christlike manner and thereby build up the church and one another according to the plan of God the Father, to concentrate on and emphasize one gift above any other doesn’t make sense.  There should be a variety, a diversity, if God is truly working.

The Corinthian emphasis on tongues was simply not what God intended.

1Co 12:7    But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:

When a gift of the Holy Spirit is exercised, we can say it is a “manifestation of the Spirit.”  By it He shows His supernatural presence in the assembly of believers.

His gift or gifts are “given to each one.”  We take that to mean that every believer is gifted in some manner; or, as some like to say, every believer has at least one spiritual gift, if not more than one.

Christians can stress over discovering their gift or gifts.  There are even spiritual gift questionnaires that attempt to help you to discover your gift or gifts.

The best way to discover your gift or gifts is to be a part of a local fellowship of believers, and to assemble with them.  As you do, God the Holy Spirit will prompt you to minister to others – to serve them – in certain ways.  He will manifest His supernatural presence in the assembly of believers through you.

Over time you will see that He has given you a particular gift; or you will see that the way He uses you can be described loosely by one of the gifts listed somewhere in Scripture.

There are lists, by the way, here in First Corinthians twelve; in Romans twelve; and in Ephesians four.

I don’t think those lists are exhaustive.  We need to see that the Holy Spirit isn’t bound by our definition and understanding of the gifts – as if there are only nine, or fifteen, or twenty-one, which only, always, operate a certain way, or at certain times.

A key is to realize that the gifts are “for the profit of all.”  Again, I must stress, a lot of what Paul is doing in chapters twelve and thirteen is laying the groundwork for his correction in chapter fourteen.  All of them speaking simultaneously in tongues, with no interpretation, was not “for the profit of all.”  In fact, he will say that a person speaking in tongues, publicly with no interpretation, can only profit himself or herself.

Warren Wiersbe has a clever way of putting into perspective what Paul is saying.  He says, “the gifts are tools to build with – not toys to play with.”

To be fair to charismatics who emphasize tongues, conservative cessationists who, on a practical basis, emphasize only the gift of teaching are just as guilty of stifling diversity.

Granted, I’d rather hear the Word taught for a few minutes than listen to a bunch of people speaking in tongues; but the goal should be to encourage diversity in the kinds of ways Paul will make clear as he gets deeper into his correction of the Corinthians.

A list of gifts follows.  It is not meant to be exhaustive.  It doesn’t seem to be organized in any discernible manner.

Paul had just said that there should be a variety, a diversity, of gifts being exercised to manifest the presence of the Spirit; and now he throws-out to us some of the ways the Spirit could and should be manifested.  He’ll include tongues, but it is certainly not exclusive the way it was in Corinth.

1Co 12:8    for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,1Co 12:9    to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit,
1Co 12:10    to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

Paul does not define any of these gifts for us.  We have to do that for ourselves as we see them exercised in the New Testament, by either Jesus or His followers.

Let me give a quick, working definition of the gifts listed here.

The word of knowledge is a supernatural revelation by the Holy Spirit of certain facts in the mind of God.  God gives you a revelation by the Spirit of some detail of His infinite knowledge about a person or situation that you have no way of finding out.  The first thing to do when you receive a work of knowledge is to pray whether you should share it with the person, or church, or whether it should be kept between you and God so that you might intercede for the individual.

For example: Peter knew Annanias and Sapphira were lying.

The word of wisdom is an unprepared inspired word from God given by the Holy Spirit spontaneously to meet a particular crisis situation or answer some question directed at you.

For example: Any of Jesus’ amazing answers to seemingly impossible questions, like, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?”

Prophecy, in it’s simplest form, it is a supernaturally inspired and anointed utterance conveying what is on the heart and mind of God.
Its purpose is edification, exhortation, and comfort of the entire Body.

Edification means that prophecy will build-up those that hear.

Exhortation means to encourage, urge-on or stir-up love.

Comfort means to console.

While there are examples of future prophecies, e.g., Agabus telling Paul he’d be bound if he went to Jerusalem, the more normal use of the gift in the church is the speaking forth of God’s Word.  Since we have the completed Word of God, a valuable exercise of prophecy is to share Scripture God puts on our hearts.

