Thursday, October 31, 2013

praise postures

Sam Storms on the postures of praise:

There are numerous other issues we could address, but I want to talk about the one most visibly relevant: physical posture. Although I’ve written on this before, I think it is important enough to address once again.

If you were to visit Bridgeway Church, where I am pastor, you would know that we freely and frequently lift our hands when we worship. Some people kneel down. Some sit. Some just stand. Some even dance.

On more than one occasion I’ve been asked: “Sam, why do you lift your hands when you worship?” My answer is two-fold. First, I raise my hands when I pray and praise because I have explicit biblical precedent for doing so. I don’t know if I’ve found all biblical instances of it, but consider this smattering of texts.
  • “So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands” (Psalm 63:4).
  • “To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary” (Psalm 28:1).
  • “Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you” (Psalm 88:9).
  • “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:48). “Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD!” (Psalm 134:2).
  • “O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” (Psalm 141:1-2).
  • “I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (Psalm 143:6).
  • “Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands. Solomon had made a bronze platform five cubits long, five cubits wide, and three cubits high, and had set it in the court, and he stood on it. Then he knelt on his knees in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven” (2 Chronicles 6:12-13).
  • “And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God” (Ezra 9:5).
  • “And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground” (Nehemiah 8:6).
  • “Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven” (Lamentations 3:41).
  • “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” (1 Timothy 2:8).
If someone should object and say that few of these texts speak of worship (see Pss. 63:4; 134:2), but only of prayer (as if a rigid distinction can even be made between the two; indeed, I can’t recall ever worshiping God without praying to him; and prayer is itself a form of worship), my question is simply this:

Why do you assume that the appropriate place for your hands is at your side and you need an explicit biblical warrant for raising them? Wouldn’t it be just as reasonable to assume that the appropriate place for one’s hands is raised toward heaven, calling for an explicit biblical warrant (other than gravity or physical exhaustion) to keep them low?

The second answer I give to the question, “Why do you lift your hands when you worship?” is: “Because I’m not a Gnostic!” Gnosticism, both in its ancient and modern forms, disparages the body. Among other things, it endorses a hyper-spirituality that minimizes the goodness of physical reality. Gnostics focus almost exclusively on the non-material or “spiritual” dimensions of human existence and experience. The body is evil and corrupt. The body must be controlled and suppressed and kept in check lest it defile the pure praise of one’s spirit. The body, they say, is little more than a temporary prison for the soul that longs to escape into a pure, ethereal, altogether spiritual mode of being. Nonsense!

In one particular wedding ceremony I performed, the woman was from England and asked that I include in the vows one particular part that goes as follows:
“With my body I thee honor. My body will adore you, and your body alone will I cherish. I will with my body, declare your worth.”
But biblical Christianity celebrates God’s creation of physical reality (after all, he did pronounce it “good” in Genesis 1). We are more than immaterial creatures. We are embodied souls, and are to worship God with our whole being. Paul couldn’t have been more to the point when he exhorted us to present our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” which is our “spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

By all means, we must worship with understanding. We must think rightly of God and love him with our heart and soul and mind (see Mt. 22:37). But we are not, for that reason, any less physical beings. We will have glorified bodies forever in which to honor and adore our great God. If we are commanded to dance, kneel, sing and speak when we worship, what possible reason could there be for not engaging our hands as well?

The human hand gives visible expression to so many of our beliefs, feelings, and intentions. When I taught homiletics (how to preach), one of the most difficult tasks was getting young preachers to use their hands properly. Either from embarrassment or fear, they would keep them stuffed in their pockets, hidden from sight behind their backs, or nervously twiddle them in a variety of annoying ways.

Our hands speak loudly. When angry, we clinch our fists, threatening harm to others. When guilty, we hide our hands or hold incriminating evidence from view. When uneasy, we sit on them to obscure our inner selves. When worried, we wring them. When afraid, we use them to cover our face or hold tightly to someone for protection. When desperate or frustrated, we throw them wildly in the air, perhaps also in resignation or dismay. When confused, we extend them in bewilderment, as if asking for advice and direction. When hospitable, we use them to warmly receive those in our presence. When suspicious, we use them to keep someone at bay, or perhaps point an accusing finger in their direction. Does it not seem wholly appropriate, therefore, to raise them to God when we seek him in prayer or celebrate him with praise? So again, why do I worship with hands raised?
  • Because like one who surrenders to a higher authority, I yield to God’s will and ways and submit to his guidance and power and purpose in my life. It is my way of saying, “God, I am yours to do with as you please.”
  • Because like one who expresses utter vulnerability, I say to the Lord: “I have nothing to hide. I come to you open handed, concealing nothing. My life is yours to search and sanctify. I’m holding nothing back. My heart, soul, spirit, body and will are an open book to you.”
  • Because like one who needs help, I confess my utter dependence on God for everything. I cry out: “O God, I entrust my life to you. If you don’t take hold and uplift me, I will surely sink into the abyss of sin and death. I rely on your strength alone. Preserve me. Sustain me. Deliver me.”
  • Because like one who happily and expectantly receives a gift from another, I declare to the Lord: “Father, I gratefully embrace all you want to give. I’m a spiritual beggar. I have nothing to offer other than my need of all that you are for me in Jesus. So glorify yourself by satisfying me wholly with you alone.”
  • Because like one who aspires to direct attention away from self to the Savior, I say: “O God, yours is the glory; yours is the power; yours is the majesty alone!”
  • Because as the beloved of God, I say tenderly and intimately to the Lover of my soul: “Abba, hold me. Protect me. Reveal your heart to me. I am yours! You are mine! Draw near and enable me to know and feel the affection in your heart for this one sinful soul.”
For those many years when I kept my hands rigidly at my side or safely tucked away in the pockets of my pants, I knew that no one would take notice of my praise of God or my prayers of desperation. No one would dare mistake me for a fanatic! I felt in control, dignified, sophisticated, and above all else, safe. These matter no more to me.

Please understand: these are not words of condemnation but confession. I know no one’s heart but my own. I judge no one’s motives but mine. I’m not telling you how to worship, but simply sharing how I do and why. I’m at that point in life where I honestly couldn’t care less what the immovable evangelical is thinking or the crazy charismatic is feeling. What matters to me is that God have my all: my mind, will, feet, eyes, ears, tongue, heart, affections, and yes, my hands.

No, you need not raise your hands to worship God. But why wouldn’t you want to?

paul and tongues

Sam Storms on the apostle Paul and tongues:

“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:14-19).

