Those who know me know I am a charismatic-continuationist. For me, at least with where I am heading in this article, this boils down to mainly two things: 1) I am committed to the reality that all gifts of the Spirit are still available to the church today and 2) I also come from a church perspective and heritage that has traditionally emphasised the importance of the times when the church gathers together in its varying ways.
But, I am also a teacher-theologian at heart. Not the most esteemed by any means. But the ministry gift of teacher seems to be the greatest measure of gifting in my calling in God.
Knowing this fact, I am continually thinking through the in’s and out’s of charismatic-continuationist perspectives and experiences. Sometimes the analysation can kick into overload.
Yet, the odd thing is that I have also experienced some very ecstatic things in my life (not always personally, though sometimes, but also with regards to others in various gatherings). I’ve reached a point in my life where nothing really shocks me. I think there are definitely some general guidelines we must take to heart as we gather together, and as a shepherd within a local church context I do consider my role of protection quite important and sobering. But, at least for me, I believe 1 Cor 14:33 has turned into the great non-charismatic trump card for many – For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. Continue reading →
No doubt experience shapes life. For the one who denies such, they are simply out of touch with reality. We have all gone through experiences based upon our culture, family upbringing, education, economic status and even church background. Such is unavoidable in life.
Paul even had these interesting words to say:
And he [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. (Acts 17:26-27)
God sovereignly places us into the era, culture, nation and background we live in, all that we might ultimately ‘feel [our] way toward Him’.
Specifically, when it comes to things like gifts of the Spirit and the use of such in the corporate worship setting, charismatics and Pentecostals (and now other ‘newer church’ groups) are usually labelled as too experiential. Such criticism is usually coupled with the fact that, historically, these groups have not had a solid Biblical foundation for some of their practises.
Of course, there is no doubt it would be unhealthy to found everything on experience and little, or nothing, on the truth of Scripture. Such can lead us down a path, or will lead us down a path that causes much confusion and damage.
Yet, what one might also observe is that experience may not only be a fault for Pentecostals and charismatics, but even for cessationists.
For those who argue that miracles, healings, prophecy, tongues and other such things have ceased (or have mostly ceased), some of them will state something to the effect of, ‘Well, I’ve never seen such things, nor do I know any other people who have seen such.’
Do we see the possible problem with such a statement?
We should not look to be cruel and label this as hypocrisy, but there at least needs to be a reassessment here. If someone is quick to label Pentecostals and charismatics as those who base too much of their theology on experience and not enough on the Bible, and then the person goes on to state that one of the reasons they do not believe miracles and healings still take place is because they have never experienced or seen it happen, this gives rise to concern.
What seems to have been created is a double standard. Pentecostals and charismatics are chided for basing their theology on experience, but it might be that a cessationist does not consider certain gifts of the Spirit to still exist because they have neither experienced or know any one who has experienced such (at least experienced such to their personal satisfaction).
Of course, not all cessationists would make such a claim, and I only bring up such a point for consideration for both sides. But with cessationists, from the theologically trained to those who have no such training, there are quite a few who boast of founding their theology solely upon the Bible rather than experience, all the while heaping criticism upon the more charismatic groups for even considering experience as something on which they can build theology.
Yet, when the cessationist understanding of certain Scripture passages is challenged and found wanting, and of course this is where I lean, many cessationists can regularly remind us that they know of no one who has truly seen such miracles or healings, nor of anyone who has ever been truly used in prophecy or tongues.
So, what are we to do?
Well, let us first recognise that our experience does shape our theology. Whether we are full cessationist or full continuationist or anywhere in between, our personal life experiences will shape our theology. We cannot deny it. And that’s ok. Such is not inherently wrong. But this is not our sole, nor major, foundation for our understanding of God and His work.
God has given us a plethora of tools to guard against such: Scripture, the current local body of Christ that we are a part of, the whole cloud of witnesses that have fought the good fight for 2,000 years, and specific leadership within the local church. And that is just for starters, but good starters they are.
