CharisMissional

empowered by the spirit for mission

What can we learn from the Quakers?

Continuing the series on what we can learn from other Christian traditions I want to look at the Quakers. The Quakers stand somewhere distinct from the liberal and liturgical traditions that I have covered and also from the evangelical and charismatic traditions that I would see as my own. They have an interesting relationship with all four from which we can learn a lot.

Quaker_definition_logoFrom my readings about the Quakers I would say that a key belief of the Quakers is that we can directly hear from God. Their founding principle was that we do not need the church and priests to mediate between us and God. We can directly experience God for ourselves through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Quakers and the liturgical church

Quakers very much rejected most of the trapping of the liturgical church on their foundation – choosing rather just to worship together as the Spirit leads relating to one another as friends. This has a number of implications:

• Many will still have prepared worship with planned readings, songs and sermons but also have a time of just waiting on God with more spontaneous worship.

• Though they reject the idea of ordination many groups recognise those with gifts of speaking within the congregation – including women – but do not dress in any way that marks them out as special. Quakers usually have elders and a few may even have a paid pastor.

• Quakers reject the sacraments of communion and baptism. They believe that breaking of bread simply refers to sharing meals together and that baptism just refers to our spirit baptism when we come to know the Lord.

• Quakers reject the church calendar. They would advocate a living a simple life all year round rather than giving things up for lent. They believe in commemorating Christ’s death and resurrection every day of the year and not just at Easter.

There is much to commend in these ideas such informal worship style and belief in the priesthood of all believers but many would see their ideas of rejecting all sacraments as going too far.

Quakers and the evangelical church

The Quakers have always emphasised a personal relationship with God through Jesus. Like evangelicals they would believe in personal Bible study and prayer that involves conversing with God through Christ and by the Holy Spirit.

George Fox - founder of the Quakers

George Fox – founder of the Quakers

In the 19th century, due to the influence of the Great American Awakenings, some Quakers became more evangelical and began to put more emphasis on Jesus as Lord and Saviour and on his atoning work on the cross.

Again, they have always taken the Bible seriously but do not appear to have bought into modern evangelical proof-texting or debates about the inerrancy of scripture. They also honour other revelation. But their idea of the God speaking through the scriptures is one both evangelicals and charismatics would generally applaud.

Quakers and the charismatic church

A main focus of the Quakers has always been on listening to God’s voice as an inner experience that comes both through reading and studying the Bible and directly through the leading of the Holy Spirit – where thoughts will come to mind with a sense that they are from God. Quakers refer to this as the Inner Light.

During their time of waiting on the Lord anyone may bring a contribution. After some silent reflection and seeking God another contribution may be brought. This is rather like a charismatic meeting where gifts of the Spirit are shared such as prophecies except traditionally there are much longer periods of silence.

Their spontaneous worship and reliance on hearing God and being led by the Spirit are vital lessons. Of course we need to take care that this doesn’t lead us into error as it can be a subjective experience open to many unconscious influences. The Quakers emphasis on the Bible is an important balance but it has not always stopped them straying from the orthodox faith.

Quakers and the liberal church

The Quakers have for a long time stood for social justice issues just as many liberals do today. Among other things they were also known for opposing slavery and being pacifists – being conscientious objectors during wartime choosing to form an ambulance corp in the First World War rather than fight. Peace is a major emphasis in their understanding of God as is valuing others equally as we all bare God’s image.

They have also sought to be an influence for the kingdom of God in this world. They have always sought to live a simple lifestyle. Quakers have founded businesses that are very well known today such as Cadbury’s and have a great philanthropic heritage in trusts and charities and even among non-Christians now have a very positive reputation.

In the 19th and early 20th century they were also influenced by liberal ideas in interpreting the Bible including modern ideas of higher criticism, from the 70s by Universalist ideas and even more recently non-theistic ideas. So much so that some Quakers today would even place themselves outside of orthodox Christianity. Despite this, I feel that there is much in their heritage that we as evangelical and charismatic Christians can learn from today.

Lessons for today?

The Quaker Star

The Quaker Star

From my little study of the Quakers, despite some of their faults, I would say that there are many ways that we should aspire to be like the Quakers:

• Hold onto some elements of planned worship but strongly embraced spontaneity and informality.

• Cultivate a personal relation with Jesus including salvation though the atonement. This is experienced in our daily life and through Bible study and conversational prayer.

• Be led by the Holy Spirit and experience his work in our lives and hearing his voice daily – something I often feel like a beginner in, even after many years.

• Live simply, stand for social justice and seek to be an influence for God’s kingdom in the world.

If you have experience or knowledge of Quakers please let me know if you think this assessment is a fair one and let me know what you would add.

Further Reading

Quakers on Wikipedia
Quakers – on the BBC’s website
Ask a Quaker on Rachel Held Evans blog

June 7, 2014 at 6:00 pm Comment (1)

What Can We Learn From the Liturgical Church?

Continuing this series on what we can learn from other branches of the church I want to look at the liturgical tradition.

Liturgical church By liturgical I am referring to churches that have planned and set words such as readings and prayers that are read out and rituals that are dutifully performed on a regular basis. This is one of the oldest branches of the church and represents many tradition including Presbyterians, Anglicans, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

Problems with the liturgical church

Charismatics have usually frowned on the idea of liturgy. One of our defining characteristics is our intimacy with God. We experience a wonderful sense of God’s presence both in our own devotional times and when we meet together. Prayer is not just an intellectual activity it is also an emotional one where we experience freedom from guilt

How to talk to God

God is our father – our daddy. We can approach him any time and tell him how we feel and ask him whatever we like. We do not have to follow a formula to come into his presence. It is not that we have to perform the right rituals or even the right behavior to be allowed into his presence. We should not be frightened of doing or saying the wrong thing.

Liturgy and history

Very quickly in church history this extemporary worship gave way to planned liturgy. Worship also began to involve patterns of Old Testament worship such as priests, sacrifices and altars, which the New Testament had clearly done away with. As such ordinary worshipers became distanced from God, especially as they became more onlookers than participants.

Protestantism dealt with some of this but in the 60s the Holy Spirit began to be poured out on the liturgical church in what became known as the Charismatic Renewal. The legacy of this today is that many within liturgical traditions have experienced the Holy Spirit in dynamic ways. They are often in a process of moving away from their liturgy to express this intimacy with God.

What value is liturgy?

The liturgy that remains may have been made more contemporary and in denominations such as Anglicanism has included more space for those who wish to express their freedom. Those who’ve experienced the freedom and grace may look down on liturgy. But it still remains and is valued by many.

Is there anything that we can learn from this? What elements could we non-liturgical churches if any incorporate into our worship? In considering this question it important to recognise that using liturgical element as and when we feel they are appropriate is very different from being bound by them.

What can we learn from the liturgical church?

