Which church does God prefer?
How do we make God really happy?
Here it is. All gifts are from the Lord and are for the good of the whole congregation, not the individual. Every believer is open to the possibility of spiritual gifts, whether they are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues or interpretations and it is up to God who gets what. All gifts work together and all who exercise them should be treated with equal respect, although some gifts, such as those of apostles, prophets and teachers, are considered the greater gifts. Then, of course, as we saw in a previous article, are the gifts that God will allow to flow through us, according to the occasion.
This is the ideal, but humans being humans, things can go wrong, as Paul explains a couple of chapters later, in 1 Corinthians 14.
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified … What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God … Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
It is clear that things were not necessarily done in an orderly way and it is clear, from some of the more extreme charismatic expressions that I have visited, a thorough re-reading of the above verses (including the ones missed out) is in order!
Then we look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
This reminds us of the primacy of the Bible, as all Scripture is from God and will equip us for all good work.
Again, what we mustn’t do is to read this and assume that the reformers are the only ones that have it right. They have the language … but not always the application.
We may have the words, but we don’t always use them well
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Then we have the High Church and their sacraments and rituals and perhaps we feel a little negative towards them, in the light of the Reformation and the accompanying Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Sola Fide (Faith alone), and Sola Gratia (Grace alone). But maybe there are a few babies in the bathwater? Some of the sacraments are a reflection of Biblical injunctions:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19)
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:14)
These all have a place in the ekklesia, but not all of them are consistently practised when people come together.
Of course we know that, as with the charismatics and reformers, the High Church people don’t always get it right. They have the language … but not always the application, as we can see from the following passage, entitled when Holy Communion goes wrong (though this can happen in any Church expression):
So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)
Then, finally, we have the emergent church, with its accent on love and peace. There’s certainly a place for love and peace:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Sadly, most churches fall down on this one. It’s the holy grail, so to speak. If we can really get this one right then surely evangelism would be a piece of cake. Who can fail to be attracted to a group of people who have sincere, demonstrated love for each other?
Of course I can’t leave this section without at least some discomfort for the emergent church:
… for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me … (Exodus 20:5). God is not just about love and peace, there is far more to Him than the emergents dare to imagine.
It is tempting for all of us to defend our own ‘tribe’ and suggest that all other ‘tribes’ are lacking in some way. But the fact is that all the expressions covered above had some measure of the truth, it is just rare to find a church that has the lot; a church that functions equally in the Word and the Spirit, that cherishes Biblical ritual and is known for the love that it shows within and without.
So here we have the whole as the greater than its parts. For ekklesia to be in shalom, in completeness, there must be full use of spiritual gifts, alongside reverence for the Word, without neglecting the necessary actions (baptism, confession, communion, anointing with oil) and all wrapped up in a love that shows the world that we are truly God’s people. And, on top of this, to be a place where every member of that congregation is aware of their function in the Body of Christ and is exercising this function. This is the shalom of unity and our fellowships must operate in a way that allows all aspects to function according to the Maker’s instructions.
This is an extract from the book, Shalom, available for £10 at https://www.sppublishing.com/shalom-239-p.asp