An Honest Talk about Spiritual Gifts

July 28, 2012
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At one point in my life, I never knew there were people who bought into this “active spiritual gifts” stuff. And by that, I meant those who believed in healing, tongues, prophecy, and miracles going on today. I also never knew that many years later I’d blog about a subject that once made me so uncomfortable to talk about. But I can’t take all the credit for this. Thanks goes to my Greek syntax professor at Southern Seminary and a few random yet intentional convos with friends as I was forced to handle this subject as best as I knew how. Why? Like the topics mentioned in my marriage posts, 1 Corinthians deals with this subject for three whole chapters! I had to do something besides shrugging my shoulders, saying I don’t believe this stuff, and moving on to chapter 15.

First, I think a few sincere statements need to be made. Being honest about our fears and discomforts over spiritual gifts can help ‘level the playing field’ between cessationists (those who don’t buy that stuff) and charismatics (those who do buy into that stuff). This requires that both camps be honest with and about the Bible. It also requires that some of the personal fears and discomforts be rightly labeled as red herrings, and then done away with.

Here are some of the common oft-repeated arguments against certain spiritual gifts being active for today: 1) no biblical warrant; 2) fears of it interfering with the canon being closed and its implications; 3) TBN’s heavy influence; 4) surely God wouldn’t sanction stuff like that; 5) it was only for the time of the apostles [meaning only they were able to exercise certain gifts]; 6) the sole focus of 1 Corinthians 13 (and the ripping of its context used in marriage ceremonies); and 7) the lack of comfortable boundaries with spiritual gifts {my own take}.

Not all spiritual gifts are questioned as valid for today, only a handful. Some are so adamant that ‘the handful’ are no longer active that they have taken strong stands against the other camp. I was once that way, but now I’d refer to myself as a recovering cessationist both in theory and practice. Now there is no question that when we’re discussing spiritual gifts, we’re dealing with something similar to Baskin-Robbins’ 31 flavors. It’s extremely hard to pin down and 1 Cor 12:4-6 explains why:”Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” There are varieties of gifts, services and activities that we have to deal with and keep in mind! This has to be our starting point. We also must understand that the Greek language refers to that as present and actively going on, which means they are still ongoing from the 1st century in Corinth to the 21st century.

Our second starting point must be to let the text speak for itself in another area, namely, the apostles weren’t the only ones given the spiritual gifts. Let me explain with Luke 9 and 10. In these two chapters, Jesus sends out the apostles to proclaim repentance and belief first, then he sends out the 72 others.

Luke 9 begins as such:”And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.”  “6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.”  “37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for  he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but  they could not.”  So here we see Jesus giving them power, they exercise it along their journey, and then they are unable to exercise it with the child.

Turning to Luke 10 we see this: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and  greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not,  it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that  the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on  that day for Sodom than for that town.”

Jesus sending out the apostles mirrors His sending out the seventy-two. Both were given spiritual power and authority. And both were successful in doing just that. Hopefully now that argument by the cessationist camp will stop popping up. I purposely didn’t mention how the aforementioned 1 Corinthians passage is not speaking to apostles, but to God’s people. But that’s just for you as the reader to think through.

The third starting point looks to 1 Corinthians 1. This is crucial because it ought to bridge both camps instead of dividing them. “4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as  the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Corinthian church lacked not one single spiritual gift. Paul later said that there are varieties of gifts, services, and activities. Oh, and Paul thanked God for this grace seen among the Corinthian Christians!

The fourth and final starting point comes from 1 Corinthians 14, and this should spur the charismatics camp from going overboard. “37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers,  earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and  in order.” Simply put, brothers of the charismatics camp, let’s stop with the ‘I can do all [spiritual gift] things in Christ’ attitude when trying to justify the chaos going on in our churches just to feel better about yourself and your worship. The Lord isn’t pleased. Decency is commanded and God’s Word should never be set aside for personal want.

