Monday, October 09, 2006

The Chicken or the Egg?

After my last post (with regard to the miraculous gifts) evenmay made the comment, 'We should be open to and seek the miraculous, but we should not neglect to thank the Spirit for the ways he gifts his church that seem ordinary.' The first part of the sentence is what caught my attention, because it touches on another issue that's been floating around in my mind: the giving and receiving of the gifts.

Please bear with me if my questions here seem simplistic and practical, but I simply haven't moved in charismatic circles enough to know anything about this. We know that we are to eagerly desire the gifts... but what does that mean, really? If the giving of the gifts is truly the work of a sovereign God (which no one here would deny), then how does one 'desire' them in an 'effective' way (or is there an effective way)?

I have prayed to God many times, asking him for more of the Spirit. I have acknowledged to God that my position on this issue is underdeveloped--I am totally open to the possibility of the sign gifts continuing on even now, but I remain unconvinced. I know I want to prophesy... I know that if it means I experience more of the Spirit, then I want to speak in tongues, too. Is that fulfilling the command to 'desire' the gifts, or is there something more?

Here's the big question I'm getting at: Do I need to be entirely convinced of the reality of the ongoing nature of the gifts in order to receive them? Why would God wait till someone is totally convinced before giving them the experience of prophecy? Why wouldn't he give me a prophecy first so that I would know for certain that is the Lord speaking? I know that I would be convinced by a genuine experience of such a miracle...

If I am open to the Lord's working in my life in this way, and desirous of experiencing him in every appropriate way, is that enough? Or do I need to be fully convinced that tongues continue before I speak in tongues? I don't know of a biblical text to which I can directly refer, since obviously everyone at that point believed in the presence of the miraculous gifts at that point.

Is it wrong to desire something I'm not convinced is biblical? Is it wrong to seek an experience in order to validate theology?

Anyone got any practical suggestions?

4 comments:

r a i n e r said...

JLF,

These are not suggesting you are wrong, but wondering along side of you if faith must come before receiving the gifts:

Matthew 21:22 - And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.

James 1:6 - But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (this is in the context of asking for wisdom, so not sure if it is appropriate).

evanmay said...

Julian,

Once again, excellent questions to consider. I believe that many Christians from various traditions have wrestled to some degree with these practical issues.

I'd like to do my best to answer some of your questions from both a theological and a practical perspective.

If the giving of the gifts is truly the work of a sovereign God (which no one here would deny), then how does one 'desire' them in an 'effective' way (or is there an effective way)?

Theologically, we know that there is no tension between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. God distributes the gift of salvation (the ultimate 'charisma'!) as he sovereignly wills. But we know that he saves people through the preaching of the gospel and the response and repentance of sinners. God controls both the ends and the means.

The same is true when it comes to Spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that it is the same Spirit who gifts his church in diverse ways as he sovereignly wills. But he does not do this apart from the wills and actions of the agents who operate in the gifting.

As to your question concerning what it looks like to eagerly desire the gifts, I hope to address this below. First I’d like to address a few other things you have asked.

Do I need to be entirely convinced of the reality of the ongoing nature of the gifts in order to receive them?

I don’t know that this is a question which Scripture addresses. Obviously, during the apostolic period there wasn’t much debate concerning whether or not the gifts were in operation. But what is most analogous to such a situation would be those who, having no previous experience with such manifestations, experienced them for the first time after they believed in the gospel. The book of Acts is filled with situations where certain people believe the gospel and then immediately manifest spiritual gifting. These were Christians who were, most likely, operating in gifting for which they had no previous teaching.

But a more difficult question is whether or not these accounts are normative. Obviously, in writing the book of Acts, Luke had a strictly redemptive-historical perspective. He wasn’t concerned so much with what it looks like for individuals to receive the Spirit (some have mistakenly interpreted these accounts to teach some type of “second-blessing” theology). Rather, his primary concern is with the advancement of the gospel (which is necessarily accompanied by the Spirit) into new territory. Thus, corporately, the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8), and the Gentiles (Acts 10) all believed in the gospel and received the Spirit. All of these corporate manifestations were accompanied by Spiritual gifting.

So, if Scripture addresses such a question, it does so only indirectly. But I can speak to this question on an experiential basis. I’ve seen people be saved and immediately operate in these visible expressions of the work of the Spirit, even when they had no traditional background in such experiences. So I would say that, in answering your question, my experience tells me (my experience, and not necessarily Scripture) that, while normally those who have been informed about these Spiritual gifts are the ones who operate in them, God is certainly not limited to this.

Is it wrong to desire something I'm not convinced is biblical? Is it wrong to seek an experience in order to validate theology?

