The Supernatural for the Skeptic

So you label yourself a skeptic? If you believe in the scriptures, and you want to serve Jesus, then I am skeptical of your skepticism. I will challenge that label right now.

Noting that every time the music starts Sister Sally shouts and looks like she’s having an attack of appendicitis, does not make you a skeptic. It means you find distraction, distracting. Another famous Pentecostal, Paul, had no tolerance for people disrupting corporate worship. God is a God of order, not to put a leash on the Spirit but a leash on us so we don’t distract from a spontaneous move of the Spirit.  When the Spirit moves there is reverence, not craziness.

You are not a skeptic if you question whether “Miracle Mike’” is always right when he recounts his daily dealings in the supernatural. Mike’s a great guy with great testimony. He is open to the Lord using him. Good for Mike. Many people miss God working through them because they are totally unavailable to be used at all. But Mike is young in the Lord, and being right some of the time, doesn’t make him right all of the time.  So if your Christian dad is dying of cancer and you can’t reconcile it with Mike’s declaration that anything less than total healing is a sign of apostasy, you are not a skeptic. God is perfect, Mike is not.  People err but the scriptures never set us up for false expectations. The Apostle Paul whose handkerchiefs were used in miracles of healing, (Acts 19:2), was forced to leave Trophimus sick in Miletus. Paul fell ill in Galatia (and planted a church while he was at it), faced hunger, shipwreck, and loss. He even despaired of life (2 Cor. 1:8). I trust no one is going to questions his Pentecostal commitment. To be “Pentecostal” is to believe in and use the gifts of the Spirit as they are recorded in scripture: nothing less and nothing more.  We rely on God’s power to work miracles and we rely on God’s power to preserve us in persecution. We know that deliverance takes the form of signs and wonders and we know deliverance is provided when Jesus says,  “my grace is sufficient for you”. (2 Cor. 12:9)

You are not a skeptic to want something real and biblical.  “Real” looks like the scriptures: all of the scriptures, not just the exciting experiences we all want to have. A real experience includes: power and persecution, deliverance and death, triumph and tarrying. It is a balance experienced.

Avoid the Acceptable Error Zone

Unfortunately, the normal response to human error is human error. Frustrated in Pentecostal churches many seek safety by settling in the “evangelically acceptable error zone”.  If you attend a church where the worship music is straight up Hillsong and the preaching is expository, you are safe and can grow in the Lord. Just get comfortable ignoring large portions of scripture that explicitly instruct us regarding the Baptism of the Spirit and the corporate gifts. People can convince themselves this is OK because they’ll tell you, “We’re still open to the gifts”. This is code for, “We’re actually ambivalent toward the gifts but if  a rushing mighty wind sweeps through the building and we burst into glossolalia, we promise to hold a board meeting to consider incorporating gifts into our church culture”. *  Disregarding scripture is wrong no matter what form of error we choose. Chaotic meetings where people draw attention to themselves leaving no room for the Spirit to move are meetings where we’re disregarding scripture.** Ignoring the gifts of the Spirit is also willful disobedience to scripture. Could we consider another alternative, radical though it may be?

A Radical Alternative

“Follow the directions”.

Yeah. You saw it there in black and white. What if we read scripture and follow the directions?

A “real” experience should look like the scriptural model.  A good Pentecostal church is one where the preaching is meaty and the gifts are freely used. Gifts don’t interrupt the service but follow the flow of what the Lord is doing. I know this can happen because the Bible tells us what our gatherings should look like.  I was saved in an environment where the gifts were used properly, people were saved weekly, and the services were beautiful, moving and always in order. (In 8 years of revival, everyone was healed but not a single person was slain in the Spirit).  I was not afraid to bring an unsaved friend to church for fear the service might be crazy.  Anyone who drew attention to themselves was quietly invited to step outside where the deacons gave instruction.  Only once did I bring a friend who refused to return. Her reason: “God was in there and I don’t want God running my life. I want to run it myself”. She could sense God’s powerful presence.

Labeling yourself a critic is destructive to you and the Body of Christ. There is no “opt out” clause from membership in the Body of Christ. The best choice is to choose to become a “full gospel” Christian, where “full gospel” means you commit yourself to actively pursue all God has promised in His Word.  It also means you refuse to ignore any part of  God’s Word just because it stretches your comfort level.  You might not want to “seek the best gifts” but you will because it is a command. (I Cor. 12:31). By choosing to be a “full gospel” Christian, you can bring health to the Body of Christ, and restore joy to your own soul. We can’t afford to ignore anything the Lord said we need.  Lay down that skeptical label, pick up the scriptures and walk the truths of scripture, just as scripture tells us to.

