God is not a God of disorder but of peace

In a comment on my Theology quiz results post, TS asked about 1 Corinthians 14:33 “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” (TNIV):

Is it relevant only for prophets speaking in turn, or is it a case against “untoward” manifestations in church service? Are non-charismatics right in accusing charismatic services as being out of order based on this verse?

This is an excellent question!

It seems to me that this verse gives a general principle, which here is being applied specifically to gatherings of the church but can be applied more widely. I don’t think the specific application here is only to prophecy, but to everything described in verses 26 to 32. Indeed the point is basically to support the last part of verse 26, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (TNIV). Thus it does apply to “untoward” manifestations of any kind, but of course that depends on exactly what is considered “untoward”.

On the second question, I wonder if it is based on a misunderstanding of typical charismatic church gatherings. Now I accept that some charismatic meetings are disordered, and thereby wrong according to Paul’s teaching here. But these are the minority, or at least I hope they are, and I don’t seek to defend them. However, from my own experience the majority of charismatic gatherings are in fact rather well ordered. It is just that the type of order found in them is not the same as is found in more formal church services. But in fact these meetings are much closer to what Paul is recommending here than those formal church services are.

It is I guess hard to define a typical charismatic gathering, and my own experience is not all that wide. But from what I have seen, these meetings are usually clearly led by one person who is in charge of what is happening, and who may delegate to others authority over parts of the meeting. In fact times when the meeting is thrown open for congregational participation are usually a small part of the whole, if they occur at all; Paul’s “two or three prophets” (verse 29) tends to be a guideline. In most cases people only speak if given explicit permission by the leader – it helps that in larger meetings they need a microphone. Good leaders exercise discernment by giving permission to speak only to those they know and trust, and when they are unsure of the appropriateness of what is said they make this clear and ask God to give them and the congregation discernment. There is little disorder here.

The times which might seem disorderly are “ministry” times, when people are invited to respond to the message by coming forward for prayer. This necessarily involves several things happening at once; but then I don’t suppose the 3000 baptised on the day of Pentecost were dealt with strictly one at a time. But the prayer for each individual is generally led by people authorised by the church to do so. The difficulties for some are with the manifestations which sometimes occur at these times such as falling over, laughter and other loud noises, of the kinds associated with the Toronto Blessing. I can appreciate that these are disturbing to some, but in general they are happening with the blessing of whoever is leading the meeting, and so can hardly be called disorderly. In well run meetings those who manifest very openly will be talked to by experienced stewards, and if necessary taken aside for special prayer.

So, the principle “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” certainly applies to charismatic church meetings. And it is one which leaders of those meetings generally seek to put into practice. But I don’t think it can be used as a general condemnation of those meetings. Rather, it teaches that meetings should be led firmly but sensitively, by leaders authorised by the church and following the leading of the Holy Spirit.

God is not a spot in the brain

Some interesting research reported by the BBC:

There is no single “God spot” in the brain, Canadian scientists say.

Studies on nuns have shown that personal experiences of communication with God cannot be located in any particular part of the brain. But this is not a surprise to me. As Father Stephen Wang says in this report,

True Christian mysticism is an encounter with the living God. We meet him in the depths of our souls. It is an experience that goes far beyond the normal boundaries of human psychology and consciousness.

Singleness: Köstenberger versus Maken

Although I don’t always agree with Andreas Köstenberger on gender-related issues, I appreciate what he has to say about singleness, part 1 and part 2. But I don’t appreciate Debbie Maken’s response, preaching that for most people it is wrong to remain single.

Unlike either of these two protagonists, but like significant Christian leaders such as John Stott and Mike Pilavachi, leader of the event I just got back from, I am single myself. This is neither from deliberate choice nor from a settled conviction that God has called me to singleness. In fact I rather believe that God has called me to get married at some time. But, from a combination of circumstances and a belief at various times that now was not the right time to look for a partner, this has not yet happened, even though I have now passed 50. A few years ago I was engaged briefly, but it didn’t last. More recently I signed up for a short time with Christian Connection, a dating agency, and made a few friends through it but it didn’t seem right to pursue anything. I continue to struggle with loneliness, as one of the very few singles anywhere near my age in my church or among my friends. And the attitude of the church is not always helpful. But for the moment I also appreciate the freedom from other responsibilities that gives me time to serve God, and to pursue other interests which are mostly related to God’s work. And I continue to trust God to bring the right marriage partner into my life at the right time if that is right, and to continue to provide for me as a single man if that is his better way for me.

