What Are the Positions on the Spiritual Gifts?

As our church has been steeped in learning about the Spiritual gifts in the past few weeks, I don’t want you to be unaware of the major camps and terms involved in the Spiritual gifts debate. Churches who do not talk about these things tend to demonize other churches whom they don’t fall in line with. Since a bit of this debate lies in a grey area Scripturally (meaning that any application of the text is going to include some “I think”s), we need to realize that most of the people in each of these camps exist along a spectrum within the Christian faith—if they disagree with you in this area, that does not make them unbelievers.

If You’re a Christian, You’re a Charismatic

First of all, let’s start with the definition of charismatic. The word most generally means one who believes that God gives gifts of grace through his Spirit to his people for the church. This includes gifts of administration, mercy, helps, etc. All true Christians are charismatic. If you believe that God has given your pastor a gift of preaching through his Holy Spirit, you’re a charismatic. Surprise!

But I realize that’s not how we use the term today. It has been taken lately to mean a church or person who is involved in the radical practice of the sign/miraculous gifts like tongues and healing (I’ll refer to these as sign gifts from now on). It’s a term for a certain camp. The problem, though, is that when we don’t understand what these groups believe, our tendency is to think they are heretical. But really, the different camps that I will describe are four different ways that Christians align themselves in terms of what they think about the sign gifts. Again, this is not a test of whether someone is a Christian. There are true, bible-believing Christians in each one of these.  

What Are the Positions?

The four groups are actually subgroups of two major camps: Cessationism and Continuationism. Cessationism is the belief that the sign gifts (prophecy, tongues, miracles, healing) have ceased in some sense, and Continuationism is the belief that they continue through today. So, let’s break them down, and I think you’ll see that the positions are closer than we realize.

1. Strong Cessationism

Strong Cessationism teaches that the gifts of prophecy, tongues, healing, and miracles have ceased. Full stop. Usually, if the strong cessationist is desiring to be biblically faithful, they define the gifts narrowly as being exactly the gifts given during the time of the apostles (Surprisingly, some continuationists agree with this). Prophecy that is direct revelation from God and equal in authority to Scripture has ceased. Healings in terms of someone touching someone and saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ, be healed” and then instantaneous healing happening has ceased. Miracles have ceased in the same way, in that there is no individual given the gift of being able to do a miracle at will through the Spirit. Tongues has ceased because it was simply a sign of the power of God that was given for a time confirming the truth of the gospel message

The strong cessationist does not deny the power of God or of prayer. They would say that we still see healings and miracles in our day, but they aren’t gifts, rather, answers to prayer.

The weakness of the position: (1) There isn’t any strong biblical support for a cessation of sign gifts. Many proponents defend this position by pointing to “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 and saying that it refers to the completion of the Bible. That’s a possible interpretation, but it’s not probable. It seems to be clearly referring to the second coming of Christ. (2) There are many people around the world practicing these gifts and seeing these gifts. The strong cessationist must either declare that these practices are either purely human or demonic.

2. Moderate Cessationism

This position shares a lot with its strong version but is more open to the idea that sign gifts may exist in some capacity on the frontier lines of mission, as God continues to provide miracles in order to confirm the truth of the gospel in places that have never heard it. Also, a moderate cessationist might also believe that a gift of healing might be given to a believer in a moment and not have it again, but they would deny that anyone is a healer anymore. Also, in terms of prophecy, a moderate cessationist agrees that the Holy Spirit may lead someone to pray for someone or may give them a word of wisdom for someone else, but they would not refer to this as prophecy.

The weakness of the position: Along with #1 under strong cessationism, the moderate cessationist, if not careful, can be very skeptical of the sign gifts being practiced in an evangelized context like America. This promotes a tension that can lead to unhealthy relationships and divisions with believers who disagree.

3. Moderate Continuationism (“Charismatic with a Seat Belt”)

The moderate continuationist is driven by the desire to acquire all that God has for the church, and if the Bible says to seek the gifts (even the sign gifts) and never mentions them ceasing, then they want to pursue them in obedience. But, they would affirm that the gifts must be sought and practiced according to Scripture. Tongues must be practiced orderly; prophecy needs to be tested. Moderate continuationists tend to think that the gifts have changed character somewhat since the apostolic period, especially prophecy. Prophecy no longer shares “true word from God” status—unless it is an accurate exposition of Scripture. It is something that the person receiving it could be wrong about, so they would teach that it is best for someone who thinks they have a prophecy to say, “I think God gave me this for you, but I’m not sure. Let’s wait and see.” Also, a gift of a healing or a miracle might look like one person praying and God answering that one prayer, but it is doubtful whether someone could be a healer or a miracle-worker today.

