Today I heard from someone I met on the blog that recently banned me. She asked me for details of why I believe the way I do (with regard to the continued validly of Spiritual gifts). In previous correspondence I had stressed the importance of basing beliefs on what the whole bible says instead of building doctrine out of isolated verses. That suggestion was understood as meaning that my offered “proof” for my beliefs was merely to say “read the whole bible”.
But my actual point was that our beliefs must take into account the whole of scripture – and therefore we need to be open to change as we learn more from scripture. Sadly so many traditional theologies tend to stick with a collection of favoured verses and don’t move beyond them even to gain further understanding of those verses through increased familiarity with the rest of the Bible.
It can be very easy to determine a person’s theological background from the parts of scripture that they regularly quote. One thing I’ve come to realise is that the truth of doctrine is not determined by the texts used to support it – it is often determined by the “difficult texts” that are ignored or avoided.
On to some of my reasons for believing in the continued validity of spiritual gifts:
With the issue of spiritual gifts, I don’t think it’s necessary to have read the whole bible to get the answer. But it is necessary to be informed BY the bible rather than by experience (or lack of it) or by the example shown by extremists (like the charismanic movement) or by church tradition.
What can I say about why I believe in the continuation of the gifts?
1) I have yet to see any biblical evidence that the gifts don’t remain valid. When I’ve asked for it I’ve been given arguments that project a lot of assumptions into scripture references that bypass or ignore the clearest and simplest meaning of those references.
2) Paul wrote quite a lot about the gifts of the Spirit, what they are for (building up the body of believers) and how they should be used (decently and orderly). Has the church reached a point where they no longer need building up, therefore making the gifts unnecessary?
3) Does scripture tell us that the gifts would be withdrawn? Of course this question is often answered by referral to the end of 1 Cor 13*, but that reference gives the condition that (some) gifts will cease when the perfect has come; something that has not yet occurred.
I can’t accept (like many do) that the “perfect” refers to the canon of scripture, especially since scripture is the source of our knowledge of Spiritual gifts. Why would scripture include so much about gifts and their use if they become invalid as soon as the canon of scripture was established? Why include all of that teaching on gifts and their use if they were no longer available?
Additionally, and most importantly, what is the context of that statement about some gifts ceasing? What is the whole chapter about?
It is about the supremacy of love over the gifts, that without love the gifts are meaningless. At the end of the chapter Paul says that one day (when the perfect has come) spiritual gifts will no longer be needed and will cease – but love will never fail. This reference is not a forewarning that the gifts will be imminently withdrawn, but that love will remain. The gifts will only be needed in this imperfect life when we can know only in part, but love continues and will always be important.
4) I was introduced to the Pentecostal church very early in my Christian life and I recall the first meeting I attended (almost 40 years ago). I went home vowing never to return to that church because I KNEW it was all wrong. I picked up my bible intended to prove how wrong they were and justify my rejection of them – but my plan backfired. I could find no valid argument against their basic beliefs that the gifts of the Spirit were still valid today. Over the years I’ve had issues with some of the ways those beliefs are put into practice, but that does not diminish the fact of the gifts’ continuing validity. As for my connection to Pentecostalism, I moved away from it in the late 1980s (but that’s a long story not related to this issue).
As a final point, all I can suggest again and again is to look into the matter for yourselves spending time in scripture alone without reference to what others say or think. Ask God for understanding and trust He will give it.
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.