catapult magazine

catapult magazine


Spiritual Gifts


Apr 28 2003
08:10 am

I took some time and went back and read all the comments for the earlier discussion on this subject. Because I have personally experienced some of the showier manifestations of ?spiritual gifts,? I?d like to tell you what I have seen and think.

Sally and I first seriously affirmed our faith in Jesus in a Conservative Baptist Church in Vancouver, Washington. We loved the church and the people, and really felt the power of the Holy Spirit when the pastor got wound up and opened himself to the Spirit?s moving – rather than just sticking to his prepared sermon. Although he never spoke anything but English, the feeling of power in the church was just amazing at times. (This happened more on Sunday nights, than at the formal Sunday morning services.) However, the church had a strict rule that, if anybody tried to ?speak in tongues? in the church, they would be promptly escorted out and asked never to return. The rule was put in place because some of the members had had ?bad experiences? with ?tongues.? Obviously, the Holy Spirit was not evident in any showy displays in that church!
When we decided to officially ?join? the local church, we went before the board of deacons (by this time, good friends of ours). One of the questions asked was, do you believe in speaking in tongues? Sally had actually had some minor experiences with glossolalia (the fancy word for ?tongues,? etc.); I hadn?t, but I had studied the scriptures enough to know that such outpourings were certainly possible. We described our understanding of the subject, and the deacons tried to ?teach? us that such manifestations were probably Satanic (after all, as the scriptures say, ?tongues shall cease?). When we refused to agree that we would never speak in tongues (how could we, if that?s what the Holy Spirit might want, some day?), we were denied membership. In one of those loving but hypocritical decisions that Christians are famous for, we were told we could continue to come to the church, even though we couldn?t be ?members.? Sally was willing to consider it – after all, we loved those people and they loved us – but I was (righteously, I hope) indignant and said something in the vein of ?Screw you, you scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites. I?m out of here.? We never went back. I suspect we were the subject of all kinds of prayers against demon possession, after that.

We later were associated with Foursquare and Assembly of God churches, both of which believe in glossolalia. Yes, we saw excesses – sometimes the ?showy? Gifts are unduly elevated above the rest – and yes, I saw things that I pesonally doubted were completely Spirit-controlled. Is there anything that we humans have not gone overboard about, and prioritized wrongly? But, through it all, there never was any question that the Holy Spirit could take control of a group of Christians in a most wonderful way, not possible when all the sermons and songs were scripted. The scene I created in my book ?If God is God? was actually autobiographical – and not just a one-time event. I?ll re-print it below, so you don?t have to go to my webpage.
“Are there other things we need to pray about?” Josh asked. Nobody mentioned anything. “Well, why don’t we all join hands – no, don’t stand up, unless you want to – just grab hold of someone where you are, and form a chain.” There was a little shifting to be able to reach the nearest person, then all closed their eyes and waited. The room was very still. A full minute went by; nothing happened. It was almost embarrassing, but no one wanted to be the first to open their eyes and look around. Two minutes. The room was deathly quiet, and yet the atmosphere was so heavy it seemed alive. Suddenly, a soft sweet sound began somewhere among them – a woman’s voice, clearly, but not really identifiable as anyone’s there. It sang, but not so much in words as in tones. It became louder, and as it seemed to fill the room a second voice started up, as sweet as the first but in a lower octave. There were words now, but not English words. The two voices seemed to wind around one another, going off on their own very different melodies, yet blending perfectly. A man’s voice entered in, also singing foreign words and still another melody different from the first two. Then there was a second male voice, and after that more until there was just one sound filling the room, a full chorus rising and falling and intertwining about itself. The sound rose to a mighty crescendo, a blending of what could have been a hundred individual voices, and then came to an abrupt end, except for one lone female voice that seemed to drift off into another room, eventually fading as if at some great distance. The silence that followed was as intense as the sound had been previously, but it lasted only a moment. Before anyone could open their eyes or begin to think about what they had been experiencing, a new voice began. It was a man’s voice, speaking clearly and precisely, but in a foreign language. The voice began slowly, reasonably, but increased in intensity and urgency until it was not shouting, but coming forth with a controlled power that beat on the senses like a shout. Then that voice stopped, and a woman’s began, in English this time. “I am the Lord, your God,” the voice said. “I am here with you, and I am here to remind you of all the good gifts I have promised you. I give you peace; take it. I give you wisdom; take it. I give you understanding, and I give you love for one another and for those in the world – love that transcends and eclipses any love you have ever known. Take it. I give you power to change your lives and the lives of those touched by you, by My Spirit that works in you. Take it! And I give you permission to bind My old enemy Satan and all his demons, so that they might not hinder the works that I wish to do in you and through you. Take it! Take My mind unto you. Take My sword of righteousness. Take My peace, which truly passes all understanding. If I am God, then let Me be God! For I am the one over all others, and My words are not lies. Prove me!” The voice stopped, and the room was still, again. Then someone said “Thank You, Lord”, and it was as if a frozen world had suddenly thawed. Some people cried; some hugged one another; and some stared into space. Josh stood with hands held high above his head, eyes closed, and his mouth moving in silent words. Carolyn scanned from face to face, her own moistened with tears, and her eyes wide with excitement. Harry began to sing quietly the words that Mary sang as she conceived Jesus. “My soul doth magnify the Lord, my soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For He that is mighty hath done to me great things, and holy is His name.” Beverly began to sing with him, then Pete and Evalyn, and soon most were singing softly, savoring feelings that most had never had before. They sang the chorus several times, one by one dropping out, until the chorus finally ended with a single voice trailing away. Everything was silent again.
Later, Evalyn (or me, as the case may be) described the events of the previous evening to some people who hadn?t been at the meeting.

