The Gifts 1 (by T)

We’ve got a brand new series starting today by “T,” our friendly lawyer who is famous here for winning the Crocs in our Christmas contest! This series is about spiritual gifts, but it’s a series of down to earth real-life examples of the gifts at work. Join me in thanking T!

As many regulars here know, I (“T”) believe God still heals (in every sense), still speaks to us and through us in a variety of ways, and generally does all the amazing things we see Jesus and his followers doing in the New Testament.  In a nutshell, I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are still being given as part of God’s continuing gospel work and mission. There are a lot of ways we could discuss the topic here, but for this series, I’m going to share stories—personal stories—and then discuss them.

As I share these stories, ask yourself, “What would/should such experiences communicate to the people involved?” “How is the form of communication at work here significant?”  “Where would or should such experiences affect the theology and/or practice of the people involved?”  “How are such experiences best explained?” Also, please feel free to email me some of your own favorite stories at tnflaw at bellsouth dot net.

I have a few distinct and hopefully humble hopes for this series.  The first hope is to change some associations many of us have with words like “Charismatic” or “prophetic” or even “signs and wonders” and “(divine) healing.”  In the last twenty years, the numbers of folks and institutions who still hold to cessationism in this country has declined enormously, which is wonderful.  But in its place a quiet and uncomfortable disbelief/non-practice/ignorance/disdain of some of the Spirit’s gifts is now the norm for much of evangelicalism and beyond.  Many Christians both within and outside of Charismatic circles are rightfully put-off by the stories of weird and opportunistic excesses that are easy to find.  But I know of no proverbial “baby” that gets tossed out in practice more often with dirty bathwater than the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even while the theology of the gifts gets affirmed in theory.  Especially as the global church becomes larger and increasingly charismatic, we need to develop more generous imaginations regarding our global family in Christ and what the gifts really do and how and why.

My other, maybe central hope for this series is just to be an encouragement.  Belief in God is not automatic.  Hope in God is even less so.  I want to give some energy for hope in God, which such stories tend to give.  In sum, it’s good to tell others what God has done.

One note of caution.  These stories aren’t meant to “prove” anything, least of all to the person who’s mind is made up on whether God exists or acts in whatever forms.  Despite my belief that such events can and do build one’s faith, they are not silver bullets, nor are they intended to be.  Anyone expecting such will be disappointed.  Take them for what they are: reports of God acting for specific people in specific times and ways.  Here goes.

Luke and Sarah (not their names) were long time friends of mine and Kim’s.  They were about our age and married just a bit longer than us.  They were both pastor’s kids, now with young kids of their own.  They were all part of a small group of 12 or so people that met in our house that was the very beginnings of a church plant.  It was a flexible, informal meeting on Friday nights, usually focused on discussion.  This night we decided to take a fair amount of time and just pray and listen. So we settled into a time of relative silence with occasional praises under our breath.

As we prayed, Kate, with her own baby in arms, began pacing back and forth a bit behind the couch.  She finally broke the silence and said very reluctantly something to the effect of, “I don’t want to chicken out, and I feel like God has given me something to say in tongues, so I’m going to just say it.”  And then she did.  Most of us had seen someone give a tongue out loud once or twice, but it was still uncommon, and it had never happened in this group.  I’m sure some had never seen it before.

After she spoke, Amy spoke up and said, “I think God is saying, ‘I’m leading you into my freedom, and it’s through honesty.’”  That struck me as true, but I had no idea what it was supposed to mean.  Then, a bit later, John (an engineer and, very typically, not given to any kind of emotionalism) got up and stood behind Luke, put his hand on his back and began to silently pray for him.  As John prayed, he put his hand down and embraced Luke from behind.  Then John began to cry.  Then he fully wept as he held Luke.  Luke received it and even thanked John afterward, but remained relatively stoic.  None of us knew what to think as we closed the meeting, at least I didn’t, and it was certainly different.  Though I think all of us believed that God was in this, whatever it was.

When Luke and Sarah got home that night, there was a message waiting on the machine.  Sarah hit the play button and it was Luke’s lover.  I don’t remember when I got the call, it might have been midnight that night, but me and another leader of the church, John, who had wept over Luke, were heading over to Luke and Sarah’s house the next morning.  It slowly came out in chunks over the next week and a half that he had been living a full double life with numerous affairs over the last 8 years—all but the first two of their marriage.   As John and I rode over there together we shared our shock, our feeling of being out of our depth, but also the encouragement that God had clearly picked now to be the time for this to be dealt with.

