(This article appeared in The Call in 2009)
“For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.”
There is a religious organisation which goes from door to door in the UK and elsewhere. Very often it will be a man and wife on the doorstep, sometimes even with a child or two. They are sincere in their beliefs, and very well-meaning, and they are always very courteous to members of the households they visit.
At each house they offer a magazine, setting out their beliefs about God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. It is obvious from reading the articles in their magazine that their scholars have read and studied the Bible as well as any person could.
A recent issue had the following to say about the gifts of the Holy Spirit:
Such powerful works or gifts of the spirit passed away with the death of Jesus and the apostles and any to whom they passed on the gifts. The apostle Paul wrote: “Whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are [miraculously spoken] tongues, they will cease; whether there is [divinely revealed] knowledge, it shall be done away with.” (1 Corinthians 13:8) Why? Having accomplished their purpose – identifying Jesus as the promised Messiah and the Christian congregation as favoured by God – such powerful works, including healing, are no longer needed; they are “done away with”. Still, Jesus’ miracles of healing have an important message for us today. If we pay attention to and exercise faith in what Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God, we can look forward toward the time when the inspired prophecy will be fulfilled both spiritually and physically.
A faithful Friend, on reading the foregoing, commented as follows:
I am no theologian and am not clever enough to argue with anyone, but if we look at that sentence “Such powerful works or gifts of the spirit passed away with the death of Jesus and the apostles and any to whom they passed on the gifts”, may I ask who said so? Paul says they will pass away but I am not aware that he gave a date or even said it would happen shortly after his death. Is there anywhere in the New Testament that states these things were to pass away with the death of the apostles and their followers? If there is then please let me have the quotation. All I can see is an extension of scripture which has become a man-made theology as most extensions and modifications are. I have this “thing” about man-made doctrine and it does get me very angry I’m afraid. It is usually mixed in with just enough scriptures to make it sound plausible, like the prosperity teachings.
And so it seems to be. Like so many notions concerning Jesus Christ, that would make him decrease when Scripture says that he shall increase. People will say “Such-and-such a thing must have ceased, because I am a believer and do not experience it. Therefore I will find scripture to support this position, and make it a tenet of my beliefs.” Then, when another people come before them to prophesy, they say “Aha, this must be false, because we have proved it so!”
So, is there still prophecy and prophesying? The answer is that there is as much or as little as the Lord measures out – no more, no less – or a minister of the Gospel would rise to speak only out of his own knowledge and imaginings.
Is there still divinely-granted knowledge? The answer is that there is as much or as little as the Lord measures out – no more, no less – or a reader of the words which the Holy Spirit gave forth would have only the intellect of fallen humanity to rely on to open their meaning; there would be only blind guides, speaking and writing words which never spoke to the condition of the listener or reader.
Importantly, the Church would be a pale imitation of the Church set up by Christ, in Jerusalem, to be his Body. He would not be there amongst them, because they would have only the Bible and their ideas about it. He would stand at the door and knock, and his knocking would go unheard. They would not be gathered in his Name.
Are we immune from the temptation to set things up in place of Christ, and of denying his headship in favour of our own doctrine? Who could be? Since the Lord gathered us as a people we have seen the idol of self raised up many times, and notions and imagination seduce many people. Here is a passage from the Journal of John Churchman, dating from 1740
An elderly man asked us if we saw some posts to which he pointed, and added, the first meeting George Fox had on this side of Chesapeake Bay, was held in a tobacco house there, which was then new, and those posts were part of it. John Browning [Churchman’s companion] rode to them, and sat on his horse very quiet; and returning to us again with more speed than he went, I asked him what he saw amongst those old posts. He answered, “I would not have missed what I saw for five pounds, for I saw the root and ground of idolatry. Before I went, I thought perhaps I might have felt some secret virtue in the place where George Fox had stood and preached, whom I believe was a good man; but whilst I stood there, I was secretly informed, that if George was a good man, he was in heaven, and not there, and virtue is not to be communicated by dead things, whether posts, earth, or curious pictures, but by the power of God, who is the fountain of living virtue.”
Even the excellence of scripture can be a dead thing, because the scribes and Pharisees had scripture in abundance, and believed in the words which were written (or in their own interpretation). Jesus said to those of the old covenant, who sought to destroy him: “And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:38-40).
On BBC radio, a co-religionist of those whom Jesus warned said words to the effect that the Messiah was to usher in an era of brotherhood between men, and as there was today no brotherhood between men, it followed that Jesus was not the Messiah. Those who have the word abiding in them know different, and that Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace. It is no good for people to refuse him, and then say, “Because I feel no brotherhood towards my fellow man, there is no Prince of Peace”, any more than it is any good for those who refuse the gifts of the Holy Spirit to say that because they have no experience of them their doctrine shall be based on the non-existence of such things.
Any person can become like Thomas, refusing to believe Christ had risen until he could see and touch the wounds on the Master’s body. Some go further and make a virtue of it, and a doctrine. But we should say, with Paul, “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings.”