The weakness of the position: (1) It is a difficult argument to say that the Bible instructs us to change our definition of these gifts as they manifested themselves in the New Testament era. This is an argument that is largely based on experience and not the text itself. But if a moderate continuationist concedes this point, it seems as if they must become a moderate cessationist or a full charismatic. (2) Church history attests to the fact that as early as the A.D. 200s, the orthodox writers were referring to a waning of the sign gifts and, within a hundred years, adopting a form of Cessationism.

4. Openly Charismatic

A charismatic church (as the word is used now) is open to the sign gifts and open to their still continuing, even in the way we see them manifest in the New Testament. Prophets, healers, miracle-workers, etc. are still with us; what God desires is for the church to seek them and to practice them. Many of these churches often encourage the practicing of the gifts through, for example, saying at any moment what you think God is saying to you, whether it is right or wrong. That’s practicing prophesy. Those who are seen as being able to continually prophecy true things are considered prophets and given much authority in the church.

These churches often invite traveling healers and such to come into their midst. Tongues are spoken freely in worship services. This type of church tends to be more popular in non-western countries.

The weakness of the position: (1) If a charismatic church gets away from biblical orderliness and testing prophecies, they become breeding ground for false prophets and cult leaders. The New Testament warns that false prophets will come who can do signs and wonders. (2) This type of church throughout history has often found itself teaching heretical doctrine. This is why the church moved away from the sign gifts very early on in history as the heretical Montanist and gnostic movements were practicing the sign gifts. Many see this as an over-correction by the early church.

Conclusion

As we can see, these groups fall along a spectrum that gets a bit more irrational as we get towards the ends. Over the past few weeks, Pastor Andrew has guided the church in the direction of Moderate Continuationism. There is still some room for disagreement, but we must realize that in certain senses, these positions are a lot closer than we might have thought. Our differences do not have to create division if we see that each position has weaknesses and allow that to humble us. We all desire intimacy and understanding; let us seek that through the leading of the Spirit and the leading of our pastors.

-Alex Nolette (Equip Coordinator/Community Groups)

Where Does Five Years Take You?

Hopefully, most of you have seen Incredibles 2 by now. You, like me, waited for this for fourteen YEARS! That’s right. Fourteen years. When asked why, Brad Bird, writer and director, said that too many movie franchises make sequels just to make money. That’s not what they’re about. Bird said, “It makes no financial sense to wait this long—it’s purely [that] we had a story we wanted to tell.” We feel this on a deep level in MH College because we have the best story to tell. We’re giving you a better story AND a shorter wait than the Incredibles. It’s been five years, and it’s led us to where we are now, telling the greatest story of all time. Welcome to MH College Live.

Why I’m Excited:

This service will present one of the most unique missional opportunities we’ve ever had in MH College. I’m excited about the opportunity we have to see hundreds of new freshmen from campuses all across the Triad become believers this Fall. It was during my first year of college—and at Mercy Hill—that I became a follower of Jesus. Over the past five years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve in many different roles, including my current role as a College Resident at my alma mater UNCG.

As I think back to my freshman year, I can’t help but be thankful for a group of guys that were on the Mercy Hill launch team that met me and shared the gospel with me. And in the same way that I needed the hope of the gospel, all of these incoming students do as well. We’ve already had the opportunity to connect with hundreds of new students on UNCG’s campus through our First 10 initiative. It’s awesome to know that we have a service designed specifically towards making all of these new students feel like they belong at Mercy Hill.

All College Campuses, One Service:

Another exciting part of MH College Live is the opportunity for cross-campus relationships. Many times in college, you only have the opportunity to connect with people that go to the same college or university as you. However, MH College is made up of students from at least 8 different schools: A&T, HPU, UNCG, WSSU, Elon, GTCC, Guilford College, and Greensboro College. MH College Live will present the opportunity for students who otherwise might never meet to be in community with one another and build friendships. I had the awesome opportunity through the SENT Initiative to build friendships with people across many of those different campuses, and I know I’m not the only one who’s excited that there’s a space for that every week.

