Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Charismatic Chaos?

I am preaching on the revelatory gifts of the Spirit in a couple of weeks time.  The following are some cautions I outline before looking at the gifts themeselves.
Gifts such as prophecy and tongues have received increased attention in recent years. In many instances they have been a great blessing to the church; however, at other times their use has led to hurt. Sometimes there has been a spiritual arrogance amongst those who have had a particular gift. In Corinth, in the first-century, there were people who overemphasised tongue-speaking and looked down on those without that gift. Paul writes to address such a situation and shows that having the gift of tongues is not proof that a person is mature or spiritual. Jesus warns that there will be people at the judgement who say “did we not prophesy … drive out demons and perform many miracles?” To whom he says “I never knew you. Away from me evildoers!” (Matt. 7:22). The possession of charismatic gifts doesn’t even prove that you are truly a Christian!
At many weddings, the reading is that chapter on love which begins, ‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.’ This chapter comes in the middle of a section of 1 Corinthians where Paul is dealing with the use of spiritual gifts at church gatherings. We dishonour the giver of the gifts when we when we fail to exercise them in love. What do we do when there are different beliefs about spiritual gifts among the people of a congregation—while I believe that the gifts are today some sincere Christians believe they were only for New Testament times? I am not sure! But one thing for certain is that there should not be bitterness amongst people over their different beliefs on this issue. The position of 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, right in the middle of Paul’s dealing with this issue reminds us of the priority of love. It would be better to have a church united in love that does not exercise all the gifts, than have one that witnesses the spectacular but is devoid of love.
We do disservice to the term ‘charismatic gifts’ when we limit our thoughts to the seemingly spectacular gifts of tongues and prophecy. The Spirit gives many gifts. Amongst the list of gifts in the New Testament are things such as administration, service, giving, leadership and showing mercy. You can be a charismatic Christian, one who believes in the gifts of the Spirit for today, and not speak in tongues. What motivates us to want particular gifts? Is our primary aim that of love—the gifts are given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7)? When we take our eyes off ourselves and think about how we might benefit others then we see the real value of the seemingly ordinary gifts.
My final caution before we look at the revelatory gifts of the Spirit is to remember the need to keep the main thing the main thing. Sometimes people have put too great an emphasis on receiving gifts. I have one friend who longs to speak in tongues. I think he believes that there will be something missing in his faith if he does not receive that gift. But God may choose not to give him that gift and his faith will may not be any the worse off for not having it. I know of one group of people who so emphasise hearing God through dreams, visions, impressions and prophesies that when they teach young people these seem to take a more central role than the gospel. Maybe you have been at meetings where there has been far more emphasis on the practice of certain gifts than on fellowship or preaching. Charismatic gifts are not the heart of the gospel. As John Piper says, ‘God is the gospel,’ and central to that gospel is the cross.

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