Continuing our journey of doing theology in our local Church, Amy and I are continuing to teach and facilitate conversations about what it might mean to say ‘We Believe in the Holy Spirit’. In the first week of our last term, we focused on where the Vineyard fits in the wider family of God – in the second week, we honed in on what it means to say that ‘We Believe in Spiritual Gifts’. Below is the script of what we said, lightly edited for reference.
Those who know the Vineyard / this church, know that we love the trinity; the biblical understanding of who God is:
- God the Father – sovereign, powerful, omniscient
- God the Son – Jesus who humbled himself, became human and died for our sins because of his love for us
- God the Holy Spirit – who, when we become Christians, lives in us. The Holy Spirit enables us to have a personal relationship with God, to do signs and wonders that encourage the church and people around us, and helps to bring the Kingdom onto earth. \
This term we felt it was good to look at, how as a church, we talk about and act on the role of the HS. As a church, we talk a lot about the HS, and the various outworking of the HS, so we thought it was good to go back to basics and look at our Biblical reasonings so that we understand the bases of what we do as a church and why. It is so important as believers, so know why we do what we do, so we aren’t just blindly believing things because that’s what the people around us believe.
We believe that the HS works today; that He is with us now, whether we can see Him or not.
We believe that when we say yes to Jesus, the HS comes into our hearts, and we step into new life – a beautiful life of Jesus being our rock, our refuge. A life where we have a wonderful new family called the church. A life where the world doesn’t dictate our worth and identity,
a life where our soul purpose in life is to love the people around us in a way that points them to Jesus. Romans 8:11 says: ‘And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.’ How exciting is that? The spirit that lives in us as Christians is the same spirit who raised Jesus from the dead! The same spirit in the Old Testament who parted the red sea and led Moses and the Israelites through the desert, who gave David the boldness to defeat Goliath, who spoke to the OT Prophets, who came as fire at Pentecost to the Disciples… this is the Spirit who lives in us.
Not only this, but we are given spiritual gifts! Gifts from the Spirit. But what are spiritual gifts and what does the Bible say about them? What are they for? The New Testament lists out around 18 spiritual gifts, in a number of different places. This is a simple grid lifted straight from Wikipedia:
In the Vineyard movement, we believe that spiritual gifts we read about in the Bible were given for today, and we are going to hone in on a few of these gifts this evening, and what we believe the Bible teaches. This is part of our theology of the Kingdom. Winston Churchill, in the midst of Great Britain being in a deep crisis with Hitler undefeated, famously said to President Roosevelt: ‘Give us the tools and we will finish the job’. The Prime Minister knew his nation needed help from abroad. He sought foreign tools, airplanes, ammunition and armies to ‘finish the job’. In the same way, the Bible makes it clear that we are in a time of spiritual warfare. We live in the now and the not yet – Jesus has done it, the Devil has been defeated but not destroyed. But just as Churchill says ‘give us the tools’, so Paul in the Bible encourages Christians to ‘eagerly desire spiritual gifts’; our spiritual tools for ministry.
The HS has not just come into us to bring us the new life that i just mentioned, as beautiful as that is. but He has given us spiritual gifts, to:
1) Edify and build up the church
2) Reach out to the world.
In one of the Old Testament prophetic books,Joel 2:28, we read: ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.’ The spiritual gifts God gave us are not to make us look weird or wacky. We don’t have to be perfect, wear particular clothes, or pray a particular prayer. The church as a whole is given these spiritual gifts – some people might be particularly gifted at a gift, but this should never stop us pursuing these gifts. These gifts aren’t for us to boast in; they are for us to encourage each other, the church in. And as a tool to bring people to Jesus. Spiritual gifts are an important part of being a Christian – it is not optional, but a powerful gift from God for all of us, that enables us to glorify God in such a beautiful and mysterious way, where we do kingdom living, where our lives are set on Jesus and not the 2D world around us.
Spiritual gifts are not here to be wacky or weird, but they are here as an important and powerful tool to glorify God. And this is why, as a church, we frequently use the phrase ‘Come Holy Spirit’. This isn’t saying the Holy Spirit wasn’t here before and now is; God is always present. When we welcome the Holy Spirit, we are asking Him to do whatever the He wants to do, to come and heal, speak to us, love us, to come powerful and tangibly. We are doing what the Bible asks us to do. When we welcome the Holy Spirit and practice the spiritual gifts God has given us, we are opening our hearts to His will, dropping at our feet our own agendas.
Of course, the Holy Spirit gives us more than just the gift – he also cultivates fruit in our lives, is involved in salvation, and mediates God’s presence to us – but we want to explore the Biblical basis for why we believe what we believe in the Vineyard.
