Current Misreadings

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Dispensationalism

I am not a dispensationalist, particularly in terms of eschatology, the doctrines of the “End Times.” Even more significantly, I do not believe in an arbitrary division between the Early Church, the age of the Apostles, and the later history of the Church in terms of the Holy Spirit’s gifts.  

In extreme forms, some dispensationalists have even advocated the abolition of water baptism and declared that the Jews will one day  be saved by following the Law of Moses, offering sacrifices in a rebuilt Temple in modern-day Jerusalem.

When Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, the one member of the Godhead Who would be our “Paraclete,” or “one called alongside to help,” Jesus never said or even implied that the Holy Spirit’s presence or power would be diminished, particularly in these latter days when the Church needs the Holy Spirit’s power as much as ever before.  

I believe that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Romans 11:29), and the One who gives us that power is the Holy Spirit.  

In fact, the “Great Commission” Jesus gave his disciples before His ascension, as written in Matthew 28, clearly states that the power to minister through the Holy Spirit is for all Christians throughout the world.  This “baptism” is different from the “indwelling” Jesus gave to His disciples shortly after His resurrection, as it says in John’s Gospel:  

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them,“Receive the Holy Spirit.  (John 20:19-22).

Jesus also made this promise after His resurrection and before His ascension to Heaven:

Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. 17 These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:14-17)

Notice that these promises are for all who believe, even those who proclaim His good news to the rest of the world.  The only stipulation Jesus gives is that they believe in Him.

Later, before His ascension, Jesus tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for a very special gift:

Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said“you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)

The disciples had already received the indwelling Holy Spirit as John relates (see above), but Jesus follows up this statement with a promise that in its context includes all Christians, not just the Early Church:

 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

The remotest part of the earth undoubtedly includes where all of us are living today.

This Gift is For All Who Call on the Name of the Lord

Many will strongly disagree with me, but I will attempt to provide a concise statement that proves the Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh, or “all mankind,” not just the disciples in Early Church.  See this passage from the Prophet Joel:  

It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.  (Joel 2:28-29)

This is the same prophecy that the Apostle Peter quotes on the Day of Pentecost, when he spoke to the people gathered who had heard the followers of Jesus speaking in their own languages and seeing the fire of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul’s Statement About the Spiritual Gifts

The First Letter to the Corinthians contains a statement that many dispensationalists use to prove that the Holy Spirit’s gifts that were poured out on the Day of Pentecost  are no longer being given to the Church.  Indeed, this passage is part of their rationale that supposes all manifestations of the gifts may even be demonic, or demon-inspired.

This is the passage:

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:8-13)

Clearly, this passage teaches that one day gifts of prophecy and glossolalia (tongues) will no longer be necessary at a future time, for they will either cease or be “done away.”  The question is, when will this cessation occur?  

The specific indicator in the passage declares that “when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”  The dispensationalist’s  reationale is that the “perfect” is the completion of the New Testament Scriptures, whose existence meant that the Holy Spirit’s gifts to lead and instruct the Church were no longer necessary.

This teaching is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the Scriptures are still not accessible to many people because of the many needs for translations.   

More significantly, however, this teaching is self-contradictory in the sense that the word “perfect” obviously includes all the Scriptures, even I Corinthians Chapters 12 and 14 , both of which provide a thorough teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Why is it that those who believe and accept the Scriptures as the inerrant and infallible Word of God arbitrarily delete whole passages, declaring them essentially irrelevant, to have passed away, or to have ceased, particularly when the rest of the teachings in the Word contradict their beliefs?

A Rebuttal Based on Sound Exegesis

I believe that the context of Paul’s statement about some of the gifts passing away needs to be consistent with the entire letter to the Corinthians, not just a single phrase that is incorrectly interpreted, or even added to.

Thus, Paul speaks of seeking the greater, or  the “best,” gifts (I Corinthians 12:31), for example, and he even declares that those who disagree with him are not to be recognized:

If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.  Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. (I Corinthians 14:37-40)

In addition, see what Paul writes in the first chapter of his letter:

I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 1:4-8)

This passage couldn’t be more clear in terms of providing a context for the entire letter.  Paul commends the Corinthian Church for being enriched in all speech and knowledge (allusions to the spiritual gifts he later teaches about in chapter 12: 4-11), and he states specifically that the Corinthians are not lacking in any gift as they await the “revelation” or “parousia,” a specific reference to the second coming of the Lord.  Paul writes that Jesus Christ will “confirm you to the end”  in the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” another specific reference to the Second Coming.

Therefore, the Apostle Paul does not write inconsistently.  He first praises the Corinthians for being enriched with the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit, then later exhorts them to “covet” the best gifts while awaiting the Second Coming, an event that we still await today.  

Decently and in Order

Most definitely, some problems existed within the Corinthian Church concerning spiritual gifts.  The Corinthians were misusing the gift of tongues, for example, calling attention to themselves instead of glorifying God in their prayers.  Paul strongly relates that in their gatherings the gift of prophecy should be used predominantly, particularly if no one is present who can interpret what the tongues-speaker is saying.  

Paul says that he speaks in tongues more than any of them, yet in the assembly he would rather speak in such a way that all may say “amen” to his utterances.

This is a particular problem in many churches today, and it is one of the reasons why many well-meaning church leaders declare that speaking in tongues should be forbidden. 

Speaking Mysteries

The problem derives from a great misconception about the purpose of this gift.  Today, the perception is that these utterances are messages from God to the gathered believers, necessitating the contribution of one who has the gift of interpretation.  In fact, Paul relates, the opposite is true:

For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.  One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.

However, an understanding of the contexts of the relevant passages reveals that speaking in tongues is not a message from God to the church, but instead is a message from the speaker to God in the form of a mystery, or prayer.  

Even in the example of the Day of Pentecost, the gathered listeners heard in their own languages how the disciples were “speaking of the mighty deeds of God” (2:11), in effect, speaking words of praise to Him.  

Paul attempts to correct the problems in Corinth of speaking an unknown language with the following teachings. 

Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?

Paul suggests that they be sure an interpreter is present, one who has the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues.  Otherwise, he writes, those who do not understand will be unable to say “Amen” at the close of the prayer.

In addition, he strongly advises that believers seek the Gift of Prophecy so they can speak the words of God in a known language:  “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying” (I Corinthians 14:5)  

This Gift of Prophecy is given by the Holy Spirit in order to offer words of comfort, edification, and exhortation to the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 14:3).  It is not intended only to offer a prediction of future events, though in the mouth of a “Prophet” or “Prophetess” such utterances may occur, as they did in the Book of Acts. 

According to the Apostle Paul, we must continue to seek to exercise the Gift of Prophecy:  “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues, a gift which Paul implies is useful when we do not know how to pray. 

However, all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (I Corinthians 14:39).

 

Conclusion

You may recall the words of Jesus, Who gave in Mathew 10 the following admonition to His followers:

You will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (Matthew 10:18-20)

This a description of what prophecy is and how it is exercised.  It reveals one reason, I believe, why the Lord want us to allow the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of prophecy, for He wants us to know what He is saying to us.  To be sure He meant the Gentiles also, not just His immediate followers, He said, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. …My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me (John 16:10, 17).

Finally, in a further demonstration of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the 4th Chapter of Acts, following the healing of the lame beggar and Peter and John’s subsequent arrest, we read of a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit in the gathered believers after the two apostles have been released:  “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness”  (Acts 4:31).

May we all seek and pray for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit.

 

 


1 Comment

  • By Jennifer, September 4, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

    Amen!

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