One Legged Men Don’t Run Very Fast

One_legged_manLast week at the Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit, I engaged in a bit of argumentation that is a bit unusual regarding the continuation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but it has come to make perfect sense to me.  In 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12:4-8, Paul tells us that we are all one body, the body of Christ. The body is made up of different parts and each part needs the other. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don’t need you!" and the head cannot say to the feet, "I don’t need you!" (1 Cor. 12:21).  In both passages, the idea of the body is related to the discussion on spiritual gifts. Clearly from context we can conclude that the members of the body operate as the one body of Christ when each member uses his/her spiritual gifts. The body analogy does not make any sense apart from this perspective if we consider the context.

Now, if I lose my eye, hand, or leg, I am considered deformed, right? I am considered to be incomplete and not able to fully do what I was created/intended to do. If I lose my leg, I might still be able to live, breathe, think, make jokes, cook, and drive a car, but I will not be able to run as fast as before, climb mountains as well as before, or be as strong. When attempting those things, I have to compensate by being stronger in other areas, or I just sit around and remember the good old days when I used to run fast.

God has given us spiritual gifts to make us strong and he intends that we keep them till the end. "What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church" (1 Cor. 14:26). That sounds like a command to me. What about 1 Corinthians 1:7?  "Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."  (See Also Ephesians 4:11-16). We know from 1 Corinthians 12-14 that the main purpose of spiritual gifts is for the building up of the church.   So, doesn’t it make sense that a lack of spiritual gifts would result in a weakened church? Hmmm. What is the state of the church today? Strong or weak? Could it be that we have neglected or abandoned some of the gifts that God has given us in favor of others that are more presentable and seem easier to manage?

Again, if I am missing part of my body, I am considered deformed or unhealthy. It doesn’t mean that I am worthless or that I am loved less. It just means that I am not all I could have been if I had been healthy. I am blind in my right eye, and because of that, I was not able to serve in the military like I wanted to. I also have trouble with baseball, ping pong, tennis, raquetball, and night driving because I have no depth perception. I can’t see a 3-D movie. Now, I have compensated and can still play those sports and drive at night, but it isn’t what it could have been. I am aware of my limitations. I don’t think less of myself and I don’t think that God loves me less. But, I sure wish I had that eye. One day, I will.

Could the church be that way? Could we have lost some of the gifts that God wanted us to have to be strong? Except, He didn’t take them away, we just quit using them and they atrophied. Or, we ran off the people who tried to use their gifts in certain ways because it didn’t make sense to those who were not gifted that way. This goes way beyond tongues, miracles, and healings. It goes to the very heart of church life in the West. If all of the people with certain gift are run off, or if they are told that their gifts cannot function or don’t exist, then what are you left with?  It kind of becomes like a half put togehter Mr. Potato Head doll. You have an eye here, an ear there, a mouth and an arm. But, it doesn’t quite work correctly.

So, where could we have overcompensated? One area is in an overemphasis on the pastoral and preaching offices/gifts in church life. In some churches, everything seems to revolve around the pastor. I fully believe in Biblical church leadership, but I don’t see the pastor being the only one in the church who is supposed to function the way we often see. Yet, he sometimes overfunctions and the result is a weak church. "Each one" is to contribute and bring something, remember?

Not all gifts are for the purpose of building up the church, at least directly. 1 Cor. 14:12 says, "Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church."  Paul is clearly saying here, I believe, that there are gifts that do not build up the church, otherwise he would not have shown the contrast here. Some build up the user, while others build up the church. The gifts that build up the church are greater (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1-5), but it does not mean that the lesser gifts are not important as well. Some have said that gifts like speaking in tongues are invalid because they do not build up the church, but instead, they seem to build up/strengthen the user of the gift (1 Cor. 14:4).  Is it wrong to build yourself up in your faith and become strong in the Lord? The Bible doesn’t seem to think so (Jude 20; Colossians 2:6-7; Ephesians 6:10).  Don’t things like prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and ministry make us strong in the Lord? Then, should it not also stand to reason that exercising our spiritual gifts makes us strong as well? If I am strong, then the whole Body is strong. When I work out my biceps, it makes them strong, but it also strengthens and equips my whole body. So, personal strength is not mutually exclusive of corporate strength, but rather, it aids it.

Is the SBC headed for atrophy? What about our local churches? Will we run off people who exercise gifts of the Spirit that God tells us not to forbid (1 Cor. 14:39)?  Will we put more stock in our traditions and church histories than the clear reading of the text of Scripture? Will we continue to hobble along, overemphasing some parts of the body because we have cut off other parts that were given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7)?  Just because we don’t understand how all of this works does not mean that we should insult the grace of our Heavenly Father who graciously gives us all things. Some say that He gave gifts to the church when she was born, only to remove those gifts within a few decades. I think that Scripture says that without all of the gifts the church would be deformed, crippled, and weakened. I believe that it also says that God, the great gift giver, does not change and is not arbitrary:

16Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. – James 1:16-18.

