from JAC Issue #11
by Captain Stephen Court
"Eagerly desire the greater gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31). This culminated his discussion of apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helps, administration, tongues, and interpretation of tongues (14:27-30). These are some of the King's gifts.
The Salvation Army is a holiness movement. Holiness is essential to our success. Holiness presumes implicit obedience to God. If, at any point, we are disobedient, then we are no longer holy.
Inasmuch as we do not eagerly desire these gifts, to that extent we are disobedient and have ruptured fellowship with God. Insofar as we deny the King's gifts, to that degree we are wearing the emperor's clothes, we're naked and we're fooling ourselves that we're clothed in the righteousness that characterizes The Salvation Army.
Gifts represent the power of God. Frequently a manifestation of the power of God has effected opposition. Gifts represent the presence of God. Sometimes the presence of God is uncontrollable and so has provoked fear. Gifts represent the grace of God. Occasionally this is bastardized such that it spawns pride. In our concern to avoid these human responses, opposition, fear, and pride, The Salvation Army has retreated from obedience to God's command. It has bullied us into rupturing our fellowship with God, into forfeiting our holiness. In denying the King's gifts, we've put on the emperor's clothes.
We desire unity. Inauspiciously, unity is often won at the lowest common denominator. So as not to exclude the 'weaker comrades' we compromise on the gifts of God. To desire unity is good, but not at the expense of desiring gifts.
Some time after General William Booth walked the earth spiritual authority somehow underwent declension to a spirit of control. A spirit of control is offended when gifts evincing the presence of God take matters out of our hands.
Opposition, fear, pride, unity, and control take their places in battle array against healing, helps, administration, tongues, and interpretation of tongues primed for an engagement that will determine the Army's destiny.
IS IT ARMY?
This is the first question most Salvationists ask when confronted with something outside their experience. Despite what our more recent history of excommunicating officers with more visible gifts and forbidding the use of some gifts in public meetings might suggest, these more 'outstanding' gifts are certainly Army. General William Booth explains:
"For this reason they were important to the world, and their possession today might be a great blessing to mankind. There is not a word in the Bible which proves that we might not have them at the present time, and there is nothing in experience to show they would not be as useful today as in any previous period of the Church's history. No man, therefore, can be condemned for desiring them, and the recent remarkable signs and wonders wrought amongst us not only demand, but shall have our most profound and sympathetic consideration" (GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT, in the WAR CRY. March 14th, 1885).
I know several people in my Corps who are looking for work. One is particularly eager to find a job. He has more than 50 resumes out and calls on prospective employers weekly. He eagerly desires work. John Wesley comments on the gifts: "they are all worth your pursuit" (on 1 Corinthians 12:31, NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY- THE SALVATION ARMY Edition).
According to Wesley, pursuit is eager desire with legs on. If we eagerly desire something we will pursue it. We will continue to call on the prospective employer to ask for a job. We will continually call on the King to ask for His gifts. If we don't eagerly desire the gifts, then we act in disobedience to God, and break fellowship, waiving holiness.
ARE WE FOR OR AGAINST?
General Clarence Wiseman argues that we must not seek personal aggrandizement from gifts (LIVING AND WALKING IN THE SPIRIT. p5). This is definitely a real temptation. But such a truth, used at the service of arguing against tongues, is no more a reason to forbid its exercise than to note that excellent musicianship also brings with it the temptation to personal aggrandizement and so conclude that cornet solos should be forbidden in public meetings.
Wiseman admits, "Not a few Christians have found release from personal inhibitions and new freedom and joy in the Lord through the exercise of the gift of tongues, and no one would wish to deny them this liberating experience" (LIVING AND WALKING IN THE SPIRIT. p8). In 1907, General Booth noted, "It appears that two or three corps are divided on this question of tongues and it will be a good thing if abiding evil does not ensue" (in Wiseman, LIVING AND WALKING IN THE SPIRIT. p6).Agreed. What is abiding evil in this case? Surely it is that these corps shut out the Holy Spirit so that they can maintain a fleshy unity. On the gift of healing, General Bramwell Booth explains:
"For we have not merely recognized that the healing of the sick by the power of God has from the beginning been associated with the office of prophets, priests, teachers, and apostles, but it has always seemed to us in perfect harmony with the views and experience of the Army itself that God should heal the sick after this fashion... We have insisted that in fact God does raise up the sick in answer to our prayers; and numerous instances... of this healing ministry have occurred throughout our history" (ECHOES AND MEMORIES. p71).
