Monday, October 31, 2011
Books That Have Shaped Me – Part Five
“The Benediction Project”
8. "Body Life", by Ray C. Stedman (Regal, 1972, second ed.) 149 pp. Softcover.
This was my first book on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. During my schooling I had read materials on spiritual gifts, but these were fairly brief sections on the topic found in larger books, short articles, or polemical tracts and booklets warning the reader against erroneous teachings and practices concerning the gifts.
One chapter I had read (in The Holy Spirit by Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Moody, 1965) presents the different gifts briefly, and then concludes that seven of the gifts were quite likely limited to the life of the apostles and the early church: apostleship, prophecy, miracles, healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues, and discerning of spirits. According to this view, these spiritual gifts had been given by God to help the infant church get established but were then withdrawn by the Spirit from the life of the church by the end of the first century. Anyone who claims to have one or more of these gifts today is probably mistaken, led astray by emotion or false teachings. While I appreciated Ryrie’s clear and devout manner of writing, and while I (in the late 1960’s) accepted his explanation, I became increasingly uncomfortable with his biblically questionable (in my view) division of the gifts into temporary gifts and permanent gifts.
The other spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible, in addition to those mentioned above, are evangelism, pastor-teaching, teaching, ministry, exhortation, giving, leadership, showing mercy, wisdom, knowledge and faith. While the complete number of eighteen gifts is not found together in any one biblical list, two or more of the gifts are mentioned in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30; 13:1-3; 14:1-40; Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Peter 4:11.
Ray Stedman’s book led me on a quest to discover the biblical perspective on the gifts of the Holy Spirit for myself. Even after many years of study and teaching on the topic, and after writing a small book on the gifts, now in its third edition (Serving by the Spirit: Spiritual Gifts and Spiritual Preaching, Christian Growth Ministries, 2004), I am still on this quest.
By 1973 I had moved away from the view of Ryrie and other dispensationalists on the subject of spiritual gifts (as well as some other distinctives of this theological system, known for its emphasis on the different ways God has worked throughout the different eras of human history). In order to be consistent with my new approach to the gifts, I had to resign (reluctantly) from a ministerial association that held to the early-church-only view of the more controversial gifts.
One of the main reasons, it seemed to me, why some (not all) scholars and pastors preferred this view is because it appears to solve a whole host of problems that can arise in a local church setting where such gifts as healing, tongues, prophecy and discerning of spirits are accepted as part of the life of the Spirit in the church body. After all, it can get messy if such practices are allowed to take place. If we do not permit such practices, then we will, according to this viewpoint, avoid offending our regular members (and givers) and be following the biblical command that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” Paul states, however, just before these words, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39-40).
Such exhortations at the very end of Paul’s long chapter comparing prophecy and tongues should prompt us to be more open to the mysterious ways of the Spirit, especially since there are no clear biblical texts that say that the more “controversial” gifts of the Spirit were only for the early church. I was excited that Stedman had a more “open” view on these gifts than the dispensational perspective (even though Stedman is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, a center of dispensationalism and the school where Charles Ryrie taught).
Stedman is not pushing a charismatic agenda as commonly understood, however, but he is urging all of God’s people to believe that, according to the Bible, ¬¬¬¬¬¬every Christian has one (possibly more) of the “spiritual gifts” (Greek charismata). This is taught in 1 Peter 4:10 and 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, and clearly implied in Romans 12:6-8. And this is the truth that excited me most: I am gifted by the Holy Spirit with at least one of his marvelous gifts. In my case I understood that to be teaching. My gift was no more or less important than any other gift, however. And you, if you are a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, have a spiritual gift also. We all need one another working together in the unity of the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12).
Most of Stedman’s book is not about the individual spiritual gifts, but about the body life of the Spirit-filled church, how God intended it to be. According to the author, “the purpose of this book is to search out from the Scripture the nature and function of true Christianity and thus to recover the dynamic quality of early Christianity…. There is no reason why the church in the twentieth century [or the 21st century – my addition] should not be what it was in the first century. True Christianity operates now on exactly the same basis as it did then. The same dynamic impact described in the book of Acts is possible today” (p. 5).
These words, along with the first-person accounts of the Body Life services of the author’s church excited me 40 years ago and do so every bit as much now. I close with this powerful statement from Ray Stedman: “The supreme task of every Christian’s life is to discover his [or her] gift and put it to work” (p. 131).