One of the most wrestled with questions in the church in America in the last 30 years or so is whether we leaders of the church should provide an environment in our Sunday morning services for the charismatic gifts to be expressed or employed.
It seems the primary reason for those who believe these gifts are still given, but who do not believe they should be exercised in our Sunday morning worship services is because it might offend or confuse unbelievers or new believers or non charismatic believers. Many leaders of the church in America, who love the Lord believe this. I beg to differ and here are my reasons why:
– If God says we are to do something, He surely has thought through the potential consequences or potential effects that action might have on the lost, new believers or non charismatic older believers. He cares for their welfare and spiritual condition far more than any of us do. The only time God specifically says a gift should not be exercised in a normal worship gathering because of the ill effect it could have on lost or ungifted (believers who do not practice the charismatic gifts) folk is in I Cor. 14:5-25, where Paul’s sole argument is: in our gatherings – understanding is paramount. Therefore when and if someone speaks in a tongue, it must be one at a time, and it must be interpreted. What is forbidden in this passage is more than one person speaking in tongues at a time and it not being interpreted in the language of the hearers. Please note the nature of this said gathering is a normal worship service – “Therefore if the whole church assembles….” Vs. 23.
– When in vs. 26, Paul goes on to say, “What is the outcome then brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” he clearly has in mind the “whole church” assembling. This is not in anyway relegated merely to a home group setting, though it applies there as well.
– When God says through the apostle Paul, “… do not forbid to speak in tongues” (I Cor. 14:39), he of course is implying one will follow the guidelines laid down earlier in the chapter. The context for such can be none other than the “whole church” assembling, though again it applies to smaller gatherings.
– When God says through the apostle Paul, “do not despise prophetic utterances” (I Thess. 5:20), he is writing to a church, and he adds that we are to “examine everything carefully” (vs. 21), so protective guidelines for the sheep are in place, similar to what we see in I Cor. 14.
– While we should be concerned about unnecessarily offending people or causing them to stumble, a far greater concern should be hearing the voice of God when we gather. Whether we are comfortable with it or not, or whether we as a church have matured in the exercise of these gifts or not – He has chosen to speak to us through: His word as it is read, taught, and preached, and through prophetic words, interpreted tongue messages, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, etc. Allowing these gifts to be operated in – in our services communicates to those attending that hearing and heeding the voice of the living God is very important to us – – so important that we are willing to look foolish to some to apprehend it.
– Of all the ways we see people coming to faith in the book of Acts – most of the time the opportunity to preach or explain the gospel was preceded by a miracle, which very likely was a result of a praying church – expecting God to show up in a God like way.
– By relegating operating in the charismatic gifts only in home groups, we are effectively saying – ‘it is important to hear and respond to God’s – in the now voice – there, but not when we gather on Sunday mornings’. Or perhaps it could be said that we are effectively saying (by not allowing the free exercise of charismatic gifts on Sunday mornings) that ‘God is not big enough and powerful enough to save people despite less than perfect exercise of gifts like prophecy, interpreted tongues, etc.’ The Corinthian church was a very immature though highly gifted church. Paul easily could have asked them not to operate in the gifts until they matured, but he didn’t do that. Nor should we.
– Is not the very reason Paul had to forbid us to “forbid to speak in tongues” and forbid us from “despising prophetic utterances” because church leaders might determine our exercise of these gifts are not mature enough and thus might offend people or make them uncomfortable or even cause them to join some other congregation that is more tame, predictable and comfortable?
So what about the oft quoted dictum that “Tongues has divided the church” and therefore we shouldn’t emphasize or pursue them? Well let’s start with the first century church. A careful study of the New Testament will bring to light that the Corinthian church was the most carnal and fleshly or worldly of all the churches, and therefore the most divided church of all that Paul dealt with. Paul’s two longest epistles in the N.T. – both to the Corinthians – surfaced many problems and sin areas that had to be dealt with. In fact the first 11 chapters of I Corinthians reveals one rebuke after another. But it is crucial to note that never once did he rebuke them for speaking in tongues or exercising any other gifts of the Spirit. Rather he rebuked them for: – following men instead of Christ (1:11-15, 3:4-9), which is why he worked so hard in this letter to exalt Christ and point them to Christ (note how many times he refers to Christ in the first nine verses), and to help them know how to assess their leaders in a righteous way. – Being fleshly, which manifested in strife and jealousy and inability to receive solid food spiritually speaking (3:1-4; 11:18) – Being arrogant – first mentioned as a potential problem in 4:6; then he calls some of them arrogant in 4:18, 19; & then again leveled at all of them in 5:2. – Boasting in the wrong things instead of in Christ – addressed in 1:29, 31; 3:21; 4:7; 5:6 – Not mourning sin in their midst – I Cor. 5:2 – Suing one another in secular courts instead of settling the matter among brothers – – 6:1-8 – Messing around with prostitutes/polluting their temples/bodies – 6:15-20 – Selfishness & lack of self control in eating and drinking when together for the Lord’s supper – 11:20-22
A close look at chps. 12-14 will reveal that there is not one rebuke in these chapters. Rather they consist of positive instruction for the use of spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ, and to even reach the lost (I Cor. 14:2,25).
What about the rest of the New Testament? Well there are five main passages that discuss spiritual gifts. All are positive and instructional. They are: Romans 12:6-8; I Cor. 12; I Cor. 14; Eph. 4:11, 12; I Peter 4:10,11.
What about the history of locf? Has tongues or the charismatic gifts divided us or been our downfall? Well we have had people leave because they chose not to pursue and exercise the gifts, and/or didn’t agree with our providing an environment on Sunday mornings for the exercise of all gifts, (not just some). But almost all of them left quietly, and it never caused division in our church. Has providing an environment and freedom for all the gifts of the Spirit to be exercised in our Sunday morning services caused some people looking for a church home to go elsewhere? Yes it has. Though in many cases we really don’t know why some people didn’t jump in with us. But what does that prove? Do we want people (and their $$ if we are honest) so badly that we are willing to overlook their refusal to embrace all that Jesus the Head has for His body? Do we want people (and their $$ if we are honest) so badly that we are willing to disobey clear commands in scripture for what we are to pursue and what we are not to disallow when we gather?
Our people who have aggressively pursued exercising the gifts entrusted to them – on the most part have walked in humility and love, and not arrogance and strife. The gifts have been an integral part of their spiritual growth and have positively affected their marriages and their devotion to and service for Christ. A number of people in our congregation now actively pursuing the fullness of the Holy Spirit came to us knowing little and having experienced little of it. They wouldn’t be where they are today if we relegated the operation of the gifts to a back room or home group.
So because our guiding motto all these years has been “to know and follow the Lord Jesus Christ” and because He has given us these gifts and commanded us to exercise them unto Him, we will continue to do so – trusting He knows what He is doing, and knowing He wants this for His whole church, and knowing we have a stewardship to walk it out here so we can help them when they have ears to hear and enough hunger for holiness to change.
Finally I just want to add that I thank God for the charismatic Christians that God kept throwing into my path in the four to six years before I finally humbled myself (in Hong Kong) and said “Lord I want all that you have – including tongues, which I had despised for so long”. Had they not been willing to “offend” me and make me uncomfortable I shudder to think where I might be today.