Planning

When worship is well planned activities don’t get neglected if there isn’t time for it. Important elements such as communion and praying for current affairs can be scheduled in each week. Having an overall picture can mean that what is sung, preached, read and prayed can be planned to fit together seamlessly and the whole experience makes more sense to the worshipper.

Preparation

Sometimes the emphasis is on the priest leading but often today parts of the liturgy are delegated. People who wouldn’t be confident enough to take an initiative themselves in more spontaneous worship can feel at home in taking part enabling more people’s gifts to be used in worship.

Shared words and actions

The biblical emphasis on us being the Body of Christ points to worship being corporate. Shared words read together and actions such as taking communion together can be a great expression of corporate worship. I wonder if planning to include carefully prepared elements from our liturgical tradition might add to this sense of corporate worship.

Elements to include from the liturgical church:

Sacraments

We must take care not to forget the very real spiritual impact of physical acts. I believe that in a sense God is present when we break bread and surely meeting with God and enjoying his hospitality is the very reason we gather. Similarly let us remember the very real power of baptism in freeing people from their sins and the importance of anointing with oil in prayer for the sick.

Songs

In a real way our worship songs are for many churches a new liturgy. Those with lyrical depth, good theology to ponder and tunes that are easy for congregations to sing are often the great hymns of the past. Let us not forget these hymns when planning our worship. There is plenty that we can learn from these for those who compose new songs for us to use to sing God’s praise.

Prayers

When words are crafted ahead of time they can have a poetic depth that may be lacking with off the cuff contributions. Everyone praying the same words together adds to our sense of corporate worship. Finding or writing such prayers could be done in contemporary style meetings especially if they are projected on screens so that they people hands are free to be raised.

Art

Church artwork is present in ancient buildings but fear of idolatry has often meant it has been avoided in more recent protestant churches. Yet beautiful images can sometimes help our concentration in meditation together in worship. Today we can incorporate photographs of God’s creation and classic artwork in images we project during worship for all to see.

Calendar

The Christian year gives us an excellent thought through plan for our worship and teaching. The knowledge that this is being followed by many others outside of our own church adds to the sense of corporate worship. This shared focus can even enhance discussion of the Bible with other believers outside of our local congregation, especially now we have the internet.

So…

The liturgical church can severely lack an intimate relationship with God. Nevertheless those of us that have that intimacy with God can enhance our corporate worship by planning and preparing to include these elements from liturgical worship into more contemporary style worship as and when we feel appropriate.

June 7, 2014 at 10:00 am Comments (0)

What can we learn from Liberal Christianity?

This week I am started a series of posts on what we can learn from several different Christian traditions. My own tradition is evangelical charismatic but as well as looking at those two roots I want to look at a few others. I shall start with liberal Christianity.

Isn’t Liberal Christianity dangerous?

Descent_of_the_Modernists,_E._J._Pace,_Christian_Cartoons,_1922If like me you are from an evangelical background you might well be wary of liberal theology – after all liberals don’t really believe the Bible do they?

Yes, liberal Christians has been known for their doubts – doubts about the historical nature of the Bible particularly the supernatural elements of the Bible such as miracles, probably most importantly the miracle of Jesus resurrection. As such many evangelical Christians would consider them the enemy of true Christianity.

Question too many things and you can get accused of being a liberal backslider” as portrayed in Martyn Joseph’s song. The idea is that if we start ask too many questions or doubt the literal interpretation of the Bible then we are on a slippery slope as the cartoon Descent of the Modernists illustrates. Of course I would tend to agree that they do go too far and depart from my understanding of Christianity.

In the end liberal Christianity can end up being nothing more than morality and miss the emphasis on the gospel entirely. It can end up preaching a watered down version of the law and miss the gospel of grace. However, doubts and questions are very important. Our faith needs to be open to scrutiny and surely testing what is right can only strengthen our faith.

What does Liberal Christianity say about interpreting scripture?

Liberals have traditionally recognised that the Bible is a set of documents written within a particular historical setting. They are not just a set of propositions to be followed. Anyone who has done any serious Bible study knows, we need to take care in interpreting the Bible. We need to understand the type of writing and the historical context in which it is written.

If Paul told a church to do something it doesn’t necessarily follow that God is telling us to do that today. The words need to be interpreted before they can be applied in our contemporary setting. Just taking the Bible as rules to follow can lead problems with many issues such as gender roles and head covering as well as understanding prophetic books like Revelation

Liberals are associated taking passages more figuratively understanding that poetry, hyperbole and imagery were never intended to be taken literally. Of cause, the conclusions of liberal scholars sometimes need to be rejected especially when they doubt something fundamental such as the claims of Jesus or deny the resurrection.

I think that it is good that liberals honestly evaluate the scriptures but when their conclusions undermine our faith then we need to be wary. But taken with discernment I believe there are some things we can learned from them. Personally I prefer to read evangelical scholars but I think there are some liberal influences in evangelical writing that can valuable.

For example, evangelical evolutionist Peter Enns has argued recently Genesis (at least the early parts) is probably best seen in mythological terms as many liberal scholars have argued for a long time. But it is not that he is denying the truth of the Bible. Myth is often misunderstood as being untrue rather than as being a story with a spiritual meaning written as history.

I have also enjoyed reading Greg Boyd’s positive portrayal of doubt in Benefit of the Doubt. Boyd challenges the idea of faith being certainty and sees it as being willing to commit even if we are not sure. He clearly and brilliantly places these ideas, which might once have only been associated with liberal Christianity, firmly in a sound evangelical context.

What does Liberal Christianity say about righteousness and justice?

In The Normal Christian Birth David Pawson advocates “a synthesis of the ‘liberal’ emphasis on repentance, the ‘evangelical’ on faith, the ‘sacramental’ on baptism and the ‘pentecostal’ on the Spirit.”

Liberals have not just emphasised rationality and interpretation but also practical application.“Liberal thought has concentrated on repentance,” David Pawson writes, “especially in terms of radically changed attitudes and lifestyles, though in recent years the emphasis has been on social injustice rather than personal immorality.”

Liberals have emphasised the Bible’s teachings about our behaviour – the moral teachings of Jesus such as in the Sermon on the Mount and the call of the Old Testament prophets to care for the marginalised such as widows, orphans, foreigners and the poor. We should applaud their integrity when we see their efforts to put this into practice and follow their example.

It is important to distinguish liberal theology from liberal politics here. The left/right distinction in politics hasn’t always been helpful. However it is worthy of note that the liberal branch of Christianity has been associated with important and stands for social justice that have sometimes brought them into conflict with right wing politics.

Of course if social action is your only focus that you have missed an important element of the gospel and ceased to lead people to Christ. But there is no reason why both cannot be emphasised are part of our mission as for instance we see with William Booth and the Salvation Army who took preaching the gospel and serving the poor equally seriously.

So what can we learn from Liberal Christianity?

From our liberal friends we can learn not to just take the plain literal meaning of a text without thoughtful interpretation. We can learn to take into account the nature of the writing and the context in which it was written and how the original readers would have understood it. Of cause we also need to take the Bible seriously and use ‘interpretation’ to avoid what we know it says.

