Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
This is the 24th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
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A. A Gift that We Should Seek
We have talked about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, indwelling and filling of the Spirit comes out of that. It can be either an empowerment for a special office or ministry or for a basic change of character. Charismata is like an ability; it is something that the Holy Spirit gives you somewhere and it is used for Jesus; a service, a ministry or manifestation. These are things that the Holy Spirit does which are obviously gifts. I want to look at two controversial gifts which have no commonality with Christians. The first of these is prophecy. We know about prophets in the Old Testament with Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel, etc. and they speak with canonical authority. We also find false prophets in the Old Testament of which one incident in Jeremiah where a false prophet says that they will not be long is the exile but Jeremiah says no, they will be there seventy years. There are also people like Saul who was briefly among the prophets. In the New Testament the key difference in Acts 2 where there is a fulfilment of Joel saying that everybody will prophesy, young men and old men and women. This is really different and we find in the New Testament in 1st Corinthians 12, we are to desire the greater gifts. In Romans 14, he says to pursue love, yet earnestly seek to prophesy. So this is a command to everybody that we would seek to prophesy. Among the matters of the Spirit, he says eagerly desire to prophesy.
B. A Common Definition
So what is prophecy? A very common definition is the idea involving human speech of content revealed directly by the Holy Spirit by a supernatural source, not the Bible. This understanding is fairly common. So it is information obtained directly from God which I speak as a prophecy. So it is not through Scripture or natural means but supernatural means. I don’t think this is the best definition of prophecy. I think that prophecy is speaking the Word of God which is the key idea of prophecy and so Prophecy is primarily a speaking gift, not a receiving gift and there is a spiritual empowerment that comes with that. This speaking goes deep into the hearts of people enabling them to see their lives and circumstances in light of God’s promises and purposes. Prophecy reminds us that we stand in God’s working in history and we take part in that working. So the heart of prophecy as I see it is a spirit empowered speaking of the Word of God that really touches people’s hearts and lives. So I think that much of prophecy is simply speaking the Word of God, not teaching the Word of God. Now the question is: is there new revelation today? I think there is new revelation today. The Bible is complete in itself but I don’t think God has stopped speaking to us. This is where we are commanded to test the spirit and the prophet and we must do this. Just because we have the spirit speaking, it doesn’t mean that it is the Holy Spirit.
We have in Acts 13 where people are gathered together and praying and God’s Spirit tells them to set apart Barabbas and Paul. That is the kind of revelation that happens today. This happened to me while I was going to the Philippians and I was confident that God wanted me to do a certain thing. That thing ended up in going to Western Seminary and God clearly put me here. In regards to listening to the Spirit, the secrets of our hearts will be exposed. This is also part of the guiding of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So prophecy today is speaking the Word of God, usually from Scripture and sometimes from new revelation with Holy Spirit empowerment so that lives are changes and hearts are opened up and sin is exposed and people are moved toward a Godly life. This is what the heart of Prophecy is.
The other debated gift is that of tongues. Some people would say that ‘tongues’ is a new human language that you speak after the baptism of the Holy Spirit as from the Pentecostal understanding. So after spirit baptism, you will receive a tongue and it will be a human language that you don’t know. So I hear stories of people speaking in actually languages unknown and unstudied. Another understanding is that tongues are angels speaking from 1st Corinthians 13; Paul referenced this when he said though I speak in tongues of men and angels and the idea is that there are angelic heavenly languages. So it is not an earthly language but a heavenly language. Older Pentecostals would say that you must speak at least once after receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit whereas charismatics would liken this to a release of the gift but not everyone does that. Functional sensationalists say that this was done before the New Testament came about. The way I understand this; I think the Greek word refers to languages or dialects and the ability to praise God or pray as empowered by the Holy Spirit in languages unknown to the user. In Acts 2, that is clearly human languages. In 1st Corinthians 14 it isn’t clear whether it is a human language or not. But we find that the one who speaks in a tongue doesn’t speak to people but to God. I think what happens here; I am speaking a language I do not know and I’m speaking praise to God. That is what happened in Acts 2. The people were declaring the wonders of God. In 1st Corinthians people are speaking in tongues where no one understands them; they are uttering mysteries to God, unless someone who has the gift of interpretation and then someone would translate, telling us what they are saying and what the praise is about.
So the way I understand tongues in my theology of gifts is fairly diverse. One aspect would be people who have an ability of languages and they just pick languages up very quick. This happens especially with children learning languages, but I have seen this with adults and with one particular friend of mine who seems to be able to pick up languages in several weeks after emersion with the people. That would be an ability of speak languages. Another aspect would be praising God in unknown languages and ways. Some people would think that this is a good way to praise God, in a heavenly language. My way of praising God is with music. I find myself praise God in music; it doesn’t have words but instead it is in tunes and more often than not, they are tunes that I don’t know. Another way of understanding this is through the manifestation from 1st Corinthians 12:6-7. I have a friend who was in Mexico preaching through translation where the translator wasn’t keeping up. He prayed and then started speaking fluently in Spanish. This lasted for about two days. He believed this to be a spiritual manifestation of the Spirit within a ministry situation. I would say that this was a gift of tongues.
B. Attitude toward Tongues
Two points I would be opposed to: one, if I haven’t spoken in tongues, therefore I would be a second rate Christian. There are a lot of people who say this. For example, there is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus spoke in tongues. The other thing I am opposed to, people from the sensationalists who insinuate that it is a demonic thing. Well, there could be a demonic tongue and tongues for example for Mormons are a foundational gift and I don’t think they are doing such from the Holy Spirit. People of cults will also speak in tongues which is a demonic manifestation. But when a Godly person is praising God in a spiritual language, we should be very careful not to condemn this. We should serve God together and recognize that God works differently with different people.
What the Holy Spirit does is to empower his church to live as a Godly community, to take the message of God in action and Word to every people group in the world and then to live as Godly people. This is a life transforming part of a Christian’s life. God brings us regeneration, a new person and a new power and I think we should be living and seeking to live as Spirit empowered people. In Acts 4:29-30 it says, ‘grant us to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ Verse 30 says that he wants us to heal and do miracles today. Then in verse 31, ‘and when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the Word of God with boldness.’ I think that we should be praying for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. I have never heard in the churches I relate to, pray for Acts 4:30. The danger from my tradition is not seeking enough of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray Acts: 4:29 and 30 and be faithful to God and use that for the glory of his name.