In describing his own gift of speaking in tongues, Paul wrote, “my spirit prays” (1 Cor. 14:14). This may be a reference to the Holy Spirit, or perhaps his own human spirit, or even a co-working of the two, which in effect constitutes the essence of a spiritual gift. (A spiritual gift is when the Holy Spirit energizes and enables my spirit to do what otherwise I couldn’t do.) The important point, however, is that when Paul prays in tongues his mind is “unfruitful.” By this he means either, “I don’t understand what I am saying,” or, “Other people don’t understand what I’m saying.” The former is more likely.

This is crucial. Many insist that if one’s mind is unfruitful, that is to say, if one’s mind is not engaged in such a way that the believer can rationally and cognitively grasp what is occurring, the experience, whatever its nature may be, is useless. The apostle Paul strongly disagreed. Since Paul asserted that his mind was unfruitful when he prayed in tongues, many would think his next step would be to repudiate the use of tongues altogether. After all, what possible benefit can there be in a spiritual experience that one’s mind can’t comprehend? At the very least one would expect Paul to say something to minimize its importance so as to render it trite, at least in comparison with other gifts. But he does no such thing.

Look closely at Paul’s conclusion. He even introduced his conclusion by asking the question, in view of what has just been said in verse 14, “What is the outcome then?” (v. 15a). In other words, what am I to do? His answer may come as a shock to you.

He was determined to do both! “I shall pray with the spirit [i.e., I will pray in tongues], and I will pray with the mind [i.e., I will pray in Greek so that others who speak and understand Greek can profit from what I say].” Clearly, Paul believed that a spiritual experience that was beyond the grasp of his mind was yet profoundly profitable. Paul believed that it wasn’t absolutely necessary for an experience to be rationally cognitive for it to be spiritually beneficial and glorifying to God.

This isn’t in any way to denigrate or impugn the crucial importance of one’s mind in the Christian life. In Romans 12:1 Paul commanded that we experience renewal in our minds. All I’m saying—what I believe Paul is saying—is that praying in tongues is eminently beneficial and glorifying to God even though it is trans-rational in nature.

Furthermore, since Paul was determined to pray with the spirit (i.e., pray in uninterpreted tongues), where and when would he do it? Since he ruled out doing it in the public meeting, he must have been referring to his private, devotional prayer life. To “sing in or with the spirit” is to sing in tongues, a more melodious, musical form of tongues-speech, a practice which also, no doubt, characterized Paul’s private prayer experience.

The reference (vv. 16-17) to the “outsider” (ESV) or “ungifted” (NASB) or “those who do not understand” (NIV) probably points to anyone who does not have the gift of interpretation. It is obviously another Christian, for such a person is capable of being edified and is expected to say amen. Paul also clearly asserted that tongues-speech, among other things, blesses and gives thanks and is thus a form of prayer and praise. However, unless such prayer or praise is understood by others present, God may enjoy it but no one else does.

It is hard to imagine Paul saying anything more explosive than what we now read in verses 18-19. Clearly, Paul’s devotional life was characterized by praying and singing and praising in tongues, and he was profoundly grateful to God for this gift. His point in verse 19 is simple: the crucial issue is not whether one speaks in tongues, but what is appropriate in the public assembly of the church.

Paul had said that tongues-speech in the public gathering of the church is prohibited without an interpretation. Since the purpose of church meetings is the edification of other believers, Paul preferred to speak in a language all could understand. Consequently, he rarely spoke in tongues in a public setting. Now note well: if Paul spoke in tongues more frequently and fervently than anyone else, yet in church he almost never did (preferring there to speak in a way all can understand), where did he speak in tongues? The only possible answer is that Paul exercised his remarkable gift in private, in the context of his personal, devotional intimacy with God.

Remember, this is the man who wrote Romans. This is the man whose incomparable mind and power of logical argumentation rendered helpless his theological opponents. This is the man who is known to history as the greatest theologian outside of Jesus himself. This is the man who took on and took out the philosophers in Athens (Acts 17)! Yes, logical, reasonable, highly-educated Paul prayed in tongues more than anyone!

tongues and evangelism

While I do not agree with Adrian Warnock's link between tongues and groanings too deep for words, I agree with his overall assessment and that John MacArthur once again fails to interact with Scripture. Here is Warnock's post:

Today, in the series responding to Strange Fire, we turn to the subject of tongues. Before I get to the arguments that MacArthur makes in his book, lets review the few Bible references that refer to the phenomena:

  • Mark 16:17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; (NB: most scholars believe this verse was not in the original)
  • Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
  • Acts 2:11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
  • Acts 10:46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared,
  • Acts 19:6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
  • Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
  • 1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?
  • 1 Corinthians 14:18-19 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.”
  • 1 Corinthians 14:22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?
  • 1 Corinthians 14:39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

In addition many charismatics believe the following verses refer to tongues:

  • 1 Corinthians 14:15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
  • Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
  • Jude 1:19 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,

We will now turn to the biblical arguments found within the pages of Strange Fire.

Argument: Tongues were human languages given solely for the purpose of evangelism.
“In short, the glossolalia practiced by today’s charismatics is a counterfeit that by every measure falls short of the gift of tongues described in the New Testament. Today’s tongues-speakers claim to have received the biblical gift, but ultimately they have to acknowledge that the gibberish they are speaking has none of the characteristics of real language. Whereas modern “tongues” is a learned behavior consisting of unintelligible stammering and nonsense syllables, the New Testament gift involved the supernatural ability to speak precisely in a foreign language the speaker had never learned. Though charismatics may hijack biblical terminology to describe their practice, the fact remains that such fabricated behavior has no relation to the biblical gift” Strange Fire, page 137
It is patently clear that tongues were not solely for evangelism. Acts 2 is the only place where there is any suggestion they were being used for that, and even there it is interesting that those speaking in tongues were not proclaiming the gospel but instead praising God. This would be consistent with the other examples which speak of tongues being towards God, edifying the person speaking, and needing a supernatural gift of interpretation. If tongues are always a language and are only for evangelism, why would the Spirit have given a gift of tongues for use when nobody was in the room to understand? Also, Paul says clearly that he doesn’t speak in tongues much if at all in church but he does speak in tongues a lot, more than the rest of them. The only time he could be doing this in his own prayer time.

Also, the phrase “tongues of men and of angels” in 1 Corinthians 13:1 does suggest that the gift of tongues might be the ability to speak some other- worldly, angelic language. We also saw “various kinds of tongues” being described in 1 Cor 12:10.