And we can learn the importance of social justice. Though liberal Christianity should not be confused with liberal politics there may be a lot of overlap. Speaking out for and serving the marginalised and poor can be seen as important way to express Jesus love to the world. But again we should not do this at the expense of telling people the good news about Jesus.

I hope you can agree that we would do well to remember these positive elements even if we forget that their liberal origins, be grateful for them and seek to put these into practice in our own lives rather than just criticise this tradition for its short comings.

Further reading

Liberal Christianity – Please check out this Wikipedia entry if you’re unsure about what I’m saying or if you just want to know more about Liberal Christianity.

April 29, 2014 at 8:35 pm Comment (1)

What is the Purpose of Life?

In the late 90s Paul Baloche was leading worship and he sang out “Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see you”. He had been reading Ephesians 1:18 and been praying this prayer. He wasn’t sure how the rest of the song came out but fortunately it was recorded and from that he wrote the worship classic “Open The Eyes of My Heart”.

This week I have been reading Ephesians and it occurred to me that this could be seen as a prayer for God to open our eyes to the ultimate purpose of life. It is about seeing Jesus and might sound like praying to see some sort of vision of Jesus. But really it is about experiencing the resurrected Jesus in your life and realising that your true identity can only be found in him.

I have recently been listening to the rerun of the radio series the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on Radio 4 Extra. In this a giant computer is built to calculate the answer to the ultimate question, of life the universe and everything. It eventually arrives at the answer of 42. You see the problem was no one knew what the question was so another computer had to be built to figure that out.

When I was a teenager I dedicated my life to finding out what life was all about. I wanted to really know what our ultimate purpose was. I obsessed over this for months. This quest eventually led me to Jesus and the Bible. Of all the passages in the Bible the first part of Ephesians one is probably one of the clearest about what our purpose really is. What is the meaning of life?

The purpose of life is found in Jesus

The Body of Christ, image from IFBC

The Body of Christ, image from IFBC

God’s purpose is to bring everything under the authority of Christ. It is nothing less than bringing the universe together in his kingdom with Christ as the supreme ruling entity and we are to be part of that purpose. We are the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the temple of Christ and we have the mind of Christ – not as individuals but corporately.

The purpose of life is to be joined to Christ functioning as part of his body on earth ushering in his kingdom rule. Paul’s prayer for the spiritual eyes to be opened is that somehow we will grasp that we are part of something bigger – something that will last for eternity.

Our purpose is so much more than his traditionally preached as the gospel. It is not just about a personal relationship with Jesus. Coming into God’s Kingdom and so into the body of Christ is not about losing our individuality under an oppressive regime or following rules and regulations. It is about relating together, bonding in love with one another and together being Christ on the earth.

Ephesians 2 shows that God breaks down walls of prejudice that might divide us. Colossians says there is neither male nor female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free. Christianity should be known for integrating races, genders and social classes – God’s the ultimate equality agenda. We are formed together into ‘a new humanity’ – not just a new race but a new being – a corporate individual.

Being incorporated into Christ is the result of the gospel. The true church is not ‘worthy institution’ or a building you go to on Sundays. It is a network of people bound together in love. This is the church that is destined to grow and fill the earth as more and more people find their true purpose in life.

The purpose of life is found in getting on with one another

Of course, let’s be real it isn’t easy getting on with one another. As an introvert I am very aware of my need for to be alone. Our own personal relationship with Jesus is vitally important but my Christianity cannot just be about this. It must overflow as I function albeit imperfectly as part of a body networking with other believers and even further in reaching out to those outside my faith community.

This week I watched Disney’s Frozen for the first time. I was in tears. I could really identify with the misunderstood villain come heroine Elsa in her self-imposed exile. I suspect that there is something in all of us that others that feels misunderstood and struggles to control the desire to lash out, even if it is now deeply buried in our memories. Learning self control can sometimes be an uphill struggle.

When I am frustrated with others and even lose control I know that there is forgiveness as God gently directs me and I believe helps me to improve in this area. The fruit of the Spirit grows within us to build character strengths to enable us to function together in love. We are baptised into this body and equipped by God’s Spirit to be the hands and feet of Christ to a world in need.

The purpose of life is found in reaching out to others

Jesus sent out the 12 and the 72 and by implication all his followers to tell the world of this message. They showed love to others by joining the communities wherever they found themselves. For instance in Luke 10 we see the disciples moving into new neighbourhoods, accepting hospitality and then reaching out into that community.

In reaching out Jesus followers were to tell people about Jesus. But their mission was not restricted to words. It also included acts of kindness. In the first part of Luke 10 we see that these were supernatural healings bringing health and wholeness to people just as Jesus did.

In the later part of Luke 10 Jesus also show in the parable of the Good Samaritan that these expressions of love involved helping people in ordinary ways too. Sometimes when we see needs we can wait for someone else to act but if we are Christ on earth surely we should be the ones that take that initiative.

Fulfilling our purpose together

This week I have felt my eyes being opened afresh to this wonderful truth. Yes, I struggle with building relationships. But God has joined me to others and in that I find my fulfilment. In that is the answer to life the Universe and Everything – to bring all things together under Christ’. My prayer is that God will open all our eyes to his amazing purpose.
I wonder what further practical steps we can take to practically outwork this together.

April 25, 2014 at 9:12 am Comments (0)

A Letter To My Congregation – a book about Welcoming Gay People into the Church

How many mainstream evangelical charismatic churches are welcoming LGBT members into their congregations without saying that they need to repent? Well, probably not many! But this is what is happening in Ann Arbor Vineyard Church in Michigan. Ken Wilson’s book A Letter to My Congregation explains why. Having read this book I’d say that it’s well worth you getting a copy whether you agree with his conclusions or not.

Church of the Pilgrims

A gay friendly church. Photo from Flickr by Drama Queen.

Why is A Letter to My Congregation relevant to me?

As the title says, this book is really an extended letter to his church written by Ken Wilson – an evangelical charismatic pastor in the Vineyard movement. He wrote it to explain why the church has begun to welcome gay people and why it is not exercising church discipline when they continue with their gay lifestyle.

However this book’s relevance goes beyond this one congregation. Wilson’s view is that whether gay sex in itself is sin is not as clear in the scriptures as we once thought. If accepted, this view may cast doubt on the standard evangelical practice of eventually putting someone out of the church for being a practicing homosexual.

Any evangelical with pastoral responsibility might want to examine Wilson’s argument carefully especially if they know anyone who is gay or want to reach out to the gay community. Those in the Vineyard movement or similar evangelical charismatic churches may be particularly interested. Ultimately this book could also be for anyone who, like me, may not have an official role in a church but who takes seriously the Bible’s exhortations to care for one another.

What are the benefits of reading A Letter to My Congregation?

