Dluxe's World

Saturday, September 23

Discontinuing cessationism: The Scriptures (4)

It's all downhill from here, really. The heaviest lifting has been covered in this last post. Having concluded that the full spectrum of spiritual gifts should be considered operative, all that remains it to firm up our definitions for the gifts and rules concerning their operation. If you're just tuning in and want to get up to speed, you can click on any of the previous posts and get some knowledge dropped on you... I'd recommend putting on your steel-toed shoes.


Today, we'll be tackling 1 Corinthians 14, though we'll be treating it in larger chunks and more 'systematically' than previous, verse-by-verse passages. In the ESV, our passage reads:
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

I think it's important to note that we have here another confirmation of what the "greater gifts" Where the Corinthians seemed to desire the more miraculous, flashy gifts, Paul clearly emphasizes the superiority of those gifts that edify the church. So gifts like prophecy, teaching, or wisdom are all greater than something like tongues... Why? Because they edify the entire church assembly.

In this large passage, we get specific information that helps us answer the following questions:

So, what exactly is the gift of prophecy?
The plainest definition I can come up is that prophecy is proclaiming or speaking, in a language known to the speaker, insight given spontaneously by God. Prophecy serves as a sign to unbelievers because they are confronted with plainly-understood, supernaturally-obtained knowledge that serves to convict them (v24). Similarly prophecy edifies believers by offering encouragement and consolation that is understood by the assembly (v3).

To construct an example of the gift in action: An unbeliever enters a church. A prophecy is given which details a particular sin in their life (with more than 'fortune teller' clarity). The Holy Spirit presses on the heart of the unbeliever, they come under conviction of said sin, and repent.

All prophecy is held under the authority of Scripture. Not on par with the Bible, and certainly not superior to it. Scripture alone forms the final authority for judging the substance of any prophetic utterance.

Can prophecies be given regarding the future?
Perhaps, if in regards to the circumstances of an individual or group ("God has judged your [insert sin] and [something will happen] if you do not repent"). However, prophecies about coming event human history and the like should be viewed with extreme skepticism. God has revealed those portions of His plan that he wanted us to know already - in Scripture. And some mystery is clearly intended to remain until Christ returns.

Is 'post-Apostolic' prophecy inerrant? That is, should we hold prophecy to the standard set in Deuteronomy 18?
Wow... This is a toughie. And I've moved my position quite a bit in the past day while reading, and re-reading, the Scriptural evidence.

It strikes me that a modern prophecy can err in specific details, but that the errors cannot compromise the overarching accuracy of the prophetic word. Let me unpack that with two illustrations:
  • First, we are told in verse 29 of our chapter that when one prophesies, the "others [should] weigh what is said." The word translated here as 'weigh' (diakrinetosan) has a real overtone of discernment. Other uses of the word reflect things like evaluate, consider. If used negatively, we could say things like dispute or even doubt. Clearly, the prophecies uttered should be subject to real scrutiny.
  • Second, we have to contend with the account of Agabus to deal with... In Acts 11, Agabus shows up to deliver a prophecy that a great famine would arrive. Sure enough, it did. However, in Acts 21 Agabus shows up again. This time he prophesies regarding Paul's capture in Jerusalem. While his prophesy was correct (Paul was taken as a prisoner), he erred on a couple of the details.
Armed with context and those two passages, I'd lay out a mediating position. Any prophecy should be carefully examined by the leaders of the church. The ultimate validation for any prophecy found in its truthfulness. While one might allow for slight errors, the core message (in Agabus' case, that Paul would be captured in Jerusalem) must be dead-on accurate.

It is also worth noting that we'd obviously affirm that the prophetic gift is necessarily different today because we do have Scripture. The Old Testament prophets uttered "Thus saith the Lord" prophecies that we turned into Scripture. In the New Testament, the prophecies of Apostles and all others were by definition subject to scrutiny via the Old Testament. Now that we have the complete revelation of the Bible, we must subject all prophecy to full inspection in light of God's Word. Any prophetic utterance that contradicts Scripture ("The Lord has told me exactly when the end times will arrive") should be ignored and that 'prophet' should be disregarded.