Dreams and visions (subject to being judged for their character and content) would also be manifestations of the gift of prophecy.

The gift of faith refers to a supernatural conviction that God will reveal his power or mercy in a special way in a specific instance.  You know the thing desired will come to pass because it is a gift of faith that comes direct from God, not your experience or spiritual maturity.

For example: Peter and John’s healing of the man at the Temple gate.  Before they exercised a gift of healing, they had faith to fix their eyes upon him and know God was going to work.

Healing can take place in a variety of ways:

By the individual praying for himself to be healed and having faith to expect the results (James 5:15, Matthew 9:29);
By having the elders pray for you (James 5:14);
And by praying for each other in the Body (James 5:16).

Also, healings take place as a gift that is given by God and can occur without anything accomplished by others.  It is by God’s sheer grace and generosity that He may choose to heal and no one can lay claim to the reasons why the healing took place but God.

Please notice that the text calls these “gifts of healings,” in the plural.  That teaches us each manifestation of healing is a unique gift; no one has the gift of healing in the sense they can go around healing at will.

The working of miracles is also in the plural.  It is asking God to do something that supersedes the natural laws that we know, in order to meet a need and glorify God.

We see many healings, many miracles, performed not just by Jesus, but by His followers.  While perhaps it is true that God ordained more healings and more miracles at the time of Christ and shortly thereafter, there’s no Scriptural reason to say they no longer are gifts that can be manifested.

Gordon Fee writes,

There has also been a spate of literature whose singular urgency has been to justify the limiting of these gifts to the first-century church.  It is fair to say of this literature that its authors have found what they were looking for and have thereby continued to reject such manifestations in the church.  It can also be fairly said that such rejection is not exegetically based, but results in every case from a prior hermeneutical and theological commitment.

In other words, the arguments that certain gifts have ceased is not from the Bible itself.

The discerning of spirits can refer to the ability to know a false teaching when presented; the ability to know whether someone is demon-possessed; or to know if someone is not what they say they are.

For example: Peter manifested the discernment of spirits when he rebuked Simon’s request to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tongues is a language given to a Christian that is unknown to him.  It is praise or prayer directed to God, not men (First Corinthians 14:2).  It’s purpose is to edify and strengthen the Christian exercising it.  If it is interpreted, it absolutely edifies others.

The interpretation of tongues is being given the understanding of tongues spoken by someone else or yourself, even though you don’t know the language.  And since tongues is praise or prayer to God, not men, a true interpretation will be praise or prayer also.

“Translation” can mean “to put into words.”  This tells us it isn’t necessarily a word-for-word translation, but more like giving the sense of what was said.

The example for tongues and it’s interpretation is Paul’s comments that he spoke in tongues quite a lot.  And, even though they did it wrong, the church at Corinth was definitely exercising the gift of tongues.

Paul listed tongues and interpretation last, not because they were the least important, but to show that they were merely part of the Holy Spirit’s potential for manifesting His presence to the church.

1Co 12:11    But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

The meetings in Corinth had none of the rich diversity of gifts that would have truly built-up the body of Jesus Christ.

He “works all these things,” not just one or two.  When we are gathered together, He knows what each of us needs, and can prompt another of us to exercise just the right gift.

The Holy Spirit does it “as He wills,” not according to our definition of what appears most spiritual.  We must be sensitive to His leading and not our own traditions.

“Distributing to each one individually” means you have a role to play in the church – a servants role to be gifted by the Spirit to serve with the heart of Jesus to accomplish the will of the Father.

None of that is going to happen if we are always swinging for the fences; and by that I mean we cannot focus on one gift over another.

This does not mean we can’t propose different meetings that have different emphases.

When we get to chapter fourteen we’ll see that we have a great freedom to determine what is, and what is not, appropriate at any given meeting.

We must determine it as servants seeking what is highest and best for others who are assembled with us.

To Be Continued (Part 2)

The story I’m about to read is old – about two years old, to be exact.

Todd Bentley… heals people by kicking them, claiming his violence will cure them of diseases.  He claims to have cured a man of cancer by punching him in the chest.  He shoved/healed a congregant so hard that the man lost a tooth.  One Youtube video features him saying, “And I’m thinking why is the power of God not moving?  And God said, “Because you haven’t kicked that woman in the face.”  So, he did and, “I inched closer and I went bam! And just as my boot made contact with her nose, she fell under the power of God.”

