Last week at the Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit, I engaged in a bit of argumentation that is a bit unusual regarding the continuation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but it has come to make perfect sense to me. In 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12:4-8, Paul tells us that we are all one body, the body of Christ. The body is made up of different parts and each part needs the other. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" and the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" (1 Cor. 12:21). In both passages, the idea of the body is related to the discussion on spiritual gifts. Clearly from context we can conclude that the members of the body operate as the one body of Christ when each member uses his/her spiritual gifts. The body analogy does not make any sense apart from this perspective if we consider the context.
Now, if I lose my eye, hand, or leg, I am considered deformed, right? I am considered to be incomplete and not able to fully do what I was created/intended to do. If I lose my leg, I might still be able to live, breathe, think, make jokes, cook, and drive a car, but I will not be able to run as fast as before, climb mountains as well as before, or be as strong. When attempting those things, I have to compensate by being stronger in other areas, or I just sit around and remember the good old days when I used to run fast.
God has given us spiritual gifts to make us strong and he intends that we keep them till the end. "What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church" (1 Cor. 14:26). That sounds like a command to me. What about 1 Corinthians 1:7? "Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." (See Also Ephesians 4:11-16). We know from 1 Corinthians 12-14 that the main purpose of spiritual gifts is for the building up of the church. So, doesn't it make sense that a lack of spiritual gifts would result in a weakened church? Hmmm. What is the state of the church today? Strong or weak? Could it be that we have neglected or abandoned some of the gifts that God has given us in favor of others that are more presentable and seem easier to manage?
Again, if I am missing part of my body, I am considered deformed or unhealthy. It doesn't mean that I am worthless or that I am loved less. It just means that I am not all I could have been if I had been healthy. I am blind in my right eye, and because of that, I was not able to serve in the military like I wanted to. I also have trouble with baseball, ping pong, tennis, raquetball, and night driving because I have no depth perception. I can't see a 3-D movie. Now, I have compensated and can still play those sports and drive at night, but it isn't what it could have been. I am aware of my limitations. I don't think less of myself and I don't think that God loves me less. But, I sure wish I had that eye. One day, I will.
Could the church be that way? Could we have lost some of the gifts that God wanted us to have to be strong? Except, He didn't take them away, we just quit using them and they atrophied. Or, we ran off the people who tried to use their gifts in certain ways because it didn't make sense to those who were not gifted that way. This goes way beyond tongues, miracles, and healings. It goes to the very heart of church life in the West. If all of the people with certain gift are run off, or if they are told that their gifts cannot function or don't exist, then what are you left with? It kind of becomes like a half put togehter Mr. Potato Head doll. You have an eye here, an ear there, a mouth and an arm. But, it doesn't quite work correctly.
So, where could we have overcompensated? One area is in an overemphasis on the pastoral and preaching offices/gifts in church life. In some churches, everything seems to revolve around the pastor. I fully believe in Biblical church leadership, but I don't see the pastor being the only one in the church who is supposed to function the way we often see. Yet, he sometimes overfunctions and the result is a weak church. "Each one" is to contribute and bring something, remember?
Not all gifts are for the purpose of building up the church, at least directly. 1 Cor. 14:12 says, "Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church." Paul is clearly saying here, I believe, that there are gifts that do not build up the church, otherwise he would not have shown the contrast here. Some build up the user, while others build up the church. The gifts that build up the church are greater (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1-5), but it does not mean that the lesser gifts are not important as well. Some have said that gifts like speaking in tongues are invalid because they do not build up the church, but instead, they seem to build up/strengthen the user of the gift (1 Cor. 14:4). Is it wrong to build yourself up in your faith and become strong in the Lord? The Bible doesn't seem to think so (Jude 20; Colossians 2:6-7; Ephesians 6:10). Don't things like prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and ministry make us strong in the Lord? Then, should it not also stand to reason that exercising our spiritual gifts makes us strong as well? If I am strong, then the whole Body is strong. When I work out my biceps, it makes them strong, but it also strengthens and equips my whole body. So, personal strength is not mutually exclusive of corporate strength, but rather, it aids it.
Is the SBC headed for atrophy? What about our local churches? Will we run off people who exercise gifts of the Spirit that God tells us not to forbid (1 Cor. 14:39)? Will we put more stock in our traditions and church histories than the clear reading of the text of Scripture? Will we continue to hobble along, overemphasing some parts of the body because we have cut off other parts that were given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7)? Just because we don't understand how all of this works does not mean that we should insult the grace of our Heavenly Father who graciously gives us all things. Some say that He gave gifts to the church when she was born, only to remove those gifts within a few decades. I think that Scripture says that without all of the gifts the church would be deformed, crippled, and weakened. I believe that it also says that God, the great gift giver, does not change and is not arbitrary:
16Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. - James 1:16-18.
We will be taking a HUGE step toward answering some of these questions this week with the report from the IMB Ad Hoc Committees regarding their review of the new private prayer language and baptism policies (Wade Burleson writes about this upcoming meeting HERE). I pray that these unbiblical policies will be overturned. I pray for a day when we will embrace what God has given us without prejudice. I have written and prayed for the past year and a half to see these policies overturned because I believe that they hamper the Body of Christ and keep her from being all that God intended for her to be. I am a pastor of the church of Jesus Christ, not just my local church, and my desire is to see all of God's people strong and fit for works of service. I pray that we will walk on two legs, with two strong arms, and with a strong heart beating within us empowered by the Holy Spirit and fulfilling God's purpose for us in this generation. This current struggle within the IMB and SBC is soon to be over for all intents and purposes. But, the struggle for the advancement of the Kingdom, the making of disciples, and the strengthening of the church will not end until Jesus returns. May we take the lessons that we have learned here and use them as fuel and sustenance for greater battles with the Real Enemy of our Souls as time unfolds. And, no matter what happens, may God be glorified.
Grace and Peace