Category Archives: church

He Has Spoken Through His Son

by Marv

The coming of the Son of God in the flesh is the turning point in redemptive history, that is in the outworking of God’s plan for rescuing His fallen world.  It marks a decisive divide between all that came before and all that God does from that crucial point onward.

Jesus indicated His own place in redemptive history in the parable of the tenants.  In this parable, God is likened to the owner of a vineyard who sends a series of bondservants to collect his due,  only to have them rebuffed, abused, even killed by the uncooperative tenants.  The next step is an escalation in the status of the messenger: “Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’” (Matt. 21:37).  The voice of the son, we understand, bears a superiority not just in degree, but in kind.

The magnificent opening of the epistle to the Hebrews encapsulates this same truth, and then goes on for thirteen chapters to develop this theme of Christ as superior to everything in previous phases of God’s plan, to urge against retrograde motion on the part of his readers.  He begins:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:1-2)

Continuationism is the understanding that according to the Scriptures, and Jesus Himself, during this era between Pentecost and the Parousia, God has established in the Church a vital and dynamic interconnection with Christ and the Father through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, through which Christ continues to glorify the Father, build His Church, and advance His kingdom.

To express this understanding in the imagery of the parable of the tenants, after the son is killed, when the vineyard owner comes to “let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons,” (v. 4) the son is in fact restored to life.   He then continues actively to run the operations of the vineyard for his father, though off site.  As he is delegated the management by his father, he in turn delegates the on-site operation to the new tenants.  In this arrangement he remains in two-way communication with the tenants and supplies the resources necessary to the success of the operation.

Some others would modify this scenario by removing the idea of “two-way communication.”  The son, in this case, commits to written form everything he wishes to say or will ever wish to say to the tenants.  Thus he leaves them an operation manual, and determines that while he expects communication from the tenants to him, he will not communicate directly back to them, since the manual already contains everything he wishes them to know.

The former of these conceptions, according to proponents of the latter, is inaccurate in that it is incompatible with Hebrews 1:2, cited above.  The idea of ongoing two-way communication with God—that is that God to man communication (still) occurs by means other than the Bible—is denied, these assert, by the statement that now God “has spoken to us by his Son” (v. 2).  God’s speaking through prophets, inferior delegates, the “servants” of the parable, is relegated to “long ago.”

The use of Heb. 1:1-2 in support of Cessationism does have a noble pedigree.  It appears with the Westminster Confession of Faith as “proof text” number six, underlying what is generally taken to be a clause expressing cessation of ongoing revelation: “those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.” (WCF I.1)

However, there are two distinct propositions involved, taken to be stated or implied by Heb. 1:1-2:

1.  God, having delegated His Son to speak for Him, no longer employs the lower-level messengers He previously had sent.

2.  God having delegated His Son to speak for Him, the Son no longer is speaking.

Proposition 1 is non-objectionable, since it represents the author’s explicit point, and he goes on to elaborate on this point in the rest of the epistle.

It is far less clear, however, that the author intends Proposition 2 as part of his meaning, as a Cessationist application would suggest.  Also, if the author of Hebrews is saying that the Son has said all He has to say, when exactly are we to understand that the Son in fact ceased speaking?

What can we determine from the text?  First, the verb translated “has spoken,” elalēsen, “is aorist, in the past from the point of view of the writer.  The specific time frame is further specified: “in these last days.”

The author then contrasts two types of events, the ministry of the prophets in the more distant past, and the ministry of Christ in the recent past.  Can we legitimately infer from the author’s statement affirming Christ spoke in the past, a denial that He is therefore not speaking in the present and will not speak in the future?  Not on the basis of any valid understanding of either Greek grammar or logic.

At any rate, when exactly does the author mean to tell us that God’s revelation ceases?