Of course, humanity can still go wrong. It does happen for fallible, fallen, broken human beings who are still ‘feeling their way towards God’, to again quote Paul from Acts 17. But, as a whole, if we keep our experiences in life humbly submitted to God, His revelation in the Scripture, leadership and the body with whom we relate, I think we can pretty much bank on being guarded against heresy, wrong practises, or just odd-ball stuff (though God might just call us to do something a little out of the ordinary).
In all, neither cessationists nor continuationists are free from the charge that our experience shapes our theology. And, please remember that this is ok. If our faith were solely based upon our doctrinal understanding (which is not ever 100% correct), then we would simply dry up and die, never having truly drunk from the living waters.
So, let’s be ok with our experience, to even be desirous of experiencing God. Such is not an anathema. It never has been from the Garden to today. And as we humbly seek God, let us continue to grow in being faithful to Him and His revelation in Scripture.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I shared some introductory thoughts on the gift of prophecy, a kind of Prophecy 101, as well as giving the link to our podcast with my teaching on the same topic with our local church. I shared a lot of things mainly from the New Testament, as I believe there was a shift in the ministry of the prophet and the gift of prophecy when Jesus, the Prophet and Living Word, arrived on the scene (you can read more about this shift here).
And so here is my follow-up post on the gift of prophecy, which we could call ‘Prophecy 102’.
If you would like, you can listen to my teaching by clicking on the icon below, or you can download from Cornerstone’s podcast site or iTunes. Or feel free to read on.
Different Measures of the Gift
When reading the New Testament, it is very easy to see there are varying measures of the varying gifts that God gives. I believe this is seen in passages like Rom 12:3:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
To each has been given a measure of faith. This passage does not speak of saving faith, but I believe it speaks of the faith we are given according to the gifts God has given to us. Hence why Paul would go on to say:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith. (Rom 12:6)
Also, real life shows that each of us are given different measures of ministry-serving gifts. My teaching gift is miniscule compared with some other teachers. Not because they are so much more studied than I, though that can play a role, but because they have insights in God that I have not come to yet and might never. So not only are there differing parts of the body, but even those parts that are very similar in gift will vary in their measure of ministry and gift.
And, so, with the gift of prophecy, I easily see three distinctive measures:
a) Prophet – (Eph 2:20; 3:5; 4:11-13; 1 Cor 12:28-29)
Yes, these people will be used frequently in prophecy. But they are also called to be foundation layers and to equip God’s people. One of the best ways they equip the saints (Eph 4:11-13) is by helping prepare God’s people to fulfil their prophetic role as a Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-empowered people.
b) Gift of prophecy – (1 Cor 12:10; Rom 12:6)
Some people will be used in this gift rather frequently, but they are not functioning as foundation-laying and equipping prophets.
c) All may prophesy – (Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor 14:5, 31)
Because all of God’s people now have the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of prophecy, we are a prophetic body and can all be used in prophecy. I am very passionate about this and, so, share more about this reality here.
Different Ways God Speaks
Of course God reveals Himself in so many ways – through creation, through art, through a whole host of things. But with regards to God speaking and revealing Himself today in the more ‘prophetic’ and ‘revelatory’ sense, I find that there are typically 5 ways in which God does so:
a) Actual words
Here God actually speaks to the person. A case and example would be God’s call to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3. We see this in other places like Acts 13:1-3 where the Holy Spirit, via the prophets in Antioch, speaks that Paul and Barnabas are to be set apart for their apostolic-mission work. And, of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other examples in both the Old and New Testaments.
This is not so much about hearing God speak something, but rather the times when God gives a kind of mental picture of something He wants to communicate. It’s almost like a rubber-stamp on our mind or spirit of God’s revelation. Again, God has not spoken to the person but rather gives a picture, an image of what He wants to communicate. And so, when we share the prophetic picture, we describe what we see imprinted upon our minds.
Typically, we might identify our receiving of visions when we are awake and receiving of dreams when we are asleep. Peter, when quoting Joel, said that this would be part of the fruit of the prophetic Spirit in the last days. And we’ve been in the last days for about 2000 years. And so these things would continue through this entire age. An example of a vision would be the one Peter had on the rooftop with the sheet coming down with the unclean animals (Acts 10). God repeated it 3 times to communicate that Peter needed to reach the Gentiles with the gospel. A dream might be like what we find in Gen 15:12-20 where God makes the all-important covenant with Abraham.