Firstly, of course, we need to define what we mean by the teaching of the Bible. We talk about ‘the main and the plain’ of the Bible’s teaching – John Mumford talks about that as meaning the scriptures are our plumbline, the gold standard for what we believe and how we behave. David and Rita Bennett wrote “no matter how cleverly we may work out our theories, if they don’t agree with the Scriptures, they are unacceptable”. In the Vineyard “We believe in the present ministry of the Spirit and in the exercise of all of the biblical gifts of the Spirit.”
The gifts of the Spirit are ‘things’, skills if you like, that God gives to people who follow and love him. Like all gifts, they can be wasted, squandered and abused. Jesus teaches really harshly about this in the Parable of the Talents. Again like gifts, we might get them without asking, or get something we personally don’t want, the important thing is to understand what they are and why we believe in them.
In the New Testament, we have a number of lists of gifts – see the grid above.
Now some people would divide these into two categories – ones that are ‘spectacular’ and have ceased, and those that have not ceased. For example, even the staunchest cessationist would say that there are those with the gift of serving, teaching, exhortation, giving, mercy, faith, helps, administration and evangelism. And these are vital gifts – churches simply wouldn’t run without them. And so we want to celebrate and give a place to them. These are also harder to see, sometimes, because they look more ‘normal’, and less ‘wizz-bang’. But, for example, administration takes place so that a preacher has time to put aside to study deeply in order to teach, so that we have a sound understanding of the Scriptures from which to do ministry, and seek the full Kingdom of God. Theologically, though, in the New Testament, there isn’t a distinction.
Briefly, though, why do we believe that the gifts continue today? John Wimber has a helpful summary at the end of his book Power Evangelism. He notes that there are two main ways people argue that they have stopped. Firstly, that “the miraculous gifts were necessary to establish the church, but not to maintain it”. This is linked to a view of the apostles, and what the New Testament says. Arguably, though, it doesn’t stand up, as we have a range of non-Apostolic examples of the gifts being exercised in the New Testament, let alone in later church history. Indeed, as Wimber notes, “it was Ananias, a non-apostle, who laid hands on Paul and saw him filled with Holy Spirit!” The second argument, relating to 1 Corinthians 13:1 relates to the word used when Paul writes “when the perfect comes”. The Greek noun here is ‘neuter’, and so it is argued that as it is neither male nor female, it is not a person, but a thing, the Bible. The problem with this is that, as Wimber points out, “A neuter noun or pronoun can be used to describe masculine or feminine things or persons”. I would argue that the ‘perfect’ described here actually corresponds to the Kingdom of God being fully present – what you might describe as ‘heaven’, to be as simple as possible.
It is simply disingenuous, and perhaps an argument from silence, to say that the Bible is clear that the gifts have ceased, or that some have. It’s also worth noting that whilst Church history is not dominated by miracles and strange happening, it does seem to continue. Just a couple of examples, from the first 600 years of church history: Justin Martyr describes exorcism and healing in his Second Apology, Irenaeus mentions the gifts of the Spirit in his Against Heresies, and Novitian mentions a number of gifts in his Treatise Concerning the Trinity. Augustine, writing in the early 5th Century, ends a list of miracles in a narrative part of The City of God by saying “it is a simple fact that there is no lack of miracles even in our day. And the God who works the miracles we read of in the scriptures uses any means and manner he chooses”. A careful reading of church history shows us that these things appear to continue, not replacing the Bible and other aspects of faith, but a key part of proclaiming and demonstrating the good news of the Kingdom of God.
Now I want to briefly unpack some of what the Vineyard might say about Prophecy, Speaking in Tongues, and healing.
The Gift of Prophecy
Simply stated, a prophet or someone doing something prophecy is someone who is speaking someone else’s words. Prophecy is also quite distinct from words of Knowledge and Words of encouragement in the New Testament – to be honest in practice we often roll these all together, and maybe we shouldn’t.
Wayne Grudem, a theologian who was influential in giving the early Vineyard some theological meat, says that “prophecy in ordinary New Testament churches was not equal to Scripture in authority, but was simply a very human – and sometimes partially mistaken – report of something the Holy Spirit brought to someone’s mind.” This is why in the Vineyard we tend not to say ‘THUS SAITH THE LORD’, but rather, ‘I think God is saying’, or, ‘I see a picture’. The distinction between Old Testament prophecy and what we are up to now is really important. Prophecy today is words from God that we then speak out.
The purpose of prophecy today is also worth considering. While it does seem that God will warn us, or direct us through the Holy Spirit today, one of the most surprising uses of prophecy in the New Testament is actually evangelistic! I love this passage from 1 Corinthians 14:24-25:
“But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!””
Did you notice that? Part of the purpose of this gift, and all the gifts, are that people will see that God is real, and working amongst us.
There is a lot more that could be said about prophecy, but I want to quickly move on to to talking about the gift of tongues.