Finally the concept of the Spirit helping us to pray with “groans that words cant express” could support the subjective experience of many with tongues, which is that words “run out” and can no longer express the praise they are giving to God at the time when tongues begin. An example of this kind of experience is given by Augustine:
Behold, he giveth as it were the tune of thy song; seek not words as if thou couldest explain whereby God is pleased. Sing with jubilation: for this is to sing skilfully unto God, to sing with jubilation. What is it to sing with jubilation ? To be unable to understand, to express in words, what is sung in the heart. For singers, either in the harvest, or in the vineyard, or in any other busy work, after they have begun in the words of their hymns to exult and rejoice, being as it were filled with so great joy, that they cannot express it in words, then turn from actual words, and proceed to sounds of jubilation. The jubilee is a sound signifying that the heart laboureth with that which it cannot utter. And whom beseemeth that jubilation, but the Ineffable God? For He is Ineffable, Whom thou canst not speak; and if thou canst not speak Him, and oughtest not to keep Him silent, what remaineth to thee but jubilation ; that the heart may rejoice without words, and the boundless extent of joy may have no limits of syllables? Sing skilfully unto Him with jubilation. 
— Augustine of Hippo on the 33 Psalm (AD 354–430)
I appreciate not everyone will be convinced by these arguments, but at least appreciate that there are biblical arguments that charismatics rely on to support their experience.

But also, we should judge by the fruit. If a persons spiritual prayer language leaves them feeling closer to God, empowered to serve, encouraged and built up, and full of more love for Jesus, it is hard to see how this could be from the devil.

Also, the parable found in Luke 11 is revealing, as it promises us clearly that if we are children of God he would not allow a bad gift to be substituted for the real thing if we ask him. Jesus himself says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13


Argument All gifts were given for the edification of others, Charismatics are wrong then to think of tongues as self-edifying, and that is a selfish content.

Counterargument: MacArthur doesn’t really engage with “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.” The argument is that in church tongues are to be interpreted so that others also benefit rather than that tongues do not benefit the speaker! Paul wants to limit tongues in church, but also wants all of them to speak in tongues. The fact that he does so more than any of them suggests that he is himself getting some benefit from the practice.

What is so wrong with wanting to be built up yourself so that you can build others up?

This is also why I included the verse from Jude which encourages us to be building ourselves up through the Holy Spirit.

In short I see no reason why someone should not speak in tongues and hence “speak to himself and to God” That phrase surely indicates a prayer language!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

beauty from above

Francis A. Schaeffer in The Church before the Watching World:

If we stress the love of God without the holiness of God, it turns out only to be compromise. But if we stress the holiness of God without the love of God, we practice something that is hard and lacks beauty. And it is important to show forth beauty before a lost world and a lost generation. All too often young people have not been wrong in saying that the church is ugly. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we are called upon to show to a watching world and to our own young people that the church is something beautiful.

Several years ago I wrestled with the question of what was wrong with much of the church that stood for purity. I came to the conclusion that in the flesh we can stress purity without love or we can stress the love of God without purity, but that in the flesh we cannot stress both simultaneously. In order to exhibit both simultaneously, we must look moment by moment to the work of Christ, to the work of the Holy Spirit. Spirituality begins to have real meaning in our moment-by-moment lives as we begin to exhibit simultaneously the holiness of God and the love of God.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

christology v. pneumatology

I completely agree with Dan Edelen, the majority of misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit stems from a misunderstanding of Christ. Here is Edelen's post:

What people think about Jesus will reflect in their pneumatology, their ideas concerning the Holy Spirit. As a result, what is taught concerning where Christ and the Holy Spirit intersect often becomes wildly divergent.

  1. Some believe Jesus performed His miracles through His divine nature. Because He was God, he could raise the dead, heal, and command nature.
  2. Some believe Jesus performed His miracles solely through His human nature, as a man fully empowered by the Holy Spirit.

What people believe about Jesus as the God-Man is largely interpreted through this lens:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. —Philippians 2:5-7 ESV

What “emptied himself” means becomes problematic for everyone. Is is possible that this verse forces people to rely on their conceptions of pneumatology to reason back to how Jesus did His miracles?

People who believe Jesus performed miracles through His divine nature are far less likely to believe that the charismatic gifts of the Spirit are for today, whereas those who believe He did miracles through His Spirit-filled human nature more likely will embrace a position that what Jesus did Spirit-filled people can do because the Holy Spirit, being God, is immutable and timeless.

The swing verse:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. —John 14:12 ESV

Which couples with this:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. —John 16:7 ESV

Jesus’ ascending to heaven resulted in His sending the Holy Spirit, and now people can do greater works.

Those “greater works” also split people based on pneumatology. Are they greater by nature? Or are they greater in number? Or both? How people understand this will also determine how their Christology and pneumatology intersect and inform each other.

But Jesus walked on water and commanded the wind and it obeyed. Surely this is due to His divinity and not anything men can do, even Spirit-filled men.

Jesus says this about faith, which is also one of the nine gifts of the Spirit:

“For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” —Matthew 17:20 ESVb

Where do I stand on this? I believe that as one delves deeper into the Scriptures it becomes clear that Jesus elected to do His miracles as a Spirit-filled man to show what is possible for anyone who believes. This is a hallmark of those who are part of the Kingdom of God, or as Jesus said, “Nothing will be impossible for you.” And it is as Jesus said because He modeled for us what a truly Spirit-filled man can do, not relying on His nature as the Son of God to do these things, which would be impossible for us to emulate, but instead relying on his mantle as the Son of Man and the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:43-49).

What we believe about Jesus informs how we think about the Holy Spirit. And vice versa.

tongues debunked

Many cessationists argue against the gift of tongues based on a false understanding of the Biblical practice. Here Sam Storms nicely outlines some of use and misuse of tongues according to Scripture.

One of the arguments used by cessationists to prove that speaking in tongues in private prayer or in the corporate assembly (even with interpretation) is not a valid experience today is their insistence that tongues in the NT were evangelistic. That is to say, this spiritual gift was given by God primarily, if not exclusively, to enable a believer to share the gospel with non-Christians who spoke a different language.

But there is no evidence that tongues-speech was designed to evangelize unbelievers. That isn’t to say God couldn’t use it to save souls, or even as a form of pre-evangelism, but that’s not its primary purpose. When people spoke in tongues they declared “the mighty deeds of God” (Acts 2:11; observe the same phrase in Acts 10:46 and 19:17). The people don’t hear an evangelistic message but rather worship. It is only Peter’s preaching that brought salvation. Here, as elsewhere, we see that the primary purpose of tongues-speech is address to God, whether it be praise or prayer (1 Cor. 14:2, 14). And when the household of Cornelius spoke in tongues, far from questioning the sanity or stability of these believing Gentiles, Peter concluded that they were saved and thus eligible to be baptized in water no less than had they been Jews who accepted Jesus (v. 47).

In the Book of Acts, some, but not all, who received Christ as Savior spoke in tongues immediately upon their conversion. There are several instances of conversion in Acts where no mention is made of speaking in tongues. This doesn’t prove they didn’t. But neither should one conclude that they did.

