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Friday, August 30, 2013

The Tongues of Men and Angels: Is the Gift of Tongues for Today?

For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people, to whom he has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear. - Isaiah 28:11-12

   I once attended a men's conference at an Assemblies of God church in my hometown.  Being saved into a somewhat traditional Southern Baptist church, it was certainly a different experience.  A long time family friend had invited to one night of the conference just on a whim.  This became my first true experience with "glossolalia", what is held by many, especially Pentecostals to be the gift of speaking in the tongues.
   On the way home my friend (and he was actually a major influence in areas of my faith) asked me if I had wanted to speak in tongues and began to share about the "second blessing".  We talked a little, he prayed for me, and we parted ways.  Though my friend and I (along with many other Pentecostal friend I have had) may be differ one some issues in the faith, I have a deep respect for the work of Gospel done by AoG churches and my friend (who as I write this is a missionary to South Korea).  I love them as brothers, sisters and laborers together in the Gospel! I pray for them as often as I remember them and made sure to pray for there churches as I finished writing this.

"We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."
 - 1 Thess. 1:2-3


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bearing Witness

"For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." - Hebrews 2:2-4

"Prove it!" This is common statement I hear from skeptics regarding Christianity. "That's all fine and good, but prove with absolute certainty that what you say is true." The issue ultimately is not the lack of evidence, because believe me it's there, the heart of the issue is the issue of the heart.
Just as it is for us, it was for the apostles and Jesus Himself. The hearts of the Pharisees were no more harder then the skeptics of today. They s the works of Jesus and still walked away from Christ. We can look at one example in Luke 7 where Jesus resurrected the widows son. What did it says the reaction of the people were?

"Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country."
-Luke 7:16-17.

We can see that the people saw that Jesus was obviously speaking for God. It showed that the message He had was authoritative and divine in origin. This doesn't stop just with Jesus but continues on to the apostles as well. Paul, in 2 Corinthians begins to defend his apostleship and authority. In chapter 12 verse 12 he gives a defense of his apostleship writing, "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works."

Signs and wonders were the sign of the true apostle- an authoritative witness of the Glorious Risen Savior.

This is exactly why I started this section with Hebrews 2. It also supports the idea that signs and wonders (The supernatural working of the Spirit of God as we see in the book of Acts) were to authenticate the authority of the apostles.

"For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution- Hebrews 2:2

Here the writer of Hebrews is talking about the Old Covenant- the law, a message of sin and condemnation. It was proven reliable by signs and wonders. It doesn't take more then a cursory look at the book of Exodus to see how God proved his messengers reliable.

Exodus 4:6- Leprosy Miracle
Exodus 7:8-13- Aarons staff turns into a snake
Exodus 7:14-12:51- Plagues of Egypt
Exodus 14- Crossing the Red Sea

And on and on the miracles go in the book of Exodus.

I do think, before going further, a definition for miracle (signs and wonders etc...) would be imperative to the discussion.

R.C. Sproul gives a very precise definition of a miracle. He defines a miracle in the broad sense that, "A work that only God can do, such as bringing life out of death, such as, restoring a limb that has been cut off—by command—such as, walking on the water, such as, turning water into wine." So, when the extraordinary happens through the ordinary. [1]

In this sense, this is not the same as God working supernaturally or God healing through prayer. The difference is in the use of human agent in the work. We all know God can (and will) raise the dead. (1 Cor. 15). But, when we see Elisha do it in 2 Kings 4, it is a miracle in a sense Sproul is speaking of.

Miracles (signs and wonders) carry with them the authority of God. As we've seen, only true messengers of God do true signs and wonders. The writer of Hebrews takes this thought forward into his day and time in the rest of the passage.

how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. -Hebrews 2:3-4

The message of salvation was declared first by Jesus then by those who heard from Jesus and, the writer says, this message was attested to by "signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." We have seen various examples throughout Scripture of the miracles of Jesus. But, let's put the microscope under the miraculous workings of the apostles, specifically those laid out in 1 Corinthians 12.

