Gifts of the Spirit in Balance

Carl KinbarMany years ago — it seems as if it was another lifetime — I was a Jewish Christian attending a very large charismatic conference. In the midst of literally thousands of worshiping men and women, I stood that day enraptured with the presence of God. Then, bowed by his majesty, I prostrated myself on the floor as the singing continued. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I did not look up. After a few moments, a man spoke these words to me: “You will feed on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” I waited for more, but that was it. “You will feed on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” When I finally glanced over my shoulder, the man was already walking away.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar
“For the Common Good,” pg 19
Gifts of the Spirit

I really didn’t want to review this book chapter by chapter, but sometimes I have difficulty distancing myself far enough from a creative work to take it all in. Each chapter, such as this presentation by Rabbi Kinbar, packs in a great deal of information that is hard to ignore or dilute.

I remember Carl saying those words (the quote above) when I attended the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot Conference “Gifts of the Spirit” last May at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. I was taking notes as fast as I could and probably got some things wrong in what he and the other presenters said, which is why I’m grateful for this book.

I’m also grateful for this book because it arrived after my multiple commentaries on Pastor John MacArthur’s own conference addressing “gifts of the spirit,” which he called Strange Fire (thanks to the liveblogging of Pastor Tim Challies I was able to sample each presentation without wading through days of audio recordings).

I’ll try not to review each chapter of the “Gifts” book, especially as it would fly in the face of my previously stated intent to blog less often, but we’ll see what happens.

Going back to the above-quoted comment of Rabbi Kinbar with which he opened his “For the Common Good” presentation, Carl had no idea what had happened after his unusual encounter so many years ago, or what “the inheritance of your father Jacob” meant. Carl supposed the unknown speaker knew he was Jewish and chose the phrase “father Jacob” from that knowledge.

Ultimately, Carl learned that “the inheritance of your father Jacob” references Isaiah 58 and the various fasts. It also has “something to do with the land of Israel, the vision of Jacob’s ladder, and what God had promised to Jacob and his descendants.” (Kinbar, pg 20)

A few sentences later, Carl referred to the words he heard from that mysterious gentleman as a “prophesy.” As it turns out, the usage of that word seems appropriate.

Since I’m filtering “Gifts of the Spirit” through “Strange Fire,” I suppose I should mention that referring to the experience as a “prophesy” would no doubt make the “Strange Fire” folks a little uncomfortable. I didn’t think much of it at the time when I was listening to Carl at the conference, but I too must admit to always being at least a little skeptical about supernatural occurrences intruding on “real life”.

Nevertheless, Carl is one of the most theologically grounded and realistic people I know (and also a kind and gentle person). He’s the one who is likely to email me or comment on my blog when he thinks I’ve gone too far in making a connection between midrash and scripture. He’s never impressed me as someone who leads with his feelings at the expense of his intellect, and I consider him highly intelligent, very well-educated, and certainly well read. Hardly someone who experiences God on a purely visceral level.

I’m reminded of a rather interesting (though minor) experience of my own in church some months ago. I was sitting in Sunday school class waiting for the socializing to die down and the actual teaching to begin. I was feeling gloomy and discouraged. My presence in church wasn’t what I thought it would be and I was pondering how long I would last before someone would suggest I leave for “heretical” beliefs (such as the idea that the Torah mitzvot continues to be in force for all believing and unbelieving Jewish people) or that I’d just stop going.

Then a woman who I had never seen before approached me, smiled, and said “Shalom Aleichem.” I was momentarily startled by this greeting in such a Christian context. I assumed she knew my wife was Jewish and chose her words accordingly. After chatting with her for a few minutes, I asked why she had greeted me that way. As it turns out, she had no idea my wife was Jewish and couldn’t really articulate why she said “Shalom Aleichem.”

I was grateful anyway, and it did brighten my mood. It seems God knows who and what to send into your life at certain necessary points. Not quite what Carl experienced, which ultimately led him into Messianic Jewish studies and practice, but it will do.

In going over this chapter, I was taken with how Carl, who had spent the better part of forty years as a Jewish Christian in a Charismatic church, characterized the experience. He said they emphasized “worship and teaching” and I didn’t get the idea that anyone checked their brains at the door as they entered.

Charismatic prayerCarl said later in his presentation, that he didn’t believe that the gifts of the spirit were the same now as in the days of Paul, due to the change in purpose and context. He even admitted that there were times when he felt that some “spiritual healings” were not really on the up and up. He did also say that he has witnessed at least one authentic spiritual healing. On that occasion, he so inspired by the event that he kept the crutches of the healed woman (as she no longer needed them) in his office.