“That’s ‘speaking in tongues’, isn’t it?” Paul asked when she was finished.
“Yes, in two different forms. One, we were singing and praying to God in a way that bypassed our brains – our hearts were communing direct with His heart. Then, He spoke back to our hearts in ‘tongues’, and then through an interpreter to our minds.”
“Wasn’t it confusing with everyone going on at the same time?” asked Jenny.
Several people started to protest. “On the contrary!” Carolyn answered for all of them. “It was the most orderly – the most beautiful – thing I have ever heard. The whole room seemed to be alive with God!”
“That’s right,” continued Harry. “It’s the kind of thing that sounds confusing when you talk about it, but ‘orderly’ is an excellent word for it. It was full of emotion, but it was completely controlled.”
Paul shook his head. "I believe you when I hear you say it. But because I haven’t experienced it myself, and because there’s so much teaching against it… "
Harry continued. “There’s been confusion about this ever since Pentecost, I think. You remember in ‘Acts’ that the Holy Spirit came ‘like a mighty wind’, in ‘tongues of fire’, and everyone began to speak in different languages. Right away, some people were turned off by it. They thought everyone was drunk. But others were having the time of their lives, praising God and hearing God praised in many different voices.”
“These are not drunken, as you suppose,” quoted Pete.
“That’s right. Peter set things straight right away – about what was happening at the moment, but also about the miracles, signs, and wonders that were to follow now that the Holy Spirit had come to empower Christians. But everybody couldn’t receive that message then, just like some can’t receive it now. At first, the denials were simple: they’re drunk, they’re out of control. Later, after the Bible was put together, they found more sophisticated arguments. ‘Tongues shall cease’ is one scripture that is used a lot to ‘prove’ that the experience doesn’t occur anymore – at least, not from God, it doesn’t.”
“Where’s that scripture?” asked Bill.
“First Corinthians 13 – the ‘love chapter’, of all places! If you read it in context… Well, let’s do it.” They read the first seven verses together. “You see, it starts right out talking about ‘speaking in tongues of men and angels’, but it’s really talking about love. Nothing is any good if it isn’t done in love. Okay, look at verse 8: ‘Love will never come to an end.’ We’re still clearly talking about love. Let’s go on: ‘Are there prophets? Their work will be over. Are there tongues of ecstasy? They shall cease.’ There it is.”
“But Harry,” Bill protested, “The verse goes on to say that knowledge will vanish, too. If you’re going to claim on the basis of that verse that ‘tongues of ecstasy’ have ceased, don’t you have to also claim that knowledge has ceased? Does any church claim that?”
Harry shrugged. “Not that I know of,” he replied, deadpan.
“Well, how could they?” exclaimed Jenny. “All this verse says is that love is more important than anything else, and that it will last when everything else is gone.” She looked around for confirmation. “Isn’t that right?”
“That’s certainly how I read it,” said Harry.
“Well, why would Christians try so hard to refute something like this?” asked Bill.
“Confusion,” said Harry.
“Fear,” said Beverly.
“Which?” asked Debbie.
“Both,” said Harry. "Certainly, the Bible is a little confusing on this subject. There’s not a lot of talk about it specifically… "
“Why should there be?” interrupted Evalyn.
“I agree, why should there be? Unfortunately, the few places it is mentioned, you get very different signals about it. Paul (the apostle, not you, Paul) is obviously not thrilled with ‘tongues’. In chapter 14 he says in essence: sure, you’re talking to God, but that doesn’t do me any good. Why don’t you prophesy, so I can get something out of it?”
“The first of the ‘me generation’,” said Pete.
Harry laughed. "Right! But then in verse 5 he says that he wishes everybody could use the ‘tongues of ecstasy’. Oops, in verse 6 he says that ‘tongues’ are worthless to the congregation. No, by golly, in verse 15 he says he wants to pray both ‘in the spirit’ and ‘intelligently’. But wait for verses 23 and 24: if you’re all praying ‘in tongues’, people will think you’re mad. Then, in verse 26… "