If in fact we go by the tense of elalēsen, the past, we are left with the paradox, or rather the antinomy of an inspired writer, stating in his present that revelation had previously ceased in the past.  The very verse containing this word, not to mention the thirteen chapters yet to come contradicts the notion that God’s special revelation had already ceased at that point.

The author would have to mean some other time than that strictly indicated by the tense of the verb, if indeed he intends us to understand that communication through the Son comes to a point of completion and then ceases.  When would that be, exactly?

The ascension, the ending point of Christ’s bodily presence on earth?  Hardly, the entirety of the New Testament was written after this.

Besides, the author himself states in 2:4 that after Christ’s ascension God continued to testify through human messengers other than Christ: “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

Is it then the completion of the Canon?  It may or may not be factual to state that with the close of the Canon, the Son no longer speaks to us, and the Father no longer speaks through any other means.  But how is such an understanding to be drawn from the words of Hebrews 1:1-2, which was written, perhaps decades before the last NT book was written?

What do the author’s statements about the Son tell us about the work of the Holy Spirit?  Jesus’ own teaching predicts a future in which the Spirit’s work will include acts of speaking:

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26)“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8)“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-15)

We find here, in fact, that the speaking ministry of the Spirit is a continuation of God speaking through the Son.  The Father delegates to the Son and the Son to the Spirit.

He delegates, not only to the Spirit, but to His Church. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

So if the speaking of the Spirit is a continuation of the speaking of the Son, how long do we expect the Son to continue to speak through the Spirit?  Do we take Jesus’ words in John 16 then to be referring to the New Testament and nothing else?

If so, He said this to all eleven, but only commissioned three to write scripture:  Matthew, John, and Peter.  Did he exclude eight of those present and include others not present such as Paul, Luke, and James?

At any rate, the Son did in fact speak through the Holy Spirit in ways other than the writing of the New Testament:

“And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” (Acts 16:6-7)

This is still, however, during the period of the open Canon. Of course, the Spirit continues to speak during this time.  Where are we ever told God will ever speak through the Spirit once the Scriptures, God’s sufficient written Word has been completed?

In Mark’s account of the Olivet discourse, Jesus gives instructions regarding what His disciples may expect in the days prior to His return, when the gospel is being proclaimed to all nations:

“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.  And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.  And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13: 9-11)

Hebrews 1:1-2 in fact says nothing about the Son ceasing to speak.  The New Testament knows nothing of a time when once the Son has become incarnate, He ceases actively to glorify the Father to the world, to be God’s ongoing self-revelation.  What we can see are three distinct phases of His revelation activity (presented out of order).

The first.  His first advent, when He reveals the Father in His sinless life, He proclaims the gospel of the Kingdom, and dies sacrificially and rises again.

The third.  His glorious second appearing, when faith becomes sight we will know as we are known.

The second.  In between these times His Body, the Church, continues what in the first phase Jesus “began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1).

“In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20)

Yes, “in these last days, [God] has spoken to us by his Son.”  Just so, in these days too, God speaks through His Son, who speaks through the Holy Spirit, who speaks through the Church, the Body of Christ.

Reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated: a humble response to Dean Gonzales

by Marv

What I liked best about The Cessation of Special Revelation: A Humble Argument for the Cessation of NT Prophecy and Tongues,  a blog series posted last year by Dr. Robert R. Gonzales, Jr., Dean of Reformed Baptist Seminary is the refreshing way that it takes the “humble” part seriously.  Dean Gonzales comports himself as a gentleman throughout, without the faintest whiff of ad hominem.  He also approaches the subject as a scholar, concentrating his argument on how best to understand the relevant scriptural texts.  In this he takes on Wayne Grudem’s position on prophecy, as laid out in The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. The fact that he chooses a worthy interlocutor such as Dr. Grudem is commendable.  As a whole Dean Gonzales takes an approach that ought to be widely emulated.

