Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: spiritual gifts

HOW THE CHURCH IS SUPPOSED TO WORK

 

We have already seen in our studies in Ephesians that all genuine believers are a part of the universal church, which is described as “the body of Christ.”  We have also seen that we are to be “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3; NKJV).  But how is this possible?  Given the highly fragmented church scene today, how could we ever achieve church unity?

Part of our problem is that the church today does not function the way it was intended to.  Today when we see the word “church” in our Bibles we think that we know what it means.  We automatically think of an organization that meets in a building and has a paid pastor brought in from the outside to run the various programs and activities of the church.  Most of the church members simply show up on a Sunday morning and sit passively in their pews while the church runs through the program outlined in the bulletin.  There is music, there is an offering to defray expenses, and there is a comforting message delivered by the pastor.

That, however, is not how a church is supposed to function.  What we have inherited from the past is an institutional model of church life that slowly evolved over the centuries.  But it is very far from what is described in the New Testament.

In Eph. 4:7-16 the apostle Paul gives us an overall picture of how the church is supposed to operate.  The first thing that is to be noted is that the ministry involves the exercise of spiritual gifts.  “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7).  “Grace,” in this context, is the special ability to perform a spiritual ministry, and it is something that is given by Christ Himself through the Holy Spirit.  It is not a diploma received from an academic institution.  There are people who have never darkened the doors of a college or seminary who have the spiritual gift of teaching.  Sadly, there are many who have seminary degrees who do not.  Our text says that individuals have these gifts “according to the measure of Christ’s gift,” i.e., it is up to Christ to decide which Christian has which gift.  Our job is to discern who has which gift, not to create a gift which has not been given.

Secondly, it should be noted that every member of the church has a spiritual gift of some sort.  “But to each one of us grace was given.”  Thus ministry is not the exclusive prerogative of the paid professional.  Rather, all the members of the church should be actively involved in ministering to each other.

Some of the gifts, of course, do involve a formal teaching ministry, and Paul lists these in verse 11: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers . . .”  In this context the term “apostles” evidently refers to the twelve original apostles who functioned as the personal representatives of Christ and were the human founders of the church.  There is much debate today, of course, about whether or not the gift of prophecy still exists, but there is no clear indication in the New Testament that it was meant to cease, and there have been incidents of prophecy down through history that appear authentic.  “Evangelists” would probably be what we would call today missionaries – traveling preachers who would parent churches.  There would have no distinction in Paul’s day between foreign and domestic missions.  Anyone who was sent to preach the gospel to the lost was an evangelist.  And then, of course, there were pastors and teachers, who would typically occupy the office of elder in a local assembly.

But what is the aim of the teaching ministry?  Paul tells us that it is “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (v. 12).  In other words, the aim here is not to concentrate ministry in the hands of a single person or a small professional staff, but rather to make it possible for everyone in the church to use their individual spiritual gifts to minister to each other.

But what does this accomplish?  The passage makes it clear that the ultimate aim of the ministry is spiritual unity: “that we all come to the unity of the faith” (v. 13).  And how is this accomplished?  By coming to “the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  And this, in turn, means that “we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the treachery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (v .14).  In other words, doctrine, truly sound doctrine, should unite rather than divide.  And it does this by drawing us each closer to Christ, and as we each draw closer to Christ we draw closer to each other, like an ever constricting circle.  Thus, “speaking the truth in love” we are to “grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ” (v. 15).  The unity of the universal church depends on a common relationship with Christ Himself.  Or, to put it another way, the Holy Spirit does not lead different parts of the body in different directions at the same time.  If we are all truly following Christ then we should all be headed in the same direction.

The end result should be that “the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (v. 16).  Here it will be noted that “the whole body,” not just a privileged few, has an important role to play in building itself up in love.  (To “edify” literally means “to build up”).

Today most churches are filled with nominal Christians who are content simply to show up on Sunday mornings and sit there passively in the pews and be spoon-fed by the pastor.  This is not what church is supposed to look like, however.  It is supposed to be an active, living fellowship of brothers and sisters in the Lord who care for each other and minister to each other’s needs.  It is in this practical, concrete way that the love of Christ is made manifest to the world.

