Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tim Tebow and the New Legalism

It's funny that many of those who denounce legalism are often guilty of it themselves. Of course, they do not know it is legalism, because legalism is always something that other people do. It is very easy to see legalism in one who makes rules forbidding attendance at movies or the wearing of makeup. That's easy to spot. What is harder is to see our own legalism.

But before we get to that, we ought to define what legalism is. In a Christian context, legalism can mean two things. One kind of legalism has to do with one's eternal salvation. It is thinking that any kind of good works are necessary for salvation. Wars have literally been fought over this issue, and we must admit it is of supreme importance.

The other form of legalism is one that Protestants are more prone to. It consists of extra-biblical rules of behavior that are supposedly necessary to please God. I gave a couple of obvious examples above.

Another example of this kind of legalism is when one makes certain rules about witnessing for the Lord. Some have made the rule that one must witness at every opportunity and basically shove it down everyone's throat. They feel it is their duty to do this even if it is highly inappropriate. This is another obvious form of legalism.

Now for the more subtle variety. It goes in the opposite direction. It is seeking to prevent any Christian from 'public displays of faith' that seems to them to be inappropriate. A current example of this is the discussion over Tim Tebow and his public displays of faith. When interviewed he thanks his "Lord Jesus Christ". On the sidelines he noticeably prays.

Some don't like this. I do not mean some atheist nut who objects to anything but a completely private faith; I mean many who are sincere evangelical Christians. (I am not criticizing those who simply do not like it, but those who actively object.) They say that he should not do this and that nobody should.

To me, this is making a new law that binds Christians to a standard of behavior nowhere put forth in the Bible. I call it the new legalism, though it has been around for a while. In other words, it is just as legalistic to say that someone cannot express their faith in a certain way publicly as it is to say that one must do so.

In either case, we are making extra-biblical rules that all Christians must follow. But what does the Bible say? "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." (Galatians 5:18) This means that we should not be making a lot of rules for others to follow. Maybe God is leading Tim Tebow to do what he is doing. If that is the case, then to criticize what he is doing is to criticize God. (I have found that this is not a wise thing to do.)

If you don't like the way that someone witnesses or expresses their faith, then pray for them. Don't criticize. "Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it." (James 4:11) It is not for us to judge our brother.

We need to give our brothers and sisters in Christ the freedom to be led by the Spirit, even if they miss the mark sometimes. God knows who He wants to use in particular ways. It is not for us to judge these things. For all our talk about how we all have different gifts and callings, it is amazing how rigid in our thinking that we can be. We still think that things can only be done in certain ways.

Let's loosen up a bit. If someone 'steps in it' then then help with the cleanup and quite criticizing and start praying, teaching and encouraging one another.

Let's stop this new legalism before it spreads out of control.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why tongues?

If you have have not read my previous post, I encourage you to do so now. It explains the fact that all born-again Christians can have the gift of speaking in other tongues. In this present post, we will explore some reasons why you might want to.

But first, I want to counter a couple of ideas about why some do not want to speak in tongues. One thing that I have heard some say is that they want nothing to do with this tongues business because they have seen or heard about some people who misused the gift and acted foolishly.

My response is this: I have known of some people who have suddenly become millionaires and they have acted foolishly. Should we then turn away a gift or inheritance of a million dollars because of that? I wouldn't. It makes more sense to make sure that one uses the money wisely rather than foolishly. Any gift, even those from God, can be misused. We just need to use them wisely.

Another common objection to speaking in tongues is that tongues itself is foolish. After all, you cannot understand what you are saying and it seems to be nothing but gibberish. Its value is not immediately apparent.

The problem with this view should be obvious to us. Why would God give a gift to the church that had no value? God is not foolish, is He? No, He gives gifts to the church so that the church may grow and be blessed and be a blessing to the world.

I mentioned in the previous post that there is such a thing as a ministry gift of tongues and interpretation which is the equivalent of prophecy. Since prophecy is given for "edification, exhortation and comfort", so is the gift of tongues with interpretation in the public assembly. (1 Cor. 14:3) However, since not all ministries are given to everyone, you can only use tongues in this way if you are called to it.

But we also find that the gift of tongues has private uses as well. "If there is no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God." (1 Cor. 14:28) So someone can use tongues apart from the public ministry of tongues and interpretation.

"He who speaks in tongues edifies himself." (1 Cor. 14:4) Tongues is a means of edifying oneself, or building up oneself, spiritually. Do you ever need to be built up spiritually? I do. Now I can get that in church or in times of fellowship with other Christians, but I often need it when they are not around. I am glad that God has provided this supernatural means of edification.

Paul says, "I will pray with the spirit (tongues) and I will pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit (tongues) and I will sing with the understanding ... [by doing this] you give thanks well." (1 Cor 14:15,17) Also, in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church and they all began to speak in tongues, others heard them declare in their own languages "the wonderful works of God." They were praising God for His wonderful works.

I have noticed in my own life when I wanted to praise God that I often had trouble fully expressing myself to Him. I used all the adjectives that I could think of, yet my spirit was unsatisfied. Now, when I express praise toward God in tongues by prayer or singing, my spirit is free to fully express itself toward Him. So I am satisfied when I leave the place of prayer. I can praise God more fully.

