CharisMissional

empowered by the spirit for mission

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

How many mainstream evangelical charismatic churches are welcoming GLBT 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 – personally I’m still undecided.

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 the Bible’s exhortations to care for one another seriously.

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. Please note 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. He argues that this is a ‘disputable matter’ akin to those found in Romans 14. So he does not feel that he can dogmatically demand repentance or excommunicate people who refuse to forsake their homosexuality.

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. 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.

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 lead celibate lifestyles.

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 with the proviso that you 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. Despite this very positive review, as I said in the opening, I am still undecided about the conclusions.

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

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)

6 Aspects of Justification in the New Perspective on Paul

I’ve recently been trying to get a clearer understanding of the New Perspective on Paul. This is an approach to understanding the doctrines outlined in Paul’s letters that is gaining increasing popularity among evangelicals. Tom Wright’s book on Justification is one book that gives a good outline of this approach.

I have jotted down six main aspects of justification from the new perspective. These are just starting points in my understanding of this viewpoint. But I trust that they are helpful in seeing some of the similarities and differences of the new perspective and traditional evangelical understanding of the teachings of Paul.

1. Justification is the result of responding to the gospel.

The doctrine of justification is not the gospel. The gospel is primarily the message of Christ’s death and resurrection. Justification is the result of responding to the gospel. When we have done so God not only takes away our sin through Jesus death but also gives us righteousness through the Christ’s resurrection resulting in our justification.

2. Justification depends on the righteousness of Christ

The new perspective denies the doctrine of ‘imputed righteousness’ – i.e. the teaching that Christ’s righteousness is transferred to individuals so that on judgement day that is what God sees. But Wright still says God declares us righteous on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. So how can this be? The next two points explain.

3. Justification is the result of us being ‘in Christ’

Rather than Christ’s righteousness being given to us God simply declares us righteous because as we are ‘in Christ’. As I understand it this means that, rather than God looking at us each in turn and seeing the righteousness of Christ, God looks at Christ and he sees us, the church, as the body of Christ standing there together.

4. Justification is collective rather than individual

Justification & New Perspective on PaulWright argues that the Bible’s narrative culminates in both Jews and Gentiles coming into Christ as one new man. God’s purpose is not primarily about individual salvation but about the creation of a community. Together as part of this new creation we inherit the promises God made to Israel and so enjoy the blessings of the covenant.

5. Justification also depends on the Holy Spirit

Wright emphasises the need to trust in Holy Spirit to keep us ‘in Christ’ so that ultimately we will be judged to be righteous ‘in Christ’ on the day of judgement. However I don’t think Wright is saying that it is possible to lose our salvation as he also argues for the doctrine of assurance. Indeed, the sixth point emphasises this.

6. Justification fills us with joy and anticipation

As Christians we have been declared righteous in Christ. Eschatologically we look forward with great joy to the day when this same verdict will be announced. We live out our righteousness and make every effort to remain in Christ. We have the joy of knowing that our standing before God doesn’t depend on our efforts but God’s Spirit.

What do you think?

I trust that some of these points will add to your understanding of the New Perspective on Paul. I have tried to put them in my own words and I am still trying to get this viewpoint clear in my mind. Please feel free to let me know what you think about how I’ve expressed these six aspects and what you might add to this list.

Related Posts

Justification: Has Wright Got It Right? – a post from a couple of years ago on my old blog

Further Reading

Understanding Justification – a short review and some quotes from N.T. Wright’s book compiled by David Matthew

Current Trends of Thought on Paul and the Gospel by David Matthew

Justification and the New Perspective – a post by Scott Lencke from 2009

The Justification Debate: A Primer – a Christianity Today article from 2009

A Summary of the New Perspective on Paul from The Paul Page

September 24, 2013 at 6:00 pm Comments (0)

Walking Through God’s Creation

Today for September’s Synchroblog several bloggers are posting on the title “Loving Nature – Is God Green?” This post is my contribution. Please also read other contributors to the synchroblog by following the links at the bottom of this post.

