Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Spiritual Gifts

Finding Your Place in the Body

A Part of the Body

Christians acknowledge quickly enough that they are part of the body of Christ; the question many of us face is, ‘What part of the body am I?’

When Paul writes to the Ephesians he says that ‘grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift’ (Eph 4.7). He then goes on to explain how Christ’s incarnation, perfect life, death, resurrection, and ascension have given him the right to sovereignly distribute gifts as he sees fit. He can give what he wants to whom he wants. He purchased that right.

Some of the examples that Paul gives are the more obvious gifts: ‘apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers’ (Eph 4.11). Those are gifts that stand out, right?

But what if I’m not an apostle or prophet or evangelist or shepherd-teacher? How do I know what part of the body I am? I know that I’m supposed to serve the body, but where?

The sad truth is that sometimes we get stuck in seasons where we are not using our gifts or serving our church, not because we don’t want to, but because we just don’t know how to. We don’t know where we belong.

Two Balancing Questions to Find Your Place

Question 1: What gifts does this body part have?

Sometimes people end up getting placed in ministry programs and roles that need to be filled simply because ‘this is what the church does.’ This can lead to bad places. People who aren’t fit, gifted, or qualified to serve in specific roles are placed there to simply ‘fill a gap.’ In the end it doesn’t build up the body, it wears out the person serving, and the ministry is in a worse spot than when the person started.
Continue reading

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Trinity

It’s a funny twist of providence that I paused my series for a day in between the Son and the Holy Spirit. It was not intentional, but it does illustrate something of the way I’ve tended to (erroneously) view the Spirit in my life. While always loving the doctrine of the Trinity, my practice has sadly been to actually neglect the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

I’m not entirely sure why that’s been. Sometimes the excesses of others (the Benny Hinns of the world) scare me away from pursuing the Holy Spirit. And other times a bad application of a good doctrine (like the perpiscuity of the Scriptures) can lead me to think that I don’t really need the Holy Spirit since the Holy Scriptures are clear enough. Either way, I was dead wrong.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I attended the WorshipGod ’06 conference hosted by Bob Kauflin and co. at Sovereign Grace Ministries that I really had to deal with Christian brothers and sisters who love the Scriptures, love the doctrines of grace, but who are eager and intent on experiencing the Spirit in their lives in all of the ways he was active in the New Testament. (See some of the reflections I had after that conference here.)

I could post lots of things about what I’ve learned about the Holy Spirit over the past few years, and how I’ve observed his role in new and dynamic ways both in the Scriptures and in the life of the church and in my own personal life. Instead what I’m going to do is just try pose two questions I’ve learned to ask myself in order to experience the Spirit more the past few years and then reflect on how that changes my approach to Sundays in particular and fellowship in general.

1. Am I Seeking to Actually Hear?

One of the positive traits I’ve picked up from my time hanging out with my friends from Sovereign Grace churches is that they have a unique expectancy that the Spirit can and will speak to them at any moment. As you arrive at church on Sunday, as you fellowship with your friends through the week, as you spend time in prayer and confession, what is your default posture? Is it one of expectancy?

Mine wasn’t for a long time. Too many times I thought of conversations with other believers as just that: conversations with people. I never paused to consider or to ask, ‘Could the Spirit be speaking through this person and using this conversation to help bring truth to bear on my life?’ Considering the Spirit as the source of genuine fellowship between believers (again, whether at church or not) helps me to expect great things of conversations. It also helps me to listen better to sermons, and helps me to engage in corporate prayer. Where is God leading? What’s he saying to my heart?

Do I expect that the Spirit will use this or not? If I’m not listening it’s no wonder I don’t hear anything. If I live like he’s not there it’s no wonder I don’t experience the wonder of his presence.

2. Am I Seeking to Hear Where He is Seeking to Be Heard?

You don’t have to be a Christian long before you run into someone who recounts how God, through some twist of providence, ‘told them’ to do something irrational (and sometimes even unbiblical!). That’s a danger that we can run into when we’re expecting to hear from God. We can think we are hearing from him when we’re really, truly not.

So how can we know the difference? God has revealed himself. Part of that revelation tells us where and how he will continue to reveal himself to his people. He has spoken ultimately in Jesus and revealed Jesus to us in the Bible, and the Spirit will continue to bring that truth to life as we read it and meditate on it (the Spirit is the reason the word is living and active). The Spirit will continue to unveil the Father in the face of Jesus in the written word.