The Spirit gives willingly and freely to all saints. He’s been doing it since Pentecost and He’s not showing any signs of slowing down. The Spirit hasn’t placed any controllable, comfortable borders around the gifts that have been disseminated. And that may bring fear to the hearts of those who are not okay with not being able to control how the Spirit works….sorry. He’s God, so let Him be. The Spirit isn’t working alone in this manner as He points all saints to God in Christ Jesus, cf 1 Cor 12:4-6. As long as these 4 starting points are adhered to based from Scripture, we should be able to talk sincerely about this.

I’m well aware that there are myriads of discussions to be had about the other areas of spiritual gifts that do bring about fear and discomfort. Perhaps I will provide another post to shed light on the matter from my point of view. However, I’m more concerned with both Christian camps getting past talking at each other and begin talking to each other. Surely linguistics professors, Greek scholars, expositors and students of the Word can form a roundtable to thoroughly deal with this, but what will that do for the people in the pews. Who knows? I suspect that it won’t enrich them one bit.

I was once a cessationist taught what I’d refer to as a hermeneutical system labeled cessationism. I no longer believe that system to be valid nor biblical. I am now jokingly a recovering cessationist, which is to say that I fully believe in the active operation of all the gifts today. In other words, I’m a charismatic but I don’t fully feel comfy in the other camp. Having studied chapters 12-14 in the Greek, I without reservation believe my view to be the correct one, and am open to any brothers wanting to hash this out with me. I’m not fully comfortable with every single thing, but then I reflect on the varieties of gifts, services, and activities. And then I’m humbled and set back on trusting God to work this out.

I pray this encourages those who read it and helps both camps to talk sincerely and honestly about spiritual gifts as we talk about them to one another.


Accepting the Exception, part 4

July 22, 2012
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So where do I stand on this very difficult issue? What are the ramifications of my position? Well, I’m glad you asked.

I hold to the permanence view of marriage meaning I believe the Bible never allows for divorce. Also means the Bible never allows for remarriage, unless the spouse dies thereby giving the widow biblical rights to remarry someone in the Lord. I have shown how this view rightly handles the exception clause verses. I have intentionally not discussed many other passages because they speak to my position and most folks who don’t agree with me (not all) wouldn’t go outside the Matthew passages.

Now I can say that 1 Corinthians is another somewhat ‘hotbed’ passage when in all honesty, it shouldn’t be. If a person reads that chapter in its entirety without stopping to say “Aha!” to someone, then they should be able to see exactly what Paul’s saying.

The majority view of Protestantism is the two-clause view where divorce and remarriage are allowed if a spouse commits adultery or abandons their spouse. What’s their proof? Matthew 5 and 19. Is it valid? Not in my book. Is it really ever challenged? Nope! Why not? Because a majority of people hold to it and teach it from the pulpit, so what would it benefit an unsure member to question. Of course I’m speaking in a jokingly manner to some extent, but I truly believe this position to be untenable.

The other view is the one-clause view where divorce is allowed if a spouse commits adultery. I find this position also untenable.

I do think it’s necessary to say that the ramifications of these 3 views are vast. Divorce is a terrible thing no doubt. Even with our current divorce rate being so high, it’s never spoken of in a rose-colored light. In fact, the pastors who hold to views different from me tend to not express their view as confidently as they probably should because they know God hates divorce. So should those divorced people be treated differently? No. But then that question begs this question: are the people really the issue or is the level of tolerance and treatment the issue? In other words, divorced people want to know that they’ll be treated just as kind as someone who’s now single or married, and that their pastor won’t preach ‘against’ them or what they’ve done. It’s such an illogical absurd argument to begin with, yet it consumes most.

Divorce is a sin; all 3 views agree on that. Grace is available; all 3 views agree on that. So if a pastor holding to my position speaks against divorce, then yes he’ll label it as it rightly is, sin, and then he’ll point them to reconciliation and grace. If a person’s feelings gets hurt by him preaching from that purview, well then I guess every other hurtful doctrinal position must be thrown out with the topic of divorce. Why? Because there are a myriad of other topics that the Bible covers and labels as sin, and if the pastor preaches on it and offends someone by doing so, then there won’t be any non-offended person left in the local church. That would render preaching unnecessary and could creep into the “Emergent” approach of looking at it as optional. That, my friends, is absurd and not biblical.