Signs of the Spirit

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills - 1 Cor. 12:4-11

Here we see that gifts of the Spirit (tounges, prophecy etc...) put right alongside the working of miracles. While we will handle each gift specifically later on, it is important to see that the working of these gifts gave testimony to the message of the Gospel. Signs and wonders, along with gifts of the Spirit were "distributed according to his will." (2 Cor. 12:11, Heb. 2:4). These gifts were one of the many ways the Spirit testifies about Jesus (John 15:26). As 1 Corinthians 12:3 says "...and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit." and that is the whole point, they were to show that Jesus is LORD both through gifts and conversion. They were signs pointing to the reality of the Gospel.

What About Stephen?

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. - Acts 6:8  Many would point to this in the book of Acts and would claim that obviously these gifts were available past the apostles and to everyone in the church.  It is true that Stephen was not one of the twelve, but neither was Paul (and yet Paul performed miracles as well).  What were the requirements of being an apostle in the Bible?  They had to have seen the ressurected Lord Jesus (Acts 1:22).  There were nearly 500 men who had seen this according to Paul (1 Cor. 15:6).  So, in one sense Stephen was an "apostle" though not in the same sense as being one of the chosen, like Mathias.

Also, whether Stephen had seen Jesus or not is somewhat of an inference, but after Stephen preaches to the people, we have a confirmed sighting of Jesus.  "But [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God." -Acts 7:55.

Stephen did see the risen Jesus, just as Paul had.  This shows that he was certainly someone in a different category then "the rest of the church" as some have claimed.  He was a man who was full of the Spirit, yes, but even as the disciples did miracles before seeing the risen Christ (Matthew 10 for example) so Stephen did too.  The Spirit, through his miracles, and through his visions points the people to the "glory of God".  Let us also remember that even faithful men like Stephen faced persecution for his message, and he only got to the message of sin, not of the cross (Acts 7:51-53).

The Here And Now

As we've seen, the signs and wonders done in Bible were meant to be an authoritative sign of the early church.  We don't see these signs in the church today. We don't literally raise the dead, restore limbs or do the works that the apostles did. Though we, like Stephen and the apostles, had not seen the risen Jesus, our witness is not without hope! The Holy Spirit still does the work in conviction of sin (John 16:8) and the work of teaching and revealing Spiritual truth (John 14:26, 1 Cor. 2) and the work of rebirth. (John 3). Now we have the message of the apostles, in the Word of God, and there miracles testify to it. The Holy Spirit "carried along" the authors of Scripture so that it is the true authentic Word of the living God and there miracles prove there divine origin. By this word we are born again (1 Peter 1:23) and it is this word that will endure forever (Matthew 24:35).  The London Baptist Confession 1686 speaks of the work of the Spirit and the Holy Spirit this way,

"The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased." (1:1)

The works of these men were as a witness to the Scriptures, but while "those former ways" has now "ceased" the Scriptures abide forever.

The new birth, given by the Spirit through the Word of God is our commendation- our testimony to the outside world. Paul writes more about this in 2 Corinthians 3.

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. - 2 Corinthians 3:1-3

The Spirit's work in us, promised all the way back in the Old Testament (Ezek. 36:26) is all the testimony we need for the truth we claim. Whatever the skeptic might want to say, God Himself has already made Himself known in Creation (Romans 1:18-20), but ultimately in Christ. Skeptics will say if God will just show Himself they will believe Him, but He already has shown Himself in Jesus Christ, God in the Flesh. (John 1:14). He came to earth, destroyed the temple of His body, and as He said He would, He raised it up again (John 2:19). The skeptic will never see this apart from the work of Spirit to show them the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3-4) and we praise the one who opened our blinded eyes to see. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