This book gives some very moving insights into Wilson’s own journey with God wrestling with this issue in real pastoral situations and in his own study of the scriptures. He writes about discussions both with members of his own congregation and with other leaders in his own denomination. However, Wilson’s view does not represent the official position taken by Vineyard.

Anyone serious about understanding the Bible will benefit from the example of Wilson’s approach to hermeneutics whether they agree with his conclusions or not. He looks carefully at specific Hebrew and Greek words. He is very thoughtful about when to take a statement as prescriptive or descriptive. And he is very aware of the importance of textual, historical and cultural contexts as well as placing his argument into the wider context of the gospel.

Wilson outlines his solution to the problem of gay people wanting to follow Jesus when the traditional evangelical response is that homosexuality is a sin. But rather than affirming that gay sex is not sin he argues for a third way. His thesis is that this is ‘disputable matter’ akin to those found in Romans 14. He accepts and welcomes such people not feeling that he can dogmatically demand repentance or excommunicate them for not changing.

Yes, but what are the practical implications for me of reading A Letter to My Congregation?

Reading this book will help equip you for conversations on this topic. You will better understand the nuances within this debate and that it is not as black and white as you may have once thought. Some of these arguments might not be easy to get your head around nevertheless they could be very worth your while studying.

Hopefully reading Wilson’s pastoral concerns and situations will give you a greater compassion for people within the gay community even if in the end you do not agree with all that he says. He is clearly dealing with actual people and not a theoretical issue. And for some his arguments may be an eye opener as to how people can be true followers of Jesus and still be gay and yet respect the authority of the Bible.

More importantly it may drive you to examine Wilson’s argument and come to your own informed conclusions of what the Bible does really say and what the implications of this are for today. Hopefully it will do this before someone who is gay and wants to follow Jesus asks you for your thoughts on what the Bible says about homosexuality!

Isn’t A Letter to My Congregation a dangerous book?

Some will undoubtedly see redefining of sexual morality like this as bowing to cultural pressure as gay marriage becomes increasingly acceptable. But perhaps the biggest danger is that this book could cause people to fall out and even churches and denominations to split over this issue. Even addressing this topic may be considered divisive by some.

However Wilson is arguing for a third way beyond either simply asserting homosexuality is a sin or categorically denying that it is. By placing it within the category of ‘disputable matters’ he is saying that Christians can still have unity and be in the same church or network of churches even though they might have strong and opposing moral opinions on this issue. This should not be an issue that divides Christians.

These hermeneutical arguments aren’t that easy to articulate in conversation. Discussions could cause frustration and misunderstanding. But I don’t believe that this should cause us to shy away from them. It might be better to show people the book rather than to try to argue the points yourself. But an awareness of these arguments can certainly inform your conversations.

How does A Letter to My Congregation compare to similar resources?

Most books and resources fall into the two camps that Wilson outlines: the “welcoming and affirming” camp or the “love the sinner, hate the sin” camp.

The “welcoming and affirming” literature may be helpful in arguing some of the hermeneutical points that Wilson outlines. However as much comes from a more liberal Christian position it may be seen as unpalatable and of little relevance by those in evangelical congregations.

The “love the sinner, hate the sin” literature can appear very cold and clinical. It might show the arguments clearly from the Bible but may not always deal with the pastoral consequences. The notable exceptions are accounts by people with gay orientations who have felt that the solution is to remain celibate.

The only book I have seen that takes a third way similar to Wilson’s is Andrew Marin’s Love is an Orientation. Marin is engaged in Christian mission to gay communities. He refuses to come down on either side when asked if it homosexuality is a sin. This approach can come over as very frustrating. Seeing this issue as a ‘disputable matter’ as Wilson argues is really helpful.

It is important to understand that Wilson’s book is just one side of a hotly contested debate in evangelical Christianity. Last year in the UK leading evangelical Steve Chalke came out in favour of affirming gay relationships and published a detailed argument. Subsequently this was debated in Christianity Magazine with articles by Steve Chalke answered by Greg Downes taking the more traditional line.

So is A Letter to My Congregation worth buying?

Yes, I would highly recommend buying Wilson’s book. But please also read the other side of the debate, study the Bible yourself and seek God with an open mind and heart on this issue. If you do read A Letter to My Congregation I would love to hear what you think.

Related Post

The Evangelicals You Don’t Know This book that I reviewed last year gives some of the background to the changing face of evangelicalism in the States.

Further Reading

The Bible and Homosexuality – a series of articles in Christianity Magazine from 2013 featuring opposing views from Steve Chalke and Greg Downes

Against Heterosexuality – a recent article by Michael W. Hannon that gives an important counter argument from the traditional viewpoint. Hannon argues that the modern idea of sexual orientation obscures the real issue.

A detailed review of Andrew Marin’s ground breaking book from 2009: Love is an Orientation

An interview with Ken Wilson

Accepting without affirming – A short review by David Matthew followed by quite a few quotes from the book that should whet your appetite.

March 4, 2014 at 6:00 pm Comments (2)

Cosmos Reborn by John Crowder

A book review

Cosmos Reborn follows on from John Crowder’s earlier book Mystical Union where he introduced his teaching on the finished work of Christ. Here he develops the ideas further. He looks at the deeper at the doctrine of the atonement and examines the earth shattering implications of the cross in his own readable, if quirky, style.

Is Cosmos Reborn Hyper-Grace teaching?

John Crowder is associated with a group of teachers labelled as “hyper-grace teachers”. If you’re interested in finding the truth of what these people actually teach this I suggest you start with Mystical Union or D.R. Silva’s book Hyper-Grace. If you want to see how “hyper-grace” teaching might fit into a wider theological framework then read Cosmos Reborn for John Crowder’s take on this.

Watch this trailer and listen to some quotes from the book:

What is Cosmos Reborn feel like to read?

You might find the first chapter in Cosmos Reborn, which is trying to counter anti-intellectualism, a little frustrating. I certainly did but then again I didn’t need it. But once you get past this you’ll read John Crowder explaining some intriguing theological points. Often he explains these clearly and simply but sometimes he stretches a point too far.

His writing is both entertaining and more rigorous than you might expect. He quotes extensively from a wide variety of sources including C. Baxter Krugar and Karl Barth. He uses a great variety of Bible translations including the recently published paraphrase the Mirror Bible by Francis De Toit, whose other writings he also quotes.

At first John Crowder’s tone may sound a little hyped but as he gets his teeth into the theology he appears to calm down. He is very encouraging but sometimes very repetitive too. And if you did start off without any theological knowledge at all you might find some of this material a confusing at times. Nevertheless you will find this mostly to be quite accessible theology.

What does Cosmos Reborn actually teach?

Here is a quick rundown of some of the main points:

Fractal Cosmos by  new 1lluminati on Flickr

Fractal Cosmos by new 1lluminati on Flickr

• This book explains what it means to be born again and united with Christ and how we are looking forward to the entire world being ‘born again’ in a similar way when Jesus returns. Hence the title! But before it covers plenty of theological ground before it gets to this point.