Turning specifically to tongues, he continues: "We have to be suspicious of any voices or gifts which make men indisposed to bear the Cross or to seek the salvation of others; and although some of our people have received what is spoken of as the gift of tongues, we have almost invariably found that one of the consequences has been a disposition to withdraw from hard work... I believe that these things, as I have witnessed them, are divine in their origin" (ECHOES AND MEMORIES. p71, 72).General Bramwell Booth's handling of the issue is a model for us today. First, he recognizes that the gift of tongues is from God. Second, he only disciplines those who slack in their duty. The discipline itself has nothing to do with the tongues; it has everything to do with those who are slack in their duty. Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle takes a different approach to Wiseman and Booth. He argues that the gift of tongues is the seventh of nine gifts mentioned and that it will eventually cease (RESURRECTION LIFE AND POWER. p180. He intimates on page 183 that prophecy and tongues may already have ceased. This is not an official Salvation Army position). Brengle mentions the order to suggest that it is not important. However, its importance results not from its priority in Paul's list but in the fact that it is a gift of God. And while it is true that tongues will cease, it is also true that prophecy will cease, and every other gift of God- but not until Jesus comes back.
General Wiseman asks, "What should be the Army's attitude toward the gift of tongues? Surely the answer is that it should be the attitude of Paul" (LIVING AND WALKING IN THE SPIRIT, p6). Tongues have their place in the Bible and therefore should not be ignored. Wiseman reminds us that Paul said, "Forbid not the speaking of tongues," adding the cautionary word, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1Corinthians 14:39, 40). The arguments of Generals Booth, Booth, and Wiseman, and of Commissioner Brengle, if not their final decisions, lead consensually to the conclusion that we are for the exercise of all the gifts.
ANSWERING THE WRONG QUESTIONS
And finally, Brengle falls into the same trap that the Army has been stuck in on the issue of sacraments, answering a question no one is asking, defending a position that no one is challenging. For sacraments the mistake is that the Army argues that it is not necessary for salvation. The vast majority of Christians will grant this point. On tongues, Brengle argues that it is love that is important, not tongues. Of course, no Christian is going to argue that the gift of tongues is important and that love is not important!
With humility, we have to recognize that our heroes didn't have the complete understanding of everything Christian. That goes for two of my heroes, Brengle and Wesley. Wesley can only guess at what the word of knowledge is: "perhaps an extraordinary ability to understand and explain the Old Testaments types and prophecies" (THE NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY- THE SALVATION ARMY EDITION, 1 Corinthians 12:8). BY ALL MEANS, TO SAVE SOME
Wesley does agree with Scripture that tongues are for unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22), "to engage their attention, and convince them the message is of God." One of the difficulties in the Army's more recent tradition is that we cannot engage sinners' attention and convince them the message is of God through the use of tongues in public meetings if we cannot use tongues in public meetings. Now, in my experience, seeing people saved is hard enough as it is. But to limit us from exercising a God-given gift for the purpose of publicly convincing sinners is to handcuff our soldiers in their battle with satan. No wonder he has the upper hand.
Tragically, since Scripture is not received by Salvationists on this issue, General William Booth leaves us with this exhortation:
"By all means let us aspire after higher gifts. Far be it, my comrades, from me to say one word that would stay the longing of any heart for the extraordinary gifts already mentioned. I long for them myself. I believe in their necessity, and I believe they are already amongst us. By all means let us have the perfection of the Divine method of working. The poor infidel world should be made to see all of God that is possible, in order that it may believe" (GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT, in the War Cry. March 14th, 1885).
If we do not accept the King's gifts, we are stuck wearing the emperor's clothes.