He is also clear.  He lays out his main thesis in a form of a syllogism, and backs it up with scriptural citation and logical discussion.  The syllogism reads as follows:

Major Premise: All pre-parousia divinely authoritative special revelation has been completed and has, therefore, ceased.
Minor Premise: NT prophecy and tongues are forms of pre-parousia divinely authoritative special revelation.
Conclusion: Therefore, tongues and prophecy have ceased.

Appreciative as I am of his approach, I am not, however, convinced by his argument.  It is a variation of a fairly conventional one, tying the term of charismata to that of the Canon.  In fact I have to object to his references to “scriptural-quality revelation.”  The Bible ascribes, I think, unique attributes to itself.  There is no other revelation, never has been, of equal “quality” to that of Scripture.

This is why the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, to which both Dean Gonzales and Reformed Baptist Seminary ascribe states that:

“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”

In multiple places Dean Gonzales makes reference to oral prophecy in the early New Testament church as “canonical.”  If this is so, I cannot see how to avoid the conclusion that not only the Holy Scripture, but also every genuine prophecy ever uttered would constitute the Canon.  The Confession, at least, would seem to limit canonicity to those prophecies that the Holy Spirit saw fit to inscripturate.

Similarly, the Bible warrants application of the term inspiration to the Scriptures, the written product of the Holy Spirit’s work.  Whether we are justified in using “inspired” for other manifestations of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7) is not readily obvious, to me at least, and his doing so tends to give Dr. Gonzales’ argument a certain circularity, assuming facts not in evidence.

Again, to the Confession, the Bible is the only “infallible” rule.  Contrary to the dean’s assertion or assumption and (perhaps) even Dr. Grudem’s understanding, even Old Testament oral prophecy was not “infallible” in the way that the Scriptures are.

If OT era prophecy were infallible, how could there be false prophecies?  I find it odd that verses such as Deut. 18:22 are often cited to suggest that OT era oral prophecy was inerrant or infallible, when it demonstrates precisely the opposite:

“When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”

We are never similarly warned to watch out for “false Scriptures.”  In both the OT and the NT era, “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32).  The Word of the Lord came to the prophet (Gen. 15:1, 1 Sam. 15:10, 2 Sam. 7:4).  In this last reference, Nathan received the Word of the Lord precisely because Nathan the prophet had spoken presumptuously to David earlier in the day (2 Sam. 7:3).  There is no great intertestamental shift involved that would allow for similarly presumptuous utterances in the NT era, such as the instructions to Paul not to go to Jerusalem, which he sees fit to ignore (Acts 21:4).

The OT prophet was responsible to report the Word of the Lord accurately, though he could fail to do so.  The Scriptures, on the other hand, by being theopneustos are guaranteedcertified to be the Word of the Lord.  They are thus of a quality above and beyond that of oral prophecy, in any era.  This is why Peter specifies “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Pet 1:20, emphasis mine).  The distinction of two levels of prophecy: “Scripture-quality” and otherwise, does not originate with Dr. Grudem, but is apostolic.

Now, one specific line of argument calls for special mention.  In his part seven he makes a point about the word “mystery” (μυστήριον), which at first blush gives an impression of decisiveness and may in fact be persuasive to many people.  Yet I’m afraid it does not hold up to scrutiny.

As he makes the point succinctly, I will simply quote him:

What I really want to call your attention to is the fact that according to 13:2 and 14:2 both prophecy and tongues reveal “mysteries.” The term “mysteries” is not referring to garbled nonsense. That term translates the same Greek word that Paul used in Ephesians 3 to speak of the canonical-level NT special revelation uttered by apostles and prophets. And according to these passages in 1 Corinthians, these “mysteries” are “known” through the gift of prophecy (13:2) and they are “spoken” through the gift of tongues (14:2).

