This is the first a series of posts I plan to author to explain, essentially, why when my fellow bloggers start vocalizing things other than English (or any other known language) I do not believe this to be a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. But before I go there, I want to start this whole process by giving a word to those of you who share my perspective on things. That word comes in the form of an exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:1.
Chase love down unrelentingly, through the swamps and sloughs and briar patches and cane thickets, until you catch it, but be people who think the spiritual gifts are the best thing since sliced bread and who really want to have them—most of all that you might prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1, ABWTSV)
Oh…I’m sorry…you’re not familiar with the ABWTSV? That’s the “Arkansas Boy Went To Seminary Version”
The Pursuit of Love
The first word of 1 Corinthians 14 is (in Greek) “Diokete.” When you encounter this word, you should imagine a hunt. Think of an English fox hunt, if you like, or the stalking of a gazelle on the African Savannah. As for me, although I never participated in any kind of hunting that actually amounted to the pursuit of prey (deer, ducks, doves…not much actual chasing involved in those sorts of hunts), I can’t help but think about the coon hunting my grandparents did in the bottoms of the Mississippi River Valley. I mean, you’ve seen “Where the Red Fern Grows,” right?
And the point, I think, is that love, for we who are sinners, is a prey that must be chased. It is not our natural state. We do not simply and easily will it into existence. We must labor and get sweaty pursuing it.
And so I confess that I find no joy in the task that I face over the next few posts. I wish I had not, a few posts ago, mentioned my “A Posteriori Cessationism” post in the comments. I think that’s what brought it to mind for Dwight and provoked his, the first post in this series. I wish we were not now three posts into a rehashing of this whole topic. I wish I were not writing rebuttals.
Why? Because I do not like how inevitably personal this topic becomes…how inevitably offensive my convictions are for someone like Dwight. This topic is a cane thicket, and the quarry (love) becomes harder to pursue on terrain like this.
And also, I like the state of Baptist blogging today better than I like the way it was “back in the day.” I’ve grown since then. I don’t want to go back. And when we start linking up all of our old posts and reassembling the gang for round 3, I worry that we are going back. Battle reenactments are enjoyable entertainment—for people other than veterans.
Exegetically, I think this is a pretty good understanding of the text, since this text itself was addressed to a group of people whose situation was perhaps not entirely dissimilar to ours. And so, in writing what I must, like it or not, write over the next several days, I must remember that I am COMMANDED to pursue love unrelentingly. And so are you, those of you who share my perspective. I’ve not paid careful attention to the comments on these other posts—they have been numerous and I have been busy—so I do not know what has been the tone of the conversation, but I’m just going to predict that pursuing love in the discussion of this topic will take intentional work, and if you aren’t working at it intentionally, you probably will not succeed.
The Desire for Spiritual Gifts and the Unbirthday
If cessationism is true, then that is an occasion for some sadness. Spiritual gifts are, after all, gifts. Birthdays are awesome. It’s fun to anticipate them. It’s a little sad when they are over. The spiritual gifts, whatever they truly were and are, are blessings, not burdens. They are good things, not bad things. Whenever and to whomever they were given, God is the Giver, and He gives only good gifts. Granted, there may be OTHER good gifts that God has given to us and not to those about whom we read in the New Testament, but a yearning for the spiritual gifts is, I think, Christian and holy and natural and good.
Most of us pass through at least some portion of our Christian lives—maybe all of it—envying the New Testament church and its members. To see Jesus teaching on the mount! To wash up on a seashore with Paul! To hear the mighty rushing wind of Pentecost! The irony, of course, is that we long to get back to a time that THEY desperately longed to escape. The early church was profoundly eschatological. We ought to be careful to long for what lies before us more than for what lies behind us—and we must all agree that the cessation of tongues lies before us if it does not lie behind us already. Nevertheless, even for those of us who are pressing on toward the upward calling, if you’ve ever stood at a checkpoint in a Cuban airport trying to determine the proper charades to indicate that instant Kool-Aid (which the machine-gun toting soldiers had never seen) truly is not some insidious Capitalist poison being smuggled into the country, then you’ve yearned to possess the gift of tongues and have seen how valuable they would be to us and how bereft of it we are.
By the way, God intervened in a mighty way in that situation, without the gift of tongues, and I’ll have to tell you that story someday.
In Alice’s Wonderland, the Mad Hatter and his friends celebrated unbirthdays. Their rationale? Birthdays don’t come often enough, so let’s change the rules to bring the merriment of birthday parties to every day of the year. Wishing that birthdays came more often is good. Changing to unbirthdays is cheating. It empties the real birthday of its special significance. It is an understandable temptation, but it is a temptation nonetheless.
But even if you agree with me about that, you don’t combat the unbirthday by suggesting that birthdays are not special. No, you show that unbirthdays can never be birthdays, try as they might. Sometimes our discussions of spiritual gifts can come off sounding as though spiritual gifts are for the needy or ignorant or excessively emotional—you know, all the things that the atheists say about our faith in general. But if we are healthy Christians, we ought to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, valuing them.
The Primacy of Prophecy
The fact that prophecy is prioritized is evident and appears prominently in people’s discussions of 1 Corinthians 14. The nature of prophecy—what, in fact, prophecy is and is not—also receives prominent discussion. I know that not everyone reading this essay will agree as to what prophecy is. I hope to write something that will appeal to us all, no matter what you think the gift of prophecy is. I hope to do so by pointing you to the REASONS given for the priority of prophecy. This much, after all, is indisputable in the text: Prophecy is more valuable because the edification, exhortation, consolation, and profit of the church is of high value. Whatever you may think prophecy is or is not, I suggest to you that anything ELSE that edifies, exhorts, consoles, and profits the church by speaking God’s truth to His servants is also valuable and important.
And so, it is this truth that overcomes all of my misgivings and brings me to my keyboard to expound, yet again, for the umpteen-gillionth time, a perspective on spiritual gifts that does not acknowledge a common Pentecostal and Charismatic practice as any sort of miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in our midst. If any of what I will write is God’s truth, and if I will present it with love for my brethren and respectful longing for the work of the Holy Spirit among us, then I am willing to trust that God will make it worthwhile to someone.
May we all, those of us who will be called cessationists at this site (even if that terminology may do little to communicate clearly what some of us actually believe), write what we write in either post or comment with that objective in mind. May God protect us from seeking to defend ourselves from criticism. May God protect us from prideful displays of perceived superiority. May God protect us from a sinful sense of denominationalism (this from a grateful and convictional Baptist!) that would regard anything as wrong simply because it is Pentecostal, for example. May God protect us from a sense of theological segregationism by which we set our sense of what is true either to keep races out or to bring them in. May God protect us from the sort of pragmatism that adopts whatever viewpoint fills a room. Rather, may God give us a fierce conviction that Truth is healthy, that the church needs it, and that efforts to expound it are never in vain, so long as they are the trace-mates of Christian brotherly love.