An Introduction: A Plea for Humility and Unity

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. - Ephesians 4:4-7

   It seems more and more in the church of Jesus Christ, we walk in disunity. We are called the Body of Christ, but it seems we present ourselves more like Mr. Potato Head. By that I mean, and I'm guilty of this too, we put ourselves more into packs and troops then think ourselves as the Church as a whole.
    We want to divide ourselves by whether we are Reformed or not, whether we use drums in service or not or whether we vote on church issues or let the elders take care of it. While all these issue have there own degree of importance, some more the others, what we need to remember is that for believers on all sides of all these issues, the Lord will be an inexhaustible fountain of joy through the knowledge of Him.
    John 17:3 says, "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." For every believer, this is true, we await an eternity of joy and wonder as we gaze upon the risen Lamb and sing to Him a new song! (Rev. 5:9-10)
    No issue in the church today has been more discussed then the work of the Holy Spirit.  We always hear churches and people draw lines over issues such as tongues, healing (and for the the super scholarly) the place of prophecy in the life of the Church.
   I think for most of us three thoughts go through our minds as we read or think about the work of the Holy Spirit in believers.  Some, from more traditional Baptist or Reformed backgrounds may have visions of people rolling on the floor babbling while the worship band repeats the same chorus yet ANOTHER time.  If you are from a more Pentecostal background and know that while to those who are unfamiliar these things may seem odd, that they are an express of devotion to God.  Or maybe you're like so many: caught in the middle scratching your head.
   Over the history of the Church three main views have remained regarding the gifts.  If you are from the more traditional background and see the more "miraculous" gifts (tongues etc...) then you are familiar with what is called "cessationism" which is the view gifts like that of the apostles ceassed after the 1st century.  Or maybe you are more familiar with the Pentecostal experience (or something similar) then you would be familiar with the view called "Continuationism", which by virtue of the name means the belief that all the gifts of the Spirit available to the 1st century church are in use in the church today.
   Lastly, and much more commonly there is a third view becoming popular in the church today, it's the view called "open but cautious".  Which, in short, is the view that while the gifts of  the Spirit may be available, whether for practical or other reasons are not actively sought after.
   Regardless of your view (each of which will be fleshed out more over the coming chapters) you are in good company.  Great men such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Martin Lloyd Johns, Sam Storms, and even Methodist preacher John Wesley have been sited as continuations.  While men such as Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, along with many of the other Reformers and even John MacArthur have been sited, or directed been quoted as cessationists.  Even those of you who would consider themselves "open but cautious" have Richard Gaffin from Westminster Serminary and David Platt, author of the book "Radical" who once gave a theological principle I think should be clear as topics like this are discussed.  "In essentials unity, In non-essentials, liberty" [1]
   The fact that all of these great men of the faith have disagreed on this issue just shows how humble we need to be when approaching it.  I know the temptation for the reader of this work will be to skip to the section on controversial issues of the Spirit.  I understand that and appreciate those who wish to study the meat of the Word.  But, let me encourage you, this work is not going to necessarily break any ground, but what I seek to do is bring a Biblical understanding and exaltation of the Person and Work of the Spirit of God.  This book is not meant to be a systematic theology, but to give an introduction and to help new believers and remind long time believers, of the glorious Third Person of the Trinity.
  So, let us come, in unity (Ephesians 4:4-7) around God in His nature and the Gospel and it's power (1 Cor. 15:1-11) and worship Him in Spirit and in Truth! (John 4:24).  "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." (Romans 8:14)  As we set out to search the Scriptures let us also be humble in our attitude toward each other and toward doctrine.  Let our prayer be, "Spirit of Truth, guide us into all truth!"

John 16:13 "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."

[1] "Silence in Judgment Amid Shouts of Mercy" delivered by David Platt on Revelation 6:1-8:1, Sept. 02, 2012, http://www.radical.net/media/series/view/1106/silence-in-judgment-amid-shouts-of-mercy?filter=book&book=66

Going To Begin A Series on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Posting the Introduction soon!  (I have posted a few pieces of it, but it will be posted in a better order)