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Bill Samuel, August 4, 2002
Bill Samuel

Three Levels of
"vocal ministry"

by Michael Fondanova
Part 3 of 4

Scriptural Perspectives of Service; Exegetical Perspectives on Charismata: Rom. 1:11; 5:15-16; 6:23, 11:29; 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 1:7; 7:7; 12-14. Paul may have understood diakonia, "service" as a summary term for all ministries and for every act of ministry within the community, so that "every work produced by faith" and labor "prompted by love" (1 Thess. 1:3) of one member to another is an expression of charismata. It signifies "waiting at table" and therefore, more broadly, assistance/administration of help to physical needs. The household of Stephanas devotes itself to the "way of hospitality" (1 Cor. 16:15). Do we lead to serve or serve to lead?

Thus in Romans 12:7, the charisma is the activity of serving, recognized to be a charisma, of divine prompting, precisely because of its character as service. The function of expounding the Word of God, that is, didaskon, "imparting instruction" is based on truth revealed. "Vocal ministry" would express a new word from God as such, whereas teaching would tend to denote more a new insight into a previous word from God. "If the apostles and prophets are the foundation of the ecclesia, 'called out' whose chief cornerstone is Jesus Christ, teaching as a function must be responsible for primarily building the superstructure." (Eph. 2:20)

God establishes the community with apostolic and prophetic authority; now the same grace of God, which enables these ministries, also provides for the continuity and growth of the Body. In 1 Cor. 14:6, 26 we see companions to this teaching function are revelation, knowledge, and "vocal ministry" (see also Col. 3:16). Paul's understanding of 'teaching' recognized traditional material as authoritative, appreciated the need for interpretation, and applied charismatically to the ever-changing needs and situations of the believing community.

The community leaders must share Christ's image and character. Paul used the verb parakalon frequently, with the meaning "to console, to comfort," or "to encourage" (2 Cor. 1:3-7). Consequently, in 12:8 parakalon is one who exercises pastoral care, namely of the afflicted and distressed. The word metadidomai means "to give a part" or "to give a share of." The participle, then, means "one who gives of his/her own substance". Its primary meaning is "with simplicity, with singleness of purpose," or "wholeheartedly." This is a giving, which is sincere, without ulterior motives beyond the desire to share what one has with those who have not.

The word proistame means, "To stand before." Paul means those diligent leaders in worship and in community affairs. He who exercises leadership, or cares for others, must do so with total dedication or abandon, with diligence and zest. The charisma is not simply the exercise of leadership, but giving a lead with zest, so that the worship of the community of seekers expresses the new creation vitality and energies of life in Christ.

The word elyon means "showing mercy." The thought is of personal, direct ministry to the needy. Paul may have in mind Prov. 22:8, "God loves a cheerful giver," which he quoted in 2 Cor. 9:7. This is the concrete outworking of God's mercy freely bestowed and experienced. Paul understood mercy as an "enabling grace." For Paul, giving to the poor becomes charisma only as it is a reflection of God's generosity in Christ, an act of concern for the needy freely willed and cheerfully carried out, not a duty.

Equipping in the Community

Charisma is a particular expression of grace. Charisma is always an event of the gracious activity of God through man/woman. Charisma is the inevitable outworking of charis. Paul characterizes charisma not by the exercise of one's ability and talent but by unconditional dependence on and openness to God. Romans 12:1 makes clear that the seeker's spiritual worship involves the totality of their relationship. Not simply worship, but all life, is to be lived in conscious dependence on God. The experience of grace in Paul may not be narrow or confining within. Paul knows nothing of sacramental grace as such. The specific feature of "vocal ministry" is the application of the message in a specific situation, whether in admonition, warning, consolation, or direction.

Functions are present which can lead to offices in a definite sequence and then comes recognition by the community in ordination. An interesting point in Corinthians is that already possible abuses have arisen. "Vocal ministry" is obviously the most vulnerable to abuse because it can disrupt order. Therefore, we call it the "agreement of faith and practice." Although he is inspired, the prophet is subject to testing in this light by his associates and the assembled community, in which the appropriateness of his message has to demonstrate. God binds the teacher by the tradition entrusted to him. If there are false teachers, they come from outside the community. Therefore God admonishes the teacher to submit to his tradition as in Rom. 6:17: "But thanks be to God that you were slaves of sin but have now become obedient from the heart to the form of doctrine to which you were committed."