Only in Acts 2 are tongues explicitly said to be human languages not previously learned by the speaker. Nowhere in Acts did speaking in tongues function as an evangelistic tool, nor do we ever find an apostolic exhortation that it be used for that purpose. If tongues was primarily given to evangelize the lost then someone must account for why in the three explicit references to tongues in Acts, only once (Acts 2) are unbelievers present.

What, then, are we to make of 1 Corinthians 14:21-25? Here Paul writes:

“In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’ Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Corinthians 14:21-25).

Let’s try to make sense of the scenario that Paul envisions. According to v. 23, Paul envisions a public assembly: when “the whole church comes together.” The purpose of such a gathering is not only to praise and pray but even more so to instruct and encourage and build up the members of the body. Therefore, everything that happens must be intelligible. This is why he will later insist on interpretation of all tongues speech, so all can understand and all can be edified.

The problem in Corinth is that numerous people were all speaking in uninterpreted tongues simultaneously: imagine the confusion and the chaos. No one understands, no one is instructed. This isn’t to say they aren’t speaking in genuine tongues. This isn’t to say they aren’t praising God and praying and giving thanks. They are, but to no one’s benefit other than their own.

Into this situation unbelievers enter. It is here that Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11 and applies it to the circumstances in Corinth. But to make sense of the passage in Isaiah one must look at an earlier warning of God to Israel in Deuteronomy 28:49. There we read that if Israel violates the covenant, God will chastise them by sending a foreign enemy, speaking a foreign tongue. Thus, confusing and confounding speech was a sign of God’s judgment against a rebellious people. This is the judgment that Isaiah says has come upon Israel in the 8th century b.c. when the Assyrians invaded and conquered the Jews (cf. also what happened in the 6th c. BC, Jer. 5:15).

Many cessationists argue that God is judging unbelieving Jews in the first century, the sign of which is language they can’t understand (i.e., tongues). The primary if not sole purpose of tongues, therefore, is to signify God’s judgment against Israel for rejecting the Messiah and thereby shock them into repentance and faith. Tongues, so goes the argument, are a “sign” to unbelievers of God’s judgment. Since tongues ceased to function in this capacity when Israel was dispersed in 70 a.d., the gift was valid only for the first century.

But there are numerous problems with this view. First, if tongues are meant to serve as a “sign” to unbelievers, why does Paul counsel against their use when unbelievers are present (v. 23)? Also, even if tongues served as a sign of God’s judgment, nowhere does the NT restrict or reduce that gift to this one purpose. Simply because tongues are said to function in one capacity does not mean it cannot function in others. Tongues also serve the “common good” of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12). In 1 Corinthians 14:4, the gift of tongues edifies the individual in private prayer. We must avoid the error of reductionism (i.e., identifying one valid use of a gift and then reducing it to that alone, to the exclusion of all other possible uses).

Furthermore, if tongues-speech was not a spiritual gift for the church at all, why did Paul ever allow it to be exercised and used in the church? If interpreted, tongues-speech was entirely permissible. But this seems difficult to explain if its only or primary purpose was to declare judgment against unbelieving Jews.

Again, if uninterpreted tongues were designed to signify God’s displeasure and judgment, he would not need to provide the accompanying gift of interpretation. This latter gift makes sense only if tongues-speech is profitable and beneficial to Christians in the assembly.

For all these reasons, I conclude that the view that tongues is only (or even primarily) a sign of judgment on first-century unbelieving Jews is unconvincing.

What, then, is the principle that Paul finds in Isaiah 28:11 that applies to Corinth (and to us)? It is this: when God speaks to people in a language they cannot understand, it is a form of punishment for unbelief. It signifies his anger. Incomprehensible speech will not guide or instruct or lead to faith and repentance, but only confuse and destroy. Thus, if outsiders or unbelievers come in to your meeting, most likely out of spiritual curiosity or perhaps even in the pursuit of the gospel, and you speak in a language they cannot understand, you will simply drive them away. You will be giving a "sign" to them that is entirely wrong, because their hardness of heart has not reached the point where they deserve that severe sign of judgment.

So when you come together (1 Cor. 14:26), if anyone speaks in a tongue, be sure there is an interpretation (v. 27). Otherwise the tongue-speaker should be quiet in the church (v. 29). Prophecy, on the other hand, is a sign of God’s presence with believers (v. 22b), and so Paul encourages its use when unbelievers are present in order that they may see this sign and thereby come to Christian faith (vv. 24-25).

Therefore, Paul is not talking about the function of the gift of tongues in general, but only about the negative result of one particular abuse of tongues-speech (namely, its use without interpretation in the public assembly). So, do not permit uninterpreted tongues-speech in church, for in doing so, you run the risk of communicating a negative sign to people that will only drive them away.

From this we may then conclude that the cessationist is simply wrong when he argues that tongues were evangelistic or that they were designed to serve as a sign of judgment to unbelieving Jews.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

hopes and god's word

This morning I ran across and posted this thought-provoking quote from J.I. Packer: "Our business is to present the Christian faith clothed in modern terms, not to propagate modern thought clothed in Christian terms. . . . Confusion here is fatal."

I'm sure that all of us are guilty here on something. It's just that most of us don't know it. . . which is, by the way, the reason we should engage in ongoing, never-ending, deep introspection of every nook and cranny of our lives. . . all conducted under the illumination of God's Word.

I was hit by this reality again the other night while spending more time in James K.A. Smith's Everyday Discipleship, the chapter entitled "Can Hope Be Wrong?" in particular. Smith offers up his critique of the "New Universalism" . . . the kind of universalism propagated by Rob Bell in his book Love Wins. This new brand of universalism is what Smith calls a "christocentric" or "evangelical" universalism. In other words, all human beings will be saved in Christ. Smith says that what drives this increasingly popular belief is not a close reading of the Bible's claims about eternity, but an understanding of the nature of God that leaves people saying things like "I can't imagine a God who would send a person to hell" and "I hope that God doesn't send people to hell."

Smith goes on to ask this question: "Are these hopes and imaginings sufficiently warranted to overturn the received, orthodox doctrines concerning final judgment and eternal damnation?" Then, he critiques each. When he critiques the hermeneutic of hope, he wonders if our hopes can ever be wrong. His example is personal. He loves his wife and he can't even begin to imagine a life without being husband and wife forever. But then he reads the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:30. . . words that clearly say that at the resurrection, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Now, the dilemma for Smith when he asks, "Should I nonetheless hope that marriage endures in eternity? Should I profess that I can't know this (since Scripture seems to suggest otherwise), but nonetheless claim that somehow hoping it might be true is still faithful? Or should I submit even my hopes to discipline by the authority of Scripture?"

