Sunday, October 8, 2006

What Is the Outcome, Then?

I've been posting a lot lately about speaking in tongues, driven there by the flow of current events. The gist of my viewpoint is simply this: I do not believe that the modern practice alleged to be speaking in tongues is the same as the New Testament spiritual gift of tongues.

That conclusion implies that the New Testament gift of tongues has ceased; thus my sentiments regarding A Posteriori Cessationism.

But what, in turn, does that conclusion imply? In other words, perhaps it is time to address the "So what" of my views regarding the New Testament sign gifts.

The Example of Dutch Slade

Nine years ago my path crossed with that of a man named Dutch Slade. Dutch is an accomplished physician turned preacher, philanthropist, and a dozen other things. He is the pastor of Pomona Baptist Church in the hinterlands southwest of Atlanta, GA. Dutch is a remarkable man. He believes that he has the gift of healing.

I'll never forget a story that Dutch told me. A little girl in their congregation was killed in an automobile accident. Paramedics pronounced her dead on the scene and drove her to the morgue in a nearby hospital. Dutch was both the family's pastor and a physician who had once sat upon the board of directors for that hospital. As a pastor, he hurried to the hospital and prayed with the devastated father and mother. Then he headed for the morgue.

A security officer met him as he reached the doors of the morgue. Dutch insisted that he was going in. The security officer insisted that he was not. Dutch informed the security officer that Dutch had been on the board when the hospital had constructed that particular wing, and that he was going in. Dutch walked past the security guard, who turned to follow.

Medical personnel (I can't remember whether it actually was the Medical Examiner or not, but I have images of Quincy in my mind) were in the room when Dutch walked in and located the little girl's broken, lifeless body. He wept over her. He took her hand, lifted his eyes to heaven, and prayed aloud for God to bring her back to life. Dutch's eyes were lifted toward heaven, every other living eye in the room was pointed straight toward Dutch.

He prayed for several minutes. The little girl remained dead. He put her little hand back down and turned to leave. When he turned, his eyes met those of a group of people wondering in unison, "Who is this crazy man?" (May I confess, at this point in my first hearing of the story, I was thinking, "Dutch, you do know that you're crazy, don't you?")

Here's what Dutch said, and I'll never forget these words. He looked at the group, and weeping he said, "I just wanted to ask God in case maybe He would bring her back to life."

And then Dutch added, "He can do that, you know."

And at the very moment that I heard that part of the story, all of my thoughts of Dutch's craziness were replaced with conviction about my own lack of faith. I wouldn't have prayed that prayer with all of those people because I would have been afraid of looking foolish. May God prevent me from ever being so worried about looking foolish that I'm unwilling to be a part of making God look powerful. His strength is perfected in our weaknesses.

What does this have to do with the foregoing posts in my blog? Please allow me to highlight a few aspects of this story.
  1. Dutch was not timid in what he prayed for. He went for a genuine miracle of biblical proportions. Several people in the Bible rescusitated the dead, so this is clearly within God's power and there is precedence for God to do this in response to believing prayers. Such a thing has never happened in my lifetime, nor in the lifetime of our nation. I don't know why. Maybe we don't ask enough. Maybe, even if we asked every day, God just has some inscrutable divine reason not to want to do that today. But that doesn't mean that we can't ask. If I found myself unexpectedly in the middle of an opportunity to share Jesus with a bunch of people with whom I shared no common language, I would have no problem praying for a manifestation of the gift of tongues. It never hurts to ask, and to ask boldly.
  2. Dutch was honest about the results. God said no. Dutch didn't try to explain it away. He didn't invent some lesser way that God had really and truly answered his prayer. Dutch just acknowledged that, in His great wisdom, God had another plan. Good for Dutch. The difference between men like Dutch Slade and charlatans like Benny Hinn is the difference between daylight and darkness.
  3. Dutch did not let God's answer weaken his faith. If the occasion arises again, I promise you that Dutch Slade will do exactly the same thing over again. I admire that.
So, my problem with what people call speaking in tongues today is not that I am opposed to the supernatural. Neither am I opposed to the idea of people desiring otherworldly experiences with the power of God. Yet, from 1901 to today, this present-day practice gives every evidence of having earthly and human causes rather than heavenly and divine causes (and there's a statement I'll have to back up in another post soon). The only thing that makes me want to acknowledge it as true is my respect for some of the human beings who participate in it—human respect rather than awe before the evident hand of God. If that little girl had gotten up off that table, then an undeniable outpouring of the power of God would have taken place in that Georgia morgue. What passes for speaking in tongues these days simply is nothing like that.

What, then is the outcome, my brothers? For me, my a posteriori cessationism is not about a difference in my belief about what God can do. It is not about a difference in my hope for what God will do. I just want us to be honest about what God is doing.

My respect for fellow believers, powerful and significant as it is, is no justification for me to put the Holy Spirit's name behind something that I don't think the Holy Spirit is doing. Pray for such things all that you want, but let's not put our words into God's mouth, intelligible or otherwise.

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