I have written on this subject elsewhere but here we’re going to look at the text of 1 Corinthians and evaluate what it’s says regarding the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit.
First, it’s important that we acknowledge that this is a controversial issue. And it’s important that we consider these questions from an unbiased perspective.
What we were taught in the past should not determine our beliefs. We also should not let misapplications or extremes that people have that hold a certain belief dissuade us from holding a certain belief. The validity of a theological truth must be determined by what the Bible itself says. It’s important that we first agree on that.
Scripture is the final say on wether or not the gifts of the Spirit continue, not whether or not we understand each of the gifts perfectly or whether or not those who believe the gifts of the Spirit continue practice everything in a way that builds up the body of Christ in accordance with Scripture. Those other things are distractions (in logical argumentation they are referred to as the red herring fallacy).
So, what does 1 Corinthians itself say about the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit?
Scripture exhorts us to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:15-17). The Westminster Directory of Public Worship concurs with Scripture and says, “It is the duty of Christians to praise God publickly, by singing of psalms together in the congregation.”
“Why do Christians sing when they are together?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer answers: “The reason is, quite simply, because in singing together it is possible for them to speak and pray the same Word at the same time; in other words, because here they can unite in the Word” (Life Together, 59). I think that’s an important point.
Notice that right before Paul says to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” he says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you [pl.] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16). So, singing ought to be part of the ministry of the word. We ought to sing the Bible. We ought to sing Psalms and we ought to also sing biblically rich songs. So, that’s in part why the Directory says our “chief care must be to sing with understanding.”
When we sing songs to God, however, we are not just thinking. We are not just singing for the sake of singing or just edifying each other. We are recounting God’s truth and goodness and being moved anew to thanksgiving (cf. Ps. 78).
Q&A: Many churches adopt confessions, why then do leaders and laypersons often stray from orthodoxy? What lessons can we learn from this?
Q. Many churches adopt confessions, why then do leaders and laypersons often stray from orthodoxy? What lessons can we learn from this?
A. Confessions are good and have biblical precedent. Humans, however, are fallen and as 1 Timothy 4:1 says, “some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” People are lovers of self rather than lovers of God (2 Tim. 3:2-4). That is why there are problems with heterodoxy and heresy, even where there are solid confessions in place. Confessions may not keep false teaching from emerging but it is helpful to have them in place to quench the spread (like gangrene) of unhealthy teaching.
One lesson we learn from the prevalence of unhealthy belief and teaching is the importance of qualified leaders. It is vital that pastors/elders be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2) and correct opponents of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25). We also see the important place of church discipline. The church is set apart as the light of the world and the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) if the truth is not proclaimed and protected by the church how dark will the darkness be?!
The second lesson is that churches must work hard to be watchful and stand firm in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13). If someone is contradicting orthodox teaching and causing division then they should be removed from the church community (1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 3:10). The church is to be the set apart people of God (Eph. 1:4; 5:27). Thus, Paul writes “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15).
What does baptism mean?
In Scripture, we see that believers are called to be baptized (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16) but what does baptism mean? First, let’s consider the etymology; where the word came from and what it means. The English word “baptize” comes from the Greek word baptizo. Many believe that this word is correctly translated as “immerse” or “dip.” That is, in part, why we practice baptism by immersion. Also, submersion under water and raising out of it best pictures what baptism represents. What does baptism represent? Let’s look at Romans 6:3-8:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”
Baptism is a proclamation of the believers union with Christ, in His death and resurrection. When the believer goes under the water it shows that in Christ they have died to sin. When they raise out of the water it shows they have been resurrected to a new pure (Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 6:11) life in Christ. Baptism is an outward sign of an inner reality. Baptism pictures many things.
- Death with Christ, death to sin
- Union with Christ
- Identification with the body of Christ, the church
- Proclamation of the work of the Trinity (“In the Name of…” cf. Matt. 28:19)
- Purification, the washing away of sins
- It looks forward to the resurrection, new creation, and going through the waters of judgment and being raised to new life justified
Should I be baptized?
Like many areas of baptism, there has not been uniform understanding on who should be baptized. We believe, however, that a clear case can be made biblically and historically for believer’s baptism. “Believer’s baptism” means only those who believe in Jesus and repent of their sins should be baptized (i.e. credobaptism instead of paedobaptism).
We see no scriptural support leading us to believe that non-believers were baptized. On the other hand, we have clear scriptural support to baptize believers. Peter preaches in Acts chapter two and says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… So those who received his word were baptized” (38, 41 see also 8:12-13).
The passage that we are looking at today has some very controversial issues in it. We will look at them in a little bit but first I want to explain the background of the letter as well as the main point of what Paul says in this chapter.
Paul wrote this letter to Timothy to address a particular context and a particularly difficult situation in Ephesus. Paul was addressing false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3-20; 4:1-5; 6:2b-10) and he was telling Timothy how people ought to “behave in the household of God” (1 Tim. 2:1-3:16; 4:6-6:2a). People at the church in Ephesus were teaching things that were wrong and doing wrong things.
Paul labored at the church in Ephesus for three years (Acts 20:31) and wrote one of the most amazing letters that have ever been written to them and yet they were still liable to fall to unhealthy teaching and living. We see later on that they were also liable to lose the love that they had for Jesus at first (Rev. 2:4). This letter should serve as a wakeup call to us! We too are capable of falling! We too need correction!
Paul wants people to teach what is right and act the right way in “God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). If the church is teaching and living wrong that’s really bad news for everyone. It is the church that is to be the “foundation of the truth.” If the church is not the set-apart light that it’s supposed to be how great is the darkness?!
It’s important that we not miss the main point of what Paul is saying in this passage because our modern disputes distract us. Paul’s main point in this chapter is to instruct us to pray. He tells us to pray together. And he tells us how to pray. So, the main point is: In light of Jesus’ sacrificial love, pray with compassion and holiness.
We will look at that in more detail soon. A few things, however, should be said at the outset. First, OCF is committed to a high view of Scripture; we believe it is the word of God. We also believe that unless the Bible is God’s word to us, we live without any real moral authority. “Right” and “wrong” would then become matters of personal taste or popular opinion. We would not be able to talk about justice or truth at all, for there would be no way to know objective truth.
So, second, the Bible is our authority. The Bible informs us and teaches us. We are not to sit over the Bible, God’s word, and inform it… It informs us.
Claire Smith has pointed out in her book, God’s Good Design, that “we do not come to the text as neutral readers. We all have cultural blind spots and sensitivities that influence our reading.” She goes on to say, and I couldn’t agree more, that “we must always allow God’s word to critique us and our culture, rather than the other way around.”
Third, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable. One of the reasons it’s profitable is for correction. One of the things the Bible does, is it functions like a mirror by which we can see ourselves and compare.
Fourth, we must always keep in mind God’s lordship and love. God is all wise and powerful as the Creator. But He is also good and loving. He has definitively shown that at the cross. God’s lordship and love should always inform how we think about things.
If what we discuss below is hard for you, I get it. But please don’t doubt the good character of God. And also don’t doubt His lordship. He is loving and Lord.