07.04.2013

Tongues

(This document is intended as a supplement to the sermon that I gave at Woodland Park Community Church on July 7, 2013. The following convictions on the extraordinary / miraculous / sensational gifts are those of Stephen Denton. Any reproduction or other use of this document is prohibited without the express written consent of Major League Baseball).

Hi church!

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably interested in my persuasion on the more extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. Or you need to fall asleep. Or you’re picking this up off the floor in an effort to clean the church lobby. Anyway, here we go.

Within the category of “sign” gifts, arguably the most misunderstood / confusing gifts revolve around the issue of “tongues”, so this brief article is my attempt to show you how I came to my convictions regarding this enigma.

FIRST AND LAST

Within the scholarly, evangelical camp, this issue of the sign gifts is—controversial. There are men and women I admire across the whole Bible-believing, gospel-preaching, disciple-making spectrum who disagree with one another on the meaning, interpretation, and experience of these gifts today.

So if you disagree with where I land, let’s be friends anyway.

On one side of the spectrum, there are those who believe that the miraculous gifts died out, or “ceased”, with the apostles—those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor 9:1, 15:8). On the other side, there are those who believe that these gifts continue on today and are not to be regarded with contempt, but rather desired.

At the end of the day, whatever you decide, remember: this topic is miniature in importance compared to the great commission of making disciples, preaching the Word, striving for holiness, and maintaining unity within the body. If the gifts that are meant to edify the church end up harming the church, we have become divisive—we have failed.

TONGUES

This phenomenon makes its entrance at the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, in Acts, chapter two:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”

Wow.

Now, a really good way to go about Bible Study is to begin with observation only. Not “what does it mean?” but simply “what does it say?” Here are a few things:

  • Tongues showed up uninvited. Nobody was trying to speak in tongues.
  • Tongues appears to be a real language, known to foreigners, because Luke finds it profitable to list out the regions. Additionally, he records the hearers of the respective languages understanding the tongues as “speaking of the mighty deeds of God”.
  • Tongues are weird. Look at the adjectives: bewildered, amazed, astonished, with “great perplexity”. So much so, that the outsiders (who probably didn’t know the languages, or were further away) thought the participants were drunk.

Let’s warp to the next occasion we see tongues (Acts 10), where Peter had just finished a gospel-heavy sermon to a mixed crowd at Caesarea:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

OK, less information here about the nature of tongues, but what is the emphasis of this passage? There is amazement still—not so much at the phenomenon of tongues, but at the inclusion of the Gentile believers. The miracle here insists on unity between gentile and Jewish believers.

Last of all in the book of Acts, in Chapter 19—this time it’s Paul at Ephesus:

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. There were in all about twelve men.

This last example gives very little press at all to the occasion of tongues, and there are only twelve men involved.

Tongues then again appears in the book of 1 Corinthians (chapters 12-14), where Paul is writing the letter to the church at Corinth in response to a previous letter they had sent him, in which they asked a number of questions. One of these questions was on the issue of spiritual gifts and the use of tongues.

Now, before we look at snippets of Paul’s response to the Corinthians, let me zoom out again: Tongues does not appear in the rest of Paul’s letters to any churches, even the second letter to Corinth. Nor in Peter’s letters, nor in John’s. What should that communicate to us about the importance of tongues? About it’s essentiality in coming to faith and growing in Christ? About it’s prevalence in the Christian community?

Now, let’s pick back up with our observations out of 1 Corinthians, beginning with chapter 12:27-30:

God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?

What do you observe with respect to the gift of tongues?

  • The “sign” gifts are subordinate in priority to the more “normal” gifts, evidenced by Paul’s use of the word “first” (πρωτον)
  • The gift of tongues, like all other gifts, is not to be expected to be experienced by all believers.

The next chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, is known for being the chapter read aloud at weddings. Wait, why does “the love chapter” get sandwiched in between two chapters dealing with spiritual gifts and tongues? Seems odd, but the answer is simple: the Corinthian church was out of whack—they were getting caught up in the “minors” (tongues, etc.) and neglecting the “majors” (love, unity, service, sacrifice, etc.). The observation: Paul writes this section of the letter not to be a manual on the use of tongues, but to correct the abuse of tongues. So what does Paul say?