Oh Yeah, and a FREE T-Shirt:

How could I forget? We’re also giving out free (that’s right, FREE) t-shirts to everyone who comes to the MH College Live Launch Service on August 19 at 6:30pm. Just come to that service (bring all your friends) and get a free t-shirt. See you this weekend!

MH College Patrick Anderson Free T-shirt

-Patrick Anderson (College Resident)

God Has Gifted You to Get Involved

We are all one body, but it has many parts. But all its parts make up one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12a).

How amazing is it that those of us who are believers are all called to serve in one capacity or another? God never looks at his children and says,”Nah, I’m going to go ahead and bench this one.” No, we are all chosen, and we are all gifted in Christ. He loves us where we are at with a never-ending, unfailing, unconditional love. This is where my passion for serving on the worship team stems from. It stems from Jesus loving me so much that he would endure the cross and experience separation from God, and he doesn’t even stop there. He also chooses to use me where I am at for his glory and the edification of his people. 

Initial Reluctance And Continued Grace

I have grown up singing in choirs at school and at church. It was actually my dad who first told me I should sing at church when I was a teenager. And by told me, I mean he made me—at first. When I went off to college, I stopped singing at church for awhile.  Eventually, I ended up at the Church at Edgefield halfway through my sophomore year and began serving there on the worship team. I sang background vocals for years and eventually our worship leader asked me to sing lead vocals on a song here and there. I actually never knew I could possibly be a lead worshiper until that leader began to challenge me and push me out of my comfort zone.

I was scared and argued a lot with God in the beginning that I am not a leader, I am not talented enough, I am afraid of speaking in front of people. I told him that he had got the wrong girl, but God whispered back that his grace is sufficient for me and that his strength is made perfect in my weakness. To be honest, I still struggle with some of these things, but the more I trust in the Lord and rest in his strength, the quieter the lies become.

May God Raise Up More

As I serve now, I am looking towards the future and praying that God would raise up other lead worshipers. Maybe someone like me who is a little reluctant at first and doesn’t see themselves as good enough, or talented enough, or possibly someone who knows they have the natural talent and a heart for worship but are a little intimidated to get started. I am praying for these vocalists to rise up, and through God’s strength, they would reach far and beyond what I could ever hope and imagine to impact our community for the gospel and for the glory of God.

I want to encourage you all to jump in and begin serving. God can and will use you where you are at. You will grow, you will be challenged, and you will discover just how amazing it is to rest in his strength and see him work and move through you. You have an amazing opportunity coming up in just a few days during the Weekender to jump in and get started! I am excited to see how God is going to use you!

-Jana Rockensock (MH Worship)

Click here for more information and to sign up for the Weekender August 17-19!

Five Years, Two Chelseas, One Greta

Over the past five years, I have seen the Lord work in miraculous and marvelous ways both at Mercy Hill and in my own life, often both at the same time. MH College Live means more stories like this one. Here’s a story of five years, two Chelseas, and one Greta.

1. Five Years Ago – Chelsea Blanford and Greta Griswold

Five years ago, I began my college career at High Point University as a student athlete looking to make much of Jesus. I knew the Lord had placed me on the volleyball team so that my teammates might hear the gospel, fall in love with Jesus, and be forever changed. I was a small fish in a big pond; overwhelmed and exhausted. One evening after a three-a-day (if you know, you know), I fell onto my bed in an empty dorm and wept. Volleyball wasn’t going as well as I’d hoped, and I had a decision to make. I was either going to let volleyball define me or let the Lord define me.

For about a month, I had been praying for my teammates, sharing my faith with them, and inviting them to church…nothing. In October, I decided to get baptized at Mercy Hill. I’d been a believer for a few years but had not been baptized. Once again, I shared with my teammates and invited them. Finally, someone said they would come with me, Chelsea Blanford. She would tell you she was far from God, and I thought she was the last person on the team who would understand the gospel. Praise God for the fact that he is not stopped by our foolishness. Chelsea heard the gospel fully preached for the first time that night, and later that week she decided to follow Jesus. We walked through discipleship for several months and on April 6, 2014—through teary eyes—I baptized my sweet sister and teammate.