In the above verses, Paul also said that he prayed both in this own language and in other tongues. We need both kinds of prayer. I think the reason should be obvious: we don't know everything, but God does. "We don't know what to pray for" in most instances. (Romans 8:26) That is why Paul says, "Pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, be watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints." (Ephesians 6:18) We have to pray in tongues because the saints have many needs that we don't know about. Tongues allows us to pray about these things. It helps us overcome a great weakness we have as human beings - a lack of knowledge about what is needed. Even when we know about a situation, we often do not discern the real need. Only God knows it perfectly. And He will give us the words to pray that meet that need. Wouldn't you like a gift that gives you the ability to pray for loved ones whose needs you cannot anticipate? How wonderful that is!

There are more reasons that I could give for desiring the gift of other tongues, but I think that these should be sufficient for our purpose. I hope that you can see that speaking in tongues is of great value to any believer. I also hope that you will see that God would not give this precious gift to just a few of His children and leave others without access to it.

Remember: We cannot have all the ministry gifts, but supernatural manifestations, like prophecy and tongues, are available to all.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"That's Not My Gift"

Thirty-plus years ago, when I first gained an interest in the subject of spiritual gifts, only Pentecostal/charismatic Christians really believed in them. Most evangelical Christians were cessationists, believing that spiritual gifts were only for the early church. Today, things are very different. It seems that cessationism has largely ceased and most evangelicals acknowledge at least most of the spiritual gifts today.

While I rejoice that this is the case, I find that there is little good teaching about the gifts. What has been positive is the encouragement that Christians receive to find their place in the body of Christ, ie., what God has called us each to do. Many are indeed finding their place and are not discouraged that they do not have the same gifts that others have. They have their distinct callings and ministries. All are needed in the body of Christ.

Along with this, however, there seems to be some confusion. Gifts are often treated all the same way, as if they all belonged to the same category. I hear certain catchphrases that have enough truth in them to be plausible but without placing different kinds of spiritual gifts into their appropriate categories.

There are four lists of spiritual gifts in three books of the New Testament: Romans, 1 Corinthians and Ephesians. What we have done is take everything in these lists (and added some of our own) and mix them up all together. Then we treat them all the same. When I have told people that God wants us all to speak in tongues, I hear things like this, "You have the gift of tongues and I have the gift of showing mercy - God has given us all different gifts".

This is a confusion of categories. The gift of showing mercy is in Romans and the gift of speaking in tongues is in 1 Corinthians. The list in Romans has only ministry gifts. The first list in 1 Corinthians is talking about "manifestations of the Holy Spirit". These are not ministries, but supernatural manifestations that are given at the moment by the Spirit.

Let's take the gifts of healing as an example of a supernatural manifestation. The Spirit can anoint anyone with this gift as it is needed. Jesus, in John 5, healed the man by the Pool of Bethesda and left a bunch of other sick people without healing. Why? The gifts of healing, as evidenced in Jesus' own ministry, only operate as the Spirit wills, it is not a permanent gift. Otherwise, a person with this gift would go to the hospitals and empty them.

In contrast, a person with a ministry of mercy could go to any hospital and bring love and care to all who were there. Why? Because they have a ministry gift that can be used at any time. Similarly, I have a teaching gift and I can use whenever I please. If I decide to teach on Monday or Wednesday, I can do that. But I could not decide that I would go heal a bunch of people on Monday or Wednesday. So I hope that you can see that different kinds of gifts cannot be treated in the same way. We are instructed to 'rightly divide the word of truth'. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Let's look a little deeper. When I tell others that God wants them to speak in tongues, they might raise another objection from the latter part of 1 Corinthians 12.

"All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they?" (1 Cor. 12:29-30)

Now this may seem to put the nail in the coffin of my idea, doesn't it? Not quite. We must examine the context to find what Paul was actually saying. Now I agree that not all are apostles, prophets, etc., but what are apostles and prophets? Are they supernatural manifestations or ministry gifts? They are ministry gifts. Paul is saying that not all have the ministry of an apostle, or a prophet or of tongues and interpretation.

Yet in 1 Cor. 14:31, Paul writes regarding the prophecy as a supernatural manifestation and not a ministry: "You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted". But did not Paul already say that not all are prophets? Yes, but he was talking about ministries, not manifestations of the Spirit. All may have this manifestation of the Spirit, but not all have the ministry gift that goes by the same name. Likewise, all may speak in tongues though they do not have a ministry of tongues and interpretation.

You might say now that I have proven that all can prophesy, but not that all can have the gift of tongues. Okay, I do not have a plain statement like I have regarding prophecy.

But what is prophecy? Prophecy is a message directly from God, inspired by the Spirit in a language known to the speaker. What is tongues? It is a message directly from God, inspired by the Spirit, in a language unknown to the speaker. It's essentially the same thing. Tongues is the gift of prophecy in its varied form.

Also, we can look at the Day of Pentecost. (They do not call us Pentecostal for nothing!) "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance." (Acts 2:4) Notice that they all were filled with the Spirit and all spoke with tongues. That was the whole church at that time.

Did Paul think that only a few can speak in tongues? He writes, "I would to God that you all spoke with tongues." (1 Cor. 14:5) I do not think that Paul was simply expressing his own desire here. The opinion was inspired by the Spirit. I believe it is God's desire as well. And it is mine.

{Next time: why should we want to speak in tongues.}