The night before had set the tone.  We were sick, but not judgmental; we dared not be.  We felt that the heart of God was crystal clear.  He was weeping over Luke and this whole situation.  Of course, we also made it clear to Sarah that if she needed Luke out of the house—whether that day or in two weeks or two months or whenever—that we would arrange for that immediately.  And of course, much more was said, prayed, counseled, and cried about, both that day and in the next several weeks and months.  As for specifics, I will only add that Luke’s attitude was amazingly repentant, but he initially questioned how much detail he needed to share with his wife since it would only cause more pain.  Encouraged by the idea that honesty was the path God had given for freedom, we told him strongly that in order to have any shot of ever getting her trust, he should give her every detail that she wanted. His body was rightfully hers and she wanted an accounting for it.  He had hidden himself too thoroughly and too long from her.  She wanted reality; she wanted honesty, far above being paternalistically lied to in avoidance of pain.  So he, reluctantly at first, gave her honesty, and not just about his sins.  I can’t summarize all that happened over the following several months.  But I will tell you that they both surrendered to a practice of transparency with each other and even others that was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, emotionally and in every possible way.  He admitted his affairs, his fears, his insecurities, everything.  And she did the same.  It was the way out; it was God’s freedom from the bondage he was in and that she was in, too.  There was a lot more to it, but she never had him move out, though we repeated the offer many times.  The following year they had a renewal of their vows in their home.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Peter

    Thank you. Just as you had hoped: hope wells up in me at the remembrance of His great faithfulness and mercy. His ways are better than our ways and you have witnessed to that. It makes the heart want to worship. Thank you.

  • MatthewS

    T, what an amazing and moving story. I believe that when we see the fruit of the flesh removed and the fruit of the Spirit begin to bloom, like in this story, that we’ve seen a Spirit-powered miracle.

    Most of the things I know about tongues and other signs/wonders/healings are the excesses and abuses. In your story, what to make of the tongues? I will admit I don’t know. I have less trouble believing it could happen in a foreign situation where there is an immediate language need than in a US living room. Perhaps someone could say that’s just lazy but it does fit more with my understanding of what tongues was about.

    Regardless, the journey from a marriage on the brink due to lies and other sin to the renewal of vows – that seems a Spirit-powered miracle that. As Peter says, makes the heart want to worship.

  • http://prodigalthought.net ScottL

    Thanks for the series, T.

    A few months back, a colleague and I started a blog that we felt might be missing in the blogosphere. It is entitled To Be Continued and the website is http://continuationism.com. The purpose is to put forth a solid biblical, theological and historical case for continuationism.

    I will actually post a link to this article over at the blog. Hopefully you and others find it encouraging. And we also have specific stories of our own lives and others on the blog as well, like this one with regards to the gift of tongues as well.

    Thanks again.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Thanks, Scot–I’m still enjoying my Jesus Creed crocs!

    Matthew, there are lots of so-called “rules” out there for tongues, and one of the ones I’ve heard is that tongues are only (when/if legit) for praising God in human languages otherwise unknown to the speaker, like at Pentecost. But in all fairness, I think I Cor. 14 gives good reason to believe that tongues is also used in prayer “in the Spirit” where our spirit is praying effectively even without mental understanding, similar to the Holy Spirit interceding for us when we don’t know what to pray. I don’t believe that tongues is the only way for that to work, but I think it is one of the ways. All the biblical passages, as well as what I’ve observed, lead me to believe that tongues can be any of these (and “of men OR angels”), and is most frequently (as with Paul’s seeming use) used in personal prayer.

    In context of this story, I admit that I’m tempted to think that God could have accomplished the same effect without the tongue, using the other actions that I put in the “prophetic” category, which I define broadly as God’s leading or help with insights that are beyond mere human knowledge. But I will say that the tongue, just by its rarity and mystery, did add another point of emphasis to all there that God himself was in this. I frequently reminded the couple (and myself!) of that for encouragement as we all tried to move forward over those following months.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    ScottL, that’s great! I’ll check out the story and the whole site. Thanks so much for the link.

  • http://prodigalthought.net ScottL

    One of the things I have always encouraged people with regards to the abuse of certain gifts of the Spirit is that misuse and abuse should not lead us to no use, but rather should lead us to healthy and biblical use.

    And I am encouraged by Paul who was dealing with extreme abuses in Corinth. But he never called them to shut it down, but to participate in such in the correct way.

    Plenty of people abuse marriage, but we would never think of abandoning such a good gift from God. Many abuse the Scripture, but we would never think of abandoning such a good gift from God. I think the same wisdom should be used with regards to the gifts of the Spirit.

  • Robin

    Thanks for the story T, and I don’t want to rain on the parade or threadjack, but I want to make sure that cessationism isn’t attacked in a straw man fashion. I have been in several hard core cessationist churches, and none of them would say that the gifts themselves have ceased. None, not one, would say that God no longer heals, that prophecy is altogether terminated etc., but they would say that the common manifestation of them has ceased. So, for example, they would never say that healings have ceased, they pray for healings more frequently than any other churches I have been in, they just don’t believe that there are miracle workers walking around, like Peter or Jesus, who can heal people on a whim as if it is some sort of magic (ala Benny Hinn). Likewise they’ve never had a problem with tongue-speaking – except when no translator was present. As to apostleship, they would ask, if it is completely analagous to new testament apostleship (as many continuationists imply) then why in the world aren’t we taking their messages or writings and adding it to the canon.