• Throughout the book the teaching on grace shines through. You will go away encouraged that God has forgiven you totally. You don’t need to worry that he’ll be angry with you if you sin again. This wonderful doctrine is the one that the “hyper-grace” teachers have been accused of over emphasising.

• It explains the superiority of the Christus Victor model of the atonement over the evangelical norm of penal substitution. Christus Victor refers to Jesus victory over Satan on the cross by giving his life as a ransom to set us free. Penal substitution refers to Jesus taking God’s punishment as he vented his wrath on his only son.

• As John Crowder explains the work of the cross it becomes apparent that he believes in universal atonement as opposed to the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement. Jesus died for all humankind not just the elect. He atoned for the sin of the whole world or ‘cosmos’ in the Greek.

• But John Crowder is not a Universalist. He is hopeful that many if not all may accept Christ even from the everlasting punishment of hell. A view outlined recently by Jerry L Walls in this interview on Rachel Held Evens blog. Walls was representing the traditional view of hell as eternal torment in contrast to previous interviews with an annihilationist and a universalist.

Hopefully that will help you see where Cosmos Reborn is going and where John Crowder stands on these issues a bit more clearly. In addition to these I can’t promise that you won’t find a few oddball ideas here. Nevertheless this is an enjoyable book with some accessible teaching on the finished work of Jesus on the cross and on the nature of God’s abounding grace.

8/10

Thanks to Mike Morrell of the Speakeasy network for sending me a free copy of Cosmos Reborn to review.

P.S. I must write more about grace and the finished work of the cross sometime.

Related posts

How To Get Stoned On Jesus: Meet John Crowder – a profile showing a balanced assessment of some of the more whacky aspects of John Crowder’s ministry.

Seven Spirits Burning by John Crowder – another of his books previously reviewed.

John Crowder on Baptism with the Spirit

Further reading

Sons of Thunder – previously ‘The New Mystics’, John Crowder’s ministry site with tons of free resources including many vidoes of John Crowder teaching.

John Crowder – Like his fan page on Facebook to receive regular updates of the site and find out what John is getting up to.

Buy Cosmos Reborn on Kindle from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Buy Mystical Union (John Crowder’s previous book introducing the finished work) by from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Buy Hyper-Grace (a defence of the Hyper-Grace teaching) by D.R. Silva from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Confronting the Error of Hyper-Grace an article by Micheal Brown in Charisma Magazine criticising the “Hyper-Grace” teaching.

February 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm Comments (0)

Changed Priorities Ahead

Today for January’s Synchroblog several bloggers are posting on the title “New Beginnings”.

changed priorities ahead

Photo by R/DV/RS on Flickr

This post is my contribution. Please also read other contributors to the synchroblog by following the links that I will add at the bottom of this post.

Changed priorities ahead

Changed Priorities Ahead is a common road sign in Britain. It is often used where the road layout has changed. It is a warning for those who may think they are familiar with the road that something has changed and they may have to give way to other traffic at a point where they didn’t used to.

Christianity has a lot to say about changed priorities ahead. Many Christians look back to a time when they were born again and their life was set on a new course by a deep experience of God’s salvation. Often they experienced many changed priorities ahead in their lives.

My changed priorities are still ahead

My experience occurred over a period of two or three months in the summer over 30 years ago. Many years later when I recounted this story I was asked “But when exactly did you ask Jesus into your life?”

“I don’t remember any exact moment.” I answered. “In fact come to think about asking Jesus into my life is something that I still continue to do to this day.”

Changed priorities ahead – not just a one-off change

We can easily forget that the new beginning that God gives us is something we can continually experience as we let God change our priorities on an ongoing basis to be a better match with his priorities.

Rather than thinking of “Changed priorities ahead” as being a one of experience when we first became a Christian I wonder if it might be better to think of this as a continued lifestyle.

Changing your priorities

January marks a beginning of a new year. As such it can be a great time to look at how we might change those priorities and reflect on a few questions:

What will this year bring?

Will the continuing recession dominate our experiences? Will unrest and war loom on the international horizon? What about the effects of climate change hitting us with extreme weather? Perhaps rather then worrying and waiting for these things it’s time to take hold of your destiny yourself.

What are you doing that is new this year?

Our church is reshuffling our groups and so I am learning to meet with a set of new people. It does require some change but this can be really helpful in bringing us fresh insight as we interact with different people. I wonder what changes will bring new opportunities for you.

How can you change your priorities this year?

New Year’s resolutions can be based on musts and shoulds: “I will stick to my Bible reading schedule.” The danger is that when you fail to keep them you are tempted to give up. If you want to adjust your priorities you’d be much better off setting goals especially regularly reviewed SMART goals.

How can this year bring you one step closer to your dreams?

This is a good question to ask as you are setting our goals. What would you really like to do if money was no object? What would you do if knew you couldn’t fail? You may need to break these dreams down and think of small steps towards them.

Where can you take an initiative this year?

Sometimes these new things are decided by others outside ourselves whether globally or locally. But other times we can start something new ourselves. Initiatives are worth it. Three years ago my wife and I started our own little project – a job club in our neighbourhood which is just now taking off.

What should you stick at something and when should you change?

Sometimes you might be best sticking at things even when it’s difficult and not working out as fast as you thought it would. Other times you might need to refocus and do something different. This is a difficult question that perhaps only you can answer. But it is one that is always worth asking.

The way ahead

Keep reviewing your priorities

Though we have set ourselves goals and are working towards them there are still things that may need readjustment as we go. I am sure that these are questions we will continually come back to time and time again.

Keep reminding yourself of your priorities

Yes, looking at our goals can be a time to change them but also it is a time to remind ourselves to press on with them. And as we get on with your lives throughout the coming year let us press on with what God is giving us to do each day.

Related Posts

An Alternative To New Year’s Resolutions – on my other blog Authentically Positive where I tend to discuss issues to do with positivity, psychology and coaching.

January 21, 2014 at 6:00 pm Comment (1)

What Are the Essentials to a Missional Movement?

Missional Question

What are the essentials to a missional movement?

Missional answer

Discipleship, discipleship and discipleship!

Related missional posts

Missional Living
The Forgotten Ways Handbook
The Forgotten Ways
The Shaping of Things to Come
The Forgotten Ways: Apostles in the Emerging Church

January 14, 2014 at 6:00 pm Comments (0)

9 Bad Charismatic Habits We Need to Break

To round off 2013 J. Lee Grady shares some thoughts in Charisma News about some of the bad habits we have charismatics can be guilty of. “Please pray over this list before you blast me for being critical” he says:

1. The body slam

Pushing someone over when praying for them implying that the Spirit knocked them down

2. The courtesy drop

People falling over to conform to the pressure and fulfil expectations9 Bad Charismatic Habits We Need To Break

3. The song that never ends

This is hyperbole of course but singing songs over and over too many times is still a bad charismatic habit

4. The amateur flag corp

Yes, without supervision flag waving can be dangerous

5. The wannabe telethon offering

Too much emphasis on taking the collection just gives the impression the church is after your money

6. The sermon with seven endings

Preachers shouldn’t lie about being nearly finished when they are only half way through

7. The praise-a-go-go dancers

Embarrassing choreographed dance performances

8. The ear-shattering amp

Please turn the volume down

9. The “jump-start” glossalalia

Don’t ‘teach’ people to speak in tongues by repeating nonsense phrases.