This argument fails in at least three ways:

1.  In bringing in Ephesians 3:3-9, Dean Gonzales commits a neat little fallacy known as “illegitimate totality transfer.”  The red flag that should tip us off to this is his phrase “the same Greek word that Paul used…to speak of…”  This is meant to imply that the Eph. 3 passage provides us the definition of the term μυστήριον, that is, that it refers to “canonical-level NT special revelation uttered by apostles and prophets.”  But this semantic information is not carried by the single noun μυστήριον, but by an entire descriptive clause: “which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (v. 4).  This is not even a description of what a “mystery” in general is but specifically what Paul there calls “the mystery of Christ.”

The word “mystery” (μυστήριον) essentially denotes a “secret.”  The term was well known in the Greco-Roman world due to the plethora of “mystery religions” in which as part of the initiation, certain items of secret knowledge were imparted to the novice.  The practice has survived to this day in the arcana of societies such as the Freemasons, who possess a convoluted mythology which members are forbidden to reveal to outsiders.

Dean Gonzales simply overloads the word with extraneous meaning, as if he had reached into Eph. 3 with sticky fingers and pulled away half the context along with the noun.  Looking elsewhere, we come away with a more Ockham-friendly understanding that what μυστήριον conveys is the concept “secret” or something unknown or whose meaning is not easy to discern.

“As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Rev. 1:20)

“But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.” (Rev. 17:7)

In these two cases the “mystery” is the secret to what the visionary imagery symbolizes.  John saw some strange things, knew they meant something, but did not know what they meant, needed to have someone decipher them.

2.  This is what is happening in 1 Cor. 14:2.  Paul is pointing out that a message given in a tongue sounds strange to the hearers, who know it means something, but do not know what it means, and cannot know unless there is someone who can decipher them.

Paul gives us no excuse for not understanding this, because he restates his point multiple times. Verse 2 alone makes Paul’s meaning clear: the problem with one giving a message in tongues in the church assembly, the problem is “no one understands him.” Then he restates his point: “but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.”

Dean Gonzales states that by “mystery” Paul is “not referring to garbled nonsense,” but the issue is not nonsense versus meaningfulness, but meaning that is hidden versus meaning that is known. That by “mystery” here Paul means a message with hidden meaning (due to being in a foreign language) is evident from the many ways he says it:

“…speaks not to men but to God” (2)

“no one understands” (2)

“speech that is not intelligible” (9)

“speaking into the air” (9)

“I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.” (11)

“when he does not know what you are saying?” (16)

In short, the meaning of the word “mystery” in 1 Cor. 14:2 is made so abundantly clear within the context of the chapter itself, that giving preference to examples in remote context, theologically rich though they be, does not make exegetical sense.

3.  In 1 Cor. 13:2, Paul is talking about prophecy, not tongues, and so the concept of unintelligibility is not the issue.  Indeed, here he is making reference to “secrets” in the sense of deep, hidden, unrevealed knowledge.  This is clear because of his parallel of “all mysteries” and “all knowledge”:

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…”

But does this verse justify Dean Gonzales assertion that “Paul portrays NT prophecy as a revelatory gift by which the one who possess the gift comes to understand ‘all mysteries’”?  That Dean Gonzales would make such a claim is rather surprising in view of the fact that he knows perfectly well that in verses 13:1-3 Paul is engaging in hyperbole.  He argues as much within this very discussion: “Paul’s reference to the “tongues … of angels” may simply be a form of hyperbole.”  Indeed, it is clearly hyperbole to suggest that any mortal human being would “understand all mysteries and all knowledge.”  This is a hypothetical gift of prophecy taken to the nth degree, not any reasonable expectation of what a given prophecy from a given church member would entail on a given Sunday.

Dean Gonzales then is very seriously overstating the nature of oral prophecy in the New Testament church.  It may well be opening up secrets of a sort.  Paul says as much in 1 Cor. 14:24-25:

“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.”