GOD’S PLAN OF SALVATION – III

The Sealing of the Spirit

So far we have seen the roles that the Father and the Son play in our salvation. But it does not end there; the Holy Spirit has an important role to play as well, a role that is often overlooked by the modern church.

So far our text (Eph. 1:3-14) has told us that we have been predestined to adoption (v. 5), have received redemption (v. 7) and an inheritance (v. 11). But those things are either invisible or in the future; how can we know today that any of it is true?

The answer is that God has given us the Holy Spirit now. “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13; NKJV). A seal was used to authenticate a letter or document, as well as to secure a door or container. In our context, when the Holy Spirit comes into a believer’s heart it has the effect of authenticating his salvation. The Spirit is something that we can possess now that guarantees what we will later possess in glory. This is further underscored in the next verse where the Holy Spirit is described as “the guarantee of our inheritance.” The word translated “guarantee” is an interesting one. It is actually an ancient Semitic word (not Greek) used in commercial transactions and it referred to a kind of security deposit or down payment that guaranteed full payment later on. Thus the Holy Spirit is a kind of pledge or down payment on future glory.

The text says that the Holy Spirit is a guarantee “until the redemption of the purchased possession” (v. 14). This phrase is difficult and has occasioned much debate among the commentators, but I think that the interpretation that best fits the context is that the “purchased possession” is the future glory that awaits us (cf. I Thess. 5:9) and the “redemption” is when we actually receive it (cf. Eph. 4:30).

Significantly the Holy Spirit is referred to in our text as “the Holy Spirit of promise” (v. 13). As Jesus met with His disciples at the Last Supper He promised them that they would not be left alone, even though He would soon be departing from them. “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16; cf., 16:5-15). And thus when the Holy Spirit came upon the gathered believers at Pentecost it was the fulfillment of the promise that Jesus had made to His disciples. It was also the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy about the end times:

“And it shall come to pass afterward

That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh . . .”

(Joel 2:28,29).

But what exactly is the sealing of the Spirit? And how do we know if we have received it? First of all, the text indicates that it is something that happens to every genuinely born again believer: “. . . after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom also, having believed, you were seated with the Holy Spirit of promise” (v. 13). In other words, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of believer that seals him. And every genuine believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of him. “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:8).

But what does the Holy Spirit do in the life of a believer? First of all, He leads us and guides us into truth. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26; cf. John 16:12-15). This is not to say that we are to be guided by your personal, subjective feelings and do things that are contrary to Scripture. Rather, the Holy Spirit helps us understand and appreciate the spiritual realities described in Scripture. But more about that in our next blog post.

Then the Holy Spirit helps us in prayer. “Likewise the Spirit also helps our weakness. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).

And then, of course, the Holy Spirit produces His “fruit” in us. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22,23). The new birth, the indwelling of the Spirit, results in a changed life. We now have a desire to live a life that is pleasing to God.

And then there is the presence of spiritual gifts. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (I Cor. 12:7). The passage then goes on to enumerate a variety of spiritual gifts, including wisdom, knowledge, faith, healings, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (v. 11).

And then there is the element of assurance. In Rom. 8:16 we read, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Here the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside of us, is communicating directly with our spirits and assuring us that we truly are God’s. Surely this is “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! / O what a foretaste of glory divine!”

It must be kept in mind, however, that the Holy Spirit is a person and we are individually persons. Therefore the relationship between the Spirit and ourselves is dynamic and variable. It is possible to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). It is also possible to “grieve the Holy Spirit” as well (4:30).

What the modern church most desperately needs today is a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. It needs to return to a theology that recognizes our dependence upon God, and it needs to fall on its knees and ask for the Spirit to return in power and glory. It needs to ask the Spirit to purify the church and empower its ministries. Only then will we see genuine revival.