I do agree with this list. I think some of the hyped ways that some people pray for others in big meetings is arguably his most important criticism.

I certainly believe it is vital to pray for people to receive the baptism in the Spirit and there are many other things that we can pray with people for. But personally I think praying in more intimate settings such as homes is a great way to do this but there isn’t anything wrong with doing it in larger gatherings.

Perhaps it is when people just want to be prayed for to have an experience like their friends have had that involves them keeling over that practices like this become unhelpful.

Please read the full article here.

December 31, 2013 at 6:00 pm Comments (0)

10 Gifts of the Holy Spirit

I don’t think it is too far fetched to think that there might be 10 gifts of the Holy Spirit or even more. Paul refers to the nine gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 as manifestations of the Spirit. Could there be other manifestations that we could add to this list or is this the complete list?

Photo by Ken’s Oven on flickr

There are certainly a number of other lists of the gifts. Some refer to spoken contributions when we gather as church. Others include more natural abilities that can be used in serving such as administration. Others list roles in the church such as apostles. Many of these lists overlap and none may be exhaustive.

This is probably the most famous lists of gifts of the Holy Spirit, certainly in charismatic circles. It is through these gifts that we know the Holy Spirit is with us when we gather together and when we are sent out in mission. However some of the gifts are better understood than others.

1 Corinthians 12:8-12

For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.

Before turning to speculation about the tenth gift of the Spirit I want to define each one of the gifts in this passage in turn and look at how they work especially in relation to mission. What are they? How do they work? How do they help us fulfill God’s mission? Of course the purpose of the gifts is to build each other up as the body of Christ but the impact of these gifts also overflows to others.

1. A word of wisdom

This is when God gives someone insight into how God is working out his purposes so that they can speak into a situation enabling someone to make appropriate sensible decisions.

The word of wisdom can be seen as an inspired application of a supernaturally revealed insight into a certain situation. Like many of the gifts this may come in very natural ways in conversations and provide practical help in situations leading to level-headed and successful responses.

Wisdom

Wisdom by zigazou76 on flickr

So is a word of wisdom just God planting a seemingly random thought into our head of what do in a certain situation? Or it is insight about how to apply the truths about God’s ultimate purpose of sending Jesus? Looking at chapters such as 1 Corinthians 2 I get the feeling that it is it is more likely to involve the latter.

In Know Your Spiritual Gifts Mark Stibbe points out that it is not surprising that Jesus – wisdom incarnate – astounded people with his wisdom, such as when he answered his accusers’ questions about eating with sinners or when he said of the woman caught in adultery, ‘If any of you is without sin let him be the first to throw a stone’. Such insights were fundamentally theological but spoke about God’s purposes into situations in very practical ways.

A word of wisdom, then, is God helping us to apply our insights about God’s purposes into the ever the changing situations around us. Perhaps it can involve God helping us to listen to others and to really hear what they saying. The Spirit might bring to mind the questions that we need to ask or a story that might have some bearing on the situation that brings such insight into what is being discussed.

Though the context of 1 Corinthians 12 is the gathered church I see no reason to limit it to church conversations. God also speaks as we are involved in mission. Many of the words of wisdom spoken by Jesus are in conversations with people other than his disciples.

Let us look for God to guide our conversations with everyone so that we may demonstrate God’s wisdom to the world.

2. A word of knowledge

I tend to see the definition of this as ‘God given insight into God’s heart and mind’ that is given by teachers such as Rodman Williams and Mark Stibbe as being the most biblical. But the idea of this being specific knowledge of a situation that God reveals has been popularised by preachers such as John Wimber and is often what people mean when they use this term.

In the 1980s John Wimber popularised the term of a ‘word of knowledge’ as a supernatural insight into a person’s heart or situation. In practice what it often meant was someone getting up in a worship gathering and saying, “There is someone here with…” and describing a certain illness or injury. It is still often used in this way today.

What does the Bible say?

But is this popular idea really what the Bible describes as a ‘word of knowledge’? We can read stories such as Jesus and the woman at the well where God reveals facts supernaturally but what reason do I have to call this a word of knowledge?

Apart from 1 Corinthians 12 the phrase ‘word of knowledge’ doesn’t appear in the Bible. So in order to answer this question two authors I have much respect for Mark Stibbe in Know Your Spiritual Gifts and J Rodman Williams in Renewal Theology both look at the immediate context of what Paul meant by knowledge.

To Paul knowledge didn’t involve finding out about other’s people’s secrets. It involved receiving insight into God’s secrets now revealed – into the “unfathomable depths of God’s grace”, the wonderful truths about “his gracious gift of his son”, this grace that is now available to us his church.

This is not to say that God doesn’t speak supernaturally to people about situations just that they can’t see any justification for calling that a word of knowledge. They both suggest it would be more Biblical to call such experiences prophecy as Bible passages indicate that this is how the prophets spoke and never use the term ‘word of knowledge’.

So how should we define ‘word of knowledge’?

Perhaps it would be more accurately to use the term ‘word of knowledge’ to describe the sharing inspired insights into God’s purposes and grace with those we talk to.

3. Faith

The gift of faith is when God encourages you to hold onto him in a difficult situation even if you can see no way out. People’s faith may be stimulated by stories of answers to prayer – particularly of healing and miracles – or even of others being saved – but we need to ensure that these are cautiously stated and are factual and true or people will become cynical. Ultimately it is God that gives the faith it isn’t something you can whip up.

Faith

Faith by 4thglryofgod

The ability to move mountains

In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul says ‘If I have a faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing’. This is a reference to what Jesus said about mountain moving faith in Mark 11. These verses show that the gift of faith is a supernatural confidence that God will remove any obstacle that gets in the way of us his purposes.

What, all the time?

I don’t agree with much of the Word of Faith teaching sometimes referred to as the ‘faith movement’ that is popular in some Christian media such as the God Channel. They imply that we are called to live in such mountain moving faith all the time. This sort of teaching can get people into serious financial trouble.

No, not all the time

In reality we pray and do not always see the answer come. We may be convinced that it is what God wants but still God does not do it. We also have doubts and we should not be made to feel guilty about that. A friend of mine David Matthew has written this article on this inspired by his own situation of praying for his house to sell.

But yes, sometimes

I believe that on occasions God does give us a confidence to see an obstacle overcome to further the purposes of his kingdom. This is the gift of faith.