We, God’s people, need revival. Let’s commit to live a New Testament life style, corporately and individually.  If we follow Him on good days and on days when we’re perplexed in the depths of our souls, will will see the glory of God.  The best cure for skepticism, is to follow God’s instructions and encourage others to do the same.

  • * AG churches that do not teach on or encourage the use of the gifts are not Pentecostal.
    ** “Pentecostal” churches that ignore Paul’s teaching on proper use of the gifts are also being unscriptural.

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I Skinned My Shin On A Honda

I am 100% committed to an intelligent Pentecostal hermeneutic. If you have seen crazy stuff, as I sure have,  I understand if it has caused you to be skeptical.  I’ve been there.  Just be sure that human foolishness does not turn you away from that which is genuinely from God. If we abandon that which the Lord describes in detail in scripture because we have seen good things abused we are just as carnal in our approach as the person who abuses what God gives. In both cases we are elevating human reason and human experience above scripture.  The Word of God instructs us in proper, orderly usage of every thing from tongues in our private prayer life to the many gifts given to His Church. Disorder distracts from His glory. To decide not to pursue that which God has chosen to give us is not intelligence, but arrogance. It is our attempt to make intellectual peace with something that shouldn’t occur in the first place. We are essentially saying, “I’ve seen so much craziness, I am going to ignore the fact God addresses craziness and forbids it. Instead, I’ll neglect all of His gifts with which I feel uncomfortable.”  (“I” being the standard of what is good and what is not, just like the garden).  The idea of using what He has given, as He has instructed us is apparently too simple a choice.

Christians are a supernatural people. We should live like it. God is not unwilling to do what He speaks of in scripture but there is a remarkable dearth of volunteers to simply act on the Word of God.  If we genuinely sought that which God has placed before us, and acted in the orderly manner described in 1 Cor. 12-14 our services would be thrilling.  God never intended the a Pentecostal service be a madhouse that frightened visitors. This is not about us. The saints gather for a dynamic display of God at work and to bring others into a vibrant relationship with the Living God.  We shelve His plans, make our own,, and wonder why we find it hard to show up at our self-powered gatherings.  We know something is missing and ask what it is.  The Bible is rather clear what we’re missing so our choice should be clear.

Dumb Stuff That Turns Us Off

People get turned off to even the prayer language of tongues by “dumb stuff”.  Someone takes people in a room and tells them to repeat nonsense syllables.  People need a genuine experience with God and are understandably perplexed when they are counseled to repeat things that sound like items off the local Chinese restaurant menu. One pastor, expressing his frustration with people being coached that way that way, joked that there are people who would encourage sincere seekers to say, “I skinned my shin on a Honda”really fast believing the tongue twister would  trigger a real experience with God.  This kind of thing sounds crazy, because it is.  It also turns people off from using a gift of grace that is theirs by faith. Nothing makes the devil happier than to see God’s people make peace with living with less than God would give them. The less we have to fight him, the happier he is.

Why This Really, Really Matters

All of this really, really matters. We need all God offers His church not 54.9% of what is in scripture or only that which makes us comfortable. End time predictions do not matter.  It is always the final generation for everyone we meet. Everyone gets just one lifetime to hear.  God has made the same things available to every generation so each generation chooses whether to seek all that God provides or not.  I often feel that we are like people who show up to a five alarm fire equipped with buckets of water and Swiss army knives because “we’ve had some bad experiences with power tools” and then wonder why we are so ineffective at rescuing people from certain death.  Better for everyone is we showed up with the power tools and handled them according to the instructions.

Intellectual Objections

I understand fear of speaking in tongues, because I had a case of it myself. I didn’t want to make it up. I was not wild about having dozens of people cling to me like human fly-paper at an altar call. Yet scripture spends a lot of time talking about these very issues. I had one choice: to seek God and ask if it was true. The scriptures are remarkably convincing, as is God, when given a chance. Every revival in the last two millennia has been marked by a return to the gifts of Spirit.*  Is that because God only gives these gifts during revival or because we get desperate enough for revival that we finally pray for God to do “anything” in us and He simply does what He promised in scriptures?  Why do we choose to live with so much less?

Next: The Supernatural for the Skeptic

*I started to document details and have so many pages of references it does not fit a blog.  I will provide these upon request.