Wow. Read that last question again. Those are powerful and timely words that apply to so much more than who gets to go to Heaven and whether or not we will be married in eternity. Smith reminds us that when "what I hope for" eclipses a more theocentric approach to these and other issues, we are in trouble. And that's what I think J.I. Packer is driving at as well.

While I was reading all of this, I rewound to the evening about thirty-five years ago when one of my best friends sat me down to tell me that he was gay and that he was embracing his homosexuality. When he asked me for my response, a battle began to rage inside of me. I wanted more than anything else to tell him that there was nothing at all wrong with his decision, his leanings, and his embracing this kind of sexuality. I wanted to love, affirm, and accept my friend. I hoped that his same-sex behaviors wouldn't matter. But on the other side was my need to submit my hopes (some, which if I'm honest, still hold true today on a whole plethora of issues) to someone bigger than myself. And so the battle continues between my hopes. . . driven by my belief that I might just have all of this (and everything else) figured out better than the One whose will and way I must submit myself and my hopes to. . . and my need to have those hopes disciplined.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

moral dimension of rationality

From John Piper's Think:

Carnell on the Moral Dimension of Rationality
In 1957 Edward John Carnell published a powerful book called Christian Commitment: An Apologetic. Apart from the Scriptures it was probably this book that opened my eyes most to the moral dimension of rationality. In other words, Carnell made clear that there is a profound sense in which being irrational is immoral. He went beyond Descartes’ “I think, therefore, I am” and argued, “I think, therefore I am morally obliged to admit the reality of my own existence.”1 Human existence and logical inference are intrinsically moral. He illustrates:
When Aristotle tried to refute the skeptics, however, he encountered the  frustrating fact that the  skeptics used the  law of contradiction to deny the law of contradiction. . . . After exhausting all his dialectical powers, Aristotle had to bow to the  truth that only men of character can apprehend rational ultimates. . . . Aristotle, like Kant, illuminates the fact that the rational life cannot get on with it unless the moral life is firm.
The Games Professors Play at School
The immoral dimension of relativism is most obvious when relativists live their lives. They simply do not live them as though relativism were true. Professors may play the academic game of relativism in their classes, but when they go home they get upset when their wives don’t understand what they say. Why do they get upset? Because they know that there is an objective meaning that can be transmitted between two human beings, and we have moral obliga tions to grasp what is meant.

No husband ever said, “Since all truth and language are relative, it does not matter how you interpret my invitation to sleep together.” Whether we write love letters, or rental agreements, or instructions to our children, or directions for a friend, or contracts, or sermons, or obituaries, we believe objective meaning exists in what we write, and we  expect people to try to understand. And we  hold them accountable (and often get upset) if they don’t.

Nobody is a relativist when his case is being tried in court and his objective innocence hangs on objective evidence. The whole system of relativism is a morally corrupting impulse. It brings with it duplicity and hypocrisy. It is a great bluff. And what is needed in our day is for many candid children to rise up as in the fairy tale and say, “The king has no clothes on.”


Dining etiquette and table manners from the Art of Manliness.

Friday, October 25, 2013

the charismatic spurgeon

Great post from Sam Storms:

The recent Strange Fire conference generated a lot of discussion concerning the “prophetic” ministry of Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892). Given the fact that Spurgeon was, in all likelihood, a cessationist, the reactions have been interesting! Let me explain.

Spurgeon tells of one particular incident that occurred in the middle of his sermon.
“While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!’ A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, ‘Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the man, ‘I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul’” (Charles H. Spurgeon, The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon [London: Curts & Jennings, 1899], 2:226-27).
Spurgeon then adds this comment:
“I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases [emphasis mine] in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, ‘The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door’” (ibid., 227).
On another occasion, Spurgeon broke off his sermon and pointed at a young man, declaring: “Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for: you have stolen them from your employer.” After the service an obviously pale and agitated young man approached Spurgeon and begged to speak with him privately. He placed a pair of gloves on the table and said, “It’s the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won’t expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard that I had becom a thief” (Charles H. Spurgeon, Autobiography: The Full Harvest, 1860-1892 [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1973], 2:60).

My opinion is that this is a not uncommon example of what the Apostle Paul described in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25. Spurgeon exercised the gift of prophecy (or some might say the word of knowledge, 1 Cor. 12:8). He did not label it as such, but that does not alter the reality of what the Holy Spirit accomplished through him. This information could not be found by Spurgeon from reading the Scripture. But surely we do not undermine the latter's sufficiency by acknowledging that it was God who "revealed" this insight to him. If one were to examine Spurgeon’s theology and ministry, as well as recorded accounts of it by his contemporaries as well as subsequent biographers, most would conclude from the absence of explicit reference to miraculous charismata such as prophecy and the word of knowledge that such gifts had been withdrawn from church life. But Spurgeon’s own testimony inadvertently says otherwise! In my interaction with cessationist Richard Gaffin concerning the experience of Spurgeon, he insisted that what occurred was merely a “Spirit-prompted insight that occurs incalculably and sporadically” (Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, 294). However, the admission that such postcanonical information came from the Holy Spirit is telling. The fact that it may have occurred “incalculably and sporadically” is no argument for its not being a revelatory activity. My reading of 1 Corinthians 14 suggests that most prophetic ministry was incalculable, if by that we mean unpredictable, because it was subject to the sovereignty of God (see v. 30). The fact that such an experience did not “mark” (Gaffin’s word) Spurgeon’s ministry proves only that Spurgeon probably did not have the “gift” of prophecy; it does not prove he didn’t prophesy. So how does one explain the dozen or so instances when this occurred in Spurgeon’s ministry? The fact that he did not seek this experience is irrelevant to whether or not it happened and what it was when it happened.

Finally, in an article he wrote for Sword and Trowel in October 1865, Spurgeon declares:
“Our personal pathway has been so frequently directed contrary to our own design and beyond our own conception by singularly powerful impulses, and irresistibly suggestive providences, that it were wanton wickedness for us to deride the doctrine that God occasionally grants to his servants a special and perceptible manifestation of his will for their guidance, over and above the strengthening energies of the Holy Spirit, and the sacred teaching of the inspired Word. We are not likely to adopt the peculiarities of the Quakers, but in this respect we are heartily agreed with them. 
It needs a deliberate and judicious reflection to distinguish between the actual and apparent in professedly preternatural intimations, and if opposed to Scripture and common sense, we must neither believe in them nor obey them. The precious gift of reason is not to be ignored; we are not to be drifted hither and thither by every wayward impulse of a fickle mind, nor are we to be led into evil by suppositious impressions; these are misuses of a great truth, a murderous use of most useful edged tools. But notwithstanding all the folly of hair-brained rant, we believe that the unseen hand may be at times assuredly felt by gracious souls, and the mysterious power which guided the minds of the seers of old may, even to this day, sensibly overshadow reverent spirits. We would speak discreetly, but we dare say no less.”
I’m sure we can all greatly appreciate and learn from Spurgeon’s wisdom and caution when it comes to these sorts of experiences. But we should also be greatly encouraged upon reading his comments to pay even closer heed to Paul’s exhortation, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1). - See more at:

glorious irresistible grace

Keith Mathison posts the following:

Those who proclaim the gospel preach in a graveyard. Lazarus cannot obey Christ’s command until he is given new life, and this is something only God can do (John 11:1-44). When Lazarus is given new life, he immediately responds and exits the tomb. In the same way, the spiritually dead sinner cannot respond to the gospel until he is given new life through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Once he is regenerated, however, he immediately responds, placing his faith in Jesus. He is then justified by God.