4. Gifts of healing

Healings occur when God enables you to supernaturally bring about wholeness and relieve someone’s suffering in response to prayer. Healings may also come in response to you commanding sickness to leave or you commanding a healing to come as we see Jesus and the early apostles doing. But I think we need to take care that we do this in a gentle yet authoritative way.

Any believer can pray for the sick

The Bible says that elders are specifically called to pray for the sick. But it also shows that others may pray for healing too.

Writers such as Mark Stibbe and J Rodman Williams point out that the use of the present continuous tense here indicates that anyone who has been used in healing may expect to be used again in this way.

Of course they would agree that there are no guarantees. Perhaps that is why Paul does not use the term ‘healer’.

Let us pray with faith

The gifts of healing do appear to have a link with the gift of faith. When faith is present healing can happen and lack of faith can inhibit it.

We shouldn’t blame others or ourselves for lack of faith when healing does not occur. This sort of faith is a gift from God as much as the healing is. I don’t know why God doesn’t always heal. But I still keep praying for people and expect them to get well.

Don’t just pray for the sick in church

Of course we pray for each other to be healed when we gather as a church. We may even do that with the laying on of hands. But the Book of Acts shows us that this gift also has an important place in mission.

‘Healing on the Streets’ – a missional project that I looked at earlier this year – follows the Biblical pattern of speaking to the sickness in an authoritative yet gentle way, often also with the laying on of hands and sometimes anointing people with oil. But I don’t believe that street outreach should be the only or even the main outlet for this gift.

Offer to pray for your friends

In everyday conversation if someone tells us about an illness we can offer to pray for them. We may offer to pray for them audibly in front of them and lay hands on them but we don’t have to. We can offer to pray in our own devotional times or suggest that we ask our small group or church to pray.

We can be hesitant sometimes because we fear that God may not heal them. But even if God does not heal them, people will often be grateful for our prayers. So let’s take the opportunity and offer to pray anyway. We might be surprised at the result!

5. Miraculous powers

These are when God enables you to meet the needs of others in amazing and unusual ways. The way this term is often used gives much overlap with healing – but another important aspect of this God given provision. We need to take care to distinguish needs from wants and not be led astray by materialism. I am thrilled when I hear of God providing money and resources when it clearly demonstrates God’s care for the poor.

picture by jczorkmid on flickr

Miracles are powerful sudden and undeniably supernatural works of God. They may include sudden healings or unexplained provision of needs. As a charismatic I believe that miracles continued throughout history and do occur today although by their very nature they are not a common occurrence.

Miracles build our faith

Stories of true miracles are thrilling as they show God at work and bringing his grace and mercy to needy people. It is so encouraging when a friend or colleague tells us of something amazing that has happened as a result of our prayers. This can increase our confidence in praying for the needs of our friends.

Though I am skeptical of hype

Unfortunately if we search the internet for stories of miracles today we find stories of healings in big meetings surrounded by hype. God may well be at work in some of the situations but I must admit to being skeptical.

There are also cases of miracles such the appearance of gold fillings in people’s teeth or gold dust falling from the ceiling. I cannot see why God would do this as I can see no real benefit to the people involved.

I am sure that there are true miracles today

I am thrilled by personal accounts of God answering the prayers of people I know.

I also love hearing stories that are often ‘off the radar’ so to speak. It is great to hear stories of God providing for people, especially in poverty stricken countries, healing people or even bringing them back from the dead in places where access to medical care is limited. Here I can see God’s hand meeting people at a point of need.

Yes, despite my skepticism of the hype I believe that God can and does move today. These are Gifts of miracles!

6. Prophecy

When God speaks to you so that you can show others what he is saying. This doesn’t need to have the trapping of ‘Thus says the Lord…’. You might just want to say that you sense the Holy Spirit is emphasizing something that you go on to explain. It might be about God’s nature or purposes or specifics of a situation. Though some may refer to revelation about specifics of a situation such as insights into someone’s health problems as a word of knowledge – the Bible appears to refer to this as prophecy.

What is prophecy?

As a charismatic I believe that God still speaks today. God speaks through the Bible and the Spirit may emphasise certain verses to us and show us how these apply. This is the beginnings of prophecy.

Christian prophecy should never contradict what the Bible clearly says but it will be more than just someone explaining what the Bible means. It is someone speaking God’s perspective on a particular situation that may include facts that God reveals and even predictions of what God will do.

God may bring ideas to our minds as we focus on him either to be spoken right away or to be meditated on and then spoken at another time.

How should prophecy be worded?

In the Old Testament prophecy was mainly spoken in the first person as if God was actually dictating the message word for word in the prophet’s mind.

Interestingly in the New Testament we see prophecy said as ‘the Holy Spirit says that…’ rather than ‘Thus says the Lord…’ I have heard prophecy today in both formats but I must confess to feeling more comfortable with someone explaining what they feel God might be saying than saying ‘God says…’

This more conversational approach leaves us room to weigh what God is saying. It allows people to take what is good without worrying if they think that one or two phrases were not of God.

Where do we prophesy?

Prophecy may be for each other as we gather together in each other’s homes or in larger gatherings but also it may also be for others outside the church.

It could be that God gives a prophecy that is very relevant to a non-Christian who is visiting our meeting. But it could also be that God speaks to you with something to say to one of your friends or colleagues. If so we could end up prophesying anywhere – in a cafe or in a pub.

I wonder if raising a topic in conversation may prove a more fruitful way to explore what God is saying than saying ‘God told me this…’ especially if you are talking to someone who isn’t a Christian.

Whoever the prophecy is for whether the gathered church or individual friends or colleagues we need to pray for an opportunity to speak it out – and then go for it!

7. Distinguishing between spirits

The gift of discernment may give you insight into what is actually happening in a given spiritual situation. For instance, when someone is apparently responding to God in an unusual way is this really the Holy Spirit moving being embraced with humility or is it an emotional response as the result of human hype or showmanship or are their even evil forces at work here?

Spiritual discernment is telling the origin of a word or action. Is it inspired by God? Is it just someone’s good idea i.e. from their own spirit? Is its origin from some evil forces? As Christians this should be carried out with a charitable attitude. We need to take care that our seeking of the truth doesn’t end up making us angry and bitter mud slingers. Too often have I seen internet discussions between Christians go this way.

Discernment inside the church community

When a prophecy, teaching or an idea is brought to the church or Christian group it is important to discern its origins. Paul says that prophecy should be weighed. If the group is small enough a good way to do this is through questions and discussion. In a larger church situation this conversational approach may be more difficult. But however it is done the final responsibility of sifting what is said rests with the elders. However if God gives this gift to others they can express their feelings on this to the elders.

Discernment outside the church community

It could also be we need to be aware of the forces at work in our community, workplace or wherever we are trying to reach. I am aware that some charismatics have some quite bizarre ideas about how the devil works and how we should deal with him. We often need to be discerning about our approach to discernment.

Nigel Goring Wright’s Theology of the Dark Side gives a helpful and balanced understanding of how these forces may work. See my review of his book here.