Theology quiz results

I’m safely back from Momentum, and intending to blog about it when I get round to it. But first I have been looking at what other bloggers have been up to while I have been away. I have already responded to Adrian on the Better Bibles Blog.

Rick of ThisLamp took a couple of theological quizzes, so I decided to do the same, and like him to share my results.

On Eucharistic theology, I seem to fall right in the middle, or perhaps I’m just confused. The quiz had to ask me a tiebreaker to classify me as Zwingli. Here are the results:

You scored as Zwingli. You are Ulrich Zwingli. You believe that bread and wine are mere symbols of the absent Jesus. You believe in interpreting Scripture reasonably. 


Eucharistic theology
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And then on my general theological worldview, I was a little surprised to find myself classified as Wesleyan, although again with something of an eclectic mix of views. I might have come out more Charismatic/Pentecostal if I had accepted that tongues were important for salvation, which is not a teaching of most charismatics. But then I rather agree with Rick that there are not enough questions in this test to distinguish between all these different theologies. My results:

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God’s grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists. 

Evangelical Holiness/ Wesleyan
Emergent/ Postmodern
Charismatic/ Pentecostal
Neo orthodox
Reformed Evangelical
Classical Liberal
Modern Liberal
Roman Catholic

What’s your theological worldview?
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Getting The Momentum Going

This blog seems to have lost some momentum in the last week or so. This is largely because I have been unexpectedly busy. August is usually a quiet month for me, as for most people it seems, at least in the northern hemisphere. But for various reasons I have been rather busy this week. The blogging I have been doing has mostly been on the Better Bibles Blog: four short posts by me spread over the last two Fridays.

The blogging momentum won’t be getting going again here for the next few days, in fact not until next Thursday at the earliest. This is because I am going away, with no Internet access, to a Christian event called Momentum. This is an offshoot of Soul Survivor, a network of Christian youth events with an evangelical and charismatic basis. They write:

The heart of Soul Survivor is to envision young people of all denominations to capture first a vision of Jesus, and then to equip, train, empower and release them into his ministry in their every day lives.

Last year they had over 22,000 guests at their three summer camping events, held at Shepton Mallet, Somerset – 3-4 hours drive south west of here. For several years the young people from my church have gone to this event and had a great time, as have my pastor and his wife. Their excuse for going has been to take their own children and help to lead the other youth, but it seems to have been a real blessing to them as well, and has made me want to see what it is all about.

This year, a group of teens from my church is currently at the regular Soul Survivor youth camp. They come home tomorrow but will be replaced by a group of mostly twenty-somethings going to Momentum, which is designed for that age group.

Well, it is some years since I no longer qualified for that group. But I decided to pretend to be in my twenties for a few days and join my rather younger friends for a week under canvas. I haven’t camped in Britain for many years, only in Egypt and Australia where warmth was guaranteed. So I am relieved that the five day weather forecast is looking quite good.

I am looking forward to learning all the latest worship songs, and using them to worship God among thousands of others. I am looking forward to fellowship with a group of enthusiastic young (many in both ways) Christians. And I am looking forward to God inspiring me and equipping me for whatever he has in store for me.

I hope to tell you all a bit more in about a week’s time.

Bible Puzzler

Lingamish has invited me to be a Bible Puzzler, and I have agreed to be an occasional participant. The purpose of this is:

  1. To demonstrate Bible study skills.
  2. To model collaborative scholarship.
  3. To promote application of the Bible to real-world situations.

He is looking for a few more bloggers to join him, so if you are interested please contact him, by comment on his new blog. Meanwhile I will be interested to see how this series goes.