I got to thinking about one of the criticisms of the Charismatic movement by MacArthur and company was that these “gifts” were not consistent, while in the Bible, they never seemed to fail or to work only intermittently.

Except that’s not quite true:

When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”

Matthew 17:14-20 (NASB)

It seems sufficient faith is required of the one attempting to exercise a spiritual gift and possibly the one who is the recipient. I don’t think such a thing can be reduced to a formula and in any event, the source of such gifts is God and if healing, casting out demons, or whatever, is not in His plan or for His glory, He will not empower the individuals involved with such gifts. I should say that while I can’t discount the existence and workings of the Holy Spirit as He empowers individual human beings on certain occasions, I consider them rare and I believe many of us can go though our entire lives and not demonstrate any such gifts.

For that matter, in the New Testament, and particularly in the Gospels, demon-possessed people seemed to be extremely common, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen one. If demon possession continues to exist in our world, then it must be as rare as dramatic spiritual gifts.

In my previous commentary on the “Gifts of the Spirit” book, I said that Boaz Michael described Torah and the Spirit as completely inseparable. Carl, in his presentation, linked Christ crucified, the Spirit, and the Torah together.

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:2 (NASB)

Paul was a well-educated man in the tradition of the Pharisees, so it’s unlike him to go into a situation armed with only the knowledge of “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” yet, according to Carl, this is the crux of the matter for all of us. If we don’t fully apprehend why Jesus had to die as a sinless man, and then be resurrected, giving us all the promise of eternal life, then our faith is in vain (see my review of the FFOZ TV series episode Resurrection for details).

According to Carl, Spiritual gifts, particularly verbal gifts, are to impart wisdom. After all, we cannot understand the Word of God, the Bible, at all apart from the help of the Spirit of God. This was one of the reasons, perhaps one of the most important ones, why Messiah had to depart from us.

“But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

John 16:5-14 (NASB)

We have the Spirit with us as a helper, speaking not on his own behest but only the words from God, and it seems that Messiah’s intent was that the Spirit would continue to help us until his return (or perhaps even beyond that).

MysteryAnd the Spirit is supposed to impart wisdom about the Word for the purpose of drawing us nearer to God, not just as individuals (for Carl’s own experience was personal) but for the common good of the body of Messiah.

That’s why I can’t see the “gifts of the spirit” being authentic if they in any way distract us from God and who He is as well as Messiah, and him crucified. If spiritual gifts lead in a different direction, then they can’t be from the Spirit of God, which may account for some of the abuses attributed to the Charismatic movement.

Carl cited Isaiah 53:4-6 as a strong description of the knowledge of a crucified Messiah, which the Spirit points to, as well as this:

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (NASB)

Let’s look at part of that again:

…for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?

Trying to visualize the Spirit of God searching the depths of God borders on the mystic. What does it mean except that the Spirit of God acts as a portal to all knowledge of God, not that human beings could access even the tiniest fraction of that infinite storehouse. The Spirit of God is the gateway into spiritual thought for people. Without that gateway, we would be locked outside in the secular world, with no way to know God or to even believe He exists.

Paul’s reason for emphasizing the verbal gifts was not that he thought healing and miracles are unimportant…

In 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, “wisdom” words appear nine times and “knowledge” words five times…

-Kinbar, pp 27 and 28

Paul was a scholar and a teacher. For him, spiritual gifts were God’s means to illuminate people with the knowledge of God and the crucified Christ, not to put on some sort of “magic show” or to elevate the possessors of said-gifts to some exalted status. If the manifestation of the Spirit does not reveal God, the Messiah, and the Word of God, then it is not from God, for that is the purpose (in my own opinion) of the Spirit in our world today.

Carl quoted the following to show the connection between Messiah and the Spirit, substituting “HaShem” for “the Lord”:

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of [HaShem] will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of [HaShem].
And He will delight in the fear of the [HaShem].

Isaiah 11:1-3 (NASB)

The connection between the Torah and wisdom can be found in these verses:

See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as HaShem my God commanded me, so that you should do them in the land which you are entering to possess it. So guard them and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statues and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

Deuteronomy 4:5-6 (Kinbar’s translation)

Carl goes on to say that the “relationship between the Spirit of God and the Torah is seen even more vividly in Ezekiel 36, in which God promises to bring back the exiles of Israel to their land:”

For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:24-26 (NASB)

That one threw me a little, since Ezekiel is describing a situation that has yet to occur, but it does serve to remind us that we cannot bifurcate the Spirit of God from anything else about God, such as Himself, His Word, and the Messiah.

