People looking for a church often ask about spiritual gifts, and the filling of the Holy Spirit. This is usually asked in one of several ways:
- Do you believe in the filling of the Holy Spirit?
- Do you believe spiritual gifts are for today?
- What is your view of tongues?
These questions are often different versions of the same issue. Most asking this want to know what we believe about the gift of tongues. I will simply share our view without trying to refute other views. Please understand, my own history with this doctrine has left me with great love and respect for those on both sides of the issue. I know how each side feels and what motivates them as well as what frightens them about the other views.
There are three common but mutually exclusive views on glossolalia (the manifestation of tongues):
- Pentecostal view: Tongues are normative as the only evidence of Spirit filling.
- Cessationist view: Tongues ceased with the death of the apostles.
- Continuationist view: Tongues are only one of several gifts.
As a church, we hold to the third view. We believe that all the gifts in the New Testament are available today (they continue). He is God. His gifts are given according to his plan to strengthen and equip the church to serve him in a hostile world. Tongues were never intended as the sole sign of Spirit filling—some filled with the Spirit will speak with tongues; some filled with the Spirit never will. God decides who uses what gift, when it is used, and how it is used.
We believe a person receives the Holy Spirit immediately upon conversion. This is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit[i] promised by the prophets and Christ. Subsequent to this, people are filled and even refilled with the Holy Spirit. We believe this because Paul commanded the Ephesians, who had been Christians for some time, to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18b).
I am often asked by those who disagree with refilling why it would be necessary. I could quote D. L. Moody, who said, “Because I leak.” While this sounds pithy, I have a serious problem with it. It implies a loss of something given to us by God. The concept of being refilled with the Spirit is often used in a way that sounds as if God did not give us all that we need when we first came to him or, for some reason, withheld something good until we reached a certain state. Over the years I have come to see the concept of filling and refilling to reflect a change in size of the vessel. If I have one gallon of water and pour it into a two gallon bucket, the bucket is only half full. If I pour the same gallon into a one gallon container it has been filled. We are filled with the Spirit, but in time as the cares of this world creep in the self comes to overshadow our spiritual life. We need to be refilled (return to a condition of being filled) because our vessel—ourselves—grows out of proportion to our spiritual life. Our own needs and desires take priority. The things of God grow smaller and smaller in our lives, so we need to be refilled. This is not accomplished by giving us more of the Holy Spirit, but by reducing the self. God reduces us until the Spirit already given fills our vessel to the top.
Consider John 3:30, which reads, “He must become greater; I must be reduced.” Most translations fail to show the difference in voice with these two verbs. Christ becoming greater is in active voice—meaning he increases himself. John being reduced is in passive voice showing that he does not reduce himself. Christ, by increasing himself, reduces the importance of John. In the same way, when the Spirit decreases the influence of Self[ii] in our lives, he increases his influence over us.
So how do we as a church respond to the exercise of tongues and other gifts? Scripture says if one speaks in tongues and no interpretation is given that person is to speak quietly to God (1 Corinthians 14:28). This means we handle such manifestations in the following way:
- If one speaks out publicly in tongues, we will wait and pray for an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:13).
- If an interpretation is given, it will be weighed for conformity to scripture (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 John 4:1-3).
- If no interpretation is given, then the person will be encouraged to speak quietly to God without disturbing the rest (1 Corinthians 14:28).
- If an interpretation is given, and we as a church find that it does not match up with scripture that too will be pointed out (1 Corinthians 12:3; 14:29; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 1 John 4:1-3). This protects everyone involved. We are neither ‘charismanic’ nor ‘charisphobic.’[iii] We seek to be biblical in all things.
Of course, some ask this question about spiritual gifts without meaning to concentrate on tongues, but simply to find out how we respond to charismatic practices. As I said above we will do all things scripturally and strongly believe that all things are to be weighed for their conformity to scripture. If someone offers what they believe to be a prophecy, then we will weigh that prophecy by the Word of God delivered to the prophets and apostles—the Bible. If it lines up with the teaching of scripture then we thank God for it. If not, it will be rejected.
Over the years this has not been a big issue. When it has been an issue at all, it was not our practice that caused the problem, but those who have come in with their own agenda to convince others of the need for one gift or another. So, if you are visiting and have a particular view of the gifts, please understand that your view will be respected; however, the practice within our worship services will follow scripture above all else.
[i] The term “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” is nuanced. Different groups interpret it differently. We interpret it to mean that initial reception of the Holy Spirit at salvation.
[ii] The use of the capital initial letter treating this as a personal name is intentional here.
[iii] I have a couple friends, pastors of Calvary Chapel churches, who use these terms which were coined by Chuck Smith.