So that is where I stand. Again when I was teaching 1 Corinthians 7 to the men’s group, verses 10-11 is where I ran into trouble. From verse 17 and following, I no longer ran into trouble once I was able to read and teach it in one chunk. In fact, as I reached verse 39, the men were scratching their heads asking to go back to earlier verses to make sense of it all. Well the permanence view is how it all makes sense.

Accepting the Exception, part 3

July 15, 2012
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So having dealt with Matthew 5, and labeling it a passage that speaks to remarriage, it’s time to turn our attention to Matthew 19:1-12. This passage speaks to marriage while also touching on remarriage. What’s so remarkable is what’s remarkably missed and hardly discussed by those who hold to the one and two-clause views and that is the response of the Lord’s disciples in vv 10-12.

In the beginning of this chapter, Jesus had finished teaching in Galilee and was moving to Judea. As usual, he has a large crowd listening and following him. Like clockwork, Jesus is proclaiming truth and performing healings.

3 And Pharisees came up to him and  tested him by asking,  “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said,  ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and  the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him,  “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your  hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only  those to  whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs  for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

And present are the Pharisees trying to find a way to condemn Jesus in a valid manner. So they decide to ask him a question about marriage? Again, notice the question asked: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” To this question Jesus responds by calling their attention to the Torah, mainly Genesis 2. What God has joined together, no man is to separate. Jesus answers the Pharisees’ question with a sound no! Question asked, question answered.

Here comes the second question, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” Now this question wouldn’t make sense if Jesus had answered it is lawful to divorce for any reason. Since Jesus said no, they rebuttal for justification of their actions and teaching. ‘If it’s not lawful, then why would Moses command the giving of a divorce certificate’ could have been their thinking which produced the second question. Then Jesus gives his second answer, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” In other words, Moses allowed you because of your sinful hearts, but do know that the Torah’s first teaching about marriage still stands. Question asked, question answered.

So is divorce lawful at all? No. Well why did Moses allow it? It’s because you’re sinful, but it’s still not lawful, and never has been.

Verse 9 here sheds light on the Matthew 5 passage as it sums up succinctly what He taught there. The man who divorces his wife, and gets remarried, commits adultery. Sound familiar? It should. However, if she has already committed adultery, then the deed is done.

Now this next section is where the rubber meets the road. The disciples comment, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Based on all they had heard growing up in the synagogues compared to what Jesus had just taught, surely they were confused. If man isn’t allowed to divorce his wife despite the teachings of the two popular rabbis, they conclude that it’s better not to ever get married. Does Jesus pat them on the back and give them a soothing word? Does Jesus console them and remind them that they have exceptions to this longstanding biblical rule? Of course not! Jesus responds by saying, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.” In other words, the gift of marriage isn’t given to everybody, but to those whom it’s given is the ability to honor the biblical teaching. Jesus concludes his private disciples teaching with this, “Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

May we no longer run to or from the exception clauses, but understand them in its context.

Accepting the Exception, part 2

July 14, 2012
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God hates divorce, but he allows for divorce with exceptions….

I’ve heard that phrase so many times and never understood the logic of it.

Then I asked a few pastors about how they counsel pre-marital couples when they hold to the exception clauses, and frankly I wasn’t pleased with their response either. The gist of what I heard was ‘I always tell them marriage is for life and is a covenant. I never tell them about the exception clauses, but I do allow for them as I see and understand scriptures.’ WHAT? It’s at this moment I give my best impression of Arnold Drummond and say, “what you talking ‘bout Willis?”

That train of thinking doesn’t make sense to me. A pastor will preach on marriage and teach on the exception clauses to his church, but will duck that issue when talking to pre-marital couples. Irony knows no bounds obviously.

So let’s deal with the first exception clause verse found in the Bible.

