22 June 2008

Last night from our study on Pentecost (Download message here) I told you how important it is for you to let Acts 2 govern your understanding of the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. I primarily got my points from John Stott (The Message of ACTS). I said you’ve got to start with Acts 2:1-13. If you don’t, you set yourself up to read your experiences back into the Bible instead of vise versa. What I mean is that it could be easy to go to a charismatic church (or watch a service on TV) and assume what you see is biblical because they call what they’re doing speaking in tongues. It can become easy to rationalize to yourself, "I don’t see this in my church, so they must be afraid of the Holy Spirit" or you think they're ignoring passages like Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 13-14.

Don’t do this. Instead just begin with Acts 2 where the Bible actually portrays what speaking in tongues looks like and use that as a grid for understanding the other New Testament references. Stott makes a big deal over the fact that the Greek words for “Tongue” and “Interpret” are the same throughout the New Testament. So though there are some functional differences between Pentecost and 1 Corinthians 13-14, we’re really talking about the same gift. A New Testament tongue is always either the organ/body part or a known language and the word for “interpret” is always in concert with known languages (Stott).

I’m not saying that by first reading Acts 2 and then reading Paul in 1 Corinthians 13-14 that these debates magically disappear. But at least Acts gives you some sure footing. You choose - do you want to start with TBN, Benney Hinn, Kenneth Copeland or Joyce Meyers? Do you want to start with personal anecdotes like the late night spooky stories you swapped with dorm buddies around microwave popcorn by a desk lamp? Or with the Lord’s inspired story from Acts? I choose Acts.

This forms a couple of presuppositions. First of all, I understand that the gift of tongues for the early church was a revelatory gift. A gift designed by God to communicate truth to his church during the Apostalic age as the Bible was being written. In this way, it makes sense for me to read 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 to say that this gift was going to fade out when the Apostles did. When 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “they will cease” (literally “[tongues] will cease themselves”), I conclude they did, and that they did before the “perfect” comes (1 Cor. 13:10). This is how it seems to play out in the storyline of Acts and why this gift is found only in one of Paul’s letters which happens to be the earliest epistle written in the New Testament.

So, not only do I see that it “ceased” with the Apostolic age but I also believe the gift served a distinct purpose for that distinct period. It was a significant a sign. Every time this gift happened, it was a sign of cursing on Israel for rejecting Jesus and of blessing to the church for accepting Jesus. Paul makes this very clear when he cites Isaiah 28:11-12 in his argument in 1 Corinthians 14:19-22. Pentecost marks a dramatic shift in God’s kingdom program – the church was now born! God’s glory was manifested as a pillar of fire for Israel and now was manifested as “tongues of fire” hovering over his new people. The church - a multi-language, multi-nation, multi-culture people - was suddenly seeing, experiencing, and speaking “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). One last challenge for understanding tongues from 1 Corinthians 13-14 is to remember that Paul’s main point was not to coach the early church to speak in tongues. He was rebuking Corinth for not being a loving church (1 Cor. 13:1-13). Paul was telling them to stop showing off which was turning believers and unbelievers away from truth. Understanding Paul’s intent puts many of his sarcastic and instructive points from chapter 14 in context.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest let me say I’m no expert on the spiritual gifts. I recognize that there is a spectrum for where you can fall in terms of being a cessationist and/or a continuationist. You obviously can believe revelatory gifts are for today and be theologically strong (i.e. Wayne Grudem for one). In fact I recommend Grudem's "4 Views" book where Dr. Robert Saucy takes a “cautious but open” position. I may actually find myself more in his camp when all is said and done. For a quick and clear Bible study on these issues I also recommend the notes from Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 13-14 from The MacArthur Study Bible. For a more detailed recitation from John MacArthur go to his book Charismatic Chaos.


Caron said...

For more on this "movement," see http://www.justinpeters.org... and click on "demo" where you can see Justin giving an overview of his seminar called, "A Call for Discernment" given at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He gets in to the metaphysical roots of WoF...

Justin spoke at my church and comes highly recommended by my pastor, Dr. John MacArthur.

Michael said...

"it makes sense for me to read 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 to say that this gift was going to fade out when the Apostles did"

No, no, no.
1 Corinthians 13:8 (the full verse)
"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away." I am convinced this is just saying (in line of the rest of the passage) that tongues, knowledge, etc. are meaningless without love. If you interpret this to say that the gift of tongues has ceased for today, than you must interpet it to say that knowledge has ceased for today. Talk about out of context. That is such a cop out anyway, why should we not have the faith of the apostles?