Here’s a recent email question that I’ve received here at Heat & Light:
“Noting the last chapter of Grudem’s book on prophecy, how do you go about implementing it in a local church? What if, like me, you are one of the leaders and have been trying to build consensus on different issues – it’s an exercise in trusting Jesus to build and purify His church, and quite difficult to do on a human side. There are a ton of issues that we still need to arrive at unity on besides the charismata. Because I have so much respect for my fellow elders and they really just haven’t really wrestled with these ideas yet I’ve been a bit reluctant to more publicly affirm charismatic stuff. Grudem’s irenic spirit is so helpful in this regard. I’m encouraged by 1 Cor. 14:12 and the injunction to join a desire for the manifestation of the spirit with a desire to build up the church.”
That’s a great question, Greg. As you may know, the church I’m currently on staff (part-time) with is not a ‘charismatic’ church, although there are a good number of staff here that practice the more ‘miraculous’ (‘Astounding’? Even ‘teaching’ is ‘miraculous’ if God’s involved) spiritual gifts, a number of others who – though not actively pursuing gifts such as prophecy & tongues – believe that they are still for today, and many more who are at least open. Our doctrinal statement, though positively affirming some gifts, such as healing, is ‘non-committal’ on the issue of ‘revelatory gifts’, recognizing that there is a broad opinion on the subject among our leadership, and within our congregation. I think that’s quite alright, and do not feel ‘hindered’ whatsoever in the practice of the gifts I’ve been given.
For one, though it sadly characterizes many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, the Bible is very clear that the gift of Tongues, unless you know for a fact that someone is present to interpret, is not to be used publicly – it is for private edification. I pray in tongues almost continually during instrumental parts of our corporate worship, but only under my breath – someone may perceive that I am praying, because my lips move slightly, but no non-believer would run from the room scared and confused due to hearing me speak in an ‘unknown tongue’, which is the purpose for that Pauline restriction. That’s just to say that one’s expression of the gift of tongues should have little bearing on whether or not they find themselves in an openly Charismatic church or not, unless one finds that they prophecy frequently in tongues, and even then it may not be an issues. I’ve prophesied in tongues only once, but was given the interpretation as well, so even then there would have been no conflict. I spoke the tongues under my breath, while hearing the words in English in my head: I conveyed the content of that ‘word’ humbly to a friend later while reflecting on what God had given me. That’s just to say this: it doesn’t have to be weird to be God.
Similarly, one can prophesy in a non-Charismatic church without causing any distractions or drawing attention to oneself. As a Christian who believes whole-heartedly in the sovereignty of God, I believe that if God is giving you a Word for someone, God is also preparing their hearts to receive that word, and God will confirm it. That’s just to say, there’s no need for flash – to yell the words out at the top of your lungs, or even proclaim, “Thus Sayeth THE LORD”. If it’s a personal prophecy, identify who the word is for and catch them after church – if it’s appropriate see if they can join you for lunch, or just talk to them on the spot, and convey the content by way of a normal conversation. Of course, if the word is for a close friend you will naturally approach the situation very differently than if you’d never met the person before: in that case I may just walk up to them and frankly say, “I think God has put something on my heart for you”, and then share. Sure, that might put them off a little, but as a friend they’re more likely to receive something directly – they know your walk with the Lord personally, and hopefully won’t think you a quack. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I had an experience late last year where I had a word for someone, but I also thought it would be inappropriate to approach them to deliver it. What did I do? I wrote the words on a piece of paper, folded the paper, and sat it on the stage in front of me, asking God to lead the person to read it, which she did – it was a real spiritually encouraging experience for me. In other situations, where I’ve not been that close, but was an acquaintance, I’ve just let the content of what God’s given me ‘seep’ out in a normal conversation: trust me, if the Word is from God the person will be moved even by this. Simply direct the conversation towards what you think God’s asking you to say. For instance, you think God’s speaking something about Fatherhood to someone you know from church – just pursue a conversation with them and at some point, bring up something about your father, and watch their response, seeking an opportunity to ask them about theirs. God opens the doors, and God does the work. As I said, it doesn’t have to be weird to be God.
As far as going here doctrinally with the leadership of your church: pray, and look for an opportunity to ask them, directly, what they believe about the Holy Spirit and His work today, and sincerely listen to them. Respect what they believe, even if you feel the need to bounce a ‘disagreeable’ Bible verse off their doctrine, too see how they respond. God will open the doors, and if you are Scripturally solid, and show sincere spiritual growth, and respect them and their views, eventually they will be willing to listen to you, if they aren’t already – and the question will be turned around. When that happens, be honest, and trust God with the results.
Also, be encouraged that all true Evangelical churches – where the Gospel is being truly preached – as the Holy Spirit is the one who brings people to repent and follow Jesus – are already ‘Charismatic’ and ‘Spirit-Filled’, whether or not they know it, because no true conversion or love of God, or fruit of the Spirit, would ever occur apart from the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.
Thank you so much for the question, brother. Maybe we can meet up next time I’m up your way. Blessings…
What about you? Do you have any helpful suggestions? Please share – leave a comment!