    Again I appreciate your stories, but when dealing with cessationism I prefer if people deal with it as it is actually practiced instead of the notions and prejudices that abound.

  • Robin

    A second, deeper reading of the story is better than the first. Thanks.

  • Robin

    Scot, RJS, T

    If you feel (7) was too off-topic for this post feel free to delete it.

  • http://prodigalthought.net ScottL

    Robin -

    I don’t believe T attacked anything of cessationism.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Robin,

    I don’t think your comment was off-topic. I think your definition of “hard-core cessationist” and mine are different, though your report seems to affirm as I do that such folks are increasingly rare, which is great. Or, to put it another way, I’ve talked to and grown up around several cessationists who are much more hard core than your churches! I am very glad for the shift toward what I’ve heard Michael Patton and others call “soft” dispensationalism, which would mesh somewhat with what you describe.

    But the whole of your comment affirms for me again the first hope I mentioned.

    Also, I question whether the churches you describe really “never had a problem with tongue-speaking” or whether it would be more accurate to say that the churches did have a serious problem with it which has slowly morphed into “a quiet and uncomfortable disbelief/non-practice/ignorance/disdain of some of the Spirit’s gifts.”

    I don’t know how to say this, but even the tenor of your comment–the need to prevent the straw man in advance of it being offered, the tone of “don’t believe there are miracle workers, like Peter or Jesus, who can heal people on a whim as if it is some sort of magic (ala Benny Hinn)” and the “why in the world” re: apostles and adding to the canon are examples of the disdain that I am hoping to take down a few notches.

  • http://prodigalthought.net ScottL

    One other thing that would be worth discussing, but maybe not here, is whether Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc, were actually people who could ‘heal on a whim’. But we see times when they couldn’t heal, for varying reasons. And if the gift(s) of healings(s), since 1 Corinthians 12 emphasises the plurality here, are from the Sovereign Lord and His Spirit, then I am not sure they can be done ‘on a whim’. Rather the Spirit activates these gifts in the believer, as well as the gift of faith (not saving faith, but charismata faith), to see them come forth.

    But the discussion could go quite deep around this topic, as with many other related topics with spiritual gifts.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Robin, also, I don’t know if we’ll get to the gifts of apostle in this series, but I won’t get into it on this post, other than to say it is very difficult from the New Testament to make the argument that the job of “apostle” is writing scripture. Few NT apostles wrote any scripture; others who wrote scripture weren’t apostles. That whole question has more emotion than even basic biblical reflection.

  • Robin

    T,

    I do take a defensive position, sometimes unnecessarily. I personally fall into the “quiet and uncomfortable disbelief/non-practice/ignorance” categories, though not the “disdain” (I think). For me, stories like the one presented here are more of a curiosity, like when people talk about odd personal experiences. I trust the person, don’t know what to make of the experience. It is more convincing than seeing Benny Hinn slay 80 people in the spirit (while illegally profiting off his non-profit status), but still more of an odd curiosity than anything else.

    I am heartened that the experience you had on that night led you into the best possible counseling situation available at the time, and I am truly thankful at the repentance and reconciliation that took place. I just don’t know what to make of everything else.

  • Robin

    T,

    if you are just going to tell stories, fine, nothing else is needed. However, if you intend to deal in any depth with cessationism and continuationism, I think it would be good to sketch out the two positions, as you understand them, so we are on a level playing field when the discussion begins. I simply do not believe that most charismatics have an enlightened view of cessationism. If that topic is going top be discussed, we need a good starting point; if we are solely reflecting on stories, then consider this entire comment irrelevant.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Robin,

    Thanks for that. I’m not expecting everyone to know what to make of everything else, just to think about it and start to get imaginations of these kinds of things that are better than whatever they get on TV. I personally don’t think about Benny Hinn very much. I’d like it if the associations that many have with things like “Charismatic” or what have you were more like these stories (many more are coming) than Benny Hinn. I think that would be both more fair, more accurate and more palatable all at the same time.

    I think it’s interesting that Paul told the Corinthians that he didn’t want them to be “ignorant” regarding spiritual gifts even though they’d obviously experienced many of them and even had good initial examples and/or teaching. For all this, they were still ignorant about much, especially the purpose of the gifts, which to me is the crux of the matter. I think “ignorant” is still a fair term for much of the Church in the West regarding spiritual gifts, for both for folks with experience with them, and those without. I hope this series helps with that.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    For this post, I think questions/comments about tongues and the prophetic are great, since they are both, in my view, logical parts of the story.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    I’m going to be away from the internet for a few hours at least, so I hope the comments can stay honest, thoughtful, and charitable.

