God’s Mission Continues, But With a Twist

During our visit to the U.S. for most of the month of April, we were able to be a part of Advent Presbyterian Church in the Memphis area over a couple of Sundays. This is the church I grew up in, and my parents are still part of the church community.

For quite some time, as a whole church, they have been working through The Story – which mainly focuses on reading through and teaching the major stories of Scripture. It looks to make the Bible very practical – in teaching and application to people’s lives.

While I was back, they had just finished looking at the Ascension (though the church calendar celebrates it this coming Sunday). And so I was asked to speak on Pentecost and Acts 2.

If interested, below is the 21-minute video from my teaching. Continue reading

The Anomaly of Evangelism (Part 4)

It’s time I get somewhat on track with regards to my series on the gospel and evangelism (after another 2 and half week break). For those interested, here are part 1, part 2 and part 3.

But as a brief recap, I have claimed that we could be missing something important, something central to the reality of what the gospel (or evangel) is, and thus we are missing something important with our proclamation of the evangel, what we call evangelism.

The central missing characteristic is that of the announcement of God’s kingdom coming in Jesus, the Messiah-King. Jesus was and is and will always be King, and he came to fulfil the story and promises as God’s Messiah-King. That is the announcement that Jesus proclaimed in the Gospels (or Gospel) himself. And it is important to centre our understanding of the gospel in the great Evangel-Bearer, Jesus Christ.

Then, from this reality, we move into the story of what Jesus did, as found in the Gospels and expounded upon in the Epistles. We see Jesus’ kingship and rule established in the most unique of ways – through his sacrificial and grueling atoning death on the cross and then through his powerful resurrection from the dead. And because of this, forgiveness of sins can be granted, we are called into relationship with our God as sons and daughters, and we can now enjoy the community known as the church-ekklesia. Continue reading

The Tongues Conundrum (Part 4)

Thus far, I have posted 3 articles centred around the gift of tongues. But I would say they haven’t come in the best form of ordered succession. So, below are the links to the 3 articles in the order that would flow the best. When I finish the series, I will post a PDF file with all the articles in order.

In this article, I want to specifically look at the three purposes of tongues. In my study of the subject of tongues, I have come to see that such a gift is given for mainly three activities: praise, prayer and proclamation.

a) Praise

Here are three specific passages that point to tongues being utilised as praise to God.

… we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. (Acts 2:11)

For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. (Acts 10:46)

15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? (1 Corinthians 14:15-16)

Now, the second passage in Acts 10:46 could be seen as distinguishing tongues and praise from one another. And, if that is true, of course I am fine with such. Nevertheless, there is no doubt tongues will be utilised in praise to God. This is why you might walk into a church gathering and here people singing in tongues, or they might refer to it as singing in the Spirit. And, though I don’t have a lot of time to go into it in this post, I believe this is also not too far off from Paul’s two references to ‘spiritual songs’, or ‘songs of the Spirit’ (see Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).

b) Prayer

One of the more obvious texts that point to tongues as prayer is found in the well-known passage of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. (1 Corinthians 14:14)

Now there are other passages that many Pentecostals and charismatics would refer to as pointers to prayer in tongues. The word ‘tongues’ is not found in the three passages below, but it does speak of prayer and groanings in/by the Spirit. What are those three texts? The first is found here:

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6:18)

In this passage, it seems that praying in the Spirit is differentiated from other ‘types’ of prayer. Why? Paul first says, ‘praying at all times in the Spirit,’ and then goes on to say, ‘with all prayer and supplication’. The second phrase refers to what we might term ‘normal’ prayer and supplication, while the first phrase projects us praying in, or by, the Spirit.

One might ask – Well, do we not only pray because of the work the Spirit in our lives, kind of like Paul said that no one could say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ unless by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3)?