We will be taking a HUGE step toward answering some of these questions this week with the report from the IMB Ad Hoc Committees regarding their review of the new private prayer language and baptism policies (Wade Burleson writes about this upcoming meeting HERE). I pray that these unbiblical policies will be overturned. I pray for a day when we will embrace what God has given us without prejudice. I have written and prayed for the past year and a half to see these policies overturned because I believe that they hamper the Body of Christ and keep her from being all that God intended for her to be. I am a pastor of the church of Jesus Christ, not just my local church, and my desire is to see all of God’s people strong and fit for works of service. I pray that we will walk on two legs, with two strong arms, and with a strong heart beating within us empowered by the Holy Spirit and fulfilling God’s purpose for us in this generation. This current struggle within the IMB and SBC is soon to be over for all intents and purposes. But, the struggle for the advancement of the Kingdom, the making of disciples, and the strengthening of the church will not end until Jesus returns. May we take the lessons that we have learned here and use them as fuel and sustenance for greater battles with the Real Enemy of our Souls as time unfolds. And, no matter what happens, may God be glorified.

Grace and Peace


11 Responses to One Legged Men Don’t Run Very Fast

  1. I think you are right on in saying that we have quite possibly “run off” people with certain giftings because we don’t know what to do with them. They don’t fit our molds for what the church has become. For this reason, the church in the Western World has suffered without even realizing it. Not only that, it is probably part of the reason we have yet to fulfill the Great Commission!
    When one observes the giftings/functions found in the pages of the NT, and compares these with what we see functioning in today’s church, there is a wide gap. What happened that so many of these giftings are no longer part of the Church today?
    It will be interesting this coming week to see how a lot of this ends up being played out in the IMB BoT meeting.

  2. What are you doing writing a post on a Sunday! Anyway, it is a great post and I have nothing to add to it. I only want to say that I completely agree with you. In fact, I completely agree with an aweful lot of what you say. It’s kinda scary because I am not a normal guy. I think I should be concerned about you…

  3. I think we have been running people off for at least the duration of my lifetime. I grew up in a small church in Arizona, far away from the influences of Dixieland Southern Baptists, and yet, even in that environment, in a community where half of the “churched” population was Mormon, and a fourth of it Catholic, our church still got used to functioning around its own comfort zone and had very subtle ways of sending the message that we were protective of the spiritual fortress we had built and were going to be selective and careful regarding who we allowed inside.
    I’ve heard all my life that Southern Baptists are a people “of the Book.” Yet, it is probably true that the majority of Southern Baptists are cessationists, a belief about which an argument cannot be made from “the Book” without a certain measure of hermeneutical gymnastics combined with what thin evidence is available from church history.

  4. Alan,
    I wonder how much healthier the SBC might be, along with how healthier the overall Pentecostal movement might be, if we didn’t run each other into camps on opposite ends of the field. The Pentecostals, by and large, could stand a good dose of Biblical moderation and a greater focus on Christ while the Baptists and other cessationist denoms could stand a good dose of God’s workings in all its manifestations.
    I do think that the Vinyard, in many ways, has been an attempt to wed the two together.

  5. Alan
    Great analogy under a different circumstance, but I wonder, Paul wrote specifically to the Corinthian church. Immanuel does not practice tongues or have prophesying like Corinth had. Are we less than strong? I would say not. I don’t think your analogy fits. First, I have seen people who were born without arms and have used their feet to do the things people normally do with their hands. They would be the first to tell you that they are not weaker or more inefficient than the person who has hands. If someone looses a kidney or gives one to someone else, they basically have no deficiency than someone who has two kidneys.
    I know you stated this analogy during your presentation, but you may have a better argument from scripture rather than missing body parts. 🙂

  6. Robin,
    You said that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. Are you saying that his words are not applicable to us today? Or, that because they had tongues and prophecy, Paul was including those things as part of their complete body, but since Immanuel does not have tongues and prophecy, it would not be part of your complete body? Please explain further, if you would. I thought that ALL of Scripture was applicable to us today. What other passages do not apply to us?
    I am using the analogy from Scripture, specifically Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 (see my post). Can the eye say to the hand, “I don’t need you?” The analogy absolutely fits and it is the analogy that Paul was making with body parts representing gifted people. Each part is needed, just as each part of our body is needed. I am only applying it to our situation today. Paul said in 1 Cor. 14:26 that these things MUST be done for the strengthening of the church. Was that a hypothetical as well? To say that a man without arms is just as effective as a man with arms is stretching it a bit, don’t you think? It is obvious that he has significant challenges that must be overcome. I didn’t say that the armless man could not function or get things done, however. I only said that he was not as effective as he could be if he had two working arms. The truth of my statement is self evident. I used myself, having only one eye, as an example.
    As to the strength of your church, I have no doubts. But, is it as strong as it could be? Is mine? Is any church? That is a relative argument and it comes from experience, or the lack thereof. We will never know. But, Paul tells us to earnestly seek after the greater gifts, the ones that build up the church. I AM NOT saying that you have to function in all of the gifts to be considered spiritual or close to the Lord. But, are we afraid of admitting that we might be lacking something in this area? I am not. I am also not afraid to admit that I lack the fruit of the Spirit at times. I can no more produce the fruit in my own strength than I can the gifts. They are both of the Spirit. But, I can cooperate and yield to the Spirit’s work in my life. Why is humility and desire in the fruit applauded, but desire for the gifts seen as pride or exclusivity? Maybe we are looking at this whole thing wrong?