“It was also said,  ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and  whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Here, Jesus is teaching the crowds about personal relationships, with the goal of helping them understand the Torah better and clearly. The crowd has been inundated with present rabbinical teaching, which conflicts with what the Bible says, so Jesus is straightening things out as it were. He desires the crowd to understand one simple thing: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

In verse 31, Jesus quotes to the Jewish crowd Deuteronomy 24:1, a verse they would know well. It’s critical to pay attention to how Jesus starts off his statement. “Whoever sends his wife away” signifies divorce, right? Moses begins Deut 24 talking about divorce, not about the legitimacy of it. In fact, Deut 24 does not condemn or condone divorce; it just covers how the man and woman are to conduct themselves once it’s taken place. Jesus is beginning his statement with that starting place in mind. In other words, the Jewish crowd has heard that when divorce occurs, the man must give the woman a divorce certificate.

Verse 32 is always the sticky verse, but I no longer see it that way, and I’ll explain why. Jesus says to the crowd, you’ve heard it said this way (quoting Deut 24:1), but I say that every man who divorces his wife makes her commit adultery! Startling isn’t it? I’m purposely focusing on the complete phrase first. In Deut 24, Moses dealt with how the divorced woman would go marry another man, and if he divorced her, the first husband was not allowed to remarry her because she was considered defiled (Dt. 24:4). This is the line of thinking the Jews would know and were taught to follow, and this is what Jesus is alluding to when he says a man divorcing his wife makes her commit adultery. Simply because it’s anticipated that she will remarry, and when she does, she commits adultery, and the man made her. The 2nd half of verse 32 helps us complete this thought: “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” That woman is not the only adultery involved partner her, the new husband is also.

But that’s not fair…..that’s not what I’ve always been taught about this verse. When comparing this verse to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, that’s what you will walk away with.

So what about the exception clause in the 1st half of the verse? I’m glad you asked. Every man who divorces his wife makes her commit adultery, “except on the ground of sexual immorality” is how we can read that part. Now that we understand where Jesus is starting from, it helps make the exception clause much easier to understand. The husband makes his wife commit adultery by divorcing her with the assumption that she’ll remarry except when she has already committed adultery.  Did you get that? The husband doesn’t make the wife commit adultery through divorce when she’s already committed it.

Now before we wrap this up, I want to challenge you to meditate on the reason why Jesus would say adultery has been committed when divorce happens. In our culture, we don’t understand marriage and divorce that way. In churches where the two-clause and one-clause views are held and preached, marriage and divorce isn’t understood that way. So why the disconnect? I submit that Jesus is in Matthew 5 speaking solely to the issue of remarriage here. Notice how he began his statement in verse 31. He never questioned the legitimacy of it, in the same ilk as Moses, he just dealt with the remarriage portion of the topic. So remarriage is sin and Jesus calls it adultery because the one flesh union is unbreakable until death, so a spouse having sex with someone outside their spouse is considered adultery. It will be that way until one spouse dies and the other is free to marry.

Give it some thought. I’d love to hear back from my readers.

Accepting the Exception

July 14, 2012
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Over many years, Protestants have held to a majority view on what the Bible teaches about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I was even taught that view, though it came in a one size fits all manner because the pastor purposely chose not to teach on any other view. So for over a decade I’ve sided with the majority view. And over the last few weeks, this topic has been discussed with me on many levels from many people. I’ve even had random guys talk to me about relationships and marriage always comes into the fray. At first I felt like I had some kind of marriage counselor sign hanging over me that everybody else could see but me. Then I realized the Lord was pushing me via conversation.

Back in 2009, I was made aware of the two other views on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I’ll simply list the views with a concise description of them: two-clause view is where adultery and abandonment are biblical reasons for divorce and remarriage; one-clause view is where adultery allows for divorce and remarriage; permanence view doesn’t allow for divorce or remarriage. And just to be thorough, there is a view that says if abuse, adultery, abandonment, unhappiness, and a host of other things are biblical reasons for divorce and remarriage.  I was challenged to consider these major views although I stubbornly held to the two-clause view and was unwilling to budge.

