Interaction with Michael Patton

Those who follow this blog or my other co-authored blog at To Be Continued, you might remember that, back in the summer, my partner in crime, Marv, and I interacted with Michael Patton’s in depth series entitled, Why I Am Not A Charismatic.

At the time, we made a PDF document available, as Michael had previously done as well. Well, rather than the previous two PDF documents being posted – Michael’s and our’s – I am now posting one PDF document that incorporates both series into the one document. So, what you have in this new document is Michael’s part 1, followed by ours, Michael’s part 2, followed by ours, etc, etc, all the way through to the full 8-part series. I believe this will allow for a better reading flow and make it easier to follow our interaction with Michael’s series.

So, for those interested, here is the link to the one PDF document that incorporates both series into one easier to follow document: Response to Michael Patton’s “Why I’m Not Charismatic”.

The Shaping of Theology Through Experience

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.

How?

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.

The Tongues Conundrum (Part 2)

I recently began a series on the gift of tongues, but started with some thoughts on the larger scope of Spirit-inspired speech. But let’s move on specifically to the gift of tongues.

The first instance that we read about tongues is at the Pentecost event of Acts 2:1-4:

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The word normally translated as ‘tongues’ in our English versions comes from the Greek glossa or glossia (plural). It could also be translated as ‘languages’, which seems an acceptable translation when considering the biblical teaching on this gift. Though some might argue it sounds like babble (or babel), it actually comes as some sort of intelligible language, even if that language is not personally known to the speaker.

As a kind of side excursus, many theologians see this act of the initial outpouring of the Spirit as a reversal of the curse at the Tower of Babel where there was a confusion of languages (Genesis 11:1-9). Because of Pentecost, tongues now stands as a sign of unity in the body of Christ, God using people to speak in languages they have not learned to be a blessing to the body of Christ.

Of course, one of the main purposes of tongues in Acts 2 was that of an evangelistic drawing of people to Christ. But, a sort of theological deduction from considering tongues across both Acts and 1 Corinthians (and possibly a few other passages) is that such was given as a unifying sign of edification to the body of Christ, thus, reversing the curse of Babel for God’s covenant people. And, I can only suppose that the first Christians that witnessed the amazing and paradigmatic event of Acts 2 would have been blessed and edified by the outcome.

Now, in the account of Acts 2, the people spoke in languages that were recognised by those gathered around (see Acts 2:5-12). This is really the only biblical account in which we see tongues being utilised evangelistically. But that does not mean it was never again utilised in such a way in the New Testament record, especially if an interpretation comes forth, which we will consider later on from looking at 1 Corinthians 14.

We see other specific examples of tongues in Acts, specifically with Cornelius’ household in 10:46 and the Ephesian disciples in 19:6. But neither of these accounts point to an evangelistic use. Rather they were a response to the baptism/initial filling of God’s Spirit.

Still, though tongues might come forth in a language recognised by those present (and I can think of a couple examples off hand from ministry friends in the present day), we must also bear in mind that tongues might not always be spoken in a language that is recognised by those present. I think such is acceptable when we consider words like there from Paul:

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:2)

But it is through the interpretation of the tongue that understanding is brought to the body of Christ for edification, or even utilised in drawing people to Christ. And, I suppose the need for the gift of interpretation would only point to the fact that tongues are not always understood by those present.

There is much discussion about another aspect of tongues, as highlighted by these words of Paul:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Some will claim that this reference to ‘tongues of angels’ is a hypothetical situation and one should not expect to find themselves speaking in such a manner. But remember the first words of Paul’s statement: ‘If I speak in the tongues of men.’ Now, we know this is an actual certainty – speaking in the tongues of men that we have not learned. Thus, it seems highly unlikely that Paul would refer to one situation that is a reality and one situation that is hypothetical. And, noting that tongues is a Spirit-enabled language, it’s possible that one might speak in a heavenly tongue.

Nothing could be ‘proved’ in regards to this, since tongues can regularly come forth in languages one has never learned, and especially since there are thousands of languages and dialects in the world. But I would propose that, since it is possible to speak in tongues (languages) or men, then the same could be true with regards to tongues of angels.

As an encouraging personal side story on the gift of tongues, I share an account of a specific local church where a friend of mine is an elder-pastor. This happened about a year and a half ago.

My friend specifically works with a church that officially relates to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). But, while they maintain that relationship of accountability, the church does not always practically function in regards to every specific of the SBC. For example, they have a plurality of eldership, which is not the norm for SBC churches.

