Just to bring everybody up to speed, back on August 14 I linked to an essay by Dr. John Piper, and then commented on that essay. This was followed by a word of caution about the differences between those who think the apostolic gifts are still being demonstrated and those who don't, a brief post on the meaning of signs and wonders, and then last week's salvo about making clear distinctions in the continualist camp.
Now, here's where I'm at: I have taken great pains not to merely avalache the readers of this blog with a 15-page one-time post on the question of signs and wonders -- so I have broken my thoughts here into 2-3 page (as measured by WORD) buckets to keep you from impacting the US GDP. But in doing that, it gives the drive-by commenter the opportunity to really miss almost all of what I have said so far. So before you read any further, if you haven't read the other stuff, go back and re-read that other stuff if you have missed it -- because people who post stuff like, "well, you just don't believe God can do miracles," or "you're a deist," or "you quench the spirit" are just going to get deleted using Blogger's "delete forever" function and, frankly, get ignored. No appeals.
Because this topic is volatile enough, right? Get engaged in it in a way that is more than superficial if you're going to participate in a dialog here. If you want to lecture, go get a classroom. Or your own blog.
So my closer last week was this:
So my point here is that making unclear distinctions like the somewhat-confusing ones, above, doesn't make the continualist case any more convincing. It seems, in fact, to make it all the more slippery -- which brings me personally to the place where I need some actual apostolic help in sorting the problem out.Because, we should be grateful to note, there is actual apostolic guidance on this topic.
It turns out that Paul wrote a whole section of a letter to the Corinthians on this topic, which begins, "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed." And it ends, "But all things should be done decently and in order." That's not hardly all the information he packs into (what we receive in English as) about 1800 words, but that's how he frames his view: these things should not be things we are ignorant of, and they should be part of order in the church and not disorder or disunity.
For those of you who aren't constantly scouring the internet for every word I publish (as if you have that kind of time), it has come up that Paul leverages the alleged presence of the sign gifts to demonstrate that they are not the main object of church life.
1 Cor 13 is Paul's expression of what he calls a "still more excellent way" -- as compared to the jocking for position based on what gifts one may have. It is there -- in the middle of Paul's dissertation on spiritual gifts in order that we may not be uninformed -- that he says,
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
So Paul's guidance to us, in brief, is that there's something greater than signs and wonders which the church must manifest and must seek after, even if gifts are given. And in that, we have the nutshell of my critique of the "cautious charismatic" crowd: at some point, what you-all are calling the gifts of the Holy Spirit ought to be doing what Paul say they ought to do in and for the church. And you should be able to apply the filter Paul applies to see when the Spirit is actually working in the church.
And that sets us up for my last post in 2008 about this subject, which we will get to next week.