The following post is a follow-up to last Sunday’s sermon, “Supernaturally Life-Giving Words” (listen to Downtown and Lexington). Below is a recap along with some frequently asked questions from our LifeGroups that week -
In our sermon from last Sunday we described two theological camps on prophecy, tongues and other miraculous gifts. These camps, called cessationism and continuationism, are both filled with faithful, Spirit-filled Christians who back up their positions with Scripture. Because we have unity in Jesus, no matter where you land on the topic, we have plenty of room for disagreement and friendly debate without causing division.
In short, cessationists believe the miraculous gifts like healing, prophecy and tongues (as opposed to the other spiritual gifts) have “ceased.” Continuationists, on the other hand, believe that all the gifts, including the miraculous gifts, continue today.
(We also want to distinguish these two groups from an alternative group who teach that speaking in tongues is the mark of truly being a Spirit-filled Christian. These groups/churches/denominations often use terms like “second baptism” as a way of separating initial conversion with being filled with God’s Spirit. Because Paul in these chapters says that not everyone will speak in tongues and that everyone has different spiritual gifts, this view is not biblical.)
As Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians, speaking in tongues is something you are not required to practice. The evidence of Christian maturity is not that you can speak in tongues or prophecy or teach – it’s that you love Jesus and you love people. Rather than using gifts to build up, the Corinthian church is using their gifts to divide. In 1 Corinthians 14 , Paul essentially says, “While you’re good at tongues, you’ve missed the point. You’re bad at loving Jesus and people.”
The following were some of the most frequently asked questions from last Sunday’s sermon -
What is the aim of speaking in tongues?
Speaking in tongues, like any gift we see in 1 Corinthians, aims to build the body up in love (14:4, 5, 12). Whether someone serves through teaching, generosity, hospitality or tongues, the goal is to lift up the name of Jesus and unite us together as a family.
Specifically in 1 Corinthians 14 we see two categories of speaking in tongues, and Paul will give the same prescription for both. The first category, found in v.2, is speaking in an unknown angelic tongue. The second category is speaking in a human tongue, or language, that the speaker originally did not know beforehand (this second category is what we see at Pentecost in Acts 2:6). In both cases, Paul prescribes for the believer speaking in tongues to have an interpreter on hand when in a corporate setting (v.13) so that the audience would understand what is being said and be built up. This interpretation, in order to be verified as authentic, must line up in accordance with God’s revelation as seen in Scripture.
It should also be noted here that because Paul is giving prescriptive commands to the church concerning how to speak in tongues, the implication is that this gift, like any other Holy Spirit gifting, can be developed assuming you already have the gift.
Are we done with Prophets?
In the Old Testament, the term “prophet” originally applied to those who spoke on behalf of God, provided instruction to His people, and would at times write books of the Bible (1 Peter 1:10-12). Prophets were verified as “true” prophets if their revelation lined up with previous divine revelation thus not contradicting the already established canon of Scripture. More specifically, Old Testament prophets were seen as true prophets if their future-telling predictions came to pass (Deut 18:22).
In the New Testament, the term “apostle” is used as the Old Testament “prophet” equivalent. The apostles, like the Old Testament prophets, also instructed God’s people and wrote books of the Bible, but the apostle role was used to refer exclusively to those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus. (Paul describes himself as an apostle due to seeing Jesus first-hand, Jesus appointing him, and the original disciples validating Paul’s ministry. See Acts 9:1-15 and Galatians 1:11-2:10.) So while “apostle” is a term we no longer use and the apostles most certainly had the gift of prophecy, the gift of prophecy is still available to believers.
...the words prophet and prophecy were sometimes used of the apostles in contexts that emphasized the external spiritual influence (from the Holy Spirit) under which they spoke...but this was not the ordinary terminology used for the apostles, not did the term prophet and prophecy in themselves imply divine authority for their speech or writing. Much more commonly, the words prophet and prophecy were used of ordinary Christians who spoke not with absolute divine authority, but simply to report something that God had laid on their hearts or brought to their minds. There are many indications in the New Testament that this ordinary gift of prophecy had authority less than that of the Bible, and even less than that of recognized Bible teaching in the early church.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology
A couple of other helpful citations on prophecy:
Prophecy is a phenomenon that results directly from the Holy Spirit whereby he can create pictures in our imagination or dreams while we are asleep. He can put words, ideas, or Scriptures into our heads with such force that we know that something carries with it a responsibility to pass on what he has revealed.
Gregory Haslam, Moving in the Prophetic
“The word “prophecy” as used by Paul in 1 Corinthians refers generally to speech that reports something that God brings to mind or “reveals” to the speaker but which is spoken in merely human words, not words of God. Therefore it can have mistakes and must be tested or evaluated.”
The ESV Study Bible
That language of “tested” in the last citation comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 that says, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.” Prophecy here means something that God brings to mind that you otherwise would not have known or thought of, that is for another person or group. But because we can perceive what God is saying imperfectly, we can understand it imperfectly, we can deliver it imperfectly, and it can have error or misunderstanding. Because of this prophecy needs to be tested against Scripture.
Broadly speaking, preaching and teaching the Bible can fit into the category of prophecy. More specifically it can be a situation where someone has something specific that God brings to mind in the moment that can be shared with others in accordance with Scripture for their encouragement.
Is our culture hindering our understanding of tongues and prophecy? How can we fight it?
Yes but it’s much bigger than we think. Our culture cynically indoctrinates us to a worldview where everything is material and nothing is spiritual. Even our own hearts can hinder us from understanding God’s Word and the Spirit’s activity in our lives. So let’s first and foremost be a church that fights for God’s Word and His Spirit. From the seemingly ordinary activities of the day - waking up, going to work, answering emails - to the more spiritual - spending time with your LifeGroup and attending Gatherings - are we fighting to remind ourselves constantly of God’s Word? Are we fighting to be receptive to the Spirit to speak to us? If so, are we just as willing to fight to serve one another in generosity and hospitality as we are to serve one another in prophecy and tongues?