He speaks through his people, when they speak truth to each other. The Spirit indwells and leads people so that as they experience truth in the Bible and then speak of it with brothers & sisters, the Spirit makes that experience communal.

He speaks through the means of music and worship. As we rejoice in biblically faithful songs, God’s Spirit takes that truth and affects us in new and fresh ways.

And the Spirit speaks through preaching. He always has. It’s foolishness. As a preacher I can tell you that honestly, just like the apostle Paul could. But God uses it. And when the gospel is preached and people receive it as it really is (the word of God!) it take root and brings fruit (1 Thess 2.13).

So it’s Sunday…

As I prepare myself for Sundays now I try to pray and ask God make me receptive to the prompting of his Spirit–both to listen and to speak. I want to fellowship in the truth of the revealed word with God’s people, fully expecting that his Spirit will indwell his temple and that the God who speaks will make his presence known. I pray that my default disposition everyday–and especially Sunday–would be one of actually listening, with expectation of hearing from the Holy Spirit, who is himself God.

————

** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

When Gifts, Then Quarrels

Kids love Christmas… and kids love Christmas presents. Just about the only thing that’s better than getting a great Christmas gift is getting a Christmas gift that’s better than any of the gifts your siblings or friends got. Nothing ruins a good gift quicker than realizing that someone else got a better gift.

Kids and earthly-minded churches aren’t all that different.

Apparently, the churches to which James wrote (Jas 4.1-3) weren’t the only ones who struggled with the presence of gifts (or lack thereof) and quarrels. It struck me the other day that the apostle Paul was keenly aware of the danger here.

The potential for gifts given by the Father to his spiritual children to become an issue over which to quarrel is quite strong. And yet, just as no human father would desire for his good gifts to be used as weapons of war between his children, so also the heavenly Father desires for gifts to be a blessing to all, not a source of division. Paul warns against this reality time and again. For example, take Romans 12.

Before the apostle lists some of the spiritual gifts given to the church in Romans 12.6-8, he begins by emphasizing humility:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Rom 12.3)

His next step is to argue that the church is one body in Christ, built by one Spirit. Even though the members of the body have different functions, they are still one (Rom 12.4-5). Once he has listed the gifts, he returns his focus immediately to maintaining peace in the church (Rom 12.9-21).

Why book-end a listing of gifts with admonitions to humility, love, honour, empathy, and grace? Because the opposite of all those virtues is fleshly reaction to seeing others blessed in ways we ourselves would like to be blessed. Without love, humility, etc., we would quickly become like a jealous boy or girl on Christmas morning, complaining that our gifts are not as good as another’s.

So what should we do? We seek the best gifts, but acknowledge that whatever comes is a gracious, undeserved gift from our sovereign Father who desires our good. Then, when our brothers and sisters are blessed beyond us, we rejoice with them as they rejoice! We celebrate that the body has been blessed and will be blessed through the gifting of that individual for ministry to the church-at-large. That is what our heavenly Father desires.

Tertullian and Contemporary Biblical Ethics

Tertullian lived ca.150-ca.225 AD. He was born in Carthage, which is in North Africa (so he was probably a little darker than the picture would suggest). He was a man brilliantly gifted by God for writing. He wrote extensively on things like apologetics and ethics and often wrote polemically against the heretics of his day (eg. Marcion and Praxeas). He ably defended both Scriptures and the Trinity. In his writings–which are easily dated from the end of the second and early third centuries–Tertullian quotes from the New Testament, plainly citing it as being on par with Old Testament Scriptures, thus indicating an already accepted Canon, long before Nicaea.

All that said, Tertullian was not perfect (as no saint has ever been). Tertullian was associated with a movement in his day known as Montanism. Based on the teachings of a ‘Prophet’ named Montanus, this group believed that the age in which they lived was the dispensation of the Holy Spirit (the Old Testament was the dispensation of the Father, the Gospels were the dispensation of the Son). Since this was the age of the Holy Spirit, they relied heavily on prophecies and other miraculous revelatory gifts for their doctrine and ecclesiastical practice.