(After a brief period of retirement connected with the breakdown of his marriage and subsequent re-marriage, he has returned to ministry).

Things could get pretty wild at the worship services in the first century church in the city of Corinth.  In chapter fourteen the apostle Paul says to them,

1Corinthians 14:23    Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

Other translations say things like, “Won’t they think you are crazy” (CEV), “will they not say that you are demented” (AV), and “will they not say the ye are mad” (KJV).

Madness was unacceptable to Paul.  It was not compatible with the Christian faith.  It was unworthy of Jesus Christ.

Over the years many individuals have described to me their experiences in churches where everyone seemed to lose control.

Madness… Not compatible with Christianity… Not worthy of Jesus.

To those acting as though they were out of their minds, Paul graciously says,

1Corinthians 12:1    Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant:
1 Corinthians 12:2  You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led.
1 Corinthians 12:3  Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

Their madness when exercising the gifts is given perspective.  It had to do with what they had practiced in their previous pagan religions as they worshipped “dumb idols.”  They carried into the church baggage from paganism that had no place in the worship of the one true God.

The exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit should not be anything like that – not in character, not in content.  And that’s the first, foundational point Paul makes in these three verses.

1Corinthians 12:1    Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant:

For sure, he did not want them to be “ignorant” of the proper manifestations and exercising of “spiritual gifts.”  But there’s something more to this.

In these verses he gives them the reason why their exercise of the gifts is flawed.  He explains it to them by appealing to their background.

Before we get to their background, let me make an important observation.  This opening verse is very important because it lets us know that our understanding of the Holy Spirit, of His gifts, and of their operation in the church, is expounded to us in the Bible.

Let me put it another way.  No matter what I may think about the Holy Spirit and His gifts, and no matter what I have experienced or desire to experience, it must be something I can find or defend from the Word of God.

The same Holy Spirit giving me gifts, and energizing them, inspired the writers of the Bible.  There can be no contradiction between His exposition and the experience.

This cannot be overstressed.  Too much of what happens in charismatic churches is just contrary to what the Bible teaches.

But, likewise, cessationists either ignore or reinterpret teaching on the gifts in order to deny their continuation in the church.

Now, obviously, everyone will say they submit to the Bible as their final authority.  It’s up to each of us to study it out for ourselves.

1 Corinthians 12:2  You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led.

The Gentile believers at Corinth had been saved out of Greek mystery religions in which wild spiritual experiences were considered normal.  These people were accustomed to being “carried away” in experiences that were called either ecstasies or enthusiasms.

“Ecstasies” were supernatural contacts with the pagan deities.  Through frenzied hypnotic chants and ceremonies the worshippers experienced semiconscious euphoric trances.

“Enthusiasms” involved chanting, divination, and dreams.

Ecstasies and enthusiasms were coveted spiritual experiences.  In them you were carried away by the power of the deity – whom we would see as a demon – having no control over what you said or did.

I’m not going too far to suggest that as pagans they were in contact with demons.  Paul said something similar earlier in this letter:

1Corinthians 10:20    Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.

Listen to these quotes, giving you a better idea of just what we mean.  Bear in mind, these are some of the milder quotes.

Greeks considered madness an important aspect of worship. Women in particular responded to Bacchus (also known as Dionysus), the god of madness; ‘him of the orgiastic cry, exciter of women, Dionysus, glorified with mad honors.’

There was also a tradition that women during the course of the worship tore apart young animals and ate them raw, warm and bleeding, thereby receiving within themselves the life of the god.

Apart from savagery and shouting, ancient writers usually describe worshipers of Dionysus as engaging in dancing, drinking, sexual promiscuity, varying degrees of undress, and other forms of excessive behavior. It was only in frenzy that one could hold communion with the god, or – in ecstasy so great that the soul seemed to leave the body – to become one with him.

There are references to women worshipping “by means of war-dances accompanied by uproar and noise and cymbals and drums and also by flute.”

By the way, this helps us understand Paul’s later exhortations directed especially to the gals about their proper conduct in the worship services of the church.