All Do Not Speak In Tongues

In 1 Cor. 12:30 Paul asks a rhetorical question, “Do all speak in tongues?” Remarkably, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals agree that the answer to that question is “No, they do not”. In the context of Paul’s discussion in I Corinthians 12, where the context is spiritual gifts as they are used in a church setting, everyone agrees that not all speak in tongues. Regardless of your starting point, it’s universally agreed that if everyone speaks in tongues out loud at the same time we have one messy confusing church gathering.

Likewise, as to the context of I Corinthians 12-14, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals agree: Paul is discussing the use of gifts of the Holy Spirit in a church setting. The areas where people do not agree focus on two major questions: “Did the gifts cease when the canon came into being?” and “Is speaking in tongues in a church setting, the same as speaking in tongues in one’s private prayer life?”

How Important Is This?

Being a planner, I struggled with the issue of tongues and gifts for a long time. Prior to becoming a Pentecostal minister, I struggled with “the initial physical evidence” for a long time. So if you struggle with this, you have company. You have questions that deserve answers and the scriptures have those answers.

Being honest, it takes a lot hermeneutic gymnastics to explain away the gifts of the Spirit. That is extremely inconvenient for those of us who like predictable things. While we love to sing that God is alive, we seem rather shocked that He has this plan to to actively participate in church gatherings. However, the Lord deemed the gifts so important that He devoted a great deal of scripture to instructing His people in the proper use of them. None of us want to lay claim to arrogance, but if the Lord God instructs us in the gifts so that His church might be healthy, who are we to say, “We have no need of them”? We cannot read Galatians 3, Romans 12, or these chapters in 1 Corinthians and escape the fact that a “normal church experience” as Christ intended church to be “normal” was meant to include the use of gifts of the Spirit. I can think of nowhere else in all of the New Testament where Christians are so eager to explain away three chapters of scripture.

Being stuck with the truth that “Gee, there’s a lot in there on gifts”, I had to work through the issues. People often enthusiastically point out that tongues are not that important because if we speak with tongues and have not love, we are like an annoying gong. This leads me to ask, “If we don’t speak in tongues and act like a loveless jerk, are we any less annoying?” Chapter 13 does not exist to belittle the gifts but to remind us they do not trump the fruit of the Spirit. By the time we get to I Cor. 13:10, we have to be grasping at straws to take the Greek word for “mature/perfect” and decide for this time and this time only in scripture, it really means “the authoritative canon of scripture”. It takes more faith to come up with that explanation and ignore three chapters of scripture than to simply read the text for what is says.

Unfortunately when I read the text I realize something that requires change on my part. We are living with far less than Jesus offers His church and we are so comfortable living with so little, we find it easier to justify our ease than to seek what we lack. We find church predictable and boring because we are by nature, predictable and boring. We’ve left so little room for God to move, and are terribly afraid of the consequences if He does. Yet we hold in our hands a very clear New Testament model of what a healthy church should look like.

Putting Tongues in Place

My first hurdle, personally, was to determine if Paul spoke about tongues as “a prayer language”  that was distinct from the gift of tongues used to edify the church. In I Cor. 14. Paul explains why speaking in tongues in church without interpretation is counterproductive. He also teaches us the following concerning tongues:

Speaking in tongues is a form of speaking to God, by the power of God and it is a mystery (vs.2) that strengthens the person who is praying (vs. 3)  Paul states his strong desires that everyone speak in tongues (vs. 5)* and boasts that he personally speaks in tongues more than everyone (vs.18). Tongues are a sign for “unbelievers” (vs. 22) and an expected part of church gatherings (vs. 26). The only limit he gives is that no more than two or three messages in tongues with interpretation should occur per meeting, so everyone in the church has a chance to contribute using his or her corporate gift. (vs. 27). Even as Paul reminds the Corinthians of the importance of orderly worship, he says clearly “don’t forbid speaking in tongues” (vs. 39).

