Saturday, July 28, 2012

Scriptural Perspective on Spiritual Gifts

After writing about “Signs in the End Times Church”, I started thinking (with the help of my wife and a couple friends) that I spent more time describing how the church “shouldn’t” view spiritual gifts rather than how it “should”. Having worshiped in different denominations, I’ve heard many different teachings on the gifts of the Spirit. I’ve seen the gifts downplayed, and I’ve seen them over-emphasized. Still, I’ve also been fortunate to hear a few balanced lessons as well. Many very intelligent and faithful Christians have put a lot of thought into the development of some very different beliefs.

Well it might be a simplistic approach, but what if we just agreed to what Scripture has to say? The “Keep it simple” principle works for business, writing, or computer programming, why not apply it to spiritual understanding as well? And since some people believe the Old Testament and the New Testament treat spiritual gifts differently, in my attempt to keep it simple I’ll start with what the New Testament has to say about the gifts of the Spirit.

First, there’s a reality to the gifts.

Years ago, I moved my family from the Washington D.C. area to Orlando, FL to work at a Christian School. As I applied for the position, I was asked to describe my beliefs. Among other things, I stated that I was unashameably evangelical and unreservedly charismatic. Now “evangelical” was a good thing at this school, but “charismatic”? Not so much. During my interview with the board, a man I later grew to both like and respect asked me the question: “Have you ever manifested any extraordinary gifts of the Spirit?” If I had understood at the time what he was asking, I probably would have unwittingly built a case against being hired, providing in great detail how I had seen God work supernaturally in me and through me. The school was a ministry of a church and that particular church did not believe the extraordinary gifts were manifested anymore: prophecy, healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc… the church believed only ordinary gifts were available in the present age. But I didn’t comprehend the intent of his question, and in my ignorance simply replied: “Are there any gifts of the Spirit that are truly ‘ordinary’?” Everyone laughed and the line of questions took a decidedly different direction.

So maybe it was intentional and maybe it was just God moving things to a quick confrontation, but during our first week at the church, they started a sermon series on spiritual gifts. As the definition of “extraordinary” unfolded, I finally understood the question. My wife and I decided to meet with the pastor. We took out our Bibles, thinking we would be able to discuss the church’s position, and he took out a sheet of paper that described the church’s doctrine, stating that if we had the uncontrollable desire to speak in tongues I should look for work elsewhere. There was no dialogue… no exploring what Scripture had to say… nothing but the realization that I had moved my family 19 hours from our nearest friends and family.

However, after praying about it, I decided that the pastor’s position didn’t change my belief that God had called me to be at the school, so we stayed at the church for two years before God gave us permission to move. During that time, I came to understand the church’s position better. It all hinged on two verses toward the end of the Bible:
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)
The church believed that if a person gave a prophetic word, it would be like adding to the prophecy of “this book”. But if they had looked at the Greek word for “book” more closely, they would have understood that the word did not refer to the entirety of Scripture (the Greek word “Graphe”). Rather, it described a “scroll” or “book” as in “a book of the Bible”, in this case being the Book of Revelation. So much built around a couple verses, even to the exclusion of what the rest of the New Testament says!

Ironically, the Book of Revelations inherently refutes the false doctrine that “extraordinary” gifts ceased to manifest:
And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire. (Revelation 11:3-6)
While there can be different interpretations about the two witnesses, it’s clear they have been given extraordinary, supernatural power… and that their power is manifested after the writing of the Book of Revelation. In other words: the two witnesses demonstrate the extraordinary gifts after the Book of Revelation is written, therefore the extraordinary gifts continue to be manifested in God’s people after the writing of Revelations. So even if there could be doubt as to what John intended in his use of Greek words when he authored Revelations, there can be no doubt that he believed the gift of prophecy would continue to be manifested in believers after Revelations was completed.