Such is a good question. But what I would liken this to is the role and gift of faith. No doubt one can only come to faith in Christ by the activity of the Holy Spirit. Such is very clear in the teaching of Scripture. But, beyond this faith activated in every believer by the work of the Spirit, Paul also distinguishes it from the gift of faith, as in 1 Cor 12:8-10. That gift of faith is what is normally activated by the Holy Spirit in God’s people for the workings of miracles and healings.

Thus, just as we would distinguish between the faith given to all saints for belief in Christ and the faith-manifestation of the Spirit for enacting miracles and healings, so I believe we can differentiate between prayer that is a reality in the lives of all believers and prayer in the Spirit that is a specific enabling of God’s Spirit to pray and intercede above and beyond that in which we would normally participate.

Now, to the question of what ‘praying in the Spirit’ actually details, I personally do not believe praying in the Spirit is intrinsically connected to praying in tongues. Still, what I would suggest is that, if tongues comes via the activity of the Holy Spirit and prayer in the Spirit comes via the Holy Spirit, then it is highly possible the two are linked together. Or, I might even suggest that praying in the Spirit is more of a broader, ‘umbrella’ term of which praying in tongues comes under. Some will disagree. But, at this point, that is my conclusion from studying the Scripture, as well as interacting with God in prayer via the specific activity of the Spirit.

And, as a side note, the phrase, ‘at all times’ in the Ephesians 6 text, probably does not refer to praying in the Spirit every second of the day, but rather to regular prayer in the Spirit.

These words of Jude are somewhat similar to Eph 6:18:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. (Jude 20)

Again, I would argue that praying in the Holy Spirit does not necessarily involve the act of praying in tongues, or praying with our spirit as it is worded in 1 Cor 14:14-15. I believe we can pray in the Spirit via our own mother tongue. But I would also maintain that praying in tongues is part of praying in the Holy Spirit.

The final text centred around praying in the Spirit, though worded a bit differently, is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Now this verse does not seem to have any specific connection with tongues. But, again, both tongues and these ‘groanings’ come as a stirring and work of the Holy Spirit within the human spirit. And those who have been involved in deep times of prayer and intercession will know that, at times, we are not sure what to pray. But, in those times, we sense the stirrings of the Spirit welling up in us and all that comes forth are groans and cries from our heart. In those times, we can be assured the Spirit is actively at work in our weakness, praying according to the will of God.

Regardless of whether or not these three verses – Eph 6:18; Jude 20; Rom 8:26 – refer to tongues, which I suggest they could be distinguished from tongues, what we can note is that one of the purposes of tongues is that of prayer (1 Corinthians 14:14).

c) Proclamation

Many a Pentecostals and charismatics will stop with those two when it comes to the purpose of tongues. But I believe tongues can also function as proclamation. Why would I suggest such? Well, for starters, let’s look back at a passage in Acts:

… we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. (Acts 2:11)

I don’t believe that this statement has to intrinsically be tied into praise, though some are convinced it is. I believe that to tell, or declare, the mighty works of God (in another language) functions as a proclamation. Matter of fact, this specific act led to the drawing of 3000 people into the kingdom of God on that Pentecost day. Much more than praise was probably being given.

And, let’s notice something else that is interesting about the Pentecost event. Following the outpouring of the Spirit, Peter quotes Joel with these words:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

Peter says that what has just happened is a fulfilment of Joel’s prophetic utterance centuries before. And the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit on all God’s people – male and female, young and old – would be prophecy. But what happened at Pentecost? The event did not include prophecy, in the specific sense. Rather, it included tongues, which were understood by the on-lookers. Therefore, the outpouring of the Spirit along with the fruit of tongues became the initial fulfilment of a passage that specifically referred to of prophecy as the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit.

Thus, I believe that tongues, when miraculously spoken and understood, or miraculously spoken and interpreted, can function like prophecy. So, tongues is a like the sister of prophecy, just as miracles and healings are quite related to one another.

This is why I believe tongues can function as a proclamation of God’s truth. And, even if it comes forth as praise, that praise can also operate as proclamation.