But these secrets are not theological or doctrinal truths, hidden in the recesses of God’s eternal plan, things which, once revealed, find their place in God’s Canon, as a “prophecy of Scripture,” alongside the writings of Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John.  They are individual details of a particular person’s life, revealed to that person, through the Holy Spirit for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3) or else to convict regarding “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

This is what Jesus does in John 4:17 when he says to the Samaritan woman:

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

To which she replies:

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”

Jesus’ words to her, while perfectly true, and divinely authoritative, were for her specifically, not for the Canon, even though a few of the details occur as recorded speech within a canonical gospel.  Jesus told her more, things which are not reported by John, since the woman says Jesus “told me all that I ever did.”  They are important for her, but not “canonical” for the people of God.

On another occasion when Jesus gave a prophecy, he revealed future secrets of Peter’s life, but when asked about John’s life, Jesus said “what is that to you?”

Yet these are acts by which Jesus, prophesying through the Holy Spirit, spoke faith-enhancing words to individuals, none of which constituted temporary stand-ins for Scripture, the Canon being as yet incomplete.  Even these were not in the same class as Scripture, not “canonical.”

This brings us to the main problem with Dean Gonzales’ conclusion that prophecy ceased as the Canon closed: it contradicts the express teaching of Jesus.  Jesus prophesied, and intending that His church also would prophesy, He sent the Holy Spirit:

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

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 14:11-12)

“Whoever believes in” Jesus, is considerably broader than just those living prior to the close of the Canon.  Indeed, it has nothing to do with the Canon.

And Jesus did just as He said, pouring out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, with the promise:

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

The difference between OT era and NT era is not thus “canonical” versus “non-canonical”: there has always been this distinction.  It is not “infallible” versus “fallable,” since a prophet could always (though should never) speak presumptuously.  The significant difference, post Pentecost, is what we may call the “democratization” of prophecy.  In pouring the Spirit on “all flesh” so that even the most humble believer may prophesy, prophecy is no longer tied to the theocratic functioning of the nation of Israel.  While the prophet still has responsibility to speak the revelation accurately, there is, in the church, no death penalty for failure to do so.  In fact we are explicitly told “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).  Our instruction is to “test everything” and “hold fast what is good” (1 Thes. 5:21).

“Good,” the apostle calls it, to which we may “hold fast.” This is not something to be rejected, but among the good works which we are told to stir up (Heb. 10:24) not to douse (1 Thes. 5:19).

That is the importance of Cessationist arguments such as Dean Gonzales’, to which, I respond, I hope, with equal respect and gentleness, yet with conviction that it does not teach what the Lord and the apostles in fact taught regarding prophecy and tongues.  To teach that prophecy and tongues have ceased in the Body of Christ, if in fact they have not ceased, is to discourage our brothers and sisters from the good that Our Lord has intended them to do.  Therefore, any argument that they have ceased had better be significantly more decisive than the one we have been examining.

Training in Hearing God & Prophecy?

by Scott

Today we had a time of training in hearing God and prophecy. If I mentioned this to a few people, they might look at me kind of quizzically and ask – You had a time of training in hearing God and prophecy? Huh?

It doesn’t sound too spiritual, does it? Training in hearing God and prophecy? Don’t these things just happen by the Spirit?

Well, I would disagree that this sounds unspiritual. Hence why we held a training time for our church this morning in learning to hear God and in prophesying. While, for some, prophecy is for the super-spiritual, maybe those with their heads constantly ‘in the clouds’, most of us need these things brought down to planet earth where most of us live on a day to day basis. We need practical training and equipping. Hence, with all the recent stirrings of God’s Spirit in the midst of our people, and with little previous teaching on the topic for a transitionary church like Cornerstone, I knew it was absolutely vital to not simply ‘preach’ a few sermons on the topic, but to provide real, solid, biblical and practical training in prophecy.

Now, first off, I would note that there are differing measures of prophecy. 1) The prophet (i.e. Eph 4:11-13) who has a very strong measure of the prophetic and they help equip the whole body to be prophetic, 2) One with the gift of prophecy (i.e. 1 Cor 12:10) who is used regularly in this ministry gift but might not have the specific and greater measure of a prophet, and 3) All can be utilised in prophecy since they are indwelt by the Spirit of prophecy (i.e. Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor 14:1-5).