Also, as you might imagine, historically, the SBC has not been an advocate for the practise of the more ‘charismatic’ giftings of the Spirit, i.e., those in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. My friend’s church never preached against such, and they actually were quite open in allowing people to openly share what God was stirring in them during their corporate gatherings, even some things that could be classified as prophecies and revelations. But, with tongues, there was not much knowledge or practise of this gift.

So, my friend and the wider eldership of the church decided to take up preaching and teaching through the book of 1 Corinthians. Wow, what a challenge to say the least! And, of course, many months down the road, they took up a close study of 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Not too long after they finished the teaching on those chapters, God brought a surprise into their midst. God was making sure that their spirituality was not just doctrinal teaching, but also a practical reality. In one of the Sunday gatherings of the congregation, a person gave the first ever public message in tongues. In recalling the story to me, my friend shared how he kind of sat back in his chair and went on to let God know that he trusted Him. This was something that had never happened before. But my friend was not going to ‘nip it in the bud’, as they say.

And when the message in tongues was finished, the interpretation came forth by the one who spoke in the tongue.

But here is the beautiful part – After the gathering ended, a young man came forth to speak with my friend who is one of the elder-pastors. This young man did not usually attend their gatherings. Rather, he happened to be there as he was in a close relationship with one of the members of my friend’s church. I guess he was the boyfriend of one of the young adults of the church. He shared with my friend that he was of Jewish background and the tongue that had come forth in the gathering was in Hebrew (obviously more modern Hebrew than ancient-biblical Hebrew). And the young man preceded to share that the interpretation that came forth was correct.

A fantastic story of God’s grace and gifting amongst His people. A testimony to the reality of the gift of tongues being utilised, and utilised properly, in the corporate gathering of God’s people.

Thus, here are some summary points from this first post on tongues:

  • Tongues is most likely a God-statement that He was reversing the curse of Babel for His body.
  • Tongues can be utilised evangelistically (as in Acts 2) or in edifying the body (1 Corinthians 14).
  • Tongues can be spoken in actual human languages or in the languages of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1).

I hope this has begun to give somewhat of a solid introduction into the gift of tongues. Stay tuned for more articles in which I will discuss other important aspects of the gift.

Seven Reasons Why I Believe the Gifts of the Spirit Still Exist Today

Most people who know me should know that I am a full continuationist, meaning I believe all gifts mentioned in the Scripture, especially those in the New Testament, are to continue until Christ comes to complete the renewal of all things. Heck, a colleague and I even host a blog called To Be Continued, which, oddly enough, is found at www.continuationism.com.

If it came down to why I believe all gifts of God, including those in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:11, still exist today, I think I could summarise it in seven specific points. So here they are:

1) God is an actual living, personal being

Almost every Christian would uphold this statement. God is a personal being and He is living. And, so, one would only expect a living, personal being to be a communicator, a speaker. This is not so much a biblical argument in which I want to specifically quote a few passages here and there (though I know we could). But it is simply a theological deduction from reading the entirety of Scripture.

Living, personal beings are communicators in so many ways. And with God Himself being a living, personal being, what else could one expect from Him? Thus, He will continue to communicate, speak, reveal, unveil, illuminate, until all things are completed. Well, and then He will keep speaking to those enjoying the blessing of the new heavens and new earth!

2) Christ is the charismatic prophet and his body is to follow

When I use the word charismatic, I mean it in the sense that Roger Stronstad defined it in his work, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke (which I review here):

I use the term “charismatic” in a functional and dynamic sense. By “charismatic” I mean God’s gift of His Spirit to His servants, either individually or collectively, to anoint, empower, or inspire them for divine service. (p13)

And, as the living Word, Christ was the greatest Prophet to ever exist (as I share more here). There has been none like him who spoke and revealed the Father, for he taught us that whoever has seen him has seen the Father (John 14:9).

Therefore, if Christ is the great charismatic prophet, then by nature, his body is to follow in his footsteps. The body follows the head. It’s part and parcel to our calling in Christ. It doesn’t mean that everyone is particularly marked out as a prophet today. Of course not. But, via the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and empowering, Christ expects his body to get on with completing that which he initiated. Christ is still continuing that which he began to do and teach (Acts 1:1). Thus, we are now not only a priesthood of all believers, but also a prophethood of all believers.