I think these two questions are two separate issues. One concerns whether or not you should be open to something of which you lack Scriptural certainty. The second question concerns whether or not your experience should aid in dictating your theology.

I think it is humility to pray, “Lord, I’m not really certain about this. The fact is that I don’t know perfectly. I ask that you give me wisdom about this issue. And I ask, if you are willing, that you will allow me to operate in such gifting if to do so is truly biblical.” I think this is a very appropriate posture for someone in your position.

However, I don’t think that we should ever look to our experience as a validation of our theology. This goes for both positions. If our experience does not look like the book of Acts, we shouldn’t assume that such experiences are no longer available. And if our experience seems to support a continuation of these Spiritual gifts, we must look to Scripture first concerning whether or not these are indeed the biblical operation of these gifts.

Paul never viewed the miraculous gifts as a validation of his ministry. The death and resurrection of Christ was the only thing which gave his gospel authority.


Now, what does it look like to eagerly desire?

This question isn’t just a personal one. It is a corporate one as well. Take another look at 1 Corinthians 12. These gifts have a corporate, rather than individual, context. If such gifting is to be nurtured, it is going to occur in the local church setting. Operating in Spiritual gifts means risk-taking. It means stepping out in an atmosphere that allows people to “practice.”

Honestly, I think more people have these Spiritual gifts than they realize. They simply either fail to recognize them as Spiritual gifts (they might not realize that the impression of the Spirit that they just can’t seem to get out of their mind might be a type of prophetic gifting), or lack a context in which they can operate in such gifting (not every church provides an atmosphere that does not threaten the ‘practicing’ of these gifts). So such ‘expectation’ is corporate as well as individual.

What does it look like to ‘eagerly desire’ on the personal level? Gordon Fee helps us with this:

“After all, ‘seek earnestly the better gifts’ for the edification of the body is an imperative, not a polite invitation. At the individual level, my stock answer is admittedly not always helpful: hunger and thirst with openness. For some this puts too much emphasis on the human rather than the divine side; and I too fear that. But my own experience in the church is that there is a clear correlation between our hunger after God, on the one hand, and our experience of God, on the other. This does not remove the experience of the Spirit of God from God’s own sovereignty, nor does it imply that the one hungering and thirsting does not [want] the Spirit in full measure. I simply know of no other practical solution”

I know that this advice seems generic. Or it seems too simple. But I think that much of Scriptural counsel is like this. We might think, “Are you kidding me? Don’t you realize that I already do that?” But I can go no further than Scripture allows me.

And we must not forget that this command to ‘eagerly desire’ gifts that edify (1 Cor. 12:31) follows Paul’s extended metaphor of the body of Christ. The Spirit gifts his church in diverse ways. We must be content with this. We should not think that we are less important because we are foot instead of a hand (v. 15). All of these gifts are essential to the church, and to raise the miraculous gifts to a level of more importance is an error that goes all the way back to the first century church.

HeavyDluxe said...

If I simply say, "What evanmay said" again does that make me look wise or not? :-)

Two extra thoughts... You said:
Why would God wait till someone is totally convinced before giving them the experience of prophecy? Why wouldn't he give me a prophecy first so that I would know for certain that is the Lord speaking? I know that I would be convinced by a genuine experience of such a miracle...

I'd like to think that the miraculous would convince me... But I know, deep down, that it might not.

That aside, I think that God can and occasionally does break through into people's life that way. However, I also believe that the gifts are subject to the gifted (1 Cor 14:26-33). So, I wonder to what degree we squelch the free operation of the Spirit. I have a friend who is one of the most Godly people I know, but he's such a wallflower that it's funny. It would take a real miracle to move his heart to make a proclamation in the middle of a church service. To some degree, I think our personalities and prejudices come into the equation.

I think Evan's quote of Fee is right on the mark... We should be crying out to God that our hearts would be increasingly in line with Christ's - so that the church my be edified and God may be glorified. Where God prompts us, we should discern and then respond.

The Corinthian's sought the snazzier gifts with no thought for the good of the Church... It was all about them/me, rather than about God. If we have our heads screwed on straight, we should seek God's continued work in our midst.

Adrian said...

I would encourage you to keep searching the scriptures to see if this is true in a Berean fashion. The more you learn about the bible's view of this issue the more your desire will grow. Also, be provoked by reading material on the gifts. For example, yesterday I wrote on my own experience of prophecy

Let the hunger rise within you and give God no rest. Then, find someone who has received gifts who can pray for you - it is biblical that the gifts are often imparted through the laying on of hands although that is not to say that they cannot happen spontaneously.