8. Speaking in different kinds of tongues

Speaking in tongues is when God enables you to speak to him in languages you have never learnt. As with all the gifts you are still in control but if you receive this gift unlike other gifts you can operate it at will especially to use in their own devotions. Though sometimes the first gift someone receives we cannot say that without this ability someone is not Spirit filled.

The gift of tongues or the gift of languages is the supernatural ability to speak in a language that you have never learnt. Although it can be an earthly language, as it was on the day of Pentecost, often it is a heavenly language that is unintelligible to human hearers unless it is interpreted.

Are tongues the sign of baptism in the Spirit?

In Pentecostal circles speaking in tongues is often understood to be the initial sign of baptism in the Spirit. Baptism in the Spirit is not automatic upon becoming a follower of Jesus. It is a definite deep spiritual experience accompanied by some outward sign. My own experience was that I did speak in tongues but I cannot see from the scriptures that tongues are necessarily the sign of baptism with the Spirit.

How should we use speaking in tongues?

Personally I have found that praying in tongues silently in this way can be a real help as I go about my daily life. It strengthens me enabling me to be confident enough speak out or help someone when I need to and it opens up a channel through which God can guide my prayers.

Also in many charismatic circles there is a practice of everyone speaking in tongues at the same time. It appears that Paul tells the Corinthians that this isn’t the way to use these gifts. It is selfish and will course any guests or visitors to doubt the sanity of the group.

Paul indicates two ways to use tongues. Either one person at a time should speak in audibly tongues and someone else should interpret so that the rest can understand what is said or they should be speak in tongues silently holding the words inside their head.

I have discussed some these points on speaking on tongues before on my previous blog here.

9. Interpretation of tongues

The Bible indicates that speaking in tongues when we come together should involve each person speaking in turn and that someone should then explain to others what someone who just spoke in tongues actually said. I would only speak in tongues in this way if I felt specifically prompted by God and I believe the result would be a prayer from the Spirit that sums up some or all of the people’s hearts. When I hear such tongues or speak them myself I often sense that I understand them and so give the interpretation.

Generally tongues are languages that cannot be understood by the hearer. However Paul talks about tongues being explained to everyone by an interpreter. Many years ago I asked God for the gift of interpretation and began interpreting tongues.

Tongues should be interpreted as prayers

Paul argues that the purpose of speaking in tongues is to speak to God. This indicates to me that an interpretation will not be in the form of God speaking to us. Rather the interpretation will be in the form of a prayer. In my experience this isn’t so much a personal prayer but a prayer that gives insight into the heart of his people towards him – our longings and frustrations, our rejoicing and thanksgiving.

How I began interpreting tongues

After seeking God for the gift of interpretation I found that often when I spoke in tongues I began to understand what I was saying. It wasn’t that I now knew the language and could now translate anything I heard in it. But when I spoke I felt that I intuitively knew what it was about.

In my own devotional times I began to speak in tongues and then speak out what I felt I had said. The next step was to speak out in tongues when we came together as a church and then to interpret that tongue. Also as I listened to other people who spoke in tongues I found that I had similar experiences of understanding. So when people spoke out in tongues I started to also come forward directly after they had and speak out what I believed they had said. It was great to be in a church where there was freedom to do this.

Can we use interpretation in mission?

I have already found that speaking in tongues throughout the day helps guide my silent prayers. I wonder if the next step is to offer to pray with my non-Christian friends when they have a need. Praying silently in tongues to myself first and then praying out the interpretation.

What’s number 10?

Paul refers to these nine as manifestations of the Spirit. There are a number of other lists of the gifts. Some refer to spoken contributions when we gather as church. Others include more natural abilities that can be used in serving such as administration. Others list roles in the church such as apostles. Many of these lists overlap and none may be exhaustive.

In looking for a candidate for the tenth gifts I think we need to consider how the distinction between roles and manifestations is blurred by the way they are mixed in other lists back in 1 Corinthians such as 12:29-31 that lists:
• apostles
• prophets
• miracles
• healing
• helps
• administration
• tongues
• interpretation

So here are some possible candidates for further gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Gifts of ministry

If we refer to Ephesians 4: 11 we see that apostles and prophets appear to be more like offices in the church with the people themselves being the gifts to the church.

However someone may have a gift of evangelism though not have a leadership office of evangelist – perhaps it is still right to see them as an evangelist but not as a leader. Perhaps we can all be endued to some extent with these gifts for example some people may tend to be more prophetic than others or some more pastoral. After all ministry means serving rather than leading and we are all called to serve.

Gifts that amplify natural abilities

Would it be right to put a natural ability alongside these manifestation of the Spirit?

Just as helps and administration are listed in 1 Corinthians 12: 29-31 natural abilities and supernatural endowment are combined in Romans 12:6-10 that lists prophecy alongside:
• serving
• teaching
• encouraging
• giving generously
• leadership
• showing mercy

So perhaps it would.

Gifts of generosity

10th gift of the Holy SpiritCould giving generously be our tenth gift? Another list in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 again blurs the distinction between the nine manifestations and natural abilities and again mentions giving:
• tongues
• prophecy
• faith
• giving generously
• hardship (or martyrdom)

Showing mercy in Romans 10:12 and even hospitality in 1 Peter 4:9-10 may all be kinds of giving generously. For some believers giving of monetary resources may lead to hardship or even giving to the extent of giving our lives in martyrdom in some places today.

As well as martyrdom another gift that might not be too popular today could be that of celibacy. If you look at Corinthians 7:7 this might be another candidate for us – thankfully alongside marriage. Perhaps this could be another an aspect of generosity implying a giving up of our time to the extent of not spending it on raising a family.

To minister or to serve is just one manifestation of giving generously. And though someone may naturally give even if they are not a believer yet God can empower giving in amazing ways. So if I had to nominate a tenth to add to complete this list of the ten gifts of the Holy Spirit personally I’d choose gifts of generosity.

What do you think?

Are their only nine manifestations? I know there are only nine in I Corinthians 12:8-10 but God is such a creative God, surely there must be more? Perhaps you can think of others – either in the Bible or in your own experience. Which one would you nominate as the tenth? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Further Reading

Here is a good summary of Mark Stibbe’s out of print book Know Your Spiritual Gifts summarised by Alison Morgan

A friend of mine Scott Lencke is blogging about these gifts from 1 Corinthians 12 in his own blog Prodigal Thought and in a related team blog called “To Be Continued”.

Scott Lencke has started a series of posts over on Prodigal Thought on ‘What is Prophecy?’ Part one is here.

Discerning of Spirits another a post by Scott Lencke on Prodigal Thought.

Related posts on CharisMissional

What Are Your Spiritual Gifts?
What Does Charismatic Mean?
When I Spoke in Tongues at Greenbelt
How Often Do You Speak in Tongues?

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November 12, 2013 at 6:00 pm Comments (2)

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