It also relates to his comments to open chapter thirteen, namely, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.”  They were familiar with these unintelligible sounds from their pagan days.

The Corinthians brought this background into the church.  They were used to being carried away in their worship, having no control over what they said or did.  They associated this lack of control with deep spirituality.

We might say that they thought that any so-called spiritual experience was good insofar as it was evidence of contact with God.

I know people like that.  As long as something happens, they are satisfied God ‘visited’ them.

Paul was already preparing them for a principle he will preach throughout these chapters – namely, that what counts is that the believer remain in control and that the experiences be intelligible, contain proper biblical content, and be in character with the holiness of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 12:3  Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

His “therefore” lets us know he is concluding his opening comments and is making application of the facts he’s just presented to them about their former worship experiences.

“I make known to you” recalls his statement, “I don’t want you to be ignorant.”  In other words, there can be no disagreement with Paul on this point.

“No one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

Was someone actually saying Jesus was accursed?  Probably not.  But, as we’ve seen, some of their previous pagan behavior had been as outrageous as a Christian saying, “Jesus is accursed.”  I think Paul’s point is that in their former worship of idols, you never knew what a person might say or do.

That’s never the case if your worship is truly being led by God the Holy Spirit.

Let me put it another way.  If Paul were to ask any of them, “Is it possible for you, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, to call Jesus “accursed”?, they would all say, “No!”

It establishes two things:

It establishes that the Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself.

It establishes that a Christian doesn’t lose control.

And that is the point throughout Paul’s teaching on the gifts.  They already believed it; they just didn’t practice it.

You might think that anyone can say the words, “Jesus is Lord,” whether they mean them or not.  In the first century, when annually you had to declare that “Caesar is Lord” and swear allegiance to him, these words took on a more powerful meaning.

The same Spirit of God who emboldened these believers to defy Rome by refusing to swear allegiance to Caesar over Jesus Christ would never lead them to do anything that would hurt the testimony of Christ.

Which brings us back full-circle to the fact that, in Corinth, both nonbelievers and young believers thought they were mad… demented… crazy.  They were hurting the testimony of Christ.  Period.

We all bring baggage to our understanding of the proper exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Some are more heavy-laden than others.

All of us need to, as much as possible, hear what the Spirit is saying to our church.

To Be Continued (The Gifts Of The Holy Spirit)

When folks call the church asking for information about what we believe, 99% of the time what they really want to know is what we believe about the exercising of certain gifts of the Holy Spirit.

People have very strong opinions with regards to this subject and they normally fall into one of two camps:

Either they are cessationists who believe certain gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased to function in the church; Or they are charismatics in the sense that they believe certain gifts of the Holy Spirit must function in almost every meeting of the church.

I always answer that we believe all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available and operational in the church today but that they must be exercised decently and orderly.

Since we believe all the gifts continue throughout the church age, we are properly referred to as continuationists.

Just about every possible question a person might have about this issue is answered somewhere in First Corinthians chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen.  While even I want to get to what we might consider the more ‘exciting’ stuff, it would be wise for us to take the chapters in order.

By way of introduction, however, I do want to spend some time discussing why we feel the cessationist approach is flawed.

I’m not singling out cessationists over the charismatics.  We will have lots to say about charismatic errors and excesses along the way.

The cessationist argument needs answering at the outset because if you think certain gifts have ceased, it will radically affect your understanding of these chapters.

By way of clarification, the cessationists argue that certain so-called “sign” gifts have ceased, typically speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues, prophecy, healings and miracles.

One of the main arguments leveled against all the gifts continuing is historical.  Cessationists either do not find anything written about the sign gifts after the first century, or they find ancient texts by Christian writers which say that the sign gifts did, indeed, cease.

You can certainly find such references to the cessation of certain gifts.  But you also find many references that establish all the gifts continued.

For example Augustine is almost always cited and quoted as teaching that certain gifts ceased.  However later in his life he changed his beliefs; and this is ignored.

It may not be ignored on purpose; few people are reading exhaustively through church history.  Bit therein is a problem with citing history.  How do you know what else is out there you may have missed?

Church history does not unequivocally support cessationism.  No doubt there were some cessationists, but there have always been quite a few continuationists.

