Exhausting our Most Willing Members

The Lord has been doing a good work in my heart and mind in reference to the work of the Spirit in the life of the church and its’ individual members. We’ve been working through 1 Corinthians for the last two and a half years on Sunday mornings and have just come to chapters 12-14 in which we have been discussing the spiritual gifts. Growing up a Cessationists has its advantages. You can conclude from 1 Corinthians 13:10 that the completed Word of God has resulted in the cessation of all the supernatural spiritual gifts, and then you can move on to other discussions. But what if you conclude that “when the perfect comes” is referring to the return of Christ and not the completed canon? That interpretation opens up a door to a whole host of other exegetical hurdles. All of a sudden you have to consider the possibility that maybe the gift of tongues, prophecy, and healings are still for today, yet you would do anything to avoid the craziness inherent in your perception of the charismatic movement.

At this point, I’m thankful for men like D.A. Carson and Robert Saucy who offer a biblically sound method of understanding the “perfect” to refer to the parousia while at the same time not concluding that the supernatural gifts are normative for the church today.

Within this study, I’ve come to realize that both sides of the discussion seem to rely on the same early church fathers for evidence and on their own experience for their interpretation. Of course, both seem to deny this reality, but yet it still stands true. Charismatics seem to interpret passages based on the experiences they’ve personally had and non-charismatics interpret passages in light of their lack of experience. As well, each group is running away from the other’s extreme interpretation and in so doing refuse to consider what appears to be the most natural biblical interpretation.

This discussion and argument over spiritual gifts has left in its wake to many Christians who have no expectation of the Holy Spirit working in a powerful way in their churches, their communities, and their own lives. As to the other extreme, it has directed a host of other Christians to be guided by their spiritual experiences rather than the clear teachings of God’s Word.

Now to Greg’s quote. As I’ve been studying spiritual gifts, I as well finished up reading through Christian Formation. Edited by James Estep and Jonathan Kim, the book offers “a composite view of human development and learning from integrated theory, theology, and educational practices in the church.” Within this study, Gregory Carlson writes, “observing the tired lives of committed servants makes one wonder if we are really accomplishing the gains of spiritual growth or just exhausting our most willing members. Where is the overflowing power of God, filling and empowering the ministry of the servant-leaders in our congregations?” Great question! 

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