I would like to thank Lingamish for bringing to my attention a very interesting site called Post-Charismatic. This site consists of a series of articles, or a short e-book, which Rob McAlpine, a Canadian and former pastor, has written about the charismatic movement, and about those he calls “post-charismatics” because they have been through the charismatic movement and left it, without necessarily rejecting its principles. (His “post-charismatics” should not be confused with “ex-charismatics” like the cessationist Dan Phillips.)

McAlpine’s history of the charismatic movement is very interesting, but deliberately focuses on three main areas of distorted, or at least controversial, teaching which have affected the movement: Latter Rain, Prosperity and Shepherding. He seems himself to be one of many people who has been involved in the charismatic movement but has become confused and disillusioned by these kinds of teaching. Indeed some of these people seem to be so hurt that they have entirely given up on churches or on the gifts of the Spirit. McAlpine’s focus in his series is on helping such people to recover from such shipwrecks the essential features of their Spirit-filled Christian life.

I can agree with most of what McAlpine’s positive attitude towards the central charismatic teachings and negative assessments of the controversial teachings he describes. But he does seem to me rather negative about the charismatic movement as a movement. It seems to me, from my British perspective, that there is still a lot of hope for the movement. While it has been damaged by some distorted teachings, they have by no means destroyed it. There is still a vibrant core of charismatic believers and churches who have avoided the excesses of these teachings, while discerningly accepting what is good in them.

So, I see no reason to call myself a post-charismatic, to dissociate myself from the charismatic movement, or to accept that, as Lingamish suggests, the word “charismatic” is a slur. I am proud to be a charismatic Christian, as well as an evangelical at least in the British sense which is somewhat weaker than the American one. Yes, I and my church need continuing vigilance against all kinds of errors, and against the dangers of shallowness and hype. But, as we follow the example of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can look forward in confidence to continuing to do great things for God.

Jesus is Our Fully Human Example

One of the most important lessons I learned for my Christian life was that Jesus is fully human. I had recited that as part of the Creeds since childhood, and I had believed it at least in theory. But in my first few years as a Bible-believing Christian, in an environment where good Bible teaching was highly valued but the Holy Spirit was mostly ignored, the humanity of the second Person of the Trinity was also given little attention.

I did of course learn that it was necessary for Jesus to be human for him to take on the cross the punishment deserved by the rest of humankind. But the idea I had of Jesus living on earth was of a divine being with superhuman powers in a human form, perhaps with an actual human body. This Jesus was portrayed as someone entirely unique, someone whom ordinary Christians could not aspire to be like. And Jesus now reigning in heaven just seemed to be totally divine.

Let me first make a disclaimer to avoid any misunderstanding. I accept and believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God, fully God as well as fully human. The Bible clearly teaches this. But it also clearly teaches the other side of the picture, that he is fully human.

It was only after I experienced the Holy Spirit for myself (I received the so-called “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” and spoke in tongues) that I started to understand the wider significance of Jesus’ full humanity. Perhaps this is because I started reading books with a rather different perspective. I started to understand that Jesus is the perfect example for us to follow. Paul wrote, “I follow the example of Christ”, and on this basis told the Corinthians to “Follow my example” (1 Corinthians 11:1, TNIV). Thus Jesus is an example even for us to follow.

You may ask as perhaps I did, how can this be? Jesus is the sinless Son of God, and we are sinful people, so how can we aspire to follow his example? The answer comes here:

we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Hebrews 4:15 (TNIV©, American edition)

What an encouragement! Jesus faced the same kinds of trials and temptations that we do, and emerged victorious through them all! If he did, so can we. This is made clear here:

let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (TNIV©)

The word translated “pioneer” here means something like “the first to follow a path”, perhaps “trailblazer”. Jesus was the first to run the race and to live the life of faith, and, because he did, we too can. (Yes, I know it is theologically controversial to suggest that Jesus had faith, but I won’t go into that issue just now.)

Furthermore, if we are called to follow Jesus’ example, that must mean that we should expect to do the same kinds of things which Jesus did. This is confirmed in John’s gospel, where Jesus said:

Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

John 14:12 (TNIV©)

Note that although this was spoken to the twelve apostles, the promise is not restricted to them, or even to those who lived in their lifetime, but is a promise to all who have faith in Jesus. There is no room here for cessationism.