Irresistible, or efficacious, grace is not a dry and dusty old doctrine that was invented by curmudgeonly Calvinists. It is, in fact, a glorious biblical doctrine, for without the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit, we would all be without hope in this world and the next. When we come to a full understanding of how serious our situation is as fallen human beings, our perspective on these doctrines changes dramatically. If we view fallen man as merely disabled or sick, we will never understand the full riches of God’s grace. When we see ourselves as God sees us, however, the truth of the matter is sobering. When we realize that we were spiritually stillborn, rebels against the Almighty and Most Holy God, the Creator of heaven and earth, wicked to our core, we will not have an overinflated sense of our own goodness and abilities. We will not delude ourselves into thinking that God chose us because of some innate goodness within us. We will not flatter ourselves in thinking that we are saved because we made the first move to come to God.

On the contrary, we will fall down on our knees and thank God every day for His amazing grace. We will thank God that He came to our tomb, when we were dead and helpless in sin, and cried out to us, “Come forth!” We will thank Him for giving us new life, for turning our wills from evil, for granting us faith and repentance, for bringing us out of the tomb and loosing us from the burial cloths in which we were bound. If we walked out of the tomb, it was not because of any power in us. It was not because we made a decision for Christ. Rather, it was solely because of the irresistible grace of God, the sovereign and mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, who gave us new life. When we finally learn this, we will, with Calvin and our Reformed forefathers, ascribe all glory to God alone for our salvation.

never without a canon

In order to obtain a correct understanding of what is called the formation of the Canon of the New Testament, it is necessary to begin by fixing very firmly in our minds one fact which is obvious enough when attention is once called to it. That is, that the Christian church did not require to form for itself the idea of a “canon,”—or, as we should more commonly call it, of a “Bible,”—that is, of a collection of books given of God to be the authoritative rule of faith and practice. It inherited this idea from the Jewish church, along with the thing itself, the Jewish Scriptures, or the “Canon of the Old Testament.” The church did not grow up by natural law: it was founded. And the authoritative teachers sent forth by Christ to found his church, carried with them, as their most precious possession, a body of divine Scriptures, which they imposed on the church that they founded as its code of law. No reader of the New Testament can need proof of this; on every page of that book is spread the evidence that from the very beginning the Old Testament was as cordially recognized as law by the Christian as by the Jew. The Christian church thus was never without a “Bible” or a “canon.”

I agree! And so do, I think, many cessationists. Another reason I reject their argument based on 1 Cor 13.10.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

soli deo gloria

RC Sproul writes:

Soli Deo gloria is the motto that grew out of the Protestant Reformation and was used on every composition by Johann Sebastian Bach. He affixed the initials SDG at the bottom of each manuscript to communicate the idea that it is God and God alone who is to receive the glory for the wonders of His work of creation and of redemption. At the heart of the sixteenth-century controversy over salvation was the issue of grace.

It was not a question of man’s need for grace. It was a question as to the extent of that need. The church had already condemned Pelagius, who had taught that grace facilitates salvation but is not absolutely necessary for it. Semi-Pelagianism since that time has always taught that without grace there is no salvation. But the grace that is considered in all semi-Pelagian and Arminian theories of salvation is not an efficacious grace. It is a grace that makes salvation possible, but not a grace that makes salvation certain.

In the parable of the sower we see that regarding salvation, God is the one who takes the initiative to bring salvation to pass. He is the sower. The seed that is sown is His seed, corresponding to His Word, and the harvest that results is His harvest. He harvests what He purposed to harvest when He initiated the whole process. God doesn’t leave the harvest up to the vagaries of thorns and stones in the pathway. It is God and God alone who makes certain that a portion of His Word falls upon good ground. A critical error in interpreting this parable would be to assume that the good ground is the good disposition of fallen sinners, those sinners who make the right choice, responding positively to God’s prevenient grace. The classical Reformed understanding of the good ground is that if the ground is receptive to the seed that is sown by God, it is God alone who prepares the ground for the germination of the seed.

The biggest question any semi-Pelagian or Arminian has to face at the practical level is this: Why did I choose to believe the gospel and commit my life to Christ when my neighbor, who heard the same gospel, chose to reject it? That question has been answered in many ways. We might speculate that the reason why one person chooses to respond positively to the gospel and to Christ, while another one doesn’t, is because the person who responded positively was more intelligent than the other one. If that were the case, then God would still be the ultimate provider of salvation because the intelligence is His gift, and it could be explained that God did not give the same intelligence to the neighbor who rejected the gospel. But that explanation is obviously absurd.

The other possibility that one must consider is this: that the reason one person responds positively to the gospel and his neighbor does not is because the one who responded was a better person. That is, that person who made the right choice and the good choice did it because he was more righteous than his neighbor. In this case, the flesh not only availed something, it availed everything. This is the view that is held by the majority of evangelical Christians, namely, the reason why they are saved and others are not is that they made the right response to God’s grace while the others made the wrong response.

We can talk here about not only the correct response as opposed to an erroneous response, but we can speak in terms of a good response rather than a bad response. If I am in the kingdom of God because I made the good response rather than the bad response, I have something of which to boast, namely the goodness by which I responded to the grace of God. I have never met an Arminian who would answer the question that I’ve just posed by saying, “Oh, the reason I’m a believer is because I’m better than my neighbor.” They would be loath to say that. However, though they reject this implication, the logic of semi-Pelagianism requires this conclusion. If indeed in the final analysis the reason I’m a Christian and someone else is not is that I made the proper response to God’s offer of salvation while somebody else rejected it, then by resistless logic I have indeed made the good response, and my neighbor has made the bad response.

