Growing Enthusiasm Blogs :
Simply put, I’m just not sure. I’m not sure we’ve got it right. I’m not sure we’re describing it right. I’m not convinced.
For the past few decades I have been part of the church family who rightly expects the Gifts of the Spirit to be exercised in church life today, just as they were in the first Christian communities. It’s where I belong. Nothing tells me that they were only useful for an apostolic era and that they are now no longer valid or needed. If anything they are needed now more than ever and I long for other parts of the church to join us as we experience and share God’s active Spiritual Gifting building each other up.
But having said this I am not uncritical of it all – far from it. And one thing that I am increasingly unconvinced about is the way we conceive and present ‘Words of Knowledge’.
Taking my charismatic reading glasses off for a moment, re-reading 1 Corinthians 12 goes like this…
The NIV translates Paul’s greek in this way:
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.
5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,
9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,
10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.
11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Note the phrase ‘message of’ used before ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’.
Now what is a message of wisdom and a message of knowledge?
In the church today a message of knowledge, often linked to and not very clearly distinguished from the gift of ‘prophecy’, is the same kind of thing a Spiritualist minister has. It is the kind of knowing about something that is hidden from view. A spiritual knowing of something that normal people couldn’t know. Mostly this comes out when people are about to pray for healing so that the person ministering reads out a number of words of knowledge about people in the room (“there’s someone here who…”) and asks for those people to indicate who they are and invites them to receive prayer.
Now, on the one hand I am completely happy that God in his grace and in his eagerness to encourage people to trust him, might use this way of communicating to us. Indeed, as many have noticed, Jesus himself seemed to have this ability on a few occasions – most notably the woman at the well (knowing that she was not married).
At meetings today, then, people pray for ‘words of knowledge’, hoping that God will give them specific details about people’s lives that will enable them to open themselves to prayer. in larger meetings this is often the major way praying for healing is expressed. Specific words are given and specific healings are asked for. A more recent for of all this is ‘Treasure Hunting’ where Christians pray asking God to give them specific people to look out for. Then they go out on to the streets looking for these strangers, and if they see them, will tell them that they are their ‘treasure’ and that God has something for them.
But I’m not convinced. I’m not sure this is what Paul was talking about and I’m not sure it’s how God normally acts.
In Jesus’ ministry (our primary model) we see Jesus healing all the time. Yet, was there any occasion where Jesus acted like we do? Did he ever anticipate a healing with a word of knowledge? I can’t find one. Instead he simply healed people, asking them what they had wrong with them and healing them through his own word of authority. Indeed, he asked a blind person, obviously blind I imagine, to describe what he wanted God to do for him.
Did Jesus ever do treasure hunting? Not according to the gospels. Did he ever encourage his disciples to do it? No. Instead he simply told them to go to people’s homes and towns, and heal people who were ill or sick. Did he ever address the crowd and say something like, “There’s someone here with a pain in their left arm”, or “a bowel complaint”… or whatever? No. Instead he let people bring to him their sick friends, letting them tell him what was the problem… and then he healed them.
In Spiritualist churches we see many people convinced by the mystical knowledge of the seer, conned into believing that they really do know something when tests show that in fact they are as wrong as often if not more that they are right. Isn’t our dependence on this kind of seeing also similarly problematic. I am sure that I not the first skeptic in a room of 500 (or even 100) to doubt the words of knowledge given from the front. If God is ‘here to heal’, then why not simply ask people who are ill, and know that themselves, to come forward and receive healing. Why would God complicate things by adding a middle man?
Knowledge is important and Jesus had specific spiritual knowledge to bring us. As Dallas Willard points out very brilliantly Jesus knew things that we don’t about the way things work in reality in this world. He knew that there was nothing to fear if God is with us and that trust is the most appropriate response to this knowledge. Hence we consider the flowers and the birds… Jesus knew that judgement was around the corner for the people of Israel if they continued to believe that God’s biggest concern was to overthrow the Romans. Jesus knew that words had power – power to heal and power to forgive. He knew that he had the words of eternal life.
The spiritual gift of knowing stuff and helping others to know it too is not about knowing where people’s bodies are in pain. It is much more about knowing God, how he works in the world and how great is his love for people. This gift of knowing something is far more valuable and more urgently needed in our churches.
Let us avoid the show of knowledge and return to the reality of letting people with real knowledge of God’s world build us up and show us the way forward.
May God give us more messages of knowledge than ever.
What do you think?