Sundays in August

IMG_5871In August our church spends time out doors – we go for picnics in parks or walks in the countryside. These replace our usual Sunday services and are great times to invite friends to. I always love these times and get to as many as I can.

These are times when we can eat our packed lunches together and enjoy each other’s company but they are also times to revel in God’s creation. These are often opportunities to get out of an urban environment to walk in woodlands or at least to relax in the greenery of one of Birmingham’s parks.

It is great to be outside worshiping God through creation. God’s creation is important. It’s times like this that I feel reminded by God that we all have a part to play in looking after this beautiful world that he has given us.

Worshiping God through creation

IMG_5868What I like is both getting some good healthy exercise and time to wonder at the greatness of our king in making and sustaining each shade of colour in the trees and the sky. I must confess to sometimes finding a sense of oneness with God, of wholeness and peace on such occasions.

It can be just great to look up at the trees, to see an awesome horizon in the distance or even hold a leaf and meditate on its intricacies. Yes, I do things like that! God created all of these from the greatest to the smallest. This is the God that I know and intimately experience.

As Christians thinking of creation often leads to the creationist debate that puts the Bible at odds with science. Perhaps we need to get beyond such unhelpful debates. Instead we need to get to grips with the amazing wonder of creation and with our mandate not just to rule creation but also caring for creation on God’s behalf.IMG_5888

Why God’s creation is important

The Bible teaches we are stewards of God’s creation. God has given it for us as humans to rule on his behalf. This means we are to care for it and treat it respectfully. Just because we can increasingly control elements of the natural world does not mean that we can do with them as we please.

Damaging our environment will have consequences that we will have to live with perhaps for many generations. I know this idea may jar with those who expect Jesus to return at any moment. But I believe that we need to take such a long term view and it is irresponsible not to care because you think, ‘It will all burn anyway’!

We all have our part to play

I am glad that environmental issues are now more mainstream than they used to be – and not just the domain of extreme left-wing politics or new-agers. It’s now the norm to recycle much of our waste – at least here in the UK. Some of us also compost food waste. It’s a pity that others have led the way in this and as Christians we have been so slow of the mark to speak out on to the Bible’s teaching of stewardship.

I think it is great that we are now beginning to hear more of a positive Christian perspective on environment issues. If you want to know more you might be interested in exploring my brief selection of links below from such organisations as the Evangelical Alliance, Christian Aid, and Christianity Today. Don’t forget take a look at what other bloggers think on this issue too.

Further Reading

Christian Aid has a number of resources including these Climate Change Policy Papers
The Evangelical Alliance has a list of Christian Environmental Groups with more links to follow.
One of the groups listed, Christian Ecology Link has a number of leaflets such as this one on Ethical Investment

Related Posts

Planting New Life in Detroit’s Vacated Landscape – a link post to a Christianity Today article on Urban Agriculture.

Posts taking part in this synchroblog

September 17, 2013 at 6:00 pm Comment (1)

New Wine School of Missional Leadership – Part 3

Concluding this series here are the rest of my notes from the School of Missional Leadership.

Missional leadership on purpose

The following day Mick Woodhead said something that really spoke to me at the beginning of his talk: ‘The place for healing is on the mission field not at the front of the church”.

He then went on to explain how in last ten years people can follow many people over the internet – but it is good to follow people who are next door and available.

As a starter he suggested listing the top ten people who are most likely to see you as a role model (apart from your family).

His main point on how to find people to lead involved what he called the 4Rs

Recognise

From Luke chapter 10 he told us to look for what he called “the person of peace”
• the person who likes you – they chat with you
• listens to you – they are interested in you
• serves you – they get you a cup of coffee
Of these people particularly choose those who people gather around or who go round to people.

He suggested include University students if you can as these are the most under reached group in our country

Raise them up

Linking back to what Nick Haigh had set he encouraged us to meet with them, huddle with them (even if it’s just four of you briefly over coffee once a month), get them on board.

