How Fear of the Supernatural Can Lead to Sloppy Exegesis
I was a cynical, 14-year-old skeptic as I sat in the back of yet another youth camp church service in Concan, Texas. Growing up a preacher’s kid I had seen it all before: the emotional preaching, the quiet crooning of the keyboard player, the altar area quickly filling up with teenagers looking for another emotional fix. “Here we go again,” I whispered to my buddy, Darren, “get ready for the crying and the “tongues-talking”. My already sensitive “spiritual-BS-detector” was beeping loudly in my brain as almost every teen in the room headed for the front to be “clothed with power from on high” as the preacher so eloquently promised. “The promised power and gifts of the Holy Spirit weren’t just for Peter, Paul, Stephen and the Apostles;” he shouted, “they are for you, too! Say, “yes”, to Jesus and receive a fresh touch of the Holy Spirit’s power tonight!” My backside stayed firmly planted in my seat. All these other gullible kids could get swept into this, but not me; I was too smart. Years earlier, at another Bible camp, I had been traumatized by some well-meaning, sweaty ministers in suits, who had descended upon me, screaming into my ears, and not left me alone until I had babbled some made-up gibberish. For days I lived in fear, thinking I had lied and blasphemed the Holy Spirit, bringing unforgivable damnation on my soul.
After the meeting was over, I confronted our camp speaker at the door. “Why do you insist that we all have to experience your brand of “Holy Spirit baptism?”, I asked him. “Isn’t it all just trumped-up emotionalism? You remind me of the kind of snake-oil salesman that would have every hillbilly up and down the Mississippi running barefooted and bucktoothed toward the steamship to buy their junk.” “Oh, Jim,” he said, “you really do need a touch from Jesus this week. Anytime you want me to sit down and go through the Bible with you, I would be glad to take the time, but I’ll be praying for you.” The next morning I read through the book of I Corinthians to try to debunk what was going on. The more I read, the more I was convinced that I needed more of God.
That night we heard how Peter was a coward and a wimp until he received “power from on high” to be a witness for Jesus. This same power could be ours as well. As soon as the sermon was over, Darren headed for the altar. Darren was also a preacher’s kid and was not a gullible guy, prone to manipulation. Within minutes, Darren was weeping and speaking in other tongues. I slowly walked toward the front, knelt down and prayed a simple prayer: “God, you know I’ve got my doubts. You know I’ve been skeptical and cynical, but if you want to give me the same power that Peter and Paul had, I am ready to receive.” As soon as I had said those words, I felt a wave of God’s love crash over me and I began to weep, worship and cry out to God. When I opened my eyes, I was alone. I had been in prayer for 3 hours, and everyone but the keyboard player had gone to bed. Robert was playing and singing, “The greatest thing in all my life is loving You”. I looked up at him and said, “He’s real, man; He’s really real!” “I know He is”, Robert said, “I’ve been singing to Him for hours.”
That night changed me forever, and I have never been the same again. Before, I found it hard to lift my hands and worship God. Now, it was a simple, natural thing, like breathing. Before, I was too intimidated to share my faith. Now, I couldn’t seem to shut-up, even stopping people on the street to talk about Jesus. Before, I was cynical and skeptical of the supernatural. Now I began to pray, like Paul, for more spiritual gifts. I wouldn’t trade “being clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit” for anything. Are you afraid of the Holy Spirit’s power? I have been stunned at how quickly otherwise Bible-believing people depart from good exegesis out of fear of the supernatural. Here are some examples of bad exegesis that can cause you to live in fear of the Holy Spirit’s power.
1 Bad interpretation of I Corinthians 13 I continue to be shocked that “cessationism”, a horrible excuse for exegesis, is still taught and believed in ostensibly Bible-believing churches. The idea is that when “that which is perfect” comes, all gifts will cease. Those who fear the supernatural simply decide that the “perfect” thing mentioned is the completed canon of Scripture, with absolutely zero proof! Tell me, where does Paul mention the Bible ANYWHERE in that passage? In fact, according to the context, tongues, prophecy and knowledge will cease when we see Jesus “face to face”! It seems obvious to me, but if you come in already afraid of the Holy Spirit, it will cloud your exegesis. I Corinthians 12 would have been a perfect place for Paul to interject in his long list of gifts — “Now, remember, these aren’t for everybody” — but he doesn’t. More and more theologians are being forced to abandon I Corinthians 13 as a defense of cessationism, and you should too.
2 Terrible exegesis of I Corinthians 12 and 14 Do yourself a favor. Read both chapters carefully and try to find any verse that says that all supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit will stop, or that we are not to use supernatural gifts of the Spirit. In these instructions for public worship, Paul’s emphasis is exactly the opposite: “Eagerly desire” spiritual gifts, but use them the right way and at the right time! In fact, Paul specifically mentions that he wishes all of us “spoke in tongues” and he specifically tells us not to “forbid” people to speak in tongues. How do you get around that? Those who argue against supernatural gifts are forced to do Scripture twisting that would make a Jehovah’s Witness blush! Churches that are not open to the operation of spiritual gifts are going directly against Paul’s teachings, and as such, would make Paul very uncomfortable as a guest.
In summary, Paul’s message is obviously to desire and use the gifts, but within his guidlines, NOT to abandon them altogether! Does your church obey I Corinthians 14:39-40? Does your church “forbid” speaking in tongues? Does your church go beyond Paul’s guidlines and completely eliminate the operation of supernatural spiritual gifts? Keep in mind, I’m not talking about worship style or liturgy. I’m talking about a flat-out violation of Paul’s command in I Corinthians 12:39-40. Are you comfortable with that?
Paul encourages the use of all supernatural, spiritual gifts, but tells us how and when they are to be used. Don’t make the silly mistake of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And by the way, we DON’T have to choose between the gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit: they are all ours. 3 Artificial separation of “power gifts” and “talent-based gifts”
What some people do to try to eliminate supernatural gifts is create two separate categories: “Power gifts” (which are supposedly not available to us anymore) and “talent-based” gifts, which are not as threatening. The problem is that the New Testament makes no such artificial separation! Read I Corinthians 12:28-31. Paul mentions the gifts of “workers of miracles,” and “gifts of healing”, in the exact same context as “gifts of administration” and “helping others.” What gives you the right to go in and chop all these gifts up into categories and decide which ones God can still give us today? The fact is, PAUL MAKES NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN THEM! Read it again and again and you will find it is not there. It is what we call in debate, a “false choice” or “false distinction”. The gifts of the Spirit are all or nothing. If you say that “tongues” and “miracles” are done, you must also scratch “administration” and “helps” if you are exegetically consistent. THE PROMISE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IS FOR YOU TOO!
Let me leave you with some words of the Apostle Peter in his famous Pentecost sermon in Acts 2: 14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. 15“For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: 17 AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,’ God says,’THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS; EVEN ON MY BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT And they shall prophesy…38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” NASB
Don’t let bad exegesis and fear of the supernatural rob you of a blessing. As God to “clothe you with power from on high”. This is not a one-time deal, either. God wants to keep filling you and re-filling you with His power to witness, power to serve, and power to say “no” to sin. Receive from Jesus today. Right now at your computer, ask Jesus to fill you with the power of His Holy Spirit and give you gifts that will bless the body of Christ. If you already use a Holy Spirit gift, then “fan it into flame” again! For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)
Don’t let fear of the supernatural scare you into bad exegesis. The church needs your gifts. Spirit of the Living God, Fall Afresh on Me Spirit of the Living God, Fall Afresth on Me
Melt me, Mold me, Fill me, Use Me Spirit of the Living God, Fall Afresh on Me
— Daniel Iverson