The Gifts of Tongues
Now it is important to note that ‘the gift of tongues’ is actually separated out into two different gifts. That isn’t to say that someone couldn’t receive both the gift of speaking in tongues, and the gift of interpreting tongues, but to recognise that there are two distinct gifts.
I think Rich Nathan puts it well when he says that “Tongues is speaking forth a Spirit-inspired message in a language unknown to the speaker or hearer”. Obviously, if something is in a language that isn’t understood, it really helps if it is then interpreted! Hence, perhaps, the two distinct gifts.
It is important to note, too, that whilst prophecy is ‘for us’, for building up the church, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:2 that “Anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God. Indeed, no-one understands him”. It is important to note that the Bible doesn’t forbid us from speaking in tongues, and indeed Paul actively encourages it! There seems to be a distinction between tongues as a private prayer language, remembering that it is speaking to God, and something that takes place in a more public, worship service context.
A quick note on words. The word translated as ‘tongues’ might be understood by different people as ‘languages’, with particular reference to Pentecost when everyone heard Peter speaking simultaneously in their own language, or tongues. There also seems to be a distinction between tongues of men and angels. So we need to, as ever, return to what the Bible actually says, rather than what we think it might say, or what people have described regarding events.
For example, neither Amy or I have ever spoken in tongues. I’d quite like to! Recently, Justin Welby announced quite causally that he prays in tongues every day, and the media went mad. But I think he puts it well when he said “It’s not something to make a great song and dance about”.
Again, the gift of tongues is clearly outlined in the Bible – in two of the classic lists of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so we believe that God gives that gift today. So, later, in ministry time, why not ask God to give you the gift of speaking in tongues. He might just surprise you!
The Gifts of Healing
Another way in which God loves to surprise us is by healing people, of various health concerns.
Indeed, the ministry of Jesus and his followers is radically full of people being healed from all sorts of ailments and maladies. In the Vineyard, we believe that God heals today. We also believe – and we’ve talked about this a bit before – that healing doesn’t happen on demand.
Jesus wonderfully kicked off his public ministry by quoting from Isaiah 61:1-2:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Recovery of sight for the blind, which is something that Jesus did, is a healing – a restoration of something broken to wholeness.
These are signs of the Kingdom of God coming in full power. Just as, for example, prophecy is a glimpse of when we will fully hear from God, and tongues are a glimpse of when we will fully speak to God, and administration offers a glimpse of the beautifully ordered worship in heaven, so healings are a glimpse of the full restoration of created things that we look forward to.
I want to say two further things about ‘healing’. Firstly, that Paul describes ‘gifts’ and ‘kinds’ both in the plural. Some have suggested that this might mean a different kind of gift of healing – for instance, a Christian doctor, a Christian psychotherapist, and someone who is praying for healing might all have a gift of healing. Secondly, as with all the gifts, the emphasis should not be on us as individuals but on God and God’s glory. Jeannie Morgan, who is associated with Soul Survivor, writes “When I use the gifts of healing I do not get anxious that the person might not get healed immediately, because their healing is not my responsibility. That belongs to Jesus.” As followers of Jesus bearing the gifts of the Holy Spirit to a broken world, we can trust that God is a good, good Father.
My personal experience is that I’ve had some things healed – most recently, pain from a blister disappeared after someone prayed, and I’ve seen someone with a leg problem able to walk without crutches – and some things not healed. John Wimber, one of the founders of the Vineyard movement, famously used to say that he prayed for healing for 200 people before God healed anyone! Remember, it’s about God, not us, so ask God to help and heal, and don’t be down on yourself if nothing happens, and give God the glory when it does.
I hope that this whistle stop tour through some of the theology of just a few of the gifts of the Spirit has been helpful – and that it has given you all something to think about. On the evening we went into a wonderful time of ministry, where we prayed ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, and saw what God wants to do. Below are some web links to enduring questions/useful resources, and the ever-present book recommendations.
- A simple bible study on praying ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ from Bible in One Year.
- An interesting blog post on the gender (or otherwise!) of the Holy Spirit from Church Society.
- John Piper on God’s presence/withdrawal – helpful for reflection.
- David Flowers, Gifts of the Spirit – a really helpful teaching resource from a UK Vineyard pastor.
- Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing our tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit – a brilliant book.
- John Wimber’s Power Evangelism – this is a classic text on how and where we can exercise the gifts of the Spirit, later editions have helpful study guides and appendices.
- Jeannie Morgan’s Encounter the Holy Spirit – from the Soul Survivor stable, this is an accessible and practical look at the work of the Spirit today.
- Jordan Seng, Miracle Work – I think this is a calm, biblical and beautiful look at supernatural ministry.
- edited by Wayne Grudem, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today: 5 Views is a more technical but very helpful look at different perspectives from within the bounds of Christianity. His book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today is also helpful.