  7. Alan
    After reading your thoughts on Wade’s blog I remembered about our little diddie going on here.
    I humbly ask that you don’t twist my words to to say I don’t believe the Bible is applicable today. The emphasis of my argument was not to devalue scripture but to raise it up above your analogy.

  8. I apologize if you think I was twisting your words. That was not my intention. Let me state without reservation that I do not doubt the sincerity of your faith, your love for God, your fidelity to Scripture, or your belief in inerrancy and the sufficiency of Scripture. I am not questioning your beliefs or you personally. Rather, I am questioning the implications of your position. In saying that this was written to the Corinthians, you seem to imply that the arguments made are not applicable to us today. Perhaps you did not mean that. I asked you so you could clarify what you meant, but you did not. I was not being smart by asking the questions, but I was trying to give you a chance to answer before I drew any conclusions. I added in the last question, because if you did answer affirmitively, I wanted to know if there were other passages that you interpreted that way.
    Robin, I am totally confused by your last statement. My analogy is Paul’s analogy, which is found in Scripture. I am only expounding upon it. I am not doing violence to it or changing it in any way. I am just applying it. How is my analogy below Scripture, but your statements that people without arms are as capable as those with arms raising the value of Scripture? I am really confused. Is my application wrong? It seems to be the whole point of 1 Corinthians 12. If there is another meaning to that text beyond the argument that the gifts were given to make the church strong and that the gifted members were compared to parts of a body that are all necessary for the body to function correctly, I would love to hear it.
    As always, I have high personal respect for you and do not want to misrepresent you in any way. That is why I ask questions. I am only trying to engage your arguments and the arguments of others on this issue.

  9. Alan
    Your analogy deals with missing part and the weakness of the body if a part is missing. Pauls analogy deals with the equalness in standing before God of those in the church. Just because someone has a showy gift (tongues) does not make them more important than someone who might have the gift of faith. I believe you could better justify your argument by 12:18 because it has not been God’s will to give Immanuel (The church I pastor) this gift of tongues or the interpretation of tongues.
    Then again, while we both believe in the universal body of believers I also believe you agree that the Bible speaks of the local body of believers called the church. Paul is addressing the local body at Corinth. Not that these teachings aren’t universal, but before applying them to the church as a whole, we must understand the context of Paul.
    Unfortunately, duties must carry me away. I hope you make it to San Antonio. I would like to further our debate on a couple of issues. I find this medium is too time consuming. I believe I can learn from you and hopefully you from me. With that, its your blog and you have the last word.

  10. Thanks for the compliment, Robin. It was a lot of fun.
    As far as differences in my analogy and Paul’s I still don’t see it. Perhaps the fault is mine because I am not communicating well. When Paul said, does the eye say to the hand, “I don’t need you”?, I think that he was making the same argument. All of the parts of the body are needed for it to be strong. Not one is more important than the other. I fully agree with you about that and I think that we are both agreed that is what Paul was talking about. Since all of the parts of the body are equal, therefore they are all equally important and needed. If parts are missing, then it stands to reason, that the body is not all that it could be.
    I have heard this analogy for years by Baptist pastors. They would say, “The whole body is important, and if each part doesn’t function, then the body is weakened. We need you to do your part or we won’t be all that God wants us to be.” Normally, they are talking about giving, serving, etc. But, the analogy of Paul in 1 Cor. 12 relates to spiritual gifts. I hear your point, but I really don’t think that I have violated the text at all. I think that I am totally consistent with it.
    As far as God’s sovereignty in relation to the gifting of your church, I am sure that your church is strong in many areas that churches that have other gifts are not. It has nothing to do with worth or value. The ideal would be to be open to whatever God has available and earnestly desire the greater gifts. I do not imagine that anyone in your church will ever speak in tongues, especially if they are taught that it doesn’t exist. That has nothing to do with God’s sovereignty, however. He does not force things upon us when we do not believe in them. Still, I am sure that your church excels in other areas and that God’s grace is upon you in other ways.
    I fully agree that we must understand Paul’s context as well. Thank you for clarifying what you meant there. I was sure that you were not saying that those passages do not apply to us, but confusion was occuring, so I appreciate your answer. I believe that the context was that people were walking up to one another and were speaking in tongues to each other. No one could understand them, therefore it was worthless in that setting. Tongues were meant to be between the speaker and God, not everyone else, unless there was an interpreter. If we understand the abuse properly, we can understand the prescription better as well.
    I always enjoy our dialogue, Robin, and I learn a lot from you as well. Thanks for continuing to discuss this.