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Spiritually Gifted: To be or not to be?

I have been listening to Bott Radio Network for some time, though it's important to note that I don't always agree with what is being taught on the station.  As a matter of fact, sometimes I find that what is being taught is in direct conflict with scripture.

First, I don't mean to write this to discredit Bott Radio or any of the programs on it.  If you're reading this, I don't discourage you from listening to the station, as I, myself, still listen to the station and do enjoy it.  I stand firm to say that I believe Christians, like all people, can and will be wrong from time to time.  We're not perfect.  Though, in speaking our positions publicly, we allow ourselves to be corrected and thus are able to grow in our knowledge of Him, in an "iron sharpens iron" fashion.  I welcome responses to this blog in the same manner and only hope that we, as Christians, can always retain the high standard of respect for others even during times of discourse.  Let us strive to be a people impossible to offend.

So, in that light, I'd like to point out what I believe to be an incorrect teaching that aired today during my lunch hour.  The message was delivered by Ron Moore from South Hills church, located just outside Pittsburgh, PA, about spiritual gifts and and their validity in the modern day "post Apostolic Age."  His spoken message followed very closely to the written one on Bible.org about the same subject.  That message can be found here: http://bible.org/article/speaking-tongues  It's extremely long and makes this blog look quite short-winded in comparison, but in case you desire to read some opposing arguments, I've made it easy to find a prominent one.

Ron says, "There are no apostles today."  He later insinuates that there are no prophets today.  This is implied when he states that prophets related the mind of God to people, and that they wrote the Bible.  He follows this with, "If there are prophets around today then this book (Bible) is not closed.  We believe this book is closed.  God has given us everything He needs us to know."  The bible.org article even went as far to mention Revelation 22:18.  It's placement in the argument would suggest that anyone who may either prophecy or claim divinely revealed knowledge would fall into this snare of trying to add to the Bible and thus adding to himself the plagues recorded in it.  This thinking is very problematic from a biblical standpoint.  If God doesn't give divinely-revealed knowledge, then He must not speak to us.  Unless, of course, when He speaks to us it fails to contain any useful information.  So, they're suggesting that God is silent, unless He speaks to us through His Word, the Bible.  But, that doesn't line up with God's character and His ability and want to have a relationship with us.  He desires to relate and to commune with us.  Certainly, it takes no time at all to find a biblical example of God speaking to someone.  The suggestion that God is limited to speaking to us unless a printed Bible is in front of our faces, makes him no more powerful than any other dead author.

Here, I will inject an assumption.  I think that the catalyst to this message being given was in answer to, or perhaps in reference towards, certain Christians making the insinuation that the attainment of spiritual gifts are a direct reflection of the status of said Christian.  Let me state implicitly that spiritual gifts are no more a reflection of our "status" as a Christian than the amount of money in our bank accounts is a reflection of how much God loves us.  So, I would agree with Ron if this were the point that he were making.  However, it's not his point.  His point is to discredit certain spiritual gifts that he apparently does not have.  His preferred method of discreditation is to deny that they exist by making a case for why they are not necessary.  He misrepresents 1 Corinthians 13 to say that "completeness" has come and thus certain named spiritual gifts have "passed away."

Let me say that it's unfortunate that there are some Christians who do treat the speaking of tongues as some acquired rite of passage.  Though, in my experience, there are infinitely less of these particular Christians as there are those who treat the acquiring of knowledge (number of books read, number of college degrees acquired, leadership position, theological training, etc) with the same degree of pretentiousness.  Still, I apologize for tongues-speakers everywhere if that vibe has been given whether purposefully or not.  And, for the record, not all Christians with the gift of speaking in tongues think that it is required evidence of being "filled with the Spirit."

Back to the subject, Ron defines 'tongues' as a "known language previously unlearned so that those in the audience can understand the message", using the day of Pentecost as the end all/be all concerning the definition of the use of tongues.  Though, he complicates his own definition when making his next point, that the use of tongues is not to be preferred over regular language.  Paul made this clear in the context that people should be able to understand the words that you are speaking to them so that they may know what is being said.  The obvious problem here with Ron's definition is that if Paul is referring to speaking in tongues (which he is) and noting that it's a good thing (which he is) but also saying that people listening won't understand what is being said (which he is), this means that Ron's definition of speaking in tongues is already irreconcilably flawed.  Paul's definition of speaking in tongues would not have lined up at all with Ron's since Paul makes it clear that the purpose of tongues must not always be so that foreigners understand the message as Ron suggested to be the case.  Note that Paul never condemned speaking in tongues, but rather clearly recognized it as a good thing while conceding that it's not always appropriate or preferred in the context of giving instruction to a crowd.

Later, while still trying to reinforce his suggestion that speaking in tongues is not preferred, Ron makes it out as if Paul in Corinthians 14 was saying that praying in tongues is "not worthwhile, not fruitful".  Yet, in that very chapter, Paul encourages all men to speak in tongues while also wrapping the chapter up with the instruction to NOT forbid speaking in tongues.  Surely, Paul would not be instructing the church to maintain a fruitless pastime.  He's not.  The context proves that Paul was referring to speaking in tongues not being fruitful in certain given situations, nameably when presenting instruction to a crowd.

Ron, like everyone else on the subject regardless on which side of the debate they lie, references 1 Corinthians 13 as support for their argument.  I suggest you take a moment to read it yourself now.

Have you read it?  Good.  The discourse ultimately hinges on our interpretation of "completeness" found in verse 10.  Gift believing Christians think that completeness hasn't come yet and that Paul is referencing Heaven and our perfected, resurrected bodies, not to mention being in the presence of the Creator and the Bearer of all knowledge.  Those Christians, like Ron, will point to the canonical Bible as the completeness to which Paul referred.

