In the aftermath of the ‘Strange Fire conference, sides will be taken and there will be reactions a-plenty. Although some of the things said at the conference were sweeping and appeared harsh, I cannot conclude that it was wrong for these real and deep concerns to be voices, and a challenge given to the ‘charismatic world’ to get their act together and clear out aberrant practice and preaching. Perhaps as well as critiquing modern day claims to supernatural gifts, we should also stop to ask ‘why do so many think and feel they are so important?’
What does it offer to have to have explicit demonstrations of God’s power? I would suggest there are various answers to that, including the obvious ones. Proponents would argue that this is what God intends in His church, and that we settle for less than His fullness if we do not seek it too. I wonder. If, on the other hand, the desire for captivating ‘spiritual gifts’ results in our actually manufacturing them if they are not present, whether intentionally or otherwise, then convincing ourselves and others that they are authentic, what would drive us to do such a thing? I have some questions:
Evidence of Presence
1. Do we seek tangible evidence of God’s presence in a Biblical way? Or do we have to have the spectacular to assure us that He is with us? And are we thus growing our dependence on such things so that we feel let down if they don’t happen? Are we becoming ‘experience junkies’? Let me put it another way. In meetings where there is often, if not always, tongues-speaking, prophecy, claims to healings etc., do people feel let down if these things don’t occur, and the meeting goes ‘quiet’? Is the ‘spiritual temperature’ gauged solely by the number or intensity of ‘inspired’ happenings? What was it that Jesus said would show to the world that we are His? Was it signs and wonders? Or was it our love for each other?
Demonstrations of Power
2. Do we equate demonstrations of God’s power almost completely in terms of these ‘gifts’? And again, is this a Biblical measure? Is God not at work mightily in the convicting of sinners and the bringing to new life of those who are dead in sin? Is not the ministry of the living word of God to hungry hearts an ongoing work of power? What of the daily transformation of wicked hearts into the very likeness of Christ Himself? Do we value these things any less because they are silent, unseen, yet very real, works of God in our very midst. Oh, they don’t stand up and shout, or grasp us in a way which takes our breath. But don’t our Bibles assure us they are being effected by the work of the Spirit within us all the time. What of the amazing way God unites believers in love? Is that not a work of power?
Principles of Guidance
3. Are we looking to ‘gifts’ for guidance? Do we expect the prophetic to light our way for us? There is a very serious question here. Is not this way of thinking a reverting back to the old covenant, where, when the people needed to hear God’s voice on something, they sought out a prophet? And does not the new covenant promise, as one of its distinctives, that every individual believer would know God, from the least to the greatest, irrespective of category – slave or free, man or woman, young or old? Isn’t that precisely what the Day of Pentecost brings?
The Still, Small Voice
Yes, God can and does act in power, which awes the puny, small efforts and minds of man and silences their voices before Him. But I am reminded of the story of Elijah on Horeb, hidden in his cave, waiting for God. Mighty, noise-filled, powerful displays; three of them, are paraded across the mouth of that cavern. Yet God is not ‘in’ any of them. Because God does not need the spectacular to reassure us of His presence. Even when the fire dies, the wind abates and the earth no longer moves, He is with us. And we know His presence by His word – the still, small voice of His Spirit in our hearts. Sometimes it is we, not He who are making the noise which dwarfs it.