In 2010, I was asked to teach 1 Corinthians for a men’s bible study and I was more than excited to dive into this book. As I approached chapter 7, I had to deal with Paul’s teaching on marriage and divorce while I also dealt with the Protestant majority view that used this very chapter to prove their two-clauses. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. As I studied the text in both English and Greek, I began to find myself challenging the view I always held. So I taught my newfound view from 1 Corinthians (which was a hard presentation) to the men, and they threw up the exception clauses verses in my face. Bloody but unbowed I stepped up to the challenge ready to answer their questions…and I simply couldn’t.

About a month ago I had a good friend call me up to discuss the topic as he prepared to write a paper over it for his Ethics class. So we talked over a few verses and varying approaches to understanding the topic biblically, and ironically he came away with the one-clause view due to my persuasive argumentation and clear teaching of the Scriptures.

So I set out on a journey to fully understand these exception verses found in Matthew 5 and 19. I’ll deal with them in a simple, literal, straightforward manner while giving my stance and understanding of the text. However, I do know there are texts that could go unmentioned but are not forgotten, such as a good chunk of 1 Corinthians, Malachi 3, Hosea 1-3, Mark 10, Luke 16, and Romans 7. If I am found guilty of not touching on these, it’s because I’ve just listed them as credible verses to read and study, and I truly want to deal with the exception clause verses without inputting any other verses into the equation at this moment. I trust you’ll be patient with me, there’s no telling how many posts I’ll muster up.


Cute But Incorrect

July 2, 2012
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“Church is not a house (or place) for saints. It is a hospital (or place) for sinners.”

Have you heard this saying before? Have you found yourself or someone you know nodding in agreement? And now that social media is exploding, sayings like this are plastered on sites followed by dozens of likes and retweets.

But there’s a major problem going on here.

The saying is entirely and completely incorrect and the key words are misapplied and not properly understood. Well, how I do know that? I’m glad you asked.

The basic thrust of this statement is the church building is a welcoming place for sinners who don’t have it all together, while also not being a welcoming place for saints. Notice I said the church building, and not the church. The church is not a place, but a people. The church is not an activity, but a possession of God. The church building is the place where activities take place on a regular basis. But that church building doesn’t make disciples, engage the culture, honor the government, speak for the disenfranchised, love God, serve widows and orphans, show love for one another so that the world may know that God sent Jesus, and thousands of other examples. See the difference?

The church is known biblically as an assembly or congregation of God’s people. In other words, the church is a gathering of saved people. The hospital has never been confused with that definition! The hospital is a place of business established for the purposes of treating the sick and curing them if medicinally possible. The hospital treats the body solely. The church treats the soul by targeting the spiritual states of the hearts of the people. The hospital offers medicine as the cure. The church has only one remedy – Jesus. Biblically, the church is described as a house in the spiritual sense as found in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

Being that the church is an assembly of people, the people must be identified. Earlier, I stated the church is composed of God’s people, and the passage referred to them as holy. So we can rightfully conclude that the church is made up of God’s holy people. These holy people also often described as saints, which the Hebrew word “qadosh” and Greek work “hagios” used in the Bible are defined as holy or set apart. So biblically speaking, the church is indeed a house (in the spiritual sense) made up of saints for the saints.

This last part is where things can get sticky. Whenever sinners are brought into a church discussion, fears surface and language tends to get tricky. So let’s get the obvious out-of-the-way first. The church is made up of saints, not sinners. The activity of a church service is made up of saints and sinners. The church service takes place in the church building where sinners are welcomed. So the church service is a place for sinners. Amen somebody? Sinners are invited to come watch the saints worship their Lord and Savior and hear about the sins of mankind and how the penalty for those sins were paid for on the cross by their Lord and Savior. What’s typically not discussed about church services is the spectator role sinners play, but it should be. Sinners cannot become a part of the church unless they repent and believe the gospel. Once they do, they become saints along with the other holy ones of which the church is comprised.

So this oft-repeated saying is cute to some, but incorrect. And if our local churches taught clear understanding of what the church is, then maybe this saying would fade away into the abyss. Oh I can only dream, can’t I?

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