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love…” (1 Cor 13:1)

Hold. on. “tongues…of angels?” Nobody really knows what this means (a wild guess is that there is an actual language angels speak to one another, which made it’s way into the gift of tongues). And a cardinal rule of interpreting Scripture is that you cannot build doctrine on such shaky ground. So we move on:

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.

This passage indicates the miraculous nature of the gifts listed belong to this present age, and will “be done away” or “cease” with the coming of Christ in His kingdom. Gordon Fee, in his eminent commentary on 1 Corinthians, states “’knowledge’ In this passage does not mean ordinary human knowing or learning, but refers rather to that special manifestation of the spirit, the ‘utterance of knowledge’ (12:8), which understands revealed ‘mysteries’ (13:2)”

The extensive chapter on tongues is 1 Corinthians 14. I do not desire to reproduce a commentary here, but let me extract some relevant snippets:

  • One who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God (2)
  • I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. (5)
  • if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? (6)
  • unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? (9)
  • I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. (18-19)
  • If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church (27-28)

Do you hear Paul constantly downplaying the use of tongues? Do you see his strong preference for rational, coherent, understandable preaching & teaching? Moving on:

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. (14-15)

In context here, the “prayer” is a public prayer (16, 19), not a private prayer. Many in the charismatic tradition have used this verse as a bedrock to support the definition of tongues as a “private prayer language”, but this misses the context. I do not find support in Scripture for the use of tongues in private prayer, but rather Paul’s counter-insistence: “I will pray with the mind”. Remember: all spiritual gifts are for the edification of others. Lastly:

…desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. (39-40)

This is the last thought in the chapter, and provides a fitting balance to Paul’s correction of the Corinthian church, who, having read Paul’s long rebuke of their misuse of the gifts, might be tempted to over-correct and outlaw tongues completely.

SUMMARIZIATIANTIONS

  • Tongues are real languages, understood by men (and/or angels?) somewhere on earth or in heaven. Tongues are not gibberish. Tongues are not babbling.
  • Tongues are not “on-call”, like the other gifts. If you have the gift of teaching, you use it when you teach, because you have what Darrell Bock calls the “consistent endowment” of the gift. But the sign gifts appear to be ad hoc, or one-off manifestations of the Spirit.
  • If the Holy Spirit is still empowering tongues today, it is extremely rare (i.e. I’ve never seen it, and I’ve been in a lot of churches in a lot of countries, even among unreached peoples where tongues probably makes the most sense to show up). We have airplanes and Google Translate now. Tongues are not to be expected, and yet not absolutely prohibited, unless they fail the test of spirits (1 John 4:1).
  • Tongues have been counterfeited everywhere, just like other gifts (e.g. false “teachers”, false “prophets”, etc.)
  • I would classify myself as “almost a cessationist”. Meaning, I find compelling support in Scripture that the gift of tongues may have ended, but I am not convinced enough to guarantee it.

Now, go love each other.

Like melted butter in your inbox...


05.12.2013

The Joys of Motherhood

For Mother’s Day, in part, I made wrapping paper out of pieces of emails that she has sent me over the past three years.  Here’s a sampling for your enjoyment:

  • Our dog is sweet. She’s sweet, low-key an very house trained which is more than I can say for my own children.
  • Now it’s after 1am as Pearl snores and farts away into oblivion (another reason I guess I get scared at night…..the next dog we get I may insist on it being a retired police dog name Ripper). We will definitely not be relocating to a place where the spiders are similar in size to small birds.
  • Between kids and Pearl there really isn’t any kind of junk coming out of the trunk that I can’t just hold my nose and deal with.
  • Okay, got to go. Addison is redecorating the dining room with applesauce.
  • Olivia was up at 2:15am using the potty and informing me that she had a few more books to read yet.
  • I am about to use the last diaper. I don’t really want to use one of my maxi pads. Please come home soon with diapers.
  • I also would just really like a few hours to myself after a long week of being surrounded by buckets of snot and sick children.
  • Most mornings when 6:30 rolls around I want to die. But after I roll out of bed, splash some cold water on my face I still want to die.
  • Wind, Wind Go Away…You BLOW!
  • Keep up the good work! I hope the pig was a believer.
  • Whatever opens doors–and I would say pizza opens a lot of doors.
  • It’s simply unnatural to be up when it’s still dark. Nothing like hopping in the car on such mornings and finding your chapstick frozen solid.
  • I have been in the house a lot lately with only sick children and piles of laundry to socialize with.
  • You gave me your cold. I don’t like this kind of sharing.
  • So I was thinking about beaches…
  • I guess I should realize that my calling is NOT housework and then I can go on some retreats to determine what is.
  • “…condemn me as spiritually defunct and turn me back over to the Methodists.”
  • We got back and Addie had a temper-tantrum and I had to physically haul her to her room. Add to the tranquility of all this, Julie’s ear piercing screeches which I’m pretty sure rattled the dead in their graves. What time is it? Oh, only noon. Can I take a bottle of pills now or would you prefer for me to wait until you’ve gotten home? If I take them now they should have done the job by your arrival and the process of loosing consciousness might make the afternoon more enjoyable.
  • I’m trying to clean with Julie and Addison. I feel like I’m being followed around by a couple of carrion birds slowly pecking away at my marginal progress. So I’ve now started to develop a twitch and hallucinating that I am being followed….wait, I am being followed. None the less, my period has robbed me of some of the necessary energy I need to stand on my head and clean tubs, unload laundry and maintain oxygen to dying brain cells. Help! the carrion birds are now clamoring for lunch!
  • You should love me forever because we made vows. The purchase of a hot tub was not specified in the vows.
  • I realize that I may be sounding a bit high maintenance, but you married me…and we all have to live with the consequences of our actions.
04.05.2013

Are you called to be a pastor?

Are you called? Really called? Call as in “called” called?

Here is Kevin De Young’s demur to the question: “The question often assumes that pastors, unique among all the vocations of the world, will (and sometimes must) have a powerful, divine, subjective call to ministry that overwhelmingly points them in their God-ordained direction. I don’t see support for that sort of normative experience in Scripture.”  And yet, in the red corner, we have a 2004 work by Alistar Begg and Derek Prime stating “By call, we mean the unmistakable conviction an individual possesses that God wants him to do a specific task” (p17).

While I admit that a conversation between all parties above could result in a lot of “I think we’re on the same page here”, I’m with Kevin and his hesitations.  In 1 Tim 3:1 we have in context as “if anyone aspires (ὀρέγεται) to the office of overseer, he desires a good work.  That ὀρέγεται means “to stretch one’s self out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something.”  You cannot stretch out and touch a call.  You can’t make the phone ring.

My concern is that many men who aspire to enter the ministry struggle with that aspiration on the grounds of lacking the surefire call.  They are qualified, passionate, gifted, ready, and…”wait, where’s my call? They told me I need to be called!”

Call schmall.

03.31.2013

Fools

The defining characteristic of a fool is not that he lacks knowledge, but that he despises it. The fool is not a thirsty man, who upon finding drink is thus relieved, but a thirsty man swimming in a lake who doesn’t know that water cures what ails him, and any accidental sampling of the vile liquid gets spewed for its repugnant taste.

Solomon agrees:

  • “…fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Prov 1:7b)
  • “…fools hate knowledge” (Prov 1:22c)
In a way, the fool has committed an “unforgivable sin” of sorts, not merely rejecting knowledge, but the medium in which it is conferred. As for the “repugnant taste”, this is just pride:
  • “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words.” (Prov 23:9)
  • “…a fool is arrogant and careless.” (Prov 14:16)
  • “A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.” (Prov 18:2)

I write this because the internet is a museum for fools.  And if you spend a decent amount of time on the internet, a la 2013-style, then you’re bound to run in to them.  The temptation then, is to engage them (e.g. in comments and forums).  To correct them using words.  To show them what knowledge looks like.  The irony is that if you succeed here, you have failed:

  • “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.” (Prov 26:4)
  • “Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, But any fool will quarrel.” (Prov 20:3)

How then will fools learn if you do not teach them?!?:

  • “A whip is for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, And a rod for the back of fools.” (Prov 26:3)

This is the answer, and it is a sad one.  Fools will learn, because life will teach them.  And life will teach them through the only methodology they can understand: the “hard way”.  Only by the hard way can a fool learn that the hard way is not the only (nor best) way to learn.