3) The Spirit continues the same work of Christ

This really connects with the former point, but it is the Spirit that is the main one to continue the work of Christ. It is the Spirit that comes to indwell and empower the people of God here and now. We are the vehicle by which Christ continues his work via his Spirit.

I know this sounds like the A, B, C’s of pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit). But when one reads the pervading teaching about the Spirit of God throughout the Scripture, and especially noting the heightened teaching and activity in the NT, one receives the overwhelming sense that the Spirit that was sent at Pentecost was to continue acting in accordance with his nature as recorded in the OT and NT until that final parousia-return. Again, the basics on pneumatology, but the same Spirit that was actively at work in the first century was to continue to indwell and empower the body of Christ for the past 1900 years and counting.

If you are interested in more along these lines, I have written another article.

4) The positive affirmation in Scripture that such gifts would continue

I share much more here for you to read on this, but suffice it to say that there are actual Scripture passages teaching that such works and gifts would continue. In the article I have linked to, I specifically take time to look at these four positive Scriptural affirmations: John 14:12; Acts 2:17-18; 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; and Ephesians 4:11-16.

There are plenty more one could look at and consider, but those are a very solid starting point as to specific passages.

5) Faulty exegesis of the normal passages brought up by cessationists

By no means do I want to sound arrogant, but there are the ‘usual suspects’ brought up by cessationists as pointers to why certain gifts (or ‘sign gifts’) would cease once the full testimony of the gospel and new covenant was finished in the completed canon of NT Scripture. While I uphold the importance and authority of the Bible, I strongly believe none of Scripture points to the ceasing of any gifts prior to the parousia-return of Christ.

Four very often quoted passages are 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 1:1-2; and Hebrews 2:3-4. I have spent some time considering these passages in this article. So rather than dealing with them in depth here, you can follow the link and read my thoughts.

As a side point, it is also quite interesting to note that phrases like ‘word of the Lord’, ‘word of God’, or ‘word’ do not always refer to the graphe written Scripture. God spoke His word and always has spoken His word. Again, it’s part and parcel to be a living, personal being that desires to communicate with those He created. But here are some examples where the above mentioned phrases are not referring to Scripture:

  • Word of God – Luke 3:2
  • Word of God – Acts 4:31
  • Word of God – Acts 6:7
  • Word of God – Acts 12:24
  • Word of the Lord – Acts 13:44, 48-49
  • Word of the Lord – Acts 19:20
  • Word of the Lord – 1 Thess 1:8
  • The are countless times the word ‘word’ arises and does not refer to Scripture

6) The amount of times God actually spoke through and used those who were not prophets or apostles

Here is a smattering of examples just from the New Testament:

  • Stephen (Acts 6:8)
  • Philip (Acts 8:4-7)
  • Ananias (Acts 9:17-18)
  • The 120 believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:4)
  • Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46)
  • Agabus (Acts 11:37-38; 21:10-11) – he was not an apostle
  • The Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:6)
  • The Galatian believers (Gal 3:5)
  • The Corinthian believers (1 Cor 14)

This should give us courage who are not actually apostles or prophets. God wants to utilise His people in such ‘charismatic’ activities since He has been doing such from the beginning.

7) The great testimony of the charismata in church history

I have already written on this topic before, as you can see here. But suffice it to say, there are plenty of examples of God, by His Spirit amongst His people, speaking and acting out the charismata as found in 1 Corinthians 12.

And, a great resource to look at would be The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal by Vinson Synan. He takes time to chronicle what has happened over the past 100 years or so with the rise of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. In today’s world, it is highly probable that there are some 500 million believers associating themselves with either Pentecostal, charismatic or neo-charismatic churches. And the accounts of God’s activity by His Spirit continue on into the 21st century.

So, suffice it to say, I find it extremely hard to argue for the cessation, or ceasing, of the gifts of the Spirit. For me, there is an overwhelming biblical, theological and historical positive case for the continuation of such.

Series on Prophecy by Mark Roberts

Over at the blog of Mark Roberts, he recently posted a 3-article series on prophecy in the book of 1 Corinthians. It was refreshing to see a Presbyterian pastor-theologian advocating the continuation of the gift of prophecy today. And, of course, this was interesting as I just began posting a series on prophecy as well.

You can read all three posts by clicking on these links:

  1. Prophecy in 1 Corinthians
  2. Prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14
  3. Prophecy in 1 Corinthians and in the Church Today