Citing John 16.12-13, Tertullian and the Montanists claimed that the ethics Jesus declared were not finally absolute, nor fully developed, but that they were all that the disciples were able to handle at that point in redemptive history. The Holy Spirit, who was to come, would then have the ministry of revealing a heightened ethic to Jesus’ followers in the days and years to come.

It is absolutely essential to notice, however, to what end Tertullian and friends used this position. They argued for the insufficiency of Scriptural ethics in several areas: namely, marriage / remarriage, and flight from persecution. Whereas Jesus had made allowances for both of these, the Holy Spirit was now teaching them to advance beyond what Scripture had revealed to a higher ethic.

Why in the world would they choose these areas? Because that’s what their culture demanded. Asceticism was the philosophical milk Tertullian had been raised on, and persecution had become the norm for Christians of their day. For Christianity to be consistent, relevant, and morally / ethically contemporary with the philosophical ideals of the day it needed to be advanced from what Scripture had revealed.

The irony, of course, is that looking back from about 1800 years later it seems absurd to us (in a completely removed culture) to suppose the Holy Spirit would counsel against marriage (or even remarriage after one’s spouse dies) or that he would specifically command that Christians not flee, but rather, seek persecution.

Since we don’t breathe that air, it smells real funny to us.

But here’s the thing: People today insist on making the same mistake as Tertullian and the Montanists. No, not with the marriage / remarriage thing or the persecution thing (in fact, we’re tempted to loosen the biblical commands here rather than tighten them), but rather, with the ordination of women to the position of elder, or to accept some forms of homosexuality as legitimate lifestyle alternatives.

People argue now, like Tertullian argued then, that the Bible’s ethics are unfinished; they merely establish a trajectory that we must follow, and by the guidance of the Spirit (and by finding the ‘spirit of the text’) we can ultimately determine a better ethic than the one laid out in Scripture.

But it’s all hoogly! I would be willing to bet–if any of us could be around–that 1800 years from now people will look back on our times and wonder why in the world we would think the Scriptures were insufficient in these areas.

Just like we look back on Tertullian and see him reading Scriptures and conforming Christianity to his culture, so we must see that we ourselves are always being tempted to do the same. The simple fact is that we live in a profoundly feminist, pro-gay culture. The pressure we face is always to accept these things. We have been raised and educated, indoctrinated from our youth to accept these things. The ‘highest’ of ethics in our culture is an accepting one that does not place boundaries on other people, especially when it comes to gender or ‘sexual preference.’

Those are our ‘hot-button issues’, just like Tertullian’s were asceticism and persecution. We must not be like him. We must stand firm and stick to the Scriptures. It is them alone which are able to make us wise for salvation, and them alone which equip us for every good work.

The real questions we must ask are not about whether women should be ordained as elders or homosexuality should be accepted; we already have the answers to those questions!

The real question that needs to be asked is this: Am I willing to stand on the authority of the word of God alone? Do I have enough faith in God to base my ethics on it, even when it makes me appear ‘morally backward’ in a culture of acceptance? Is God’s word enough?

————————————-

For a fuller treatment of ‘Trajectory ethics’, see here.
For another post on the influence of asceticism on Christianity, see here.

The Chicken or the Egg?

After my last post (with regard to the miraculous gifts) evanmay made the comment, ‘We should be open to and seek the miraculous, but we should not neglect to thank the Spirit for the ways he gifts his church that seem ordinary.’ The first part of the sentence is what caught my attention, because it touches on another issue that’s been floating around in my mind: the giving and receiving of the gifts.

Please bear with me if my questions here seem simplistic and practical, but I simply haven’t moved in charismatic circles enough to know anything about this. We know that we are to eagerly desire the gifts… but what does that mean, really? If the giving of the gifts is truly the work of a sovereign God (which no one here would deny), then how does one ‘desire’ them in an ‘effective’ way (or is there an effective way)?

I have prayed to God many times, asking him for more of the Spirit. I have acknowledged to God that my position on this issue is underdeveloped–I am totally open to the possibility of the sign gifts continuing on even now, but I remain unconvinced. I know I want to prophesy… I know that if it means I experience more of the Spirit, then I want to speak in tongues, too. Is that fulfilling the command to ‘desire’ the gifts, or is there something more?