The historical argument against continuation of the gifts fails.  In the end, it’s just like it is today – with some arguing the gifts have ceased while others are exercising them.

There are  biblical arguments.  One main one is that certain gifts were given only to the first century apostles in order to authenticate their preaching.

One problem with that approach is a passage like this:

1Co 12:27    Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
1Co 12:28    And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.1Co 12:29    Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?
1Co 12:30    Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
1Co 12:31    But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

I wholeheartedly agree that apostles and prophets were specially gifted men in the first century tasked with building the church upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.

I would cite two references in the Book of Ephesians as proof.  Paul said the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,” (2:20.  Then he said,

Eph 4:11    [Jesus] gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,
Eph 4:12    for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

Putting those thoughts together we see that the apostles and prophets began the building and the work is now carried out by “evangelists… pastors and teachers.”

There are no apostles today – not by the first century definition that requires an apostle to have seen the risen Christ.

And there are no prophets speaking forth the Word of God.  We’ll see that there is a gift of prophecy still available; but that is very different from an office in the church where someone is speaking the Word of God.

Having said that, I don’t know about you, but I don’t see anything in that passage that limits things like “miracles,” “healings,” and “tongues” to the apostles or the prophets.  Quite the contrary, Paul seems to be saying there are (or were) apostles and prophets and teachers; but there were also folks who had one or more of the other gifts listed – folks who did not have the gift of being an apostle.

Cessationists try to tweak the biblical argument by saying certain gifts may have been exercised by non-apostles but that they had a shelf-life or a built-in stopping point.  One such argument, leveled against the gift of speaking in tongues, is based on the verbs in First Corinthians 13:8.

1Co 13:8    Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

One of the leading cessationist pastors writes,

Though we are told here that all three gifts would someday cease to exist, two different verbs are used to indicate their cessation.  Prophecy and knowledge will be “done away,” whereas tongues will “cease.” 

Done away… means to reduce to inactivity, or to abolish.  The gifts of prophecy and knowledge one day will be made inoperative…

Cease… means to stop, to come to an end… The cause comes from within; it is built in.  God gave the gift of tongues a built-in stopping place… Like a battery, it had a limited… lifespan.

OK, but when was tongues set to run out of juice?  There is no passage in the Bible to substantiate a particular time tongues would cease, so all the arguments as to when it supposedly did cease are extrabiblical, logical, or theoretical.

For example, this cessationist pastor writes, “it is reasonable to believe that tongues have ceased because their use is mentioned only in the earlier New Testament books.  Most of the books, in fact, do not mention it.”

Other cessationists pick-up on this and do things like list the writings of Paul in chronological order to try to show that his references to various gifts diminish over time.  Therefore, they conclude, so did those gifts – or else, they say, Paul would still be mentioning them.

Really?  That’s an argument?  It’s not a very good one.  It reminds me of our Church of Christ brothers and sisters who argue that there must be no musical instruments in the church because they are not specifically mentioned in the New Testament.

That actually makes more sense than the diminishing references argument.

With regard to speaking in tongues, in fact, it was after Paul wrote the passage saying tongues would “cease” that he wrote an entire chapter – First Corinthians fourteen – on the proper exercise of tongues in the church.  In that chapter he says, “I wish you all spoke with tongues” (v5).

Why would he wish they all spoke with tongues, and instruct them how to exercise the gift, if it was rapidly running out of energy?

Not all scholars would agree that you should base such a tremendous, far-reaching conclusion on a verb or its tense.  Gordon Fee, a renowned scholar in his own right, says,

[Some] have argued that the change of verbs with tongues has independent significance, as though this meant tongues might cease before prophecy and knowledge… [but] just as one can scarcely distinguish between “cease” and “pass away” in English, when used in the same context, neither can one distinguish between [the Greek words used] in this context.

In other words, Paul was not making a huge announcement about the cessation of a gift by choosing that particular verb.  He just wasn’t; or, at the very least, we cannot say without a doubt that he was.

Here is another cessationist argument.  Cessationists like to stress that speaking in tongues was a lesser gift anyway because it didn’t build-up others in the church service; that is was selfish.

First of all, who are we to qualify any of the gifts the Holy Spirit might offer?  It seems a little rude.

Second of all, let’s look at the charge that speaking in tongues doesn’t build-up others.

