Sitting on a bench in a dugout at a softball field twenty years ago, I was caught off guard by a man who look disgusted when he found out that I attended a Baptist church. I had been saved less than a month and understood very little about the differences in beliefs among those who professed Christ as King. This brother was active in a church that majored on the supernatural aspects of the Christian faith and proceeded to let me know in no uncertain terms that I should jump the Baptist boat and take a Charismatic cruise with him at his church. It was my first exposure to the disunity among Christians concerning the supernatural and spiritual gifts that I am now painfully aware of.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Paul declares above in 1 Corinthians 13 that the presence of agape love is the singular force that gives validity to both spiritual knowledge and supernatural experience. We do not have to choose between our belief and our experience – they are both affirmed by Scripture (to the degree that they are aligned with Scripture). However, apart from love, both objective theology and supernatural experience are completely valueless. Read those familiar words above for a second time and listen to what Paul was seeking to convey. He is writing to an incredibly gifted assembly – Corinth was lacking no spiritual giftedness (1 Cor. 1:7). Yet these genuinely gifted people had serious issues with loving one another and glorifying Christ in their unity. Paul was challenging them and, in essence, confronting them about their exercise of their gifts in the absence of spiritual maturity. Notice also that Paul speaks of their understanding, knowledge and faith. He indicates that these are worthless if they are not exercised along with love. Paul’s words never once hint at the illegitimacy of either supernatural gifts or objective understanding. He actually speaks of both of these things as being valid, but is highlighting the requirement of love in order for either to be useful in the Kingdom.
Have you ever been looked down upon or misunderstood because you place a heightened value on the priority of God’s Word? Maybe you have been viewed as being narrow, legalistic or bookish because you test all tings by objective Scripture. There is also the possibility that some have frowned upon you because you speak of an active intimacy with God – a personal yet subjective experience of knowing Him, feeling Him, sensing Him. You worship with outward expression and speak of God as if He was right there with you (He actually is, you know). The supernatural elements of the faith are important to you but those who love Christ and cherish His word view you as flaky, immature or un-anchored in theology because of your embracing of spiritual experience. Sometimes there seems to be the presumption that we are called to choose between the Word and the Spirit. Let’s be honest, most of us lean more heavily in one direction than the other and it might tend to make us suspicious of any who lean the opposite way. Are we truly forced to choose? If so, by whom? Must we abandon our allegiance to the authority of Scripture if we are going to live in the power of the Holy Spirit? If we are going to live as those who are theologically grounded are we thus obligated to reinvent the Godhead Trinity to Father, Son…and Holy Scriptures? What about the first-century church – did they pick sides? When I read the Book of Acts and all the Epistles that follow I come away with the clear conviction that those followers of Jesus were grounded in both the Word and actively living in the Holy Spirit. They were not perfect Christians…but I am amazed at how much God did through them without them having a written copy of His completed Word. They did not have systematized theology (though it would come later). What did they have then? They had vertical and horizontal fellowship, apostolic doctrine and the indwelling Holy Spirit.
And God turned the world upside down with them.
So I think of that fellow at the softball field and wonder if he ever learned that God never wanted me to choose between an emphasis on the Word and an emphasis on personally and perpetually experiencing what is written in the Word. God never called me to choose between a mind saturated by good theology and a life filled with the Holy Spirit. The best I can tell by twenty years of studying my bible, God actually calls me to pursue both. I hope my friend from long ago learned that between then and now.
And I hope I never forget it.
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