BIBLICAL CHURCH LIFE

Most of us think we know what church is like. A group of people get together in a building and sit in pews while they work their way through the program contained in the bulletin. Song are sung, a plate is passed, and the sermon is preached. And when it is all done, they all go home to Sunday dinner. It would come as a surprise, therefore, to discover that such an arrangement would have been virtually unrecognizable to Christians in the First Century. Then there were no church buildings, there were no choirs and organs, and there was no professional clergy. Our modern practice would have struck them as cold and sterile.

In I Corinthians the apostle Paul gives us a fascinating glimpse into the life of the First Century church. It is about as similar to the modern church as butterflies are to orangutans.

The charismatic gifts obviously played a prominent role, and Paul mentions the “word of wisdom,” “the word of knowledge,” faith, gifts of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, “discerning spirits,” tongues, and the interpretation of tongues (vv. 8-10). Yet Paul’s main concern throughout the chapter is not about the spiritual gifts per se; it is about the underlying spiritual unity of the church. He takes it for granted that the gifts existed and were being used at Corinth. His concern was to make sure that they were being used properly.

He tells us that “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all” (vv. 4-6; NKJV). The Corinthians, it would seem, were a contentious lot. While Paul could say that “you come short in no gift” (1:7), he also had to castigate them for their divisions and party spirit. “. . . for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (3:3).

In Chapter 12 Paul challenges this way of thinking by essentially asking them where these gifts came from, and he tells them that these gifts are “the manifestation of the Spirit” that is “given to each one for the profit of all” (12:7). They came from God himself for a specific purpose, viz., the edification of the entire body. They should not be the occasion of boasting and pride.

Paradoxically, the diversity of gifts actually reveals an underlying unity. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit’ (v. 13). Even though the gifts are quite diverse from each other, they come from the same source – the Holy Spirit. What is even more significant is that believers share a mystical unity with this Spirit – He dwells within each of their hearts as a result of the new birth.   Thus Christians have a deeper tie with each other than exists in any secular, worldly society.

Moreover this deeply spiritual unity obviates any of the social or economic divisions that ordinarily exist in human society. “. . .whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free . . . [they] have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” We make look at ourselves and each other outwardly, and seem quite different from each other, and we have a natural tendency to look down on those whom we perceive occupy a lower station in life from ourselves. But within the community of believers those distinctions are superficial and essentially meaningless. What really matters is what goes on inside, the work of God within the human soul. At the bottom of it Christians are all brothers and sisters of each other – the outward social distinctions simply don’t matter anymore.

Paul explains by comparing the church to a human body. The body is made up of many different parts, but it is still one body, and it functions as a whole. Just because the foot is not the hand does not mean that it is any less a part of the body. And if the whole body were an eye, how would it hear? In the final analysis, all the parts are necessary for the proper functioning of the body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” Moreover, our less attractive parts we adorn with nice clothing so that in the end, everything looks nice.

Paul then makes his point:” . . that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another” (v. 25). The exercise of spiritual gifts, rather than be the occasion of personal rivalries, rather should be the opportunity for us to serve each in Christian love.

The point of it all is this: if we are genuine Christians we have been “born again” and the Holy Spirit resides within each of our hearts. And it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that gives us an intimate personal connection with Christ and with each other. Thus a church should be much more than just a social club, a group of people joined together by common social, cultural or political interests. It should be a kind of mystical fellowship with each other and with Christ.

That fellowship, that loving concern that we should have for each other should be demonstrated in the personal interaction that we have with each other. And that almost necessitates meeting together in small groups. This is undoubtedly why the early Christians met together in private homes where each member was actively involved in the group.

This does not mean, however, that any old group of people gathered together in a private home is automatically a church. It is the presence of Christ though his Holy Spirit that makes the church the church. Thus when we gather together as Christian believers we should consciously seek his felt presence in our meeting, and he should always be the center of our attention.

Today we are encouraged to see more and more believers gathered together in house churches, as well as some of the more traditional churches turning to home Bible studies and discipleship groups to supplement their regular Sunday morning services. For it is only in a small group setting that we can minister to each other on a personal level, with each of us as a vital member of the larger body. May we find God’s blessing as we seek to worship Him and minister to each other!

