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In the Spirit or intoxicated?

Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way. 1 Corinthians 12. 30-31


In January 1994 the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship hit the headlines on account of an explosion of charismata or "gifts of the Spirit". People were barking like dogs, laughing like hyenas, singing in tongues and being healed. Droves of spiritually hungry Christians poured in from around the world, desperate to catch a taste of what was happening, hoping to capture some of it and bring it home. No doubt there were a fair number of journalists and academics also, motivated by a mixture of scepticism and curiosity who visited with a view to reporting and analysing what was happening.


The experience certainly did transfer to other nations and cultures and the effect lingered - it probably still does. Some dismissed it as hype, others likened it to earlier revivals from a less media-saturated age and therefore not as widely and instantly publicised. It divided believers and churches between those who considered themselves blessed by the experience and others who were appalled. Personally, I experienced and observed both reactions. Maybe that balance was helpful in coming to terms with what was happening, whereas those who adopted a more extreme position may have been more vulnerable to the fallout?


Emotion within worship and the effect that has on our behaviour remains a contentious issue. God created our emotions as well as our brains and we are exhorted - by Jesus quoting scripture (Mark 12.30 and Deuteronomy 6.5) - to worship God with heart, soul, mind and body. Put them all together and what have you got? As varied a mixture as there are people? I am no expert of probability theory but I can imagine an infinite variety of possible outcomes!


Surely the nub of the issue is how such a wealth of difference co-exists: harmoniously or explosively. This is where the follow-on remarks of Jesus and Paul come in. Jesus adds to his statement about loving God wholeheartedly that we must also love our neighbour. For his part, having enumerated some of the spiritual gifts, Paul announces that he has something even more important to commend - and goes on to speak about love. In everything we do, including worship, we should be careful about the impact of our behaviour on others. That does not mean being half-hearted, nor does it imply a diminished zeal for God. It is how God desires that we conduct ourselves.

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