The purpose of the Church in a nutshell …
Have spiritual gifts in the Church disappeared?
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So, who’s right, who’s wrong? Can the whole Catholic chain of command and spiritual claims be demolished Biblically? Can we confound the modern “apostolic movement” by disproving their existence Biblically? Or is this just another pointless exercise, just another endless debate between Christians who brandish their Bibles and confidently state, “The Bible says ...”
Leaving the theological arguments to others (and I’ll explain why, later on), it’s always fruitful to consider consequences of views and opinions, rather than the views and opinions themselves.
Let’s consider the scenario that God took away all spiritual gifts in the 1st Century. No more miracles, healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues and no more apostles or prophets to exercise these gifts. The only way God speaks to us now is through His Word, The Bible. It is totally sufficient in every way to help us to deal with whatever may come our way in life. Anything extra to this, in terms of dreams, visions, prophecies, leadings from God, words of knowledge are invalid and to be ignored.
If this were the case then there has not been a single God-authorised healing since the 1st Century. Neither has God interfered directly in our world, in terms of guidance or judgement, whether through His manipulation of natural events or through that still, small voice to individuals. Every revival is to be denied, including the Welsh Revival of 1904, when men fainted with the enormity of their sins, flattened by the Holy Spirit, simply just by walking past a church. Every Church leader who spoke in tongues or witnessed healings and miracles, including Martyn Lloyd Jones, Rees Howells or Derek Prince is to be categorised at best as deluded and at worst as deluding.
To me it smacks a little of Deism, the idea that God got everything going, wrote down the rules and regulations in the Bible then thrust it in our hands saying, there it is, all you need, you’re on your own now, I’m off ..., before sailing away into the sunset.
On the other hand, if the spiritual gifts continue, we must wonder why there are so few documented examples of their use (outside of some ridiculous claims in the “lives of the saints”) in the early Church, the times of the Church Fathers. And, by way of contrast, why they seem to currently run unchecked, with 1 in 3 American Christians, in a current survey, declaring that they have heard directly from God. Here is a selection of shenanigans promoted by a popular “prophetic” mailing list:
(This person) ... has a supernatural gift to help you tap into God's miraculous power. Tune in as she gives insight on how to release the anointing within you, pray the kind of prayers that produce miracles, and begin experiencing the supernatural for yourself!
(This person) ... sees into the future with such amazing accuracy! Find out what's in store for America, President Barack Obama, and the Middle East.
There are angels standing to attention with your personal addresses written on them that will be released to set up camp round about your dwelling place, to deliver family members far and near.
At the beginning of the year, the Spirit of the Lord spoke profoundly to me that this was the year where God would strategically shift members of the Body of Christ, moving them into their places of inheritance and prosperity, divinely orchestrating circumstances so that the wealth that we are destined to possess would be transferred into our lives.
Come and experience these new realms of Glory as we step through the open door and into the third heaven where we go from Glory to Glory to Glory. It's in this glory realm that all your needs will be met and miracles take place.
Surely it’s enough to make cessationists of us all!
So, where does this leave us? Dare we suggest that, these days, anything goes or do we equally dare that, these days, nothing goes? If the cessationists are correct then there is no way we can go back to the roots and create a modern church that emulates the church of Peter and Paul, because we are no longer running at full voltage, barely enough power to pop out some prayers, let alone charge up a room of glossolalists (look that one up yourselves)!
I have tried to remain impartial so far, but now have to take a position. As much as many in the charismatic movement have taken great liberties in the freedoms of our faith, I don’t believe God has hamstrung us by withdrawing His spiritual gifts. I don’t believe He gave us the great narratives in the New Testament, of wonderful miraculous deeds and demonstrations of His power, just to tease us. He’s not saying, you can look, but you can’t touch. It may well have been that every spiritual gift available was needed to establish the first Church, but arguably, the modern Church is assaulted by unprecedented pressures – from society, from other religions and lifestyle and, most sadly, from within the fold (hence the need for these articles J). Would God have left us powerless, even though some have opted to misuse that power?
No, I believe we can return in every way to the form of the very first Church. In fact, some have tried and perhaps would have succeeded ... if it weren’t for other Christians.
And this is where we go next week ...
A Lib Dem candidate who was due to stand in the upcoming election...