Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Gift or Grace?" Exploring the Spirit's expressions.

There are not many today who would argue that the Holy Spirit no longer speaks or acts through His people. Although Cessationism thrived towards the end of the last century, many of the most conservative theologians and churches have begun to shift their position, admitting their need for a Gospel that is not simply proclaimed but also demonstrated with power.

Perhaps the larger enemy of the operation of the Holy Spirit in the church is more subtle in our time. It is less antagonism and more abdication. "If God wants to act He will," we say."It's not up to me. God is Sovereign."

Paul's answer to this attitude was fairly simple. "Eagerly desire the spiritual gifts." 1 Cor 14:1 Eager desire is not a description of passivity. It is a description of a child at the gates of Disneyland. Many of our approaches to spiritual gifts are more like parents at the gates of Disneyland - We are a bit jaded from our last experience, and if you are anything like me, very reluctant to enter again. Or we feel that we need to be completely rational, hiding all emotion in order to be used by the Spirit. It's okay to be zealous. In fact when Paul talked about prophecy he encouraged people not put out the Spirit's fire, and not to be lacking in zeal. The trick is to be zealous with wisdom and a lack of hype, so that people don't leave our meetings saying,"they are out of their minds."Sensationalism may be almost as dangerous as Cessationism.

I went around the room this week, after an incredibly stirring time at Urban Renewal, and asked each of our elders which spiritual gift they most desired. It was interesting how many said they had once operated in an aspect of spiritual power but that it had grown dormant. We spent time in prayer fanning into flame the Spirit's fire after asking God eagerly to restore His Spirit's power to us.

I suppose if passivity is the weakness of Conservative theology, then presumption is the weakness of Charismatic theology. The word 'gift' in 1 Corinthians 12 is possibly a poor translation, and it may be more true to say, 'expression of grace'. It is also "as the Spirit determines," not as I demand. A 'my gift' mentality and has left many people with a sense of inflexibility, and also of ownership of something that is ultimately God's. It's here that the danger of spiritual identity forming around 'my gift' can become incredibly self-serving. People lose sight of the fact that whatever gift they have been entrusted with is not for them but for the building up of others. They also forget that God may want to have them use another gift for another situation. Perhaps it is better to think of them as 'tools for a task'.God has given us a toolbox with more than just one tool in it. We can become skilful at more than just one tool.

Ultimately, whether you see them as gifts or graces, the expressions of the Spirit are there for the sake of the Gospel. They are not just for the building up of believers, but also for the bowing down of unbelievers. "The secret's of their hearts will be laid bare and they will fall down and proclaim, God is surely among you!" 1 Cor 4:27 Let's be zealous in eagerly desiring his gifts, and humble enough to use them as stewards for His glory and other's good.

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