Still, even if this implicit acknowledgement could somehow be explained away, there are 3 chapters from 1 Corinthians that insist upon both the reality of spiritual gifts and the importance of understanding them. It starts off with Paul’s words: “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” (1 Corinthians 12:1)

In more modern terms, Paul is saying: “Okay guys, listen up! I have something you need to know; it’s about spiritual gifts…”

Next: "Part 2 – Don’t Be Ignorant About Spiritual Gifts"
copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Signs in the End Times Church (Part 5)

Part 5 – Closing Thoughts
Continued from Parts 1-4 http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/06/signs-in-end-times-church.html

After publishing Part 1 on my blog and while in the process of editing subsequent parts, I was having a quiet time that resulted in dreams and visions the morning of 26 June, 2012. Some of it is quite personal, but it’s something I believe I’m supposed to share:
In my prayer time, I fell asleep and dreamt of annoying, mischievous demons displayed on the pages of what looked like a children’s book, much like alphabet pictures. Then the page turned and I saw letters – bold, black, gothic, and ragged letters – covering both open pages of the book. Then I saw Satan coming out of the letters, and I awoke hearing the words: “Hell hath no fury like Satan scorned.” I started to write all this down in my journal when I stopped to ask Jesus what this means, and I had a vision, like the world had gone grey – like a black and white movie – and I saw a metal door built into stone that was like a vault or leading into a cave. Then the door rapidly froze, visibly moving from the contraction of the metal, and I felt the extreme cold, hearing the word: “frigid”. And it was if the metal door was frozen even more tightly shut because of the cold. So I asked Jesus what all this meant, and I heard a voice that I believed to be Him saying it was the door to my soul, frozen cold. So I asked again what this meant and I saw many other things that caused me to believe my close relationships, including my family, was in danger of disappearing. So I asked Jesus to melt the door to my soul, and I saw it melt and evaporate. So I asked again about the pages in my dream. Then I fell asleep again, dreaming that I was talking to a man in a locker room. He was like a coach and he was showing me pages that were like plays in a playbook. I asked him why I hadn’t seen these before, and he said that I wasn’t on the distribution list. So I asked him why not, and he simply replied that I was on the list now. Upon waking, I understood that the pages I saw of mischievous demons were the demonic activity that has been allowed to play with man up to this point, but a page is being turned where all that will seem as child’s play compared to the horror of Satan that is being released upon the world. And I also understand from Revelation 12:17: “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring —those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”

So being completely transparent, I believe I have a homework assignment: while Jesus has already melted the door, I believe He’s calling me join Him in the “unfreezing” process. Looking forward to where that leads… I hope it’s not too painful!

Next: "Scriptural Perspective on Spiritual Gifts"
copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Signs in the End Times Church (Part 4)

Part 4 – Marriage of the Administrative and Prophetic
Continued from Parts 1, 2, and 3 http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/06/signs-in-end-times-church.html

So looking back at the preceding sections, the church represented by Ephesus has a strong administrative gifting yet suffers with a love problem. Meanwhile the sister church in Thyatira tolerates misleading doctrine as a result of its desire for greater prophetic understanding. (Revelation 2)

The prophetic and administrative gifts of the Spirit… passion and wisdom… find their union under Christ with difficulty. Yet somehow, these need to be woven together in love (see http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2011/01/extraordinary-gifts.html). I’ve seen this play out as a struggle for dominance within church bodies, where some administrative authorities earnestly squash the practice of any extraordinary spiritual gift. At the other extreme, the prophetic rebels against the ordinary gifts (e.g. – leadership, wisdom and knowledge) as oppressive, but without the loving and empowering leadership of the administrative gifts, the prophetic tends to tolerate teachings and pleasure-seeking of Christian Witchcraft, prone to every deception and doctrinal error Satan wants to throw their way. And without the supernatural, on-going experience of God, the purely administrative church is in danger of losing its First Love, having its lampstand removed.

I don’t think either option is acceptable. And just as I believe that “Divorce” and “Unhappily Married” aren’t the only options in marriage, so I believe there is a “Happily Married” option for the administrative and prophetic gifts that’s worth pursuing in every church. Just as God has provided headship within a marriage relationship, I believe He has a headship model for the Church (Eph 5:21-33). Christ is undoubtedly the Head of the Church, and I believe He exercises that authority through the administrative gifts. (1 Cor 14:29-40) The Bereans were applauded for their due diligence in researching Scripture when presented with a new revelation. (Acts 17:11)

I believe that the marriage of the administrative and prophetic occurs when both camps understand how they were meant to interact within the church: the administrative gifts empower the right use of the prophetic and the prophetic submits to the headship of the administrative. There is no “either / or” competition between the ordinary and the extraordinary; rather, they complete each other. And like a marriage relationship, they dialogue in mutual submission to Christ, respecting the structure He has given them in which to mature.