What I always encourage people with is that we don’t get caught up too legalistically with terms and definitions. Goodness, we love our terms and definitions. And while I hope these are helpful here, though others might approach things with different terms, there are things that fall outside these first 3 examples. And, so, I might identify as promptings and impressions. There is no spoken word from God, no mental picture, no vision or dream, but there is a stirring, a sensing, a prompting, an impression of the heart of God and what He wants to communicate to a person, within the local church body, etc. It might call for us to speak out a prophecy or act out of prophetic action. But this comes from an inner sense and prompting of God, not so much a direct word, picture, vision or dream. Here is a great example of a prompting of the Spirit over at Jesus Creed.
I shared this in the last article, but when I say God speaks through Scripture, I do mean that He speaks from the God-breathed words that are right there in the text. But I also believe that He utilises those same words, at times, to speak things that were not ‘intended’ within the text. I will give you one example from my own life. One day, as I was reading Jesus’ words in Matt 6:21 – For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – I understood that Jesus was speaking in the context of challenging people that they cannot have two masters. Such is extremely important in a life of following Jesus as Master. But, as I was meditating on the passage, God said to me, ‘Scott, this is true of me as well. Where my treasure is, there my heart is also. And my people are my treasures, and, therefore, my heart is with them.’
God utilised Scripture to speak to me. It wasn’t something ‘in between the lines’. But God definitely used what was already there to reveal ‘more’ of His heart to me. Now, sure, I could have also received that from reading Psalm 139 or other passages. But God took the text I was meditating on and spoke to me right then and there. I have plenty of other examples of this exact same experience, but that should be one sufficient example.
How To Communicate Prophecy
This is important to look at as well. When we communicate prophecy, or what we believe God has revealed to us, we must use wisdom. First off, when we do prophesy, there is nothing inherently more spiritual about speaking in King James Old English – Thus saith the Lord…
Now, I think we all pretty much know that, but there was a day when prophecy always had to come with that kind of language. But remember that God is incarnational and comes to real human beings in real life. So we can speak ‘normal’ and it still remain just as true, just as directive and just as much from God.
I spoke earlier in this article of the different measures of the gift of prophecy. And, so, for the prophet and those regularly used in this gift, I would expect statements to possibly start out with, ‘This is what the Lord says…‘ Of course, it does not have to begin that way. One can begin to speak the prophecy without such a prelude statement. But, to bring a focus, especially in a larger church gathering, it can be helpful at times to begin with such.
But, a word of wisdom to those who are not prophets and not regularly used in this gift of prophecy, or for those who are wanting to learn to hear and discern God’s voice. It is best to begin a prophecy with a less directed statement such as, ‘I believe this is what the Lord is saying…’ or ‘I sense the Lord is saying…’
While I do believe God speaks clearly and directly today, having heard such prophets and those gifted in prophecy speak such powerful things in my almost 14 years in Christ, for those still growing in hearing God and in prophecy, let’s be wise how we communicate such things.
Finally, I end with some thoughts on weighing prophecy. This is biblical and a very good practise. Of course, we don’t only want to weigh prophecy, but we want to be wise discerners and evaluaters of all things in our life in God. Now, at the same time, I highly discourage against what I might call agnostic Christianity where we always question every word, action and motive, laying aside any child-like faith of trust. But, when the body speaks forth prophecy, we are to be responsible to weigh it.
One passage to focus in on is found here:
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Cor 14:29-33)
Who are the ‘others’ in vs29 that are encouraged to weight the prophecy? Some would argue it is the other prophets in the congregation. But, noting the whole thrust of chapter 14 – Paul’s instruction to the whole church, not simply prophets – I believe it is asking the whole congregation to be responsible in weighing things.