“Harry,” cautioned Bev.
He stopped. “Bev is calling attention to the fact that I’m getting carried away, but I think you see my point: if you wanted to misunderstand or disbelieve, Paul gives you plenty of opportunity right there in two chapters.”
“But really,” protested Evalyn, “He puts it all back together starting in verse 26, and again at the very end of chapter 14. When you meet for worship, he says, one can contribute a hymn, another some instruction, another a revelation, another an ‘ecstatic utterance’, another an interpretation – just like we did. Then, at the end, he says it should be orderly, and it was.”
“That’s it,” agreed Beverly. “Paul finally spits it out, even though he throws in a few ‘ringers’ along the way, like women keeping silent in church!”
“What’s that all about?” asked Debbie.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Harry. “I don’t know if we want to get into that, now.”
“Why not?” asked Beverly. “It may actually help explain why Paul said some of the things he said about ‘tongues’.”
He pondered a moment. "Okay, but this is just Harry talking now. Paul liked to preface some of his remarks with a sort of disclaimer, that he was speaking ‘with permission’. What he meant was that he couldn’t prove that what he was saying was the answer, but that it was an answer that he felt fit with what he knew of God’s will. That’s what I’m doing now. I don’t think you’ll find this written down anywhere in the Bible, but it rings true to me.
“I like Paul, but I like him as what he really was – a strong-willed, brand new Christian person – rather than as the god figure that some people make him out to be. I think his teachings become confusing when you make him larger than life. Think about who he really was. He was a man with a clear calling to lead a young church on toward maturity, and all in all he did a good job, considering the times and his surroundings and his own personality. He had been a leader in his former life, but what a leader! He was self-righteous to the point of killing people when he felt they were wrong. He had a wonderful conversion experience, just like all of us, but then he was immediately thrust into a leadership role that he had absolutely no background for. Think about how you were immediately after accepting Christ: you were excited and eager, but you were pretty much the same old you. You believed in your salvation, but you certainly weren’t ready to preach the gospel! Now, think about Paul: he was an extreme type, with a lot of bad attitudes to change, and no Bible to read and no pastor to teach him. I believe he was just like the rest of us, though. Sometimes, he let the Holy Spirit do his talking for him, and he was right on. Other times, he spoke like a man – a good organizer, and with his heart in the right place, so to speak – but one trying to relate to the church of the day, in which women were second-class citizens and there were still slaves, among other things. If we’ll be honest with ourselves, and with each other, we’ll have to acknowledge that Paul and Jesus were not always speaking the same language. If one of them was off base, I wonder which one it was!”
They were silent for a moment, thinking. Harry continued. "I thought that was going to take us off on a tangent, but maybe not. Maybe the big reason that the charismatic gifts have caused so much confusion in the church is that, like Paul, people have tried to make everything fit into their practical, rational world. If you can’t see a reason for it, discard it. You know, religion as an emotional, supernatural part of life went underground during the so-called ‘Age of Reason’. People like Descartes said that if you couldn’t prove it scientifically, it didn’t exist. That fit in really well with mankind’s desire to control even God, if we could. Anything that smacked of the supernatural has to go. We can’t prove it, and we’re uncomfortable with it, so… "