As for you, do not engage the fools.  Unless you want to be numbered among them.

03.09.2013

So Long, Facebook.

After a decent period of inactivity, I’ve decided to make it official: I am deleting my Facebook account shortly after the link to this blog post will appear on Facebook.

You’re probably already familiar with the mass exodus of American Facebook users, and while the reasons are many, and different for everyone, mine are simply these.

  1. I rarely (like, bored-in-an-airport-terminal rarely) spend time on Facebook.  Facebook to me is a never-ending yearbook (and I couldn’t even tell you where my real yearbooks are). Even what I post on Facebook has propagated from Twitter.  Therefore, having a Facebook page is now proving to be more of a liability than an asset.  ”Hey why didn’t you come to my event? I invited you on Facebook!”
  2. I only have room for one online social network in my life (I want less of an online footprint, not more), and I strongly prefer Twitter for a few reasons (byte-sized, far less clutter, and easily much more of a value-source).  You can follow me on Twitter at @swdenton
  3. I’m tired of Jon Dale trying to get me to join him at the gym at zero-dark-thirty.  OK, not really, Jon, you’ll just have to do that on Twitter now.  Hey Jon are you reading this?  Are you still reading this?  Why are you still reading this?

Zuckerberg, good luck with your layoffs, all right—I hope your firings go really well.

Stephen

01.12.2013

The Heart & The Head

If I find a Christian who characterizes himself (or is characterized) as having a great big heart for God (and His people, reaching the lost, etc.), but has little to no appetite for Bible & theology, nor study of the Scriptures, nor generally any sponge for Christian “learning” (blogs, articles, etc.)…here’s the thing: their heart is not as big as it seems.

If you “have a heart” for orphan care, but care little to acquire statistics, nor knowledge of available programs & aid, etc., then simply—you do not have a heart for orphan care.  If you did, your heart would command your brain to suck it up and get to learning (knowledge is power, ultimately gladdening the heart).

It’s easy to write off non-believers who say they approve of Jesus, because the Jesus they approve of isn’t Jesus at all.  But in the same way, many professing Christians confronted with the difficulty of the Bible react by shelving the Bible altogether, while still claiming the Bible is good and profitable.  What?

This results in an unhealthy contentedness, whereby they fill in the gaps of their knowledge of God with what they imagine of him, becoming increasingly susceptible to error & false teaching (withholding from themselves the Scriptures as the recalibration tool), and now God is partly real, partly idol.

Let the interplay between head, heart, and hands spur each other on, that we might “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord…bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of Godjoyously giving thanks to the Father.” (Col 1:10-13)

12.22.2012

House Church vs Institutional Church

I have a lot of friends & some family that go to house church (or whatever name you prefer).  I have grown up in the traditional church (building funds & chili suppers).  You see where I’m going with this…

The sad part about scratching the surface over which is the better model of church (biblically & practically) is discovering the grime just underneath.  The debate is rife with hasty generalization fallacies: “so many big churches have problems, so big church is the wrong model”.  Both sides have ugly women looking in dirty mirrors and blaming the mirror entirely.

The best traits of both sides are easy to imagine & easier to summarize.  House churches are intimate, efficient (especially not having a mortgage & staff), and agile.  Large churches have better talent/resources, marketing/visibility.  Both models, done right, incorporate elements of the other model: large churches push small groups (intimate, life-on-life); simple churches combine temporarily for large gatherings.

