Thursday, 2 June 2016

'Pronouncing' the biblical use of spiritual gifts

For those who believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as tongues (and their interpretation), prophecy, and words of knowledge or wisdom continue today the question remains over how and when they should be used during gathered worship.

 Indeed, the misuse and abuse of these gifts does terrible harm to their promotion across the church.  Nothing makes people draw away and even attack these wonderful gifts than their inappropriate use.  This means that we need to be careful and think not only of ourselves but of outsiders and others when encouraging their use - "Therefore, if the whole church assembles together and all are speaking in other languages and people who are uninformed or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds?" (1 Corinthians 14.23)

One easy way of ensuring that things are done Biblically and correctly is to use vowels as a mnemonic.  Every use of the gifts must take into account A E I O and U:

Accountable: Our use of gifts must be held accountable to the truth revealed in Scripture.  This is rightly the first and most foundational thing to consider.   Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14.29 "Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate." Likewise John tells us in 1 John 4.1 "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."  We are to evaluate and test what God gives.  What does this evaluation and testing entail?  Obviously prayer is involved as is the keeping of what is good and the rejection of what is evil (1 Thessalonians 5.21-22).  Knowing that the Bible is God's perfect and inspired word to us it should also involve asking if what is given agrees with Scripture and the teaching found there: if it does not it should clearly be rejected.  Part of this testing against Scripture is whether or not it agrees with what follows in our mnemonic.

Edifying: Our use of gifts must be edifying.  If what is given would not encourage or build up or rightly teach then it has no place in our worship.  If sharing something would be more likely to cause pain and suffering than foster love and joy then it is likely not to be shared before the whole congregation - perhaps it is a something for a personal conversation but that is another matter.  Paul says that prophecy is for "edification, encouragement, and consolation" (1 Corinthians 14.3). Our use of gifts should be because we are seeking to "excel in building up the church" (1 Corinthians 14.12) not break down the church!  Ultimately,  Paul makes clear that in church services "All things must be done for edification" (1 Corinthians 14.26b).

Interpreted: Because our use of gifts must be edifying to not only ourselves but to those around us and the church as a whole it follows that our use of tongues or 'other languages' when gathered together must have interpretation.  This is one area where the modern charismatic movement tragically fails. Paul is crystal clear.  There is no 'wiggle room' in what he says. "If any person speaks in another language, there should be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and someone must interpret. But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God" (1 Corinthians 14.27-28) Tongues are a wonderful gift that is given for our own edification and for the building up of our own relationship with God (1 Corinthians 14.4) Paul wishes that we would all speak in tongues—so we should all be praying that God would give us this gift—but unless it has an interpretation then it is not for the gathered congregation of the church (1 Corinthians 14.5).

Orderly: Paul would have made a great Anglican because Paul highly valued orderliness in church.  Paul loved the zealousness of the Corinthians but he detested their lack of order. He didn't believe in 'charismatic chaos' and neither should we.  Paul clearly thinks that people should be controlled in worship, he believes that those who have the gift of tongues can also make the decision of when and when not to use this gift in public (1 Corinthians 14.27-28). This same control extends to prophesy in verses 29-31 where we see the command to wait in line and indeed be quiet if it is not your turn or too many speak before you.  Ultimately the person with the gift is in control and this must be so if it is from God because God is a God of order and control: "And the prophets’ spirits are under the control of the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace." (1 Corinthians 14.31-32). Just as everything must be done to edify and build up the church so "everything must be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14.40)

Usual: Finally, the use of the gifts should be something which is not 'unusual' but very much run of the mill and 'usual.'  Paul clearly expects the gifts to be used in pretty much every service.  He sees that when we gather together "each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation" (1 Corinthians 14.26).  Not only does Paul see it as clearly a normal thing for each person to bring such gifts but time and again he calls on people to seek these gifts and be eager for them (1 Corinthians 14.1, 5,12-13, 39).

All of this—these five points for using the gifts of the Spirit today—are the basic and obvious teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14.  They are challenging to all because they touch on many 'sacred shibboleths' we hold.  The final one challenges those who either don't believe in the gifts of the Spirit today or those who don't really want to speak in tongues or prophesy.  Paul's clear words on the absolute necessity of interpretation for tongues in the congregation and his adamant stance on good order in the service challenge and even offend those who like to be 'caught up' in the Spirit and embrace chaos as an expression of their fervour and the presence of the Holy Spirit.  

The problem is that these things must be challenged.  The teaching in 1 Corinthians 14 is basic, foundational, and simple.  If we reject this teaching then we reject the very word of God and what He is doing and prove ourselves to be liars when we claim to be spiritual and prophetic.  Paul bluntly says "If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, he will be ignored" (1 Corinthians 14.37-38).  We must humbly recognise what Paul teaches or we should be rightly ignored by the people of God and indeed by God Himself.

(All quotations of the Bible are from the HCSB with any emphasis added being my own.)

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