1Co 14:4    He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

Point for the cessationist?  Hardly!  Read the next verse.

1Co 14:5    I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.

Paul agrees that speaking in tongues does not build-up others unless it is exercised with the corresponding gift of interpretation; in which case it is equal in effect with prophecy and all the other gifts.

There are a lot of other cessationist arguments.  These are some of the main ones and my point is to show that none of them strikes a fatal blow for continuationists like us.

Over the years I have noted that people usually have a background, and that their background can be a stronger influence on their behavior than the Bible.  One time, while teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I read the words of First Corinthians 14:2 & 3,

“For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.”

The words clearly state that, when you speak in tongues, you are speaking to God – not to men.  You speak for God to men through prophecy.

Clear as that may be, one man took issue with me and was visibly upset.  You see, he had grown up in a charismatic church where people would speak in tongues and then the tongues would be interpreted as God speaking to men.

He never would agree with what the Bible said!  His background, his tradition, was a stronger influence on his behavior than the Bible.

I’m asking you to ignore your tradition – even if it’s Calvary Chapel – and let the Word speak for itself.  Search these things out and base your conclusions only on God’s Word and not the traditions of men.

In the end, if we disagree – we can do it agreeably as brothers and sisters in The Lord.

Your Gift Shopping Experience

When folks call the church asking for information about what we believe, 99% of the time what they really want to know is what we believe about the exercising of certain gifts of the Holy Spirit.

People have very strong opinions with regards to this subject and they normally fall into one of two camps:

Either they are what we call cessationists who believe certain gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased to function in the church;
Or they are charismatic in the sense that they believe certain gifts of the Holy Spirit must function in almost every meeting of the church.

I always answer that we believe all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available and operational in the church today but that they must be exercised decently and orderly.

Here on Wednesday nights we’ve been experiencing really sweet times of ministering one to another, and lately we’ve had a couple of utterances in tongues – one interpreted, one not.  I thought it would be a good time to review what we believe – that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available and operational in the church today but that they must be exercised decently and orderly.

I’m giving you some raw data in the form of a handout.  It’s something I came across many years ago.  I’m really unsure of who authored it as the original copy I received had no information in that regard.  It does a pretty good job of familiarizing you with the subject of the Holy Spirit’s gifts.  But it’s really just background, just reference.

The place I like to start talking about the gifts and their exercise is with a verse that is almost always overlooked by charismatics.
1 Corinthians 14:32  And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

Let me read for you the NIV’s translation of verse thirty-two.

1 Corinthians 14:32  The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.

Occasionally you’ll hear someone reference the Amplified Bible.  It’s a translation that uses explanatory alternate readings and amplifications to assist us in understanding what Scripture really says.  Multiple English word equivalents to each key Hebrew and Greek word clarify and amplify meanings that may otherwise have been concealed by a traditional translation method.

Here is First Corinthians 14:32 in the AV.

1 Corinthians 14:32  For the spirits of the prophets (the speakers in tongues) are under the speaker’s control [and subject to being silenced as may be necessary],

The same Holy Spirit who prompts you to speak in tongues or prophesy inspired the apostle Paul to write these words telling you that you must always keep His supernatural promptings to speak under control.

According to the apostle Paul, you are not going to be overwhelmed by a compulsive external power that causes you to lose control.

Robert Gromacki writes,

Apparently the gifts were able to be used in the energy of the flesh as well as under the control of the Holy Spirit.  God is a God of order and peace; confusion and competition manifest an expression of the carnal flesh.  Thus God would never direct a tongues-speaker or a prophet to act contrary to the inscripturated regulations of the Word of God.

I can’t emphasize this enough.  It is biblical to remain calm and in control in meetings of the church.

This teaching is a challenge to most believers in the charismatic tradition.  They’ve been taught, and they’ve experienced, folks losing control.  It’s not untypical in a charismatic service for folks to interrupt one another, or for everyone to erupt in tongues at the same time.  In fact, this lack of human control is said to be the evidence that the Holy Spirit is truly in the midst of the church.  Any talk of order is said to be quenching the Holy Spirit.

I understand the argument but it is refuted by First Corinthians 14:32.  In the verses that precede verse thirty-two the apostle Paul described exactly how the “spirit of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets.”