Also, to go along with some things I said earlier, it is worth noting that, in vs31, the word all is used 3 times. This, I believe is another pointer that all of God’s people, indwelt by the Spirit of prophecy, can prophesy. We can all prophesy so that all can learn and all can be encouraged.
Now, a quick word about what it means to weigh prophecy, though I am sure more could be said. When it comes to weighing, here are 4 questions that I find helpful:
Is it in line with the principles and teaching of Scripture?
What do our wise and experienced leaders have to say about the prophecy?
Does it resonate well in our hearts as men and women of the Spirit?
Does it bring clarity rather than confusion?
If, for some reason we believe the prophecy or revelation shared is not of the Lord, it does not necessarily mean we kick the person out of the church. That is not the norm, at least in my experience. But, suffice it to say, each case will call for its own wisdom. It could be that the leaders speak a personal word to the person who shared the off-base prophecy. Or it could be a public correction right then and there following the so-called prophecy. Or it could be a correction in the next church gathering. Again, it will call for the leaders to have God’s wisdom.
Now, if the person continues to share wrong things, then we would probably need to put a stop to their sharing, if not forever, at least for a time. Again, that might call for a personal word with the person or a public sharing with the congregation. With these things we always need the Lord’s wisdom.
Of course, when it comes to false prophets (2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 4:1), false teachers (2 Pet 2:1), and even false super apostles like what Paul dealt with (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11), these people are immediately seen outside of the fold. The fruit of their lives, what they speak and how they act, will mean that we guard the people from such deceivers and not give any room to them, warning the congregation to stay away from such people. So, though we do not stone people today, we do exclude them from the fold.
But, for the most part, those who are truly in the body of Christ and are looking to hear the voice of God and be faithful to speak what He prompts and reveals, we must allow for the church to be a safe place where we can learn to practice the gifts of the Spirit. I believe this calls for us to allow the people to take steps of faith, even if they might miss something. Some will disagree, but I believe this is part of helping the people of God learn to hear God and speak correctly what He reveals.
Now, 95% of the time, it is my experience that no bomb will be dropped that will devastate people. But it does happen, and when it does, we must deal with it with wisdom. And so, this is why I believe it can be helpful to utilise the leadership of the church as a kind of ‘screening process’ first, asking the people to share with the leadership before stepping forward and utilisng a microphone to share any prophecy. I have found this to be extremely helpful in guarding against unhelpful things spoken to the congregation. We want to steer clear of a controlling spirit as well. But we must consider how to maintain a good balance.
Well, this should suffice for now – a Prophecy 101 and 102 – for getting an introduction into the gift of prophecy, especially noting the changes that Christ and the new covenant have brought about to this all-important gift. We cannot centre out theology in the Old Testament. We can obviously build on it and learn from it, but we must now see Christ and the New Testament as the great teacher on all things of our faith, including prophecy. Of course, this does not mean we have a 7-step instruction manual process to help us through in every instance. Such would take away from the reality that this is part of walking out a life of faith. But I do believe these are some helpful insights into this gift as understood from the fuller, new covenant perspective.
Over at Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, after a few week’s with, guest blogger, T, continues his series on gifts of the Spirit. The first article can be found here.
In the second article, T asks about ‘promptings of the Spirit’ and shares a specific example in his own life.
Our church back in Gainesville, Florida, would occasionally have “worship nights.” They were some of my very favorite gatherings. About once a quarter on a Friday night, we’d gather for a couple of hours and the only things on the agenda were worship and prayer. On this Friday, I was sitting near the front, and Kim and I were among the first to arrive. It was one of those nights that I was truly grateful, even excited, for the opportunity to worship God with the church, even before the first song began.
I don’t remember the song, but at some point the theme I was affirming as we sang was willingness to obey God, even though it can sometimes be costly. As I affirmed this to God, and was even considering my own limits for obedience, I felt the urge to turn around. Sitting directly behind me was Jon. Jon was one of the people in the church that I most admired, but kind of from afar. The things I heard Jon say in church or elsewhere were routinely marked by depth, truth and heartfelt compassion, but we were in one small group and he led another, so he lingered on the top of the “people-I-want-to-know-better” list at church for a while.