While the Torah, Messiah, and the Spirit can be spoken about separately at times, they cannot be separated in reality. When Paul wrote about the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, he did not mention the Torah because of the specific circumstances in Corinth, but neither did he nor God ever intend for Torah to be left out of the picture permanently.

-Kinbar, pg 36

It’s difficult for me to compress Carl’s points in this blog post and still trace the path of logic adequately so if you think something’s been left out, I encourage you to get a copy of Gifts of the Spirit and read the entire article.

Carl did say one more thing I want to point out.

But the traditional charismatic framework is not adequate for a fully Messianic Jewish expression of the gifts of the Spirit.

-ibid

Carl, and the other presenters at the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference, by necessity, must refactor the charismatic movement and that understanding of the “gifts of the spirit” into a form that is more appropriate for a Jewish and Messianic Jewish context.

A Promise of What is to ComeI’ve mentioned before, citing the FFOZ TV series A Promise of What is to Come, that by viewing scripture including the New Testament writings through a Messianic Jewish lens, we can capture a perspective that has been lost to the Church since the days of the apostles. This includes an understanding of the process of the Holy Spirit, how He worked in the past and how He is working today.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m something of a skeptic. Except for a few minor, transitory experiences, I can’t say that I’ve witnessed a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit, and certainly not “spiritual gifts” in or around my own personal world of faith. Like I said, if they exist, they must be pretty rare or poorly advertised. I also think that enough charlatans have exploited the fertile spiritual soil so as to make the rest of us feel that anyone who claims “miraculous gifts” must be a rip-off artist.

It makes it difficult for me and people like me to listen objectively when someone talks about what they experience as an authentic spiritual occurrence.

Does the Holy Spirit work in our world today? Absolutely, otherwise, no one would come to faith and the Bible would seem like foolishness to all of us. Who was that man who touched Carl Kinbar on the shoulder so many years ago, and spoke of Carl’s feeding “on the inheritance of your father Jacob”? A prophet? An angel? I have no idea.

I do know, and I’ve said this before, that the FFOZ Book “Gifts of the Spirit” offers us an opportunity to read a counterpoint to John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference and to see for ourselves the differing perspectives of dedicated and devout men and women, all of whom, in all their different religious “camps,” are seeking to know God and to balance our understanding of Creator, Spirit, Torah, and Messiah.

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4 thoughts on “Gifts of the Spirit in Balance”

  1. We should be aware that we also live today in the midst of a perverted and unbelieving generation, surely much worse than the days when the talmidim were following their master around Galilee.

    I was having a discussion with my younger son about how rationality/intellect can’t claim to be superior to the emotive/creative aspect of humanity. Both areas are flawed and corrupted. I have experienced genuine spiritual gifts, but I would agree that there is far more fake than real.

    I think I understand what Kinbar is saying, that he wants to encourage the use of spiritual gifts but not be a carbon copy of a Pentecostal church, which so far is the only modern model available. It just makes sense to me to have a time when members are encouraged to provide any word of wisdom, knowledge or prophecy according to their areas of giftedness. In conjunction with this, there needs to be elders who will judge the gifts with kindness. You want people to not be afraid of making a mistake or making fools of themselves, and thereby shutting off a source of ministry to the group and the opportunity to grow in their gifts and develop them. You also don’t want it to be a free for all that allows disorder and makes people feel uncomfortable. At Beth Messiah in Rockville they asked that if someone wasn’t known to the congregation and they had a word to share, they share it with the leadership, who would then decide whether to share that word or not. I don’t feel comfortable in a place where anyone can walk in off the street and disrupt a meeting. Everything is done decently and in order. The sick should be prayed for. If one person gets healed in ten years of praying, then it is worth it.

  2. I don’t know that the Holy Spirit can be reduced to a formula or works in ritualistic ways. The mission of the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference (and book) is to reconsider the work of the Spirit of God in our world today from a Messianic Jewish perspective. The result will likely be that Messianic Judaism has a perspective on the Spirit that doesn’t always map to the Pentecostal point of view. One thing I’ve taken away from the book so far (I’ve still got four chapters to go), is that while the Spirit continues to be active today, the focus of our devotion and faith cannot be on attaining “spiritual gifts” but rather working to repair our world and quicken the coming of the Kingdom of God. Whatever the Spirit does will be taken care of by the Spirit.

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