Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dr. Millard J. Erickson on whether the gift of Speaking In Tongues is still being distributed by the Holy Spirit in the Church today

Dr. Millard J. Erickson wrote:

Dr. Millard J. Erickson
In my judgment it is not possible to determine with any certainty whether the contemporary charismatic phenomena are indeed gifts of the Holy Spirit. There simply is no biblical evidence indicating the time of fulfillment of the prediction that tongues will cease. It is questionable at best to conclude on the basis of the differences between the verbs in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that tongues will cease at one time, and prophecy and knowledge at another. Nor is that historical evidence clear and conclusive. The situation here is somewhat like the situation with respect to the doctrine of apostolic succession. There is a great deal of evidence on both sides. Each group is able to cite an impressive amount of data which are to its advantage, bypassing the data presented by the other group. This lack of historical conclusiveness is not a problem, however. For even history proved that the gift of tongues has ceased, there is nothing to prevent God from reestablishing it. On the other hand, historical proof that the gift has been present through the various eras of the church would not validate the present phenomena.

What must we do, then, is to evaluate each case on its own merits. This does not mean that we are to sit in judgment on the spiritual experience or the spiritual life of other professing Christians. What it does mean is that we cannot assume that everyone who claims to have had a special experience of the Holy Spirit's working has really had one. Scientific studies have discovered enough non-Spirit-caused parallels to warn us against being naively credulous about every claim. Certainly not every exceptional religious experience can be of divine origin, unless God is a very broadly ecumenical and tolerant being indeed, who even grants special manifestations of his Spirit to some who make no claim to Christian faith and may actually be opposed to it. Certainly if demonic forces could produce imitations of divine miracles in biblical times (i.e., the magicians in Egypt were able to imitate the plagues up to a certain point), the same way be true today as well. Conversely, however, no conclusive case can be made for the contention that such gifts are not for today and cannot occur at the present time. Consequently, one cannot rule in an priori and categorical fashion that a claim of glossolalia is spurious. In fact, it may be downright dangerous, in the light of Jesus' warnings regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, to attribute specific phenomena to demonic activity.

In the final analysis, whether the Bible teaches that the Spirit dispenses special gifts today is not an issue of great practical consequence. For even if he does, we are not to set our lives to seeking them. He bestows them sovereignly: he alone determine the recipients (1 Cor. 12:11). If he chooses to give us a special gift, he will do so regardless of whether we expect it or seek it. What we are commanded to do (Eph. 5:18) is be filled with the Holy Spirit (a present imperative, suggesting ongoing action). This is not so much a matter of our getting more of the Holy Spirit; presumably all of us posses the Spirit in his entirety. It is, rather, a matter of his possessing more of our lives. Each of us is to aspire to giving the Holy Spirit full control of our lives. When that happens, our lives will manifest whatever gifts God intends for us to have, along with all the fruit and acts of his empowering that he wishes to display through us. It is to be remembered, as we noted earlier, that no one gift is for every Christian, nor is any gift more significant than the others.

Of more importance, in many ways, than the receiving certain gifts is the fruit of the Spirit. These virtues are, in Paul's estimation, the real evidence of the Spirit at work in Christians. Love, joy, and peace in an individual's life are the surest signs of a vital experience with the Spirit. In particular, Paul stresses love as more desirable than any gifts, no matter how spectacular (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

But what is proper procedure with regard to an actual case of modern-day public practice of what is claimed to be the biblical gift of glossolalia? First, no conclusions should be drawn in advance as to whether it is genuine or not. Then, the procedure laid down by Paul so long ago should be followed. Thus, if one speaks in tongues, there should be an interpreter, so that the group as a whole may be edified. Only one should speak at a time and no more than two or three at a session (1 Cor. 14:27). If no one is present to interpret, whether the speaker or some other person, then the would-be speaker should keep silence in the church and restrict the use of tongues to personal devotional practice (v. 28). We must not prohibit speaking in tongues (v. 39); on the other hand, we are nowhere commanded to seek this gift.

Finally, it is to be noted that the emphasis in Scripture is upon the one who bestows the gifts rather than upon those who receive them. God frequently performs miraculous works without involving human agents. We read, for example, in James 5:14-15 that the elders of the church are to pray for the sick. It is the prayer of faith, not a human miracle-worker, that is said to save them. Whatever be the gift, it is the edification of the church and the glorification of God that are of ultimate importance.

-Christian Theology, pp. 880-82 under chapter 41

1 comment:

  1. So why desire the greatest gift as Paul said, when it is the prayer of faith that God hands are moved to bring healing. So all we need is faith for all things then?


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