- Wednesday, November 01, 2006
A few weeks ago we had a perfect example. We came to the passage dealing with prophecy and tongues. It happened to be the weekend of the fifth anniversary of 9/11. I was tempted to preach a topical sermon on that theme, addressing our national loss, calling us to a patriotic resistance to terrorism at home and abroad. Somehow, the Holy Spirit said to me, "Move on in 1 Corinthians." Three observable things happened.
One, I could see that some of you were disappointed that it was not a patriotic service of remembrance. There is a place for that, and I apologize if that was your expectation. I received some emails and phone calls the following week protesting my failure in that regard.
Two, some of you commented at the door that it was heavy going for you, although you learned something about the gifts of the Spirit, especially the juxtaposing of the gift of tongues as the lessor of the gifts and the forthtelling of the Word to be the highest. To learn is to be built up. That's edification. Others of you said that you had never heard me address the topic of tongues and that you found it very helpful. Some of you wrote letters of appreciation, describing your own experience of worship in churches that abused the gift of tongues, providing a worship experience that was at the least puzzling and at the most chaotic. One in particular mentioned to me at the door that her father had been raised in the Assemblies of God church, was a godly leader in that church, which at that time thought that the gift of tongues was normative for all believers and questioned his spirituality, because he did not have that particular gift. Yet, she said her father led more people to faith in Jesus Christ than any other lay person in that church.
Three, I was reminded by something that happened on one other occasion when I addressed this whole topic of tongues in a similar fashion. This was some years ago. One of our custodians happened to be working on close to the loudspeaker system that enabled him to hear the sermon. He had been raised in a Pentecostal background where he was taught that if you did not have the gift of tongues you were not a Christian. He wanted to know God's love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, yet he somehow didn't have the gift of tongues. He prayed for it by the hour. Others prayed over him to have this gift. But the biggest smile I've ever seen on a man was when he said to me, "Last Sunday liberated me! Now I know that I am a Christian, and there is nothing wrong with me because I can't speak in tongues. It's okay for others. If God wants to give me that gift, wonderful. But I'm not going to waste my time trying to get something that, to this point, God has not chosen to give me."
Let me add a footnote to this theme of edification. Our newspapers are carrying accounts of the politicization of some American pulpits. On the left of the political spectrum is the allegation that a preacher misused the pulpit of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena to attack the President of the United States and to rally partisan support for the agenda of the Democratic Party. What appears to be punitive action is being taken by conservatives who are in positions of political power that, if successful, would cause that church to lose its tax-exempt status. At the other extreme are the recent actions of James Dobson and the Focus on the Family efforts to further a conservative, pro-family agenda, working to elect candidates of the Republication Party. Yesterday's L.A. Times had an in-depth article about these efforts. The leader of a political action group of the left is suing to silence Dobson in his efforts, using the threat of the loss of tax-exempt status for his organization and any churches that would work with that agenda. And this morning's paper reports that yesterday at that conference Jerry Falwell made a statement that the Republicans would have an easier time defeating Hillary Clinton for president than if Satan himself ran.
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