"No longer are we to be babes, tossed by waves and whirled about by every doctrinal gust,[and caught] in the trickery of men, who are experts in deceitful scheming." (Eph. 4:14) In the ecclesia, "called out", the primary purpose of the prophet is to equip the saints. We know the prophet as a ministry gift in many circles, and the foundation ministry of the ecclesia, "called out." The Scripture mentions those who are infantile and stupid here in contrast to maturity as described in verse 13. Psalm 107:23-27 contains a vivid description of the impression made by the raging sea. In this verse, cleverness or shrewdness is the instrument by which heretics pursue their ministry. The phrase "in love" (4:15-16) opposes the heretical stance and method. Paul bluntly accuses the heretics of bad intentions. All the more we see why, deceitful scheming stands in sharp contrast to the (v. 12) "equipping of the saints."

Prophetic Ebb and Flow Aims at Love! "Strive for the spiritual gifts, but especially that of prophesying!" (1 Cor. 14:1) We need to be aware that there is a divine ebb and flow to the prophetic ministry . . . divine ebb and flow to all things associated with the living waters. Love is the foundation of all truly spiritual matters. Where the goal is godly, zeloo, "to be zealous," means eager striving, enthusiasm, admiration, and in such contexts as above praise, glory. Love is the underlying idea, and means an "emotional" going out to a person, idea, or cause.

"If someone speaks in tongues, then it should be two or at most three occasionally, and one after another, and someone should interpret." (1 Cor. 14:27) The Spirit does not cause the extinguishing of his people or his work. Accordingly, the matter-of-fact rule is "by turns," and not more than the community can stand. Tongues and interpretation are different from "vocal ministry." We have heard ecclesia, "called out" say that there are to be no more than three prophecies in a service. However, Paul has set these guidelines for the ministry of tongues and interpretation.

"But if there is no interpreter present (or: but if the person is speaking is not an interpreter), then one should remain silent in ecclesia, 'called out' and speak only for oneself and to God. In the case of prophets, however, two or three should speak, and the others should test what is said." (Verses 28 & 29) This implies that there is a ministry of tongues and interpretation that takes place in the ecclesia, "called out" assembly. Then there is a ministry where the prophets begin to speak in the congregation. When Paul says, "the others should test," a question arises. Why should it be necessary, or possible, for "vocal ministry" to be "tested," when it is surely understandable in itself and provides its own authority? I believe that it means the other prophets or the elder prophets should "test" the word, rather than that the assembly should judge it. Accordingly, it means, "Let the elders, who know the ebb and flow of the spirit, discern the word."

"But if someone else who is sitting by receives a revelation, let the first speaker be silent." (verse 30) Incidentally, this verse shows it is customary for the speaker to stand. Therefore, we surmise that if anyone receives revelation; let the first prophet be still. This is where the Spirit is bringing us into maturity, especially in team ministry. I have had the privilege of ministering in team ministry and in a company of prophets while traveling around the country. This type of ebb and flow can only be developed out of a covenant relationship (aim at love!), developing sensitivity to the Waters of the Spirit, and teaching people how to flow together in the streams of God. The days of the one-man show are over. God is going to speak through a plurality of elders in bringing forth the full counsel of God. However, with a senior prophet in charge, we will see what occurred with Samuel. Samuel stood over the prophets as one appointed over them, orchestrating and keeping the order and the ebb and flow so there would be no real conflict. "You can surely all prophesy one after the other, so that all may learn and all be exhorted. The spirits of the prophets are under the prophets' control. For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace." (verses 31-33)

The disturbance referred to in these verses could have been between the prophet who was speaking and the one who was rising to his feet. I like what the early Quakers did. When the word of the Lord came, they acknowledged the voice of the Bridegroom by having everyone stand. When Quakers felt that it was not His voice, the elders would remain sitting, which meant the congregation knew to put that word on the shelf. We also need to limit our use of "Amen" or "Praise the Lord" to affirming only those genuine words of the Lord.

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