Personally, I find the belief that "completeness" has already come to be illogical and quite obviously incorrect when stepping back and looking at the larger picture presented to us by the story of creation.  We are nowhere near complete.  The earth is nowhere near complete.  Sin is still prevalent.  Death is still certain.  At best, one could make the argument that completeness came when Christ died.  However, it doesn't benefit Ron to argue this since spiritual giftings came AFTER Christ's crucifixion.

To illustrate my understanding of Paul's idea of "completeness" in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 I'll explain my take on faith.  I have faith that there is a God, the Creator, the one spoken of in the Bible.  I have never seen Him.  Therefore, my belief in His existence is one of faith.  If He revealed Himself to me in full, I would still believe in Him.  Only, now I would no longer believe in faith, but I would believe in knowledge.  As a matter of fact, 'believe' is no longer an appropriate word, rather 'know' would be more appropriate.  By God revealing Himself to me, my faith has passed away and been replaced with knowledge.  In other words, I don't believe in faith that two and two equal four.  I know it does.

In this light, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 makes much more sense.  Taken with the context of all creation, it makes much more sense.  I can't make sense of Paul referring to "completeness" being when the 66 books of the Bible were officially canonized.  Everything around us is still incomplete, and, like Paul put it, we're still like children who are unaware of the immensity of the truth of who God is and what He has for us in this life and for all eternity.  We do not have ALL knowledge.  We do all things "in part" because we still live by faith since we have not seen.  I would like to see a teaching on just that alone from these same people who claim it to be the case.  Because, I can't find anywhere else in the Bible that refers to the completion of the canonical Bible as the "completeness" referenced by Paul in 1 Cor 13:8-12.  I missed that verse where Paul said, "As soon as we're done with this thing there won't be any more supernatural gifts, so go heal the sick, unless you're one of the billions of people reading this after we got done, in which case, you can pray for them, but don't expect much."

It's troublesome for me to hear teachers denying the authenticity of spiritual gifts.  Clearly, they were prevalent in the Bible which they don't deny.  But, they use very little and quite trivial "evidence" to supposedly prove these things no longer happen now.  What I find most troublesome is that they put God in a box and replace His creativity with methodology.  Jesus didn't heal people the same way twice.  Why not?  I can only guess that it's because there is no method or equation to God's healing.

Aside from that, by denying that God gives gifts such as healing, prophetic words, tongues, etc. it inherently claims that anyone with these gifts must be faking it, or worse, supernaturally powered by the devil.  Though, irony is not lost, when those who deny God's supernatural activities don't hesitate to apply those same supernatural activities to the enemy, as if God can't but Satan can.  Hmm.

Thirdly, by denying these gifts and in turn denying entire denominations of people who believe God still gives them, teachers sow separation, confusion and disharmony into the body of Christ.  Ironically, Ron uses 1 Corinthians 12 as a basis for his message.  He means for it to show that the gifts of the Holy Spirit "always bring unity".  I would whole-heartedly and without conviction disagree with Ron.  It's clear in 1 Cor 12 that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in fact, did NOT ALWAYS, bring unity.  As a matter of fact, 1 Cor 12 doesn't claim that it does.  It proves the opposite.  Paul was writing to the church of Corinth who apparently had many members who had been given different gifts.  Paul is explaining to them that the gifts do not represent levels of importance and that no gifts are to be lorded over others with different gifts and that ALL gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed out according to His will and that ALL are equally important.  The bible.org article attempts to make out that the Corinthians were misusing tongues and that this was the only reason that Paul was presenting written correction.  However, it's clear that MANY gifts were present in the church of Corinth and that the correction they were receiving was that they had incorrectly applied a status or spiritual worth to each of the different gifts.  They had done what people do best and forgotten that they were undeserved gifts from the Holy Spirit and instead were viewing them as earned trophies.  They had forgotten love for one another as well.  I picked up in both the article on bible.org and in Ron's message the insinuation that the presence of spiritual gifts and the lack of love were related.  Though, that's confusing correlation with causation.

Though Ron cites 1 Corinthians 12 to make the "unity" point that can't even be found in the text, he misses Paul's glaringly obvious main point to the church of Corinth (and thus to us today since God's Word is living) that just as there are different parts to a human body and all are useful and necessary, so are the different members of the Body of Christ with their different gifts from the Holy Spirit both useful and necessary to the entire Body.

I feel that God is speaking directly to us here today on this issue and saying to us (through Paul to the church of Corinth) that we are not to think that the distribution of gifts from the Holy Spirit is a reflection of our importance in the body.  Furthermore, we are to recognize that being different parts of the same body, we should "give honor to each part", "have equal concern for each other", and have "no division" of the body.  The hand shouldn't want to be the eye.  The eye shouldn't want to be the hand.  Likewise, the hand shouldn't tell the eye that it should be a hand, or vice versa.

To post Doctrinal statements about "why we don't believe sign gifts are still to be the practice of the church" or to preach messages aired all over the world about how we don't believe that the Holy Spirit distributes gifts like He used to isn't at all edifying to the Body of Christ and specifically sows discord and division in the body.  This is the very thing that Paul was addressing in 1 Cor 12.

I enjoy listening to Bott Radio Network and I will continue to do so.  I will potentially enjoy listening again to Ron Moore on another subject.  However, it's always good to listen and test all things against the truth and safety of scripture.  And as a last note:  God is not some long ago dead author.  He's much more powerful, willing and able than what our experience (or lack of) gives him credit for.

1 comments:

The Word became flesh and His Spirit lives in our hearts. Jesus, The Word, sent his Spirit to "guide you into all truth". Jn. 16:13. This doesn't diminish the bible, but saying that God only speaks through the bible diminishes Him - as if that were possible.

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