Because I am convinced the whole body of Christ is called to be a prophetic body (read more here), we need to ‘equip the saints’ for such a ministry, as it says in Eph 4:11-13. And so we need to prepare and equip God’s people in how to hear God and speak forth what He is saying as He directs. Of course, every time we hear God, it might not call for us to speak it forth as prophecy. I share a great example here where God spoke to me about changing the way I was praying into a situation. But we need the body of Christ to be prepared to be a prophetic people, just as we need them to be prepared to be a shepherding or evangelistic people as a whole.

Now this starts by, one, learning to hear from God. Jesus did tell us that his sheep would hear his voice (John 10:3-4). And, though, the temptation is simply to relegate this only to initial salvation, and the context of John 10 can be used to support such, I suppose sheep don’t simply hear their master’s voice once and that’s it. There is a constant and continual listening to the shepherd. Hence, I think the same is true of the sheep of the Great Shepherd. Or we could use the imagery of a child with their father. They don’t hear the father once and that’s it. There is constant communication between the two.

Still, there are plenty of questions that arise out of learning to hear God: 1) Is it truly God or just me? 2) Is this God or is this the enemy? 3) What am I to do with what I believe God is speaking to me? And so on and so forth.

I think there are quite a lot of amazing factors God has given us to help wisely discern the voice of the Lord. While I list these, I wouldn’t say they are in any particular order. Some might say, ‘Well, you have to start with the Bible, the word of God.’ While I centre all my theology in Scripture and use it to weigh what I believe God is speaking even today, sometimes it is not that simple. Hence, why I list these and do not claim a particular order, as, at times, some will be more helpful than others.

1) The Scripture. As I said, and cannot say enough, this is central to weighing correct theology-doctrine as well as what we believe God is speaking today. But the thing is that Scripture does not address every little nook and cranny of every matter of life. Of course it addresses a wide gamut of issues and there are even things we can glean from its wisdom in one area that could relate into another. But Scripture is not a car instruction manual giving us 7 steps on how to do this or that and it will all be perfectly fine. Hence, the need in our lives for these other factors below.

2) Spouse. For those married to solid followers of Christ, this is normally the best place to start in weighing what we believe God is speaking today. But, having a godly spouse is not always the case, and, thus, we have the following to help as well.

3) Leadership. This is so central and important to our lives as Christ-followers. But, unfortunately, in the west, our individualism has set this aspect aside in so many ways. But God has given us elder-shepherds in our local church to consult for wisdom in matters of life. Of course, it isn’t fool-proof, nor will they have all the answers in every situation. But this is an absolutely vital part of the life of the body. They are God-given instruments to us! Yes, there has been and probably always will be abuse. But we cannot let misuse of this in some places detour us from the design of Jesus himself. Think of Jesus’ relationship of dependence on the Father. We need to be connected to leaders in our lives.

4) Body of Christ. Not only do we have leaders in our lives, but there are other wise and mature people in the body of Christ. Please don’t head towards people that you know will always agree with you. Rather head to people that love you, have your best interests in mind, but are also willing to speak into your life even if it means not agreeing with what you sense from God. If only we would value this aspect more and more, for God has never, ever thought the idea of the ‘lone ranger’ was good. Never! Also, if someone ever prophesies to you and asks you to keep it a secret and not tell anyone, that is not of God. He is one who brings things to light instead of hiding them. Prophecy has to do with God revealing or unveiling His heart, not hiding His intentions. Thus, we are not called to hide these things, but we should be willing to weigh it with leaders and others in the body of Christ. So don’t get caught up in ‘secretive’ prophecies. It is not healthy.