What is the gift of tongues?
The gift of tongues is the Spirit-given ability to pray, sing, or prophesy (vv13-15) in a language unknown to the speaker. In corporate settings, the gift of tongues should only be exercised in conjuction with the gift of interpretation so that the congregants may be edified (vv26-28).

Here again, I've moved from where I thought I'd land. Initially, I'd have told you that tongues was effectively a variation on the gift of prophecy in which someone delivers a proclamation in another language which should then be interpreted for the edification of the congregation. It does seem, however, that Paul's application here is broader: Tongues can clearly be sung (v15) and seems to have an element which being born out of one's prayers and 'kept to yourself' (vv27-28).

So, I can accept the position that someone with the gift of tongues may pray or sing in tongues (to themselves during corporate worship; or 'out loud' in their private life) and still be operating withing the reasonable bounds of Scripture.

Are tongues always known human languages (a la Acts 2)?
Man... Is it getting hot in here? I need a glass of water.... Anyone got any water.

If you asked me this three days ago, I would've said "ABSOLUTELY! Don't be a fool!" If I was asked to draw a line in the sand, I would still take the earthly language position and by extension that Acts 2 serves as a some kinda regulative text for the operation of tongues.

However, I can't say that so strongly now.
  • For one thing, the Acts 2 manifestation doesn't hold to the same standards that Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians. There were tons of people speaking, there was no 'strict interpretation', and it's hard to tell if the languages were know or if the hearers heard their own dialects being spoken. While I'm not throwing down a gautlet here, I am saying that using an admittedly unique event to define normal operation is sticky... Using that logic, I should expect Delaware to be a good football team this year (after all, they were good in 2003)...
  • I stated before that Paul's use of 'tongues of angels' in chapter 13 strikes me as hyperbole for illustration only. But there's no other supporting text to make that case, and only one proof-text for the earthly language case... Not a mass of evidence.
  • I've already confessed that I must grant that tongues can operate in the gifted person as prayer and even singing. That breaks the paradigm I had set up in my head all to pieces to start with...
  • I also read an interesting case that points to Paul's use of the word idiotou (which the ESV translates 'outsider'). It's not interesting enough to make me buy the argument with any certainty, but it was interesting nonetheless.
So, in summary... Tongues can definitely manifest themselves in the prayers, singing, and 'prophetic' messages of a gifted person. While I believe that tongues would normally be known languages of people on earth, it is at least possible that Scripture allows for other, 'angelic' languages to be manifested.

How should these gifts be exercised in corporate worship?
Thankfully, Paul gives us some pretty clear guidelines:
  • Prophecy - The person with a prophetic word must be acting out of love for Christ and His Church. Any prophecies must be offered in an orderly fashion so all can be heard and 'processed'.

    I would add two other things here that might be a bit of a stretch... First, I would think that the pastors/elders of a church could reasonably be asked to 'screen' the prophecies and weed out those that they feel fail in light of scriptural guidelines. I base this in part on verse 29. Paul's reference to "the others" could point at the other 'prophets', ordering them to test the statements given in the service. This pre-screening, as it were, also allows the clearly self-indulgent 'words' to be censored before they harm the congregation.

    Second, I think that confirming the accuracy of prophecies wouldn't be a bad idea occasionally. That is, if someone says that there's someone struggling with [specific circumstance], I might want to ask that someone come forward to an elder (after service) if they believe that word was 'for them'. We would expect that Spirit would be convicting and encouraging with these prophetic words. So, let's assure the rubber is meeting the road.
  • Tongues - In corporate worship, a message given in tongues must be accompanied by an interpretation. Both sides must be present or else the tongues-speaker should be quiet. Those individuals who have the gift of tongues may pray or sing 'in the Spirit' quietly.
Overarching all the gifts is are two particular fruits of the Spirit: Love and self-control. For the gifts to be edifying to the church, they must be handled with love. In addition, the gifted are expected to exhibit clear self-control. "God is not a God of confusion" means that the believers are to utilize the gifts in an orderly way. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, and I think it's safe to say their tongues are subject to them as well.

Ok... It's getting way late. So, I'm signing off. Up next: A summary post to clean up any gaps I've left in my position and the I'll put this puppy to bed.

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