The Big “But”

My original question was why anyone would think of tongues as “private prayer language” that was not one and the same as the gift listed in Chapter 12.   (If Paul could have made paragraph breaks, used HTML and inserted emoticons, a lot of things would be easier to understand. Just saying….)  The truth that praying in tongues privately, should not be confused with the gift of tongues spoken in a corporate setting as prompted by the Holy Spirit, is the very reason Paul had to write chapter 14.  He spends so much time explaining the difference, that  I nearly missed the glaringly obvious “but“. Paul’s boasts how much he spoke in tongues, privately,  and the very next phrase is “But in church …”

Right there in front of me Paul made a distinction between speaking in tongues privately and speaking in tongues in church. Oops. In fact, he spent much of the chapter parsing the two that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. So there I was, willing to consider that “mature/perfect” (I Cor. 13:10) might somehow be contorted to mean “the authoritative canon of scripture” yet I was overlooking a conjunction of contrast with an unmistakable meaning: “but”.  Why?  Because like most people I am tempted to harmonize my experience with scripture so I am comfortable with my lack.  The real problem most of us have with scripture surrounding the gifts is they point out our church experience lacks what scripture says should be normative.  That should not cause us to reinterpret scripture. It should cause us to earnestly seek that which we lack.

I had studied myself into a corner:  Paul did indeed distinguish between praying in tongues privately and the gift of tongues as a sign to unbelievers. Like it or not, I had to dig deeper and so this series will continue….

Next Time: I Skinned My Shin on a Honda
*(The words “wish” or “could” are not in Greek, so adding them to English sounds like it would really great if people could speak in tongues but it is not actually possible. If Paul wanted to express wishful thinking,  he would have used the subjunctive. Instead, Paul used the indicative form.  Paul is expressing a strong desire that everyone speak in tongues, not to frustrate people who have not done so, or make them feel bad,  but to encourage them to keep seeking.)

A Deposit is Not a Dollop

I am writing this on the assumption that most of the readers of this blog believe the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, although it may occur at the time of salvation is, in fact, a distinct experience from being born again. As this is a blog, not a book, to those readers who do not believe that may I recommend the book by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones book, Joy Unspeakable. He does an excellent job of addressing the scriptural foundation for a distinct experience. His work is endorsed by the likes of J.I. Packer and other main stream evangelical theologians.

As a Pentecostal it is very important to me that young people trained at Pentecostal institutions do not adhere to any teaching which is inconsistent with scripture. “Intelligent Pentecostal” should not an oxymoron. Whatever we believe we should be able to address and demonstrate from scripture. This blog will be brief but vitally important.

Be Ye Baptist, Presbyterian, E-Free or AG

Everyone who confesses Christ is Lord and believes in his or her heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, is saved. 1 Corinthians 12:13 is clear that the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the Body of Christ. Every Christian on the face of the earth has the Holy Spirit residing in him or her in equal measure. If the Spirit of God does not live in you, then you are not saved. (Rom 8:9) The Spirit of God is given to each and every one of us as an “earnest” of our inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5, Eph. 1:14). This “deposit”, this “earnest” is God’s pledge, His absolute assurance that we shall inherit all that God has promised us. We are eternal beings and as surely as the Spirit of God indwells us, everything God has promised in His Word, all that we shall eternally enjoy in His presence shall be ours. How do we know? We know because He’s given us the Holy Spirit whereby we call God, “Abba, Father”. The word “earnest” is used three times in the New Testament. The indwelling of the Spirit of God assures us of our incorruptible inheritance and long after debates about tongues and other gifts shall cease, we will, by God’s grace, forever bask in His presence with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Bad Foundations Make Bad Theology

One of the things many non-Pentecostals believe is that we believe they have less of the Spirit of God dwelling with in them than we do. That’s unscriptural and blatantly false. I always presumed it was a misunderstanding of what we believe but was caught off guard recently when a very reliable young man explained that he was being taught that the Spirit is a deposit for the believer who will get the full measure of the Spirit of God when he or she is baptized in the Holy Spirit. (This discussion occurred when our Calvinist-Baptist friends were visiting, making for lively discussion.). I reread the current AG position paper today and I am baffled how something could be remotely misconstrued to sound like we believe we have more of the Spirit of God living inside us than anyone else. It dawned on me that we just live in a day and age when so many people are in debt that they associate the word “deposit” with purchasing a new vehicle, or getting a stereo system and buying on the installment plan that the word “deposit” sounds like installment payments are sure to follow. While in the world of finance, that is what “deposit” may mean that does not transfer over to scripture. The Holy Spirit baptizes us into the Body of Christ. He indwells us in equal measure. Period. That is what the scriptures teach and that is what we believe.

And all this matters because the Baptism of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, praying in the Spirit, is so important we must lay a strong scriptural foundation.  Sound doctrine can only be founded on sound doctrine, not conjecture. I have no desire to believe what is not in scripture. However, scripture is clear, so let us intelligently, and with the Spirit’s guidance, rightly divide the Word of God.

Next: All Do Not Speak in Tongues
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