5) Peace of God. The peace of God is ultimately so very helpful in this area of our walk with God. In the end, if we think we have heard something from God or someone has spoken something as a word of prophecy to us, it needs to ultimately produce the peace of God in us. It’s not that we have to fell 100% comfortable with something. At times, God calls us to very uncomfortable things. But we can still know the peace of God in the midst of uncomfortability. But let our hearts be assured in God’s peace, which does surpass our cognitive understanding at times (Phil 4:7).

But these five things, and there are probably others, become very helpful in discerning the voice of God. And even then, it might call for steps of faith when we are still uncertain. We would love it if it were all so easy with no sense of need for wisdom, discernment, vulnerability, relying on the body, etc. But there is a process of learning here, just as with all aspects of our spiritual lives. Did we hear that? Again, while some want to super-spiritualise this whole thing and say, ‘It just happens. You just hear,’ most of us are still learning to hear from God. We are learning the Father’s voice. So let’s not be afraid if we are not always 100% certain.

As for prophecy, while the prophet or the one gifted in prophecy who has been functioning in such a ministry gift for quite some time might walk in much more confidence in the gift, those not specifically gifted in this way also need growth in this area. That is why the best place to start with prophecy is amongst the body of Christ whom we are closely connected with and joined to. Such is to be a safe place. Or, if the main gathering of the whole body is too intimidating at first, we can start in smaller groups or in one-on-one prayer time with close friends.

And when God speaks, it can be into differing areas: 1) into our own lives (which connects with some of the things discussed above about hearing God), 2) into the life of another or multiple others, 3) into the wider situations like a local church, or 4) into far-reaching situations like cities or nations, etc. Yes, I could have considered different ‘categories’. But I believe these provide a general understanding of how God can speak across varying lives and situations.

So, what we need to ask God is whether or not this revelation we have received from God is for ourselves, for others, or for a wider situation. Sometimes we immediately know. Sometimes we don’t. And sometimes the revelation comes and we are to share it immediately. But sometimes it comes and we are to hold on it; such is for a later time. How do we know if it is for now or later? Well, I can encourage us to not feel rushed. If it is the word of the Lord, He will make sure it comes forth and accomplish its purpose. I am pretty sure there were plenty of prophets of old that received something from God but await the proper time to disclose the revelation.

If we are not sure if the prophecy is for now or another time, let’s remember the importance of consulting our leaders. They can be very effective in helping us know if it is for now or not for now. And they can also be helpful in bringing guidance on whether this is for ourselves alone, other particular people, or a wider situation. Strong and healthy leadership truly protects and provides wisdom. That is why they are shepherds.

Finally, I simply note that prophecy can come in varying forms. And this is where the particular personality of a person will have an effect on the way in which the prophecy is delivered. I’m not trying to lessen the impact of prophecy, but rather trying to emphasise just how incarnational our God is in revealing Himself. Thus, what I mean is that prophecy through a physicist will come forth in a little different way than, say, a creative artist. One might receive very stirring imagery, what some might call a ‘prophetic picture’ (the creative artist) while the other might communicate the prophecy in quite minute and ordered detail (the physicist). This happens very regularly. It’s quite like a David and an Isaiah prophesying in differing ways at differing times. But both communicated the word of the Lord. Again, this happens frequently.

In the end, there are still questions. We will always carry them as finite human beings. I suppose the prophets of Scripture also had questions (sorry if this sounds denigrating, but I don’t believe it is). But they also took steps of faith as the word of the Lord burned within their heart.

So I have no problem with providing practical training and equipping for God’s people to learn to hear the voice of our Father and how to prophesy. I think such is very helpful to see the body of Christ grow in their calling as a Spirit-indwelt people to be a prophetic voice in all the world.

John 14:12 and Company

By Marv

In this post I wish to make a simple point about John 14:12, a verse we have referred to often as foundational to our understanding of “spiritual gifts.”  I want to focus on the phrase “whoever believes in me,” as this is key to understanding what Jesus was teaching here, as well as what John intended to convey in his gospel. 