“I can see why this has become so confusing,” ventured Jenny, “But what about fear as a reason for denying these gifts?”
“I think Harry was starting to get into that, too,” said Beverly. “Being out of control, so to speak, is pretty scary to a lot of people. Giving up control, even to God, is viewed as dangerous. Interestingly, some parts of the Christian church that are very worried about being out of control – or of being controlled by something or someone else – are very heavy into control of their own membership. They’re really weighed down with rules and regulations and prohibitions that are meant to protect Christians. In the best of circumstances, this grows out of love and concern, but when it even controls the Holy Spirit in the church and the individual, it’s clearly gone too far.”
“It’s just as if they didn’t trust God to deal directly with His people,” said Evalyn.
“That’s it, exactly,” rejoined Bev, “And that’s the essence of the fear I was talking about. They seem to fear Satan more than they trust God. If anything seems to be getting out of control – and I emphasize seems to be – they see it as an open door for the Devil.”
“And last night could have seemed out of control,” said Carolyn.
“Well, in fairness to the anti-tongues people, the charismatic folks have been known to get out of control,” said Harry.
Bev snorted, and Harry laughed. “Bev knows what an understatement that is. Some groups have got so enthused about the emotional part – concentrating on the gifts, not on the Giver and His reason for giving them – that all kinds of excesses have occurred. And, unfortunately, probably everyone who has had an experience with ‘tongues’, positive or negative, has a horror story to tell. They are misused at times, no doubt. People worship the charismata for its own sake. Churches have actually split up because of ‘tongues’. Oh, there’s no question the Devil can use it.”
“But Harry,” protested Bill. “That’s throwing the baby out with the bath water! ‘Tongues’ certainly aren’t the only thing that Christians have misused, and that have caused trouble in churches.”
“How about misuse of power?” suggested Pete.
“Or wrong teaching?” offered Donna.
“Or even improper emphasis on what is taught?” added Evalyn.
A pause gave Debbie a chance to say something that had been on her mind for some time. “I think I see why Ev said it was right that ‘tongues’ weren’t mentioned much in the Bible. They aren’t meant to stand by themselves, or to be treated differently than all the other things God does. They’re just part of the way He works.”
“That is what I meant,” Evalyn confirmed. “We need to do it, and He needs to hear it and use it, but only because it’s part of our total way to pray and praise Him.”
“I agree with that,” said Harry, “And I guess I need to say one more thing about it. Bev and I have been in and out of the so-called charismatic movement, and we’ve seen the supernatural gifts… No, wait, I don’t want to use that term, because all God’s gifts are supernatural. Let’s say ‘showy’ gifts. Anyway, we’ve seen the showy gifts emphasized to the point that pride in them gets so great that they’re used almost as the basis for a new religion. The NRA is fond of saying that ‘guns don’t kill people’; well, ‘tongues’ don’t cause trouble in church, but the people who glory in them and who claim that all Christians must speak in tongues sure do! I can’t find anything in my Bible that says every Christian needs to speak in tongues, either as a sign of the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ or even as a part of our personal prayer life. I think you have to be willing and available to do whatever God wants you to do. Some Christians don’t speak in tongues because they’ve decided that they won’t. I think they’re in trouble because they’ve shut a part of their lives to God. If you will, then it’s up to God whether or not you do!”
“And,” concluded Beverly, “If that’s the way you approach it – giving God complete control, that is – then there’s no reason to fear that the Devil will mess it up. Remember: greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world.”

The Church is Under Attack!