What Reformed theology teaches is that it is true the believer makes the right response and the non-believer makes the wrong response. But the reason the believer makes the good response is because God in His sovereign election changes the disposition of the heart of the elect to effect a good response. I can take no credit for the response that I made for Christ. God not only initiated my salvation, He not only sowed the seed, but He made sure that that seed germinated in my heart by regenerating me by the power of the Holy Ghost. That regeneration is a necessary condition for the seed to take root and to flourish. That’s why at the heart of Reformed theology the axiom resounds, namely, that regeneration precedes faith. It’s that formula, that order of salvation that all semi-Pelagians reject. They hold to the idea that in their fallen condition of spiritual death, they exercise faith, and then are born again. In their view, they respond to the gospel before the Spirit has changed the disposition of their soul to bring them to faith. When that happens, the glory of God is shared. No semi-Pelagian can ever say with authenticity: “To God alone be the glory.” For the semi-Pelagian, God may be gracious, but in addition to God’s grace, my work of response is absolutely essential. Here grace is not effectual, and such grace, in the final analysis, is not really saving grace. In fact, salvation is of the Lord from beginning to end. Yes, I must believe. Yes, I must respond. Yes, I must receive Christ. But for me to say “yes” to any of those things, my heart must first be changed by the sovereign, effectual power of God the Holy Spirit. Soli Deo gloria.

real worship

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit [more literally, “in the spirit”], but I will sing with my mind also (1 Corinthians 14:13-15). And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18-20).

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3).

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 (Acts 4:31).

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God (Acts 10:44-46a).

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).

These biblical texts draw a clear and direct relationship between the ministry of the Holy Spirit and proclamation and praise. Our worship is certainly to be grounded in God’s Word and to be an accurate theological reflection of the truth of Scripture. But true worship must also be characterized by the presence and power of the Spirit. On several occasions in these texts we see that when people are filled with the Spirit they break out spontaneously in praise and celebration and occasionally during those times the Spirit speaks and imparts spiritual gifts and perhaps even brings healing to those in need.

I want to focus on two primary themes. Both of these themes are related to how we worship here at Bridgeway. So let's look more closely at Ephesians 5.18-20.

"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:18-20).

The first thing we need to observe is the relationship between being “filled with the Spirit” and worship or singing. A few observations are in order.

First, being filled with the Holy Spirit is contrasted with being drunk with wine. The issue here is one of influence, control, or power. If you insist on getting drunk, be inebriated with the Holy Spirit! Please note, however, that the force of this exhortation is not that Christians should stagger and slur their speech as those drunk with wine do. The influence of the infilling Spirit is moral in nature, the results and tangible evidence of which is the spiritual and relational fruit that Paul describes in Galatians 5. Paul envisions a community of people (the church) whose lives are so totally given over to the Spirit "that the life and deeds of the Spirit are as obvious in their case as the effects of too much wine are obvious in the other" (Gordon Fee, 721).

Second, notice that Paul does not say, "be full of the Spirit," as though one were full of the Spirit in the same way one is full of wine. He says, "be filled by/with the Spirit." The emphasis is on being filled to the full by the Spirit's presence. Compare Eph. 3:19 where Paul speaks of being "filled unto the fullness of God," i.e., of being filled up with God himself.

Does Paul mean we are to be filled “with” the Spirit, as if the Spirit is himself the content with which we are filled? Or does he mean we are to be filled “by” the Spirit, the content of which is not clearly specified? We can’t be certain, but my sense is that it is the Spirit himself who fills us or empowers us.

Third, you need to know that the verb, “be filled,” is imperative; i.e., it is a command. This is not a suggestion or a mild recommendation or a polite piece of advice. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not optional. It is obligatory.

Fourth, the verb is also plural. “The fullness of the Holy Spirit is emphatically not a privilege reserved for some, but a duty resting on all” (John Stott, 60).

The exhortation has primarily to do with community life, i.e., the need for God's people to be so collectively full of God's presence that their worship is transformed, their relationships are transformed, and their lives as a totality are transformed.

Fifth, the verb is present tense, indicating that Paul envisions a continuous, on-going experience. This is not so much a dramatic or decisive experience that settles things for good, but a daily appropriation. This command is relevant to all Christians throughout the course of their lives. Short of death itself, we are to continually seek the filling and empower of the Spirit!

Sixth, the mere fact that we are commanded to be filled implies that a Christian faces the danger of being “low” (but never empty!). We are always in need of refreshing and renewal. Therefore, in view of this command, we should cease speaking of the “second” blessing and begin to seek God for a “third” and a “fourth” and a “fifth” and . . . 

Seventh, and finally, be careful to note what Paul says is the consequential evidence of being filled with/by the Holy Spirit? In other words, what happens when one is filled with the Spirit? What indication is there that this has actually happened? The answer is found in vv. 18ff.

a) Speaking to one another in ministry b) Singing to God (wholehearted worship in corporate fellowship). c) Gratitude (for all things at all times). d) Mutual submission (as over against being self-assertive and demanding).

Our concern is with vv. 19-20 - addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

Clearly, Paul envisions believers communicating truth and knowledge and instruction by means of these various forms of singing.

But what’s the difference, if any, between “psalms” and “hymns” and “spiritual songs”? Some insist there is no difference between these items. But if he meant only one thing, what is the point of employing three different words? More likely Paul had a distinction in mind that’s important for us to note.

Psalms” most likely refers to those inspired compositions in the OT book of that name. Luke uses the word in this way in his writings (20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33) and Paul encouraged Christians to come to corporate worship with a “psalm” to offer (1 Cor. 14:26). The word literally meant “to pluck” or “to strike or twitch the fingers on a string” and thus could possibly refer to singing with instrumental accompaniment (although we shouldn’t restrict it to that).

The word “hymns” would be any human composition that focuses on God or Christ. Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2 or the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 would qualify, as would Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1. Perhaps the most explicit examples would be the so-called “Christ Hymns” in Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20, and 1 Timothy 3:16.

Why is the third expression of singing designated not simply as “songs” but as “spiritual songs” (although some contend that this adjective applies to all three)? Could it be Paul’s way of differentiating between those songs that are previously composed as over against those that are spontaneously evoked by the Spirit himself? Yes, I think so. In other words, “spiritual songs” are most likely unrehearsed and improvised, perhaps short melodies or choruses extolling the beauty of Christ. They aren’t prepared in advance but are prompted by the Spirit and thus are uniquely and especially appropriate to the occasion or the emphasis of the moment.

These are probably songs that we sing under the immediate prompting and infilling of the Holy Spirit! Paul probably has in mind spontaneous songs that break out unexpectedly in the midst of our worship.

This interpretation strikes many as strange for the simple fact that, outside of charismatic churches, there are virtually no opportunities for expressions of spontaneous praise. The only songs permitted are those listed in the bulletin, the words of which are either in the hymnbook or in liturgy. In these churches, singing is highly structured, orchestrated, and carefully controlled (but not for that reason any less godly or edifying). There is typically a distinct beginning and ending without the possibility of improvisation or free vocalization. People are expected to sing what is written in the hymnal or projected on a screen, nothing more and nothing less.