That phrase is far from unique, and in fact it fits into a major theme in that gospel.  The exact same phrase, and variations of that phrase occur throughout the book, and an examination of these clearly demonstrate that what Jesus says here about doing the same works as He is applicable to all believers, not merely the eleven in the room with Him that evening, not merely the apostles and close associates, not merely Christians of the first century, not merely those living before the close of the Canon.

The verse is neither obscure nor insignificant, and even bears the attention-grabbing prefix: “Truly, truly, I say to you.”

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)

These works Jesus refers to include much, much more than “spiritual gifts”: prophecy, healing, and such, but these are certainly included.  The works, Jesus states, back up His words and are with them a basis for faith (John 14:11).  Thus confirmation of the message of salvation is not relegated to any purported category of “sign gifts,” but to His works in general, works that, according to our Lord, will be done by “whoever believes” in Him.

Let’s look at that phrase.  In the Greek it is an articular infinitive:

ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ  (ho pisteuōn eis eme) “the (one) believing in me”

Variations include:

A.  πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ  (pas ho pisteuōn eis eme)  “all the (one) believing in me”

B.  ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (ho pisteuōn en auto) “the (one) believing in him”

C.  πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (pas ho pisteuōn en auto) “all the (one) believing in him”

D.  ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν (ho pisteuōn eis ton huion) “the (one) believing in the son”

E.  ὁ πιστεύων  (ho pisteuōn) “the (one) believing”

   

There are many other related expressions in this theme, but I list those with identical or near identical wording. 

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him [πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (pas ho pisteuōn en auto)] may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him [πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (pas ho pisteuōn en auto)] should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Whoever believes in him [ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (ho pisteuōn en auto)] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)

Whoever believes in the Son [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν (ho pisteuōn eis ton huion)] has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ  (ho pisteuōn eis eme)] shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes [ὁ πιστεύων  (ho pisteuōn)] has eternal life. (John 6:47)

Whoever believes in me [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ  (ho pisteuōn eis eme)], as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ  (ho pisteuōn eis eme)], though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25-26)

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ  (ho pisteuōn eis eme)], believes not in me but in him who sent me.  And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:44-46)

It is sometimes said that even if we are not told that spiritual gifts will cease during the church age, we are not told they will continue either.  It looks to me as if that is exactly what our Lord tells us in John 14:12.

Now Concerning Spiritual Gifts

This is a guest post by T.C. Robinson, blogger at New Leaven and he holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies and a Master’s degree with an emphasis in New Testament Greek

Spiritual gifts are those special capacities imparted to believers by the Holy Spirit for the glory of God and the good of the Body of Christ (1 Pet. 2:10-11; 1 Cor. 12:7).

In verse one, Paul uses the term πνευματικῶν, which may be translated either “spiritual people” or “spiritual gifts.”  But the consensus in light of the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14 fits better with “spiritual gifts.”

But from verses 4-11, Paul uses another word, χαρίσματα, “grace gifts.”  For example, our English world charisma or charismatic is derived from this Greek word.

However, these Corinthian believers were calling attention to themselves in their use of the gifts—like many today—and Paul had to take both in a corrective and prescriptive approach, as reflected in chapters 12-14.

Paul begins this section with these verses:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.  (1 Cor. 12:1-3)

Notice how Paul quickly switches to χάρισμαcharisma, from πνευματικόςpneumatikos.  The reason: the Corinthians were bringing attention to themselves with the use of πνευματικός–we are “spiritual people” because we have all these “spiritual gifts” (v.1).

Paul is not impressed.

In fact, to show his disapproval, Paul uses χάρισμα to call attention to the source of the gifts – they are “grace gifts” (v. 4).

In the end, according to Paul, the real evidence of the Spirit in us is not “the gifts” he bestows but the love that blossoms – hence, 1 Corinthians 13.