    FWIW, I wonder how many folks think about John’s actions as “prophetic.” When I teach on this, this is one of the things I try to pay some attention to. Prophetic action isn’t always verbal, nor is it something given necessarily with cold objectivity. John would tell anyone for instance that he felt a deep sadness come as he prayed for Luke. John could have resisted it. He could have stuffed it and/or tried to translate it verbally, but he felt that all of that would have been inappropriate, even wrong at some level. Yet, he also had no idea about the affairs and the double life. He didn’t know what he/God was grieving about. But God has emotions and a mind. Sometimes he wants to communicate either or both together. Prophetic isn’t all or even primarily future telling. In my experience, it’s much more often the kind of immediate guiding and encouraging and comforting (loving/edifying) work that this story examples. For folks with experience, is that your experience as well?

  • Robin

    Serious question T,

    What do you do when someone fakes a gift, either someone you know personally or just by reputation. I think this does great damage to the reputation of the gitts. In the OT when someone claimed to have a prophecy and turned out to be a fraud they were impaled, because (my interpretation) God didn’t want people trading on his name for personal enrichment or to spread falsehoods in his name. I see guys like Benny Hinn, Hal Lindsey, and John Hinkle no differently. So as someone who believes in the gifts, what do you do? [I know you probably don't know them well enough to punch them in the face and impaling them is not permitted, but I guess how would you deal with someone in your personal circle if they committed the same sins]

  • http://prodigalthought.net ScottL

    T -

    You said: FWIW, I wonder how many folks think about John’s actions as “prophetic.” When I teach on this, this is one of the things I try to pay some attention to. Prophetic action isn’t always verbal, nor is it something given necessarily with cold objectivity.

    I believe that the new covenant work of the Spirit identifies the whole body of Christ as a prophetic community. I specifically believe prophets and the gift of prophecy still exist. But because the entire body is indwelt by the Spirit of prophecy (a major second-temple Jewish term for the Spirit), we are a prophetic community in our words and actions. This is what the OT fathers desires and prophesied of (i.e. Num 11:29; few passages in Isaiah; Joel 2:28-29). And its fulfilment comes at Pentecost when the Spirit is poured out on all flesh, with the fruit of such being prophecy (Acts 2:17-18). What an awesome opportunity to be a prophetic community as a whole. I share more in this article.

  • Percival

    It is probably too simplistic to divide use of gifts into the categories of genuine and fake. Healings, for example, run the gamut between natural recovery, recovery under hypnosis, placebo healings, faith healings, temporary healings, & supernatural permanent healing. Who can say where one kind starts and another leaves off? Healings can happen with a shaman or with Benny Hinn. The dimension of faith intersects with psychology and natural processes in ways we don’t completely understand. The same might be said for the intersection of intuition and prophecy. Tongues are a psychological phenomena seen in various religions and situations. Genuine or fake is not the question for me, but rather consecrated or not consecrated. (What is the opposite of consecrated?)

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Robin,

    The short answer is that it depends. There’s a lot of ways that can go down, similar to when someone teaches something that’s wrong in a bible study, a sermon or what have you. One bad teaching doesn’t make someone “a false teacher” who deserves all the harsh statements in the NT towards false teachers. The details and the context and the history and relationships all matter. Like when dealing with a rebellious child, the OT penalty of death isn’t my starting place. I can tell you that, charismatic or not, I don’t feel like its my responsibility to play watchdog for all the wrong or boneheaded things that people (who I don’t personally know) do in God’s name. If something is really public (like the scheduled Koran burning), I may give an opinion on a blog, but my focus is myself and those near me.

    To me, it’s very much like the question of how we handle someone who has taught the scriptures wrongly (in our view). Maybe it’s minor and/or disputable and the best response is to let it be and question our own theology. Maybe its major and has to be addressed, whether on the spot or privately. It depends. I’ve personally not had to deal with “fake prophets/Christians” trying to lead in my personal circles. The routine issues, for genuine Christians looking to grow, are ignorance, timidity, and then, later, over-confidence, and later still, perserverance and not losing heart. That pattern is, of course, not unique to “charismatic” forms of service, but is common as we learn to work with the Spirit in any way (pastoral, service, etc.).

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    I believe God is still doing in the Church today everything He did in the NT Church. I have compiled numerous accounts from Church history in Miracles and Manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the History of the Church. There is too much to mention here, but you can preview quite a bit of it at Amazon, at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0974474894?tag=jeffdoleswalkinb

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Jeff,

    Thanks for (assembling and) mentioning your book! As other conversations here have pointed out, the examples throughout Church history matter.

  • http://prodigalthought.net ScottL

    Hey T. Any more articles coming up in the near future?


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