Release

Give them opportunity to serve and apprentice them.

Resource them

Provide them with everything you have

Missional Leadership: What will be!

Mark Carey rounded off the school by looking getting us to think what we had learned and to begin to think about planning for the future.

Discipleship

His main concern was that we were discipled primarily by Jesus but also by someone following Jesus – mainly in character but maybe also in competence – but could find that elsewhere – it’s up to you to look.

A test he suggested for those you attempt to make yourselves accountable to is do they say “how have you got on with what we talked about before?” If they say this – especially if it makes you squirm because you haven’t done anything – this is a good sign that they are good people to disciple you.

Mark Carey has a monthly huddle via skype call including others being huddled. But it might be better for it to be more often, he said.

“I need some accountability I need someone to say, “How are you getting on with this”? I cannot do this on my own or I will be continually picked off by the enemy. You have to go after and find other people you can be accountable to.”

Kairos

God's TimeMark encouraged us to take small steps – not too many steps at once or we miss out too much. Focus more on the process for our sake and those we are leading not too much on the destination. It may involve deliberately stopping something or letting some things slip so that you can concentrate on what God want you to be doing.

He encouraged us to get on and ‘Just do something’ and then evaluate it as we go.

The Greek word Kairos in Mark 1:14 the time he explained means an opportune moment – a time of breakthrough. In this time we are to repent by observing, reflecting and discussing and then believe by planning accounting (being making yourself accountable) and acting:

Mark Carey concluded by exhorting us in our missional contexts to look at what has happened, what is happening now and set goals of what will be.

September 11, 2013 at 6:00 pm Comment (1)

New Wine School of Missional Leadership – Part 2

Here are more my notes from the School of Missional Leadership including the Character of a Missional Leader and a Disciple Who Makes Disciples as well as an extra seminar on by Andy Hawthorne who has initiated a number of missional enterprises.

Character of Missional Leader

Jesus followed a cultural model of a Rabbi when he invited people to follow him. How do we invitee people today into our lives?

I don’t usually like football but I was deeply touched by this powerful clip that Diane Kershaw showed us from Chasing Eric that highlights to importance of building relationship and working together.

Dianne went on to outline some principles of team work. Talk to God about people more than you talk to people about God she said and Challenge those who want to be in a challenging environment but leave others alone.

Jesus modelled vulnerability – people saw him in his most dire moments going to the cross. Be vulnerable – recognise where you’ve got things wrong and admit it – good spiritual recovery involves forgiveness and repentance.

Some people may feel unsafe if you are too vulnerable but there are some you can talk more deeply with who will be helped by you sharing your weaknesses.

New day of enterprise

Later that day I went to another additional seminar with Andy Hawthorn of the Message Trust.

Andy Hawthorn said that three things that vulnerable people who come to Christ need: a job, a good home and a supportive community. But today 20% young people unemployed, 10% graduates.

The Eden Project brings together Christ centred domestic enterprise (giving people jobs), creative arts and community transformation.

Following in footsteps of Booth’s Salvation Army match factories – the Message Trust developed 5 enterprises: hair & beauty, café, wedding business, cycle recycling and a building team.

Andy Hawthorn believes that the church is positioned perfectly to provide work for unemployed people.

A disciple who makes disciples

On the next day Nick Haigh explained how we all have different personalities some prefer to be a sheep – happy in our relationship with Christ – others prefer to be shepherds and activists.

Some of us need to make an effort to realise our responsibility to disciple others rather than just take time on our own to pray – others – visa versa.

He encouraged us to meet in a ‘huddle’ with those 4 to 12 people we are doing mission with. Discuss how you live your life in 3 dimensions – up (spirituality), in (support network), out (service) and ask how it is going for them, he said. You may need to explain spirituality however it is appropriate if they are not Christians.

September 10, 2013 at 6:00 pm Comment (1)

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