For an administrative head, the tough job of leadership is making the hard decisions, carrying the responsibility to direct Christian Education in a way that promotes a growing knowledge and application of the Bible. Church leadership is called to employ Scripture for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training the church in the right way to go. (2 Timothy 3:16) Sometimes, that requires taking a hard stance against prophetic activities that distract from the gospel message, even if they seem otherwise true. (Acts 16:16-18) Misleading teachings, intimidations and pleasure-ploys of Jezebel need to be unequivocally confronted, rebuked and cast out of church. In a healthy church, the prophetic willfully and humbly submits to the administrative headship: encouraging the leadership in the headship role, offering revelation for review and acknowledgement, assisting in the discernment process, and promoting true intimacy with God.

Continued... Part 5 - Closing Thoughts
http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/07/signs-in-end-times-church-part-5.html
copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Signs in the End Times Church (Part 3)

Part 3 – Intimacy with Our First Love
Continued from Parts 1 and 2 http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/06/signs-in-end-times-church.html

Experiencing God should be the biggest ambition of the church… He has to remain our First Love! Why would anyone want to go to heaven if not to be with God and the whole family of believers? The book of Revelation warns the church in Ephesus to recall and hold onto its First Love or face serious consequences. At first glance the Ephesus church seems to be rock solid:
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:2-3)
But even though that particular community seems to be doing everything else right, without its First Love, God threatens to remove the church. (NOTE: Revelation 1 explains that lampstands represent churches). The Church was created to be Christ’s Bride and not just a vanguard of doctrinal purity. God’s message of peace is born out of His desire for a love relationship with us. His pure and infinite love demands a deeply committed and intimate love response from us.

I’ve talked with many people throughout the years about the importance of intimacy with God, and I understand that there are different interpretations for this term. Intimacy with God needs to be understood as something more steadfast than a string of spiritually euphoric experiences; it is recognized as a deepening relationship that grows through both difficult and victorious moments, much like a marriage relationship. The Fruit of the Spirit is produced through the maturation process: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) Even in the midst of great pain or trial, the mature believer bears this fruit. Sure, there might be some momentary breakdowns, but we recognize God’s working in us through the fruit He bears in us.

I’ve seen some Christian leaders point to the spiritually euphoric or profound experience as the necessary proof of God’s anointing, but if the Fruit of the Spirit doesn’t accompany the activity, I have to question if it’s truly from God. Without the spiritual maturing that comes through a committed relationship, it is more like “spiritual and emotional pleasure-seeking” than the “marriage model” He has given us. And like a marriage relationship that is only held together through physically euphoric moments, it will either wither under trial or break down under temptation.

Jesus told us that we can judge a tree by its fruit. A good tree will bear good fruit and a bad tree will bear bad fruit. (Matthew 7:16-18) I think we may have a misconception about what constitutes “good fruit” and “bad fruit”. I once thought: “I don’t know if I’ve ever led someone to the Lord… am I producing good fruit?” It really bothered me and for selfish reasons I wanted to evangelize. I was on a mission, and while Jesus used my selfish reasons for good purposes, I recognize it was my mission and not His. Then I read something that made evangelization easy:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. (1 Corinthians 3:6-8)


The pressure was off… I just needed to be faithful to plant and water, leaving the germination and growth to God. I recognized that my motivation needs to flow from both a loving obedience to God and a love for others, not as a self-edifying indicator of my salvation or holiness. So that caused me to wonder: “what exactly is ‘good fruit’?” When Paul taught in Galatians 5 (supported by Ephesians 5) on life by the Spirit, he explained the concept of the good fruit and the bad fruit in a way that fits contextually with Jesus’ description. The fruit grows in us, for us and through us a marker of Christ’s reign in our lives. When that happens, the Kingdom of Heaven is truly near!

Some people point to numbers as the fruit by which a church can be judged (e.g. – regular attendance, commitments / baptisms, etc.). But if people are following the wrong thing, I wonder if it might be an inoculation against authentic Christianity, destined for disappointment. In my experience, I’ve seen it lead people away from the One Hope we have in Jesus. So I’m reminded of Paul’s rebuke to those that proclaimed a false gospel:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:8-9)

Continued... Part 4 – Marriage of the Administrative and Prophetic
http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/07/signs-in-end-times-church-part-4.html
copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)