On this night as I turned around, Jon had a familiar intensity on his face as he worshipped, and with his eyes closed. This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, and I turned back around. As I did, I felt an unexpected conviction to turn back around, push my chair out of the way and strongly embrace Jon. Just for clarification, what I felt wasn’t empathy, at least not then. I wish I had reason to be empathetic; Jon was just worshipping God (just like I wanted to get back to doing). If I could describe what I was feeling at this stage it was fear and inner turmoil. My first line of inward defense was to dismiss that this was any kind of leading from God. I will summarize the outcome there by saying that however I reasoned about it, I could not persuade myself this wasn’t God’s unction, despite my best efforts. A simple unction to “do this” had come (as I was pledging obedience to God, no less), and it pretty much only had fear stopping me.
I was stuck. I soon discovered that going back to singing praises and offers of obedience to God were just impossible, unless the goal was hypocrisy and misery. I wanted to get to know Jon better, but not like this! What would he think of me? What if he recoiled? For the next several minutes, I would look back every so often just to see if he had at least opened his eyes so that he would at least see it coming. No luck. My last line of defense was compromise. If Jon wouldn’t open his eyes, I figured I would say something (anything!) and give him some warning or explanation or at least a “hello” first. But as I started to say something my guts burned with conviction that I was compromising out of fear, and not being obedient. After another bit of inward wrestling, I just did it. I pushed the chairs aside (Jon still didn’t open his eyes; the music drowned out the sound) and put my arms around him firmly but gently. I felt like as I did it, that I shouldn’t be in any hurry to let go.
Not only did Jon not recoil, he practically collapsed. His arms—weakly at first, then with great energy—embraced me in return. And he just wept. I must have held him as the singing continued for thirty seconds or a minute at least. By the time we released to look at each other, both of our eyes were wet, but we were both beaming smiles. I knew God was in this, but I still had no idea what exactly had been going on. Jon explained.
Jon had grown up on the mission field with an authoritarian and judgmental father/minister. Jon was in his thirties now and had walked through years of healing from it, but that week he had talked with his dad who had now finally been fully explicit that Jon was a thorough disappointment. All the healing Jon thought he had from his dad opinion of him just melted that week. Jon explained that he was in such misery over it that week, he almost didn’t come that night. He had little “worship” in him. He said he had decided to come with only one prayer that he had been praying repeatedly, prior to and throughout the meeting, but with little hope for any suitable answer, “I just need to know what You feel about me.” When told me that, I wept, but out of repentance for how close I was to blowing the whole thing off or changing it for my fears. Incidentally, Jon and I became close that day, and every time we see each other, even many years later now, a smile comes to both of our faces.
This is a beautiful story of what it really means for God’s people to learn to hear, discern and obey the voice of the Lord. For those of us who believe God still speaks, reveals and prompts His people today with specific words and actions, we all will have experienced some time of questioning or doubt of whether we have truly heard the voice of the Lord. And, I would venture to say that we have all missed or bypassed these promptings. But stories like this remind us that even ‘prophetic actions’ accomplish the same purpose of spoken prophetic messages:
the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation (1 Cor 14:3)
To continue with posting stirring words from Richard Foster’s classic, Freedom of Simplicity, here are some thoughts of his on practicing silence and how this can help us hear the voice of the Lord:
One way to nurture simplicity is through the discipline of silence. Society is dominated by the inane notion that action is the only reality. Please, for God’s sake and your own, don’t just do something, stand there! Come in and enjoy his presence. Sink down into the light of Christ and become comfortable in that posture. Open the subterranean sanctuary of your soul and listen for the Kol Yahweh, the voice of the Lord. To do so gives us focus, unity, purpose. We discover serenity, unshakableness, firmness of life orientation. (p113)
These are extremely challenging words in the busied and hurried life of today. For some, they might sound New Age, but this is simply about drawing in close to the presence of God’s Spirit who resides within the believer, all to know the Father’s leading voice in our lives.
I, for one, want to quiet my heart before the Lord on a regular, even ongoing, basis.