But Paul seems to envision a “singing” in which the individual is given freedom to vocalize his/her own passions, prayers, and declarations of praise. Although this may strike some as chaotic and aimless the first time it is heard (it certainly did me!), it can quickly become a beautiful and inspiring experience as the Spirit is given free rein in the hearts of Christ’s people. As the instrumentalists play a simple chord progression or perhaps even the melody of a familiar song, the people spontaneously supply whatever words are most appropriate to their state of mind and heart.

On countless occasions I have been blessed and edified by what some have called “prophetic singing” (so called because it is believed the Spirit reveals something to the person who in turn puts it to music). Typically an individual who is part of a worship team is led by the Spirit into a spontaneous song that may well evoke another to respond antiphonally. Such “spiritual songs” can last a few seconds or several minutes. Often, what one person sings will stir up yet another with a similar refrain, which on occasion will lead back into a verse or the chorus of a hymn previously sung.

More important still is the fact that such singing, whether psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs, are designed not simply to extol God but to educate his people. By means of them we “teach” and “admonish” one another. Clearly Paul envisioned songs that were biblically grounded and theologically substantive, songs that both communicated truth and called for heartfelt consecration, repentance, and devotion to the Lord. Let’s not forget that Paul is describing a situation far in advance of the printing press and hymnbooks. Thus these various expressions of singing were an invaluable means for transmitting and inculcating Christian truth.

Although many today may never experience a worship service that incorporates these elements in the way I described, the educational and convicting power in music and song cannot be denied. In his book, Real Worship, Warren Wiersbe wrote:
“I am convinced that congregations learn more theology (good and bad) from the songs they sing than from the sermons they hear. Many sermons are doctrinally sound and contain a fair amount of biblical information, but they lack that necessary emotional content that gets hold of the listener’s heart. Music, however, reaches the mind and the heart at the same time. It has power to touch and move the emotions, and for that reason can become a wonderful tool in the hands of the Spirit or a terrible weapon in the hands of the Adversary” (137).
But what should you and I do when someone leading our worship launches out into a “spiritual song”? What are we to do when “prophetic singing” occurs? How do we keep ourselves from disengaging, thinking that this is only for the benefit of the person singing and has nothing to do with me?

(1) Listen and Learn! Note v. 19a – “addressing one another” . . . in “spiritual songs.” Meditate on what is being sung. Focus on the words. Ask the Spirit to quicken in your own heart and mind the truth of what is being sung. Be open to being taught in those times of prophetic worship. The Spirit may well have prepared something uniquely and especially for you!

(2) Sing the same song. Listen for recurring phrases and the melody line and if it lasts long enough, join the singer in whatever “spiritual song” he/she is singing.

(3) Sing your own “spiritual song”. Take whatever truth about God or Jesus the Spirit has awakened in your heart and put it in your own words, adapting it to the melody of the leader. It may be a short, simple phrase of praise or thanksgiving or proclamation or prayer.

(4) Pray. Use the time to intercede for yourself or others. Or perhaps take the truth of what is being sung and let that shape and form the content of your prayers. Turn their “spiritual song” into personal intercession!

(5) Give thanks (v. 20)! Spend time thanking God (either in prayer or in song) for all that he has done.

10 "D's" of the devil

Helpful thoughts from Larry Keider:

There are ten subtle progressive steps the devil tries to lead us through to eventually destroy us. I call these the Ten “D’s” of the Devil. And it all starts with experiencing disappointment.

Have you ever wondered why Christians sometimes fall into deception and make shocking decisions? I am convinced that it’s directly related to these ten deceptive steps. It does not happen overnight, but through small steps not unlike the proverbial frog in the kettle of water that doesn’t know he is being boiled. Here are these ten subtle steps.

1. Disappointment

Disappointments come from unmet expectations. These could be expectations of what we believe God should do for us. Or, expectations we have of our spouse, our church, our children, Christian leaders or even of ourselves. Hebrews 12:15 warns, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” For that reason, we should immediately forgive, release and apply the grace of God to our lives, so that we will not experience steps two through ten. If we do not forgive, we will soon experience step two.

2. Discontentment

The grass looks greener on the other side of the fence. We stop seeing the positive in our lives and in the lives of others and become negative. If we apply the word of God to our lives, forgive others and receive God’s grace, we get a fresh start. If not, we will experience step three.

3. Discouragement

When we enter into the step of discouragement, we wake up dreading the day ahead. Our motivation for life drains away. Unless we get a hold of the root of our problem, which in most cases takes us back to step one, we will soon enter into step four.

4. Doubt

This step is the danger zone spiritually. We become cynical and question things that were completely settled in our hearts in the past. Although we are sometimes shocked by our doubts, we feel helpless to stop them. Doubt opens the door to the next step.

5. Disbelief

Disbelief, or unbelief, is the final form of doubt. We have trouble believing those who represent God and believing the scriptures, which takes us to the next step.

6. Disillusionment

Disillusionment causes us to want to drop out of a marriage or a ministry or a commitment that we knew the Lord had called us to in the past. We lose our God-given vision. We feel as if we are in a dark hole. Unless we take steps to find freedom, we will be set up for step number seven.

7. Deception

When we enter into the step of deception, we believe lies about ourselves and about others. Those who are deceived often do not realize they are deceived. Deception nearly always starts with an unmet expectation somewhere in our lives. This small seed of deception sprouts, roots and grows until it becomes a large plant and sets us up for the next step.

8. Disobedience

When we live in disobedience to God’s word, we eventually enter into a stage of living with bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). Disobedience to the scriptures is sin. Disobedience and bitterness opens the door for the devil to eventually destroy us and leads us to the next step.

9. Despair

When we enter into the step of despair, we lose all hope and can enter into deep depression. The call and destiny of God on our lives is completely detoured. Those who do not receive God’s grace to deal with the unmet expectations and disappointments will enter the final step of the devil’s plan.

10. Destruction

This is the place where our God-given vision and our destiny are completely destroyed. This is the devil’s ultimate plan—destruction by physical, emotional and spiritual death.

In most cases, those whose lives and dreams and ministries have been destroyed by the devil have walked through these ten steps that were strategically laid out for them by the enemy. The sad truth is, they could have gotten off the path of the enemy’s plan at any time and received grace and freedom to go on and fulfill their destiny.

Recognizing, renouncing, and resisting the “Ten Ds of the Devil” is critical in the life of every believer. The devil comes to kill, steal and destroy, but Jesus came to give us life, abundantly! (John 10:10)

(If you are interested in learning more about how to practically deal with the disappointment of unmet expectations, I have written an entire chapter on this subject in my book, 21 Tests of Effective Leadership.)