Whenever you bring up the controversial subject of spiritual gifts, one feels the need to rush into the cessationist and continuationist debate but before we get there, we need to stop, and press pause. It is not all the gifts of the Sprit that are up for debate, it is in particular the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit that is hotly contested. The sign gifts (Heb 2:3-4) are the gifts of prophecy, tongues and healings.
Before we ask the question as to their relevance for us today and whether or not the church has access to such gifts, we must define these particular gifts. Definitions matter.
What is prophecy?
1. Prophecy is spontaneous truth delivered by God.
This means that prophecy is not preaching. At least nor from a written text. Prophecy is to be distinguished from teaching although there is some overlap. The spontaneous nature of prophecy can be seen in 1 Corinthians 14:29-33 which reads:
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
Notice the sudden nature of revelation. As one prophet speaks, a sudden revelation is given to another prophet. The first prophet needs to sit down and allow the second prophet to speak so that the words can be weighed. This is spontaneous truth delivered by God to the prophet without a written text. The same can be seen with Agabus in Acts 11.
2. Prophecy is predictive.
Prophecy is often predictive. In Acts 11, the nature of Agabus’s prophecy is clearly predictive as he sees great danger lying ahead for the Apostle Paul. A good word to use here is the word “foretelling”. Prophecy often foretells the future.
3. Prophecy is not always predictive.
Although prophecy is often foretelling, it is not exclusively so. Prophecy is also forth-telling (or circumstantial). In 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, we see the forth-telling element. We read that when one prophecies, he/she may say something that reveals “the secrets of the heart”. This indicates that divine truth was revealed from God about someone who was present in the assembly. This was not a foretelling but a forth-telling.
These are basic and succinct definitions that will help us going forward. Our next article will address the question of whether New Testament prophecy contains error and whether the gift of prophecy is still with us today.
One of the questions I often asked about is the question regarding spiritual gifts. People ask:
“Are you a cessationist?”
“Do you believe God still heals?”
“Do you believe in prophecy?”
Coupled with these questions, people make remarks such as the following:
“We must not limit the work of the Holy Spirit?”
These questions deserve an answer. Comments like this requires clarity.
Undoubtedly, the Holy Spirit and his work have received considerable attention with the rise of the charismatic movement, and this is no bad thing. As we confess in the Nicene creed “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.” It is only right that God the Holy Spirit, along with the Father and the Son be glorified for he richly deserves it.
Now call me cynical, if you wish, but I believe that one of the reasons for our obsession with the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with him and everything to do with us.
Gifts for the Spotlight?
When I started to think through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I was not all that concerned with who God the Holy Spirit is and what He does. I was interested in how he had gifted me. Mind you, I had no interest in having the gift of administration (1 Cor 12:28). The gift I wanted was something more spectacular. I wanted to dream dreams and interpret them for others. I wanted to have visions of the future. I wanted something for the spotlight. Perhaps this was because it seemed as if all my friends seemed to have these sorts of gifts. They claimed that they had the gift of tongues, the gift of prophecy, and worship leading. Interestingly, all of their gifts demanded that they be in the spotlight.
In fact, I remember a time when people had to fill in a sheet to find their spiritual gifts. Again, everyone who filled this sheet in ended up having some gift for the spotlight. The number of apostles and prophets has risen considerably since those sheets were filled in.
To this day, I have never met anyone who joyfully claims to have the gift of administration.
Gifts of the Spirit?
In the next few weeks, I will seek to bring clarity to the person and work of the Holy Spirit but before I do that, at the very outset, I want to state that our desire for understanding must be fuelled by humility. This is not about your glory. It is about Gods. Everything God does is for his own glory and for the good of his people.
The very gifts of the holy Spirit are given to us not so that we might be in the spotlight or gain an audience. The purpose is to glorify God as his people are edified.
“When Christ ascended on high, he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men (Eph 4:8)”…why? To build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:12)
One of the more controversial aspects of historically reformed worship in our modern world is that of children being present in what some call “big church”.
The reason for this practice is rooted in the biblical pattern, as the psalmist says “ We will not hide them from their children (the works of the Lord), but will tell a future generation the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, his might, and the wondrous works he has performed (Ps 78:4).
This means young and old, and all in between belong in the church. For many people, this practice is the hardest to adapt to since most people are used to some form of “kids’ church” or “Sunday school” that takes place during corporate worship.
Why, then, would we insist on having kids in worship?