AN INDICTMENT OF THE TRADITIONAL CHURCH

Review:

    The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary

    Alexander Rattray Hay

    New Testament Missionary Union, 1947 (1st Ed.)

    531 pp; pb.

    That the modern church is in spiritual trouble is hard to deny. Aging congregations, dwindling attendance and shrinking budgets are just some of the problems plaguing the more traditional churches. When we look deeper we see problems even more alarming. Many church services are marked by lethargic singing and dull, lifeless sermons. Attendance at Sunday evening and midweek services is pitifully low. And just about the only churches experiencing numerical growth are doing so at the expense of other churches. We see few genuine new conversions. What has gone wrong?

  

Alexander Rattray Hay

Alexander Rattray Hay

  From an obscure early 20th Century author comes a startling answer. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way the modern church is organized, argues Alexander Rattray Hay, who was for many years a missionary to South America. According to him, we have concentrated the work of ministry in the hands of paid professionals, and thereby have stifled most of the spiritual gifts in the church. The New Testament, however, knows nothing of a clergy / laity distinction. Ministry was supposed to be everyone’s responsibility.

    It is hard to argue with Hay’s central thesis. Success in the ministry depends upon the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit’s activity is manifested through spiritual gifts distributed throughout the entire body. Moreover, the leaders of the local church should be chosen from within the congregation based on the demonstrated spiritual maturity and gifts. But when we bring in from the outside an academically trained paid professional, the rest of the congregation naturally defers to him. This stifles the spiritual gifts in the rest of the body. What is even worse, sometime the professional clergyman himself is ill-equipped to exercise spiritual leadership in the church. The church will rarely advance beyond the level of the spiritual maturity of its pastor. What we have done, in effect, is to replace the work of the Holy Spirit with human organization, and we are suffering the consequences.

    Hay argues repeatedly that the church, and the individual Christians who make it up, should be actively seeking the will of God in all things. This, he says, is done through prayer. The church should keep praying about a matter until the Holy Spirit reveals the mind of God concerning it. This will be known when the congregation reaches a near unanimous consensus in the matter, for the Spirit will not lead different individuals in different directions at the same time.

    Hay also makes some trenchant criticisms of seminaries and Bible schools. He notes that it is not enough to have a merely theoretical knowledge of the truth. It must be experienced as a living reality as well. Those who teach must do so by example, and the student has not really mastered the lesson until he can put it into practice himself. Jesus did not train His disciples in an academic institution; neither should we.

    Hay’s book is not entirely without its flaws. Hay was essentially a restorationist, making a passionate appeal to return to the New Testament pattern of church life. But sometimes it is difficult to know what parts of the New Testament are prescriptive and which parts are merely descriptive. How far are we actually required to go to conform to the New Testament model? Howe much freedom do we have to adapt to individual circumstances?

    At some points Hay appears to be reading a little more into the New Testament than is actually there. For example he interprets the gift of evangelist mentioned in Eph. 4:11 to refer to those who are engaged in itinerant church planting ministries, i.e., missionaries; and then goes on to argue that under certain circumstances they have the authority to return to churches they have planted to set things straight when they have gone awry.

    And then there is the problem that has plagued restorationist movements in the past: how to promote the unity of the church when you are arguing that nearly everyone else is doing things all wrong. Hay appears to be saying that if everyone were doing things the right way they would be united. But different denominations exist precisely because they think they are doing things the right way. And the more they contend for a pure church order the less likely they are to unite with others. But on the other hand should unity be purchased at the price of indifference to biblical precept?

    In spite of these relatively minor flaws, we feel that Hay was a veritable prophet ahead of his time. As traditional churches continue to fail and the surrounding culture becomes increasingly hostile to orthodox Christian belief, the time will come, perhaps in the not too distant future, when Christians will be forced to decide where their true loyalties lie. And increasingly those who wish to remain faithful to Christ will turn to small, informal house churches, which (wonder of wonders!) will begin to function the same way the persecuted church of the First Century did. In so doing they will have to rethink what Christ really expects from a church. And Hay has already done much of the homework for us!