What kinds of works is Jesus talking about here? The answer just came as a surprise to me. Jesus is talking about the very same works which, in the previous verse, he was appealing to as evidence that “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11, TNIV). He is not referring to acts of kindness which any person can do, but to the miraculous signs which proved that God had sent him, signs such as turning water into wine, “the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory” (John 2:11, TNIV), and feeding the five thousand, a sign which caused many to believe in him (John 6:14). It seems that Jesus expects “all who have faith in me” to do not just similar works but even greater ones.

The objection that I would have made to this argument is that Jesus performed his miracles, and especially these great signs, because he was divine and so omnipotent. There is, I thought, no way that we humans can do anything even remotely comparable, because we are limited to what our natural human bodies can do. This argument might seem to be decisive, but the Bible clearly does not allow us to take this position. Firstly, it is contradicted by John 14:12, as we have already seen. And then, from a quite different angle, it is also contradicted by this passage:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Mark 13:32 (TNIV©)

Jesus didn’t know something, so in his ministry, at least at this point, he was not operating in his omniscient divine nature. Yet he did know that the angels didn’t know this, something which was not known to everyone. How did he have some supernatural knowledge but not all knowledge? The only answer, it seems, is that he was operating in his human nature but the Holy Spirit was revealing some divine truth to him. (I have taken this argument from Confronting the Powers by C. Peter Wagner, pp.129-130.)

It is of course no coincidence that Jesus’ ministry began soon after he received the Holy Spirit. Before his baptism, Jesus seems to have lived a normal life. No childhood miracles are recorded in the biblical gospels, although some implausible fables are found in non-canonical gospels and in the Qur’an. The young Jesus was an exceptional student (Luke 2:46-47) but showed no special powers. Then at his baptism the Holy Spirit came upon him, and immediately led him into the wilderness to be tempted (Mark 1:9-13). Only after that did he begin to preach and to heal in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14-15, Matthew 4:23), and to drive out demons by the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:28).

The implication seems clear: Jesus carried out all of his ministry as a human being filled with the Holy Spirit. He exercised the gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy in his prophetic preaching, healing and miraculous powers. The divine Son of God had voluntarily “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7, RSV) of his divine attributes like omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence and submitted himself to the limitations of a human body. But as a perfect human, perfectly filled by the Holy Spirit, he could operate perfectly in the gifts of the Spirit, and so do the great works which proved that God had sent him.

So what of us? We too, as Christians, have received the Holy Spirit – whether or not we have had a specific experience of the Spirit’s power. We are not perfectly filled with the Spirit because of our sinfulness, and need to seek continual new filling (Ephesians 5:18; the verb “be filled” is in the present continuous tense). But the same Holy Spirit who filled Jesus also fills us, and so in the power of the Spirit we can do the same works that Jesus did, and indeed even greater works, probably because there is, or should be, not one person but the whole church for the Spirit to work through.

This is not all a matter of great miracles. Through the Spirit we can experience the same close relationship with the Father which Jesus experienced. We can hear the Father speaking to us and let him speak through us. We can aim to be like Jesus in this:

the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

John 5:19 (TNIV©)

And as we do what we see the Father doing, as revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, we will find ourselves, together as the church, doing even greater things than Jesus did: bringing his power, his compassion, and his saving message not just to one small country, as he did during his life on earth, but to the whole world.

Is Conservative America Waking Up to Global Warming?

Is conservative America finally waking up to the damage which its lifestyle of unrestricted oil use is doing to our planet? Are the ostriches at last taking their heads out of the sand and looking at the irrefutable evidence that global warming is happening, and is very probably caused by burning of fossil fuels? There are at least hopeful signs of this even in the Bible belt of Kentucky, from the blog of the influential Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. But then Asbury, with its continuing emphasis on “well-trained, sanctified, Spirit-filled, evangelistic ministry”, is sadly not a typical part of the Bible belt. I will be more hopeful for the future of the earth when the same attitude spreads across Kentucky from the Lexington area to Louisville and Al Mohler’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.