1 Corinthians 14:27  If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.
1 Corinthians 14:28  But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
1 Corinthians 14:29  Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.
1 Corinthians 14:30  But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.
1 Corinthians 14:31  For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

Paul had no problem putting numeric boundaries on how many people ought to give an utterance in tongues in the meetings of the church at Corinth.  Same with the gift of prophesy.

Are these to be understood as hard and fast limits?  Could there ever be more than three prophecies?

There are two things I would say in answering that:

The context of Paul’s instruction was the church at Corinth being totally out of control.  Earlier in the chapter he described them as all speaking in tongues simultaneously with no interpretations.  He was reigning them in.
The fact he uses the phrase, “two or at the most three,” tells me this is not a set number but rather an attitude toward the exercise of these gifts.  In other words, just keep it under control.

He spoke of exercising these gifts in an orderly manner, one after the other and not simultaneously.
Decently.  Orderly.  These are biblical concepts given to us through Paul as he was inspired by Who?  The same Holy Spirit Who gifts us in the meetings of the church.

If anyone is quenching the Spirit, it is those who ignore His teaching about order in the Word.

Just prior to this teaching on the orderly exercise of the gifts Paul said,

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

“Whenever” doesn’t mean every time you meet.  It’s translated in the Amplified Bible simply “when you meet together.”

Here is what I’m getting at.  If you read through the Book of Acts you will see that different types of meetings of the church are described.

There were prayer meetings.
There was a teaching that last all night
There were leadership meetings.
There was a church council.
There were times of worship like what is described in First Corinthians fourteen when the various gifts of the Holy Spirit were encouraged.

The different meetings had different emphases.  Different things happened at them.

Coupling this with our understanding that “the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets,” we say that there is nothing unbiblical about emphasizing different things at different meetings.

In our case, although we believe all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available and operational, that does not mean they must or even should be exercised at every meeting of the church.

So, for example, on Sunday mornings we have decided to gather with an emphasis on congregational singing and the study of God’s Word.  We therefore discourage folks from exercising other speaking gifts that would, in our opinion, detract from that emphasis and perhaps confuse visitors and the unchurched.  According to what the apostle Paul taught, it is our prerogative to design meetings as we are led by the Holy Spirit and to do so is not in any way quenching Him.

Notice, too, that Paul assumed that these gifts of the Holy Spirit would continue throughout the church age and be operational.  He was not a cessationist.  We must acknowledge these gifts and allow for their exercise.

In the meetings we’re talking about everyone has an opportunity to participate.  In singing, in teaching, in speaking in tongues, in interpreting tongues, in prophecy.  And that’s not an exhaustive list by any means.

This is that meeting in our church.  Or I should say, when we open it up for participation, this is the time and this is the place we emphasize participation.

This is the time when you can stand during worship or remain seated or kneel, even, if you so desire.

This is the time when you can ask for prayer and we can come over to you, lay hands on you, and pray for you.  Or when you can simply get up and go over to someone and either pray for them or ask them to pray for you.

This is the time you can ask the Lord to give you a gift and we can pray for you.

If you have a certain gift, like speaking in tongues or prophesy, this is the time we encourage you to exercise it decently and orderly.

Having said all that, I don’t want to give the impression that everything is planned-out or that there is no room for the Holy Spirit to be spontaneous. There’s always an element of surprise with the Lord.

For example, a few weeks ago there was an utterance in tongues and a while afterwards we had what I’d call a ‘classic’ interpretation that edified everyone.

But then last week there was an utterance in tongues and no one really gave-up an interpretation.  Was it therefore out of order?  I don’t think so because I had a sense that someone, maybe even several, had the interpretation.

Sure enough after we ended two different individuals came up to tell me that they indeed felt God was giving them something, some impression, during the utterance in tongues.  One brother saw it in terms of a pretty powerful vision.

What we have is a very definite biblical understanding that all the gifts are available and operational; that they are always to be exercised decently and orderly; and that their exercise, in terms of everyone being able to participate, is to be at certain designated meetings of the church, or designated times during the meetings, and not at others.

It’s a great and safe way for people to come to terms with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to experience the edification He intends through their proper exercise.