Monday, 13 June 2011

Listening to God 3: 'God speaking through Spiritual Gifts'

[For those who would read arguements in favour of the continuation of revelatory gifts for today I would recomment Don Carson's Showing the Spirit or to read here.]

Some people do not believe that all of the gifts mentioned in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians are for today. They fear that gifts that involve a revelation a revelation from God might compete with God’s word in the Bible if they were practiced now. They believe that those gifts were only for the time of the apostles and that they ceased when the apostles died. If you don’t agree with that position, I plead with you not to look down on those who do. Just because someone believes certain gifts stopped with the apostles does not make them unspiritual. For example, I am reading a book by an American called Charles Swindoll, who believes that prophecy is no longer available to the church. But it is clear from his writings that Charles is a man who loves the Lord deeply and I believe is filled with the Holy Spirit.
Another person who did not believe that gifts such as prophecy were available today was the great Baptist preacher Chares Spurgeon. Yet if I were to give an example of the gifts in operation I could hardly give a better example that the following incident from his life.

While preaching at Exeter Hall, he once broke off his sermon and pointed in a certain direction, declaring: “Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for: you have stolen them from your employer.” After the service, an obviously pale and agitated young man approached Spurgeon and begged to speak to him privately. He placed a pair of gloves on the table and said, “It’s the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won’t expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard I had become a thief…” (Sam Storms)
Perhaps this is what Paul calls a ‘message of knowledge’. Other gifts that involve the impartation of revelation from God are ‘a message of wisdom’, ‘tongues with an interpretation’, ‘prophecy’, and what is simply called ‘a revelation’. It is not always clear what the distinction between each of these is.

One thing that needs to be remembered is that the apostle Paul says that such revelations are imperfect in the New Testament. For example, he says that prophecy is to be weighed (1 Cor. 14:29). It is not then same as happens with certain prophets like Isaiah in the Old Testament who could confidently declare, ‘Thus says the Lord’, and whatever followed was taken as being an oracle direct from God. The concept of weighing New Testament revelation implies that it is of mixed content, that it is imperfect in character, and that the wheat needs to be separated from the chaff.

So our practice in Café church is that if anyone feels they have been given a prophetic word, David or I will first listen to it, to see if we can perceive anything that might counteract Scripture and then invite them to share it with everyone else. As a congregation we then listen to it, knowing that it imperfect in character, and seeing if these words might comfort or challenge us in any way.

Supposing someone fears such words are not necessary now that we have the completed Bible. Sam Storms explains

Scripture never claims to supply us with all possible information necessary to make every conceivable decision. Scripture may tell us to preach the gospel to all people, but it does not tell a new missionary in 2005 that God desires his service in Albania rather than Australia. The potential for God speaking beyond Scripture, whether for guidance, exhortation, encouragement, or conviction of sin, poses no threat to the sufficiency that Scripture claims for itself.

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