Edited By: Leslyn Kim
Story #2 – It’s Sunday around 11:00am and midway through the Sunday service the Holy Spirit is moving so heavily during praise and worship that the pastor decides to abandon the sermon for that day. Instead of preaching, the Spirit is leading the pastor to engage the congregation in intercessory prayer for business owners and number of other church body concerns. I can’t fully recall what the corporate prayer was for in particular, but I do recall that at some point that there was a call to abandon normal prayer and to engage in open prayer in the Spirit, or praying in tongues. Shortly after the request was made for regular prayer another request was made for people who had a prayer language to converge on the altar. As the congregants emptied their seats and moved toward the pulpit, prayer began to erupt. Each person prayed in their own tongue, some quietly and more to themselves, and others loudly and boisterously.
Now, rewind with me to the night before this service. My wife and I had spent time out to dinner with a couple that we were friends with. They were in town for a short weekend visit. It was a great time for us to get to know the boyfriend of my wife’s good friend. At that time he was a bit of a skeptic about the things of the Lord. I saw his visit as a potential opportunity to share my faith with him. He was hesitant about attending church with us the next morning, but his girlfriend had quelled most of his fears about the clothes that he had packed for his trip. “I don’t have the right clothes to wear”, is quite possibly the equivalent of “my dog ate my homework” for church skeptics and unbelievers. LOL. As we sat on the couch that morning he asked me about our church and my faith and he briefly shared with me his views about attending church, his personal background, and where he stood on the things of God. It was a brief, but valuable conversation because I had the chance to share with him why I found it important to attend church and to believe in God.
So, off we went to church. We all sat next to each other during the service.
Now, fast forward to the church congregation worshipping through prayers in the spirit at the altar. As I exited my row and headed to the front near the sanctuary I thought to myse…….. Please Lord, let this service turn out to be somewhat normal, so that we don’t scare the living daylights out of a believer (who may have never witnessed something like this before) and her skeptical boyfriend who had revealed earlier that, from his perspective, church goers were crutch-needy people, and that preachers were pimps fleecing the flock for their money. How would or could I explain this to them after the service if they asked questions? Without anyone there to interpret the many people praying simultaneously in tongues to God, what edification would they receive? For that matter, what edification did I receive that I could even share with them? I distinctly remember looking back from the pulpit at the two of them sitting there huddled together with a look of mystery and concern on their faces. As if they were both asking internally, what in the world is going on here?!?
This story, in my opinion, casts a modern light on Paul’s epistle to the church in Corinth. A church riddled with doctrinal issues and lost in a world of rhema Word preaching, unchecked by the logos (the written Word of God). The church in Corinth was guilty of both poor doctrine, abuses and misunderstandings about the Holy Spirit, and more specifically the gifts of the spirit.
Evidence of the church in Corinth engaging in non-traditional and unscriptural teaching is evident by Paul’s lecture to the church leaders in 1 Corinthians 4 (focus on versus 8-13):
The Nature of True Apostleship
4 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
6 Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?”
Oddly enough Paul’s lecture via letter to the church in Corinth shares eerie similarities to many modern-day rhema Word type churches. The preaching and teaching that they engaged is eerily similar to what’s often found in rhema Word churches today. Preaching and teaching on blessed and highly favored status with God – ruling and reigning NOW on the earth – As Paul states ……”Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!”. Further examples include “deeper than deep” teachings that reveal hidden mysteries and unknown truths – “We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!”. The difference is that Paul was preaching a Christ centered Gospel, whereas the church in Corinth seemed to be preaching and practicing a man-centered gospel. That man-centered appeal may have worked its way into how they practiced the gifts of the spirit.
In 1 Corithians 12-14, Paul instructs the church on appropriate ways to practice and view the gifts of the Spirit. This letter reveals that not only were they practicing the gifts in ways that were not edifying to the church body, but they were also suffering from a poor doctrinal and theological understanding of the very purpose in God giving them. I will attempt to summarize Paul’s advice in a paraphrased format (paraphrasing 1 Cor. 12). Note: I’m not attempting to re-translate a book of the bible, just reading it from my perspective or take on Paul’s letter within it’s context:
1 Corinthians 12: God is the giver of all gifts of the spirit. Although all of them are different, all are of the exact same spirit. God gives particular gifts to individuals as he sees fit. He knows just what gift(s) each person needs, and he gives them so that each individual can serve a particular function in the church body according to their gift. Each person should be happy with the gifts they’re given and avoid becoming prideful about the gift that they received nor jealous or covetous of gifts that others receive. All gifts are important just like each part of a real human body. Not all gifts are given to all men. God makes some to prophecy, others the gift of healing, to others the gift of tongues and so on. And just in case you’re still struggling with being conceited or disappointed with the gift that God has given you, please allow me to put this all in perspective…..