If you would like to hear the audio recording of my teaching on the gift of tongues this past Sunday, you can listen to it by clicking on the audio icon below, or you can download from our podcast or iTunes.

Expanding Outwards, Not Upwards

One of the major movements within the church of the west is that of the church growth movement. Though such a movement was birthed a half-century ago, this has been a major part of church life in the west for the past 20 years or so. I’ll be honest and say up front that, for me, this movement has been more in line with the ideas of free-market capitalism rather than seeing the gospel of the kingdom extended and God’s glory filling the earth as the waters cover the sea.

What do I mean?

Well, in all, I sense that the church growth movement is more about building upwards rather than extending outwards. And, so, such a method seems quite counter-productive to how the kingdom actually expands.

How can I make such an assertion?

I simply read the book of Acts.

The book of Acts is all about Jesus continuing His work through the empowering presence of the Spirit in the life of the church (1:1). And this is all summed up in Acts 1:8, a kind of thesis statement for the book:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Acts is fundamentally about the Spirit being poured out on the church and, as a result, seeing God’s people thrust out and mobilised into mission. In all the pages of Acts, nowhere do we sense God calling His people to build upwards. Rather, it is about extending outwards.

As an interesting note, we don’t really see God’s people inviting others to come along to their Sunday (or Saturday) gatherings in hopes that the people will respond to the pastor’s altar call. Acts is all about God’s people going to the people. Now, granted, there really is nothing wrong with inviting our friends along to our Sunday gatherings or a home group. Such could draw people to Christ as they see the people of God functioning as a community of faith. As Larry Crabb termed it, we are really to be ‘the safest place on earth’. Unfortunately, that has not always been true.

But I point out the major function of mission in the book of Acts because it reminds us that we are called to emulate their action of moving outwards. We are an apostolic people, or a mission-minded people. This simply means that we are a ‘sent’ people, just as Christ was sent by the Father and the Spirit was sent by both the Father and Son. Hence, why I believe this is summed up well in those empowering words of Acts 1:8.

When the Spirit comes upon God’s people they are witnesses. Witnessing isn’t something we so much do. It is who we are. ‘You will be my witnesses.’

Ironically, it seems that, when the church was somewhat reluctant to go out into greater Judea and Samaria, God providentially sent persecution to mobilise His people (see Acts 8:1). And we know the vision that Peter had in Acts 10:9-16, the one where God had to show him the same vision three times. After heading to Cornelius’ house, even before Peter could finish his sermon, the Spirit fell on the group at hand (Acts 10:44). Even God seemed bored with Peter’s message and did not find it necessary to wait for the altar call!

So, when one reads Acts, we see that it’s all about being sent out, reaching out, going out to the people. Nowhere do we get the sense that God was asking the people to build upwards. Sure, there were times in which we read of thousands responding to the gospel – 3,000 following Peter’s post-Pentecost message in Acts 2:41 and 5,000 responded to the gospel in Acts 4:4. Nevertheless, such does not encourage us to build upwards. It challenges us to see such massive amounts of people actually trained and discipled so that we can continue to extend outwards. Not in our cleverly-crafted and competently-marketed programmes. But in authentic, relationally-based, maturity-oriented training.

Matter of fact, there is one major biblical story that always comes to mind when I think of people building upwards – the Tower of Babel. And we know what happened in that situation:

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:4-9)

Ouch! That smarts!

I am thankful for our Sunday gatherings, small groups, and deeper study training. I think such opportunities will continue to be needed as we disciple and mentor and train. But we must keep in mind that our mission is not so much about getting hundreds, or thousands, into our buildings. Our mission is to extend the gospel of the kingdom into the nations, into the lives of people that live outside the walls of our church buildings. And that starts where we are now and continues into the furthest four corners of this planet.

This is what Luke was getting at when he summarised those important words of Jesus in Acts 1:8. We will receive power, we will be His witnesses and we will go out…

So, let’s stay focused and extend outwards rather than build upwards.