Biblically, both models (done right) are defensible.  Large churches see large gatherings in the New Testament (Acts 2:46); house churches see small gatherings (1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:5).  Both sides have NT regulations.  From where I sit, I see more large church skepticism towards the house church in this arena—on whether or not “those ‘churches’ are really churches”, but I side with DeYoung & Kluck’s prose from Why We Love the Church:

“If house churches have good preaching, good leadership, good theology, intentional discipleship, appropriate structures, rich worship, and administer the sacraments and practice church discipline, then I don’t care if they meet in my basement. House churches aren’t the only way to do church, but done right, they are a way” (p 179)

As for me and my house, I can’t see us ever leaving the traditional church for house church. I just enjoy weekly the large group assembly & corporate worship too much.

 

11.30.2012

Another Reason to Love GMail: The “Partial Reply”

15 second video (sorry, Flash required):

10.08.2012

Tips on Hiring a Speaker

I’ve been tasked with hiring a public speaker for an upcoming event. I’ve never done this before, but what I have done is attend a lot of conferences where one more speakers are…(how shall I put it?)…terrible.  It’s especially obvious when there are many speakers slated for a single event, and so the perception of the terrible speaker is worsened by the bright contrast of the others (yes, like evaluating TV’s at Best Buy).

So the minimum requirement for my job is to hire a speaker who, when done speaking, does not prompt audience members to look around and ask “who let this guy in here?”

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Don’t assume that because they’re a good author, marketer, blogger, business man, etc. that they’ll be a good speaker.  This may be the most common & biggest mistake I see.  ”They’ve sold a million books—let’s have them speak publicly, because that’s the same thing!”
  • If they’re a speaker, then they probably have video recordings available for your preview.  Try before you buy.
  • The speaker’s resume is not as important as the speaker’s speaking (noticing a trend here?).  I’d rather have a dynamic, interesting speaker present someone else’s talk, than an speaker experienced at everything except giving quality speeches.

After this, it’s common sense.  Make sure your speaker know’s your audience and presents relevant content.  Contact local organizations that have hosted similar events (churches, businesses, chambers, etc.) and inquire about speaker-selection approaches, local speakers (cost-savers) & resources, other talent pools, etc.

09.06.2012

Atheism’s Marketing Problem

At one point in Jesus’ teaching ministry—after prescribing some pills that are really hard to swallow—many people who are following Jesus…quit.  So Jesus asks his disciples, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”

Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

To whom shall we go?

It’s interesting that Peter’s first (and arguably primary) problem with hypothetically abandoning Jesus has nothing to do with Jesus’ objectionable teachings.  It’s that there’s nothing to abandon Him to.  That no suitable replacement for Jesus exists is Peter’s first reason for sticking with Him. Anything else by comparison is bleak & depressing.

This really resonates with me.  When I struggle with the Christian faith (doctrines, ways of God, whatever), I know that I am nowhere near to leaving it.  What immediately springs to mind is the lack of a suitable replacement.

(My second reason is what you’d expect—I completely believe in Christianity as true and real.  And so does Peter.  In fact his very next words are ”we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”)

So what I’ve come to realize is, when I survey my own heart, I believe I am utterly incapable of changing religions.  Even if all the world converted to something else, or empirical evidence was found to clearly and unarguably destroy the theory of God, I would still believe in Him.  Why?  Because the world and it’s religions cannot offer what I have come to know and love about God.  Nothing else is even remotely satisfying to me.

If you’ve seen The Matrix, you remember Cypher betrays his crew of freedom fighters because he believes that it is better to live in a deluded world of joy than in a real world of horror.  I agree wholeheartedly.  Cypher is my homeboy.

The chief problem of atheism is that it has nothing to market.  It’s chief “offering” (freedom from religion—lies, guilt, rules, tithing, dullness) is actually not an offering at all, but a list of what it has promised not to offer. Like a bad politician, it’s entire campaign is based on throwing rocks at the opponent, instead of offering a viable alternative.  Compared with what Christ offers (life, joy, peace, relationship, justice, grace, forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation, food, new heavens, new earth, and the undisturbed permanence of all the aforementioned) it has a huge marketing problem.

 

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