1 Corinthians 13: Love trumps all of these giftings. If you don’t get that simple point then you’ve missed the whole point of the gifts. How? They are given with the sole purpose in mind of glorifying God, loving your neighbor and building him up in the faith. Without love the gifts mean absolutely nothing! Want proof? One day all of the gifts will pass away! That’s right! One day(in heaven?) prophesy will no longer be necessary and tongues will cease. We only see in part now, but one day we will understand much more. Hallelujah! In other words, the gifts themselves are not the point. The point is love of God and love of neighbor. It’s time to stop acting like children Paul tells the church in Corinth. My own words added here (NOT SCRIPTURE, taking creative liberty to interject here) – You are missing the point, by glorifying and magnifying the giftings which will one day cease to exist. If any one gift is held up as a means to an end, it’s likely to become an idol that stops short of where the real glory lies. The gift of prophesy is not equivalent to God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. The gift of tongues is not the Holy Trinity itself, but a manifestation of the spirit. Therefore, don’t fall into the trap of coveting the gifts. Seek the gifts, but more importantly worship the giver of all good gifts – God and his son Jesus Christ, and simply be happy with the gift that God has given you.
1 Corinthians 14:
Now that we have the gifts in proper perspective, SEEK OUT THE GIFTS, especially PROPHECY (speaking encouraging words to individuals or the church body)! People who speak in tongues aren’t speaking to men, but to God. Seek out prophecy, because people can understand when you encourage them in the faith, but when you speak in tongues it’s purely personal and no one can understand it, unless someone is there to interpret it. Prophesying in general is more edifying than tongues, unless someone is there to interpret the tongues. Since you people in Corinth are so eager for gifts, which is actually a good thing, seek more so to practice the gifts that edify the whole body. If you do speak in a tongue, you should pray (beforehand?) that someone can interpret it, so that all are edified. Ladies and Gentlemen, stop thinking like little kids, and let’s act mature! Tongues were not meant to be used in the way that you are using them. It was really meant as a sign to unbelievers as it was on the day of Pentecost, when people were saved by the evidence of the power of God from what they witnessed. If you don’t take heed to practicing the gifts in a way that is edifying to the Lord and the church body then you are creating confusion for skeptics, the curious, and unbelievers. You’ll only be doing them a disservice because they’ll think your crazy! On the contrary imagine the skeptic, the curious, the unbeliever arriving at the church to hear prophesy in a language that they can comprehend? Their sin will be revealed and their heart will be softened to hear the gospel.
So, knowing how the gifts are to be used we should only speak out loud in tongues in the church if someone is there to interpret it before the whole body. If not, do it quietly to yourself. Also, go in order, one at a time to avoid confusion, because God doesn’t interrupt himself. Use the same rules for prophecy, one at a time. PEOPLE CAN CONTROL THEIR GIFT. God gives the gifts, God manifests the gifts, and God is not a God of disorder, chaos, and confusion. He’s a God of order and peace……… skipping verses 34-38, because they are not applicable here. Therefore church, be eager to prophesy to one another, and DO NOT FORBID people from speaking in tongues.
In closing, I feel the church in Corinth is a great warning for rhema style churches to observe. Sound doctrine and practice matters! Rhema style churches, often in the name of “freedom in Christ”, are guilty of taking the damaging effects of unsound doctrine far too lightly. Even though people like Paul, Timothy, Peter and John warn about it often (More on this in my conclusion). Their overemphasis on hearing from God (rhema Word) at the neglect of being rightly divided by the logos often gives them license to be disobedient to the logos. Strangely enough they overlook the very fact the logos was inspired and revealed by the Holy Spirit himself.
It’s their rhema revealed understanding of the Word that has told them to disregard others in the church, like Paul, who have warned them about their unscriptural practices. They’ve found “deeper than the ocean” understandings of scripture, that allow them to practice the faith “out of bounds” in relation to other believers. I honestly believe that Paul ran into this same mindset in Corinth. In their lofty maturity (rhema Word understanding) they understood things that even Paul had not yet grasped (1 Cor. 4). So, when it came to the chaos of tongues and prophesies in their church it was permissible, because its usefulness was so lofty and powerful that not everyone could comprehend it. Only the ultra-mature. If you’ve ever been around certain types (not all) of Charismatic churches, huge premiums are often placed on being “deep”, and those in leadership often have particular and unique giftings that separate them from “normal believers”. This ranges from the gift of prophesying (foretelling future events), to having visited heaven, to seeing and communicating with angels, to having (rhema) revelations that go beyond what is written. I plan to discuss the problems with this focus in my conclusion.
I’ve personally witnessed the damaging effects of a casual approach toward unsound doctrine. That day at church, my friends left confused. The theme of the service did not center around how much God loved them. The truth of the gospel was never shared, and potential seeds were never cast. They heard unintelligible language that was shared between those praying to God, yet they could not comprehend what was being communicated. Indeed, as Paul warned, they thought we were “out of our minds”.