Here’s the big question I’m getting at: Do I need to be entirely convinced of the reality of the ongoing nature of the gifts in order to receive them? Why would God wait till someone is totally convinced before giving them the experience of prophecy? Why wouldn’t he give me a prophecy first so that I would know for certain that is the Lord speaking? I know that I would be convinced by a genuine experience of such a miracle…

If I am open to the Lord’s working in my life in this way, and desirous of experiencing him in every appropriate way, is that enough? Or do I need to be fully convinced that tongues continue before I speak in tongues? I don’t know of a biblical text to which I can directly refer, since obviously everyone at that point believed in the presence of the miraculous gifts at that point.

Is it wrong to desire something I’m not convinced is biblical? Is it wrong to seek an experience in order to validate theology?

Anyone got any practical suggestions?

Random Thoughts on the Sign Gifts

Attending WorshipGod06 (run by Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Ministries) with Tim has given me lots to think about. Ever since Tim and I got back I’ve been mulling over the issues with regards to the ‘sign’ or ‘miraculous’ gifts. Here are some random thoughts I’ve been chewing on…

1. 1 Corinthians 13.8-13. This is not profound, but merely an acknowledgement of what the majority of evangelicalism has already said: these verses are not referring to the closing of the canon. Without this text, the intratextual evidence for any strong cessationist position is incredibly weak. To my knowledge this is the only text cessationists use to argue their position that Paul knew of the gifts coming to an end. Further, even if we could allow that this text is speaking of these gifts (tongues, prophecies, and knowledge), then why do we include things like the gift of healing in the list of gifts which have ceased?

2. Where do we draw the line? It seems to me that the categories of ‘miraculous’ or ‘sign’ gifts are somewhat artificially imposed on the New Testament text (like imposing the ‘moral / civil / ceremonial’ categories on the OT Law). Nowhere does it seem evident that such a distinction is made. Quite the contrary, in places like Romans 12.4-8 Paul lumps prophecy in with faith, service, teaching, exhortation, contributing, leading, acts of mercy, etc. What justification is there for picking and choosing which cease and which continue?

3. We need to know. The going line in our circles is that these are matters of secondary or tertiary importance to the gospel, and so we are united in our differences and able to fellowship with each other since we agree on the central issues. I agree with this. But I can’t help but wonder how consistent it is. If there are people prophesying by the Spirit and we are saying that they’re not, aren’t we closing our ears to God’s words to us? Aren’t we guilty of denying a genuine work of God? Or if the opposite is the case and they’re not really prophesying, but are saying they are, are they not false prophets? If they are putting false words in God’s mouth is that something we can afford to call ‘secondary’? I don’t see how. I’ve been reading through Jeremiah lately and finding that God has some very harsh declarations against those who prophesy falsely in his name…

4. ‘But they’re not the New Testament gifts…’. This was one of Tim’s (and mine as well) biggest complaints against the practising of the gifts that we saw at WorshipGod06. Simply put, what we saw did not line up with what we read in the New Testament. Now, as one who believes strongly in Sola Scriptura, I want to phrase very carefully what I say next, because I realize that variations of this thinking can be used to all kinds of nefarious ends. But as I think about the practising of the gifts described in Acts and then think about the gifts that I see today at Bible-centred places like Covenant Life Church, I have to ask, ‘so what if they’re different?’ Again, I don’t want to dismiss any biblical command or restrictions which are ongoing, but don’t we often argue that the book of Acts is more ‘descriptive’ rather than ‘prescriptive’? And if we’re honest with ourselves, how much of what takes place on a Sunday morning in our church buildings actually resembles what the first believers did as they met ‘day by day’ anyway? So why is it such a big deal with the gifts? It seems that the more important (if one can speak in such terms) place to look for guidance on the practice of the gifts would be the epistles written to post-Acts churches. These epistles contain many instructions on how to practice the gifts in an ongoing sense and nowhere seem to indicate that they will cease. Places like Covenant Life Church, leaders like Bob Kauflin, and organizations like Sovereign Grace Ministries do seem to follow those instructions quite well. Everything is done decently and in order (more ordered, in fact, than many cessationist churches I’ve been in where no one even has an order of service written up).

Again, these are all just random thoughts not leading to any conclusions. They’re just things I’m contemplating in the spare moments my brain manages to come across.

Any thoughts are more than welcome!

© 2019 Julian Freeman

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