2. Three Years Ago – Chelsea Blanford and Chelsea Davis

Soon after Chelsea Blanford got baptized, she began to mentor and walk through scripture with Chelsea Davis, a volleyball player at the time at HPCA. Clearly we like to keep it in the volleyball family. For the next year, both Chelseas walked through the messiness of discipleship. At times it seemed as if nothing would change, as if Chelsea Blanford was laboring in vain. Chelsea Blanford and I prayed over and over again, and God moved. On February 28, 2016 Chelsea Blanford baptized Chelsea Davis. Obviously, my eyes were teary then too.

They continued to walk alongside one another as Chelsea Blanford modeled what it really looked like to follow Jesus for Chelsea Davis until the Lord told Chelsea Blanford to go and be a missionary in Canada. Which leads us to…

3. One Year Ago – Chelsea Davis and Greta Griswold

After being pushed and encouraged for quite some time, Chelsea Davis decided to do City Project. The Lord did a work in her heart to leverage her life for the mission of God. After that summer, Chelsea walked up to me and asked me to disciple her. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure. We didn’t have the relationship she and Chelsea had, but I appreciated her desire to even ask. For the last year we have been rocking it out through suffering and joy. I got to have a front row seat to how the Lord would raise up a leader before my eyes and send her to the nations for a summer to take the gospel where it had not been heard.

During the summer, we kept in touch, and I was constantly encouraged by what the Lord was doing. One message was particularly encouraging to me: “Well, I am prepared for whatever you’re throwing my way next year.”

Chelsea Davis went from someone who thought she was a Christian to someone passionate about others knowing and following Jesus. Chelsea Blanford went from pursuing whatever she wanted to pursuing God’s mission among an unreached people group. I went from seeking my own glory in leadership to seeking God’s glory through developing leaders.

These are just three stores of lives that have been changed through MH College, and I believe that MH College Live will provide a space for the Lord to multiply stories like ours.

-Greta Griswold (College Resident)

Click here to find out more about MH College Live!

God Is On the Move Within Age-Based Ministries

Over the last few months, we have seen God doing some incredible things in our age-based ministries. Several weeks after our typically large Easter services we continued to see our weekly attendance in MH Kids soar, reaching a nearly 30% increase from the same time last year. In addition, during Kids Week, we partnered with 411 superheroes—aka volunteers—and pointed 668 kids to the real hero, Jesus Christ.

On the other end of the spectrum, in MH College, we have seen God moving to expand our ministry from three college Community Groups to nearly thirty groups in just four years, reaching a large number of college students. But with over 80,000 college students in the Triad, God has birthed an exciting new vision and direction for MH College strategically designed for us to reach hundreds to thousands more college students with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The momentum and excitement being experienced in both MH Kids & MH College is also being felt in MH Students. Last school year, we saw over 250 students come through student ministry at Mercy Hill with Route 56 being one of the fastest growing ministries within our church. In addition, the weekly attendance in MH Students nearly doubled. We were able to see twenty-three students declare to follow Jesus through baptism and sixty-four students had the time of their lives at Elevate Summer Camp. Although we certainly praise God for what we have seen, the student ministry team and I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg.

As God has continued to grow student ministry, he has also refined our vision and mission. For the upcoming school year, student ministry will be rolling out several adjustments that are designed to better reach students at all levels. A few of these adjustments include restructuring MH Students by reducing the age gap between the students gathering in each of our weekly meetings and providing a Community Group styled structure for high school students. And much, much more.

If you are a 7th-12th grader or if you are the parent of a 7th-12th grader—whether you’re new, if you’ve come for years and not tried it, or if you’ve tried it and didn’t like it—I would like to personally invite you to attend the MH Students Orientation at the Regional Campus on 8/12 at 2pm. Both students and parents are invited to come hear the vision, meet the leaders, and learn why all students at Mercy Hill should be a part of MH Students this school year.

-Ronald Redmond (Student Ministry Director)

History of MH College

Almost six years ago, thirty individuals moved their lives to Greensboro to plant Mercy Hill Church. A handful of them were recent college graduates. They could have taken jobs all around the country, but they all decided to take the first two years of their lives and leverage them to help plant a church. The generosity of these launch team members has echoed across these last six years in a myriad of ways, but one specific being the birth of the collegiate ministry of Mercy Hill, MH College. It was from this small group of recent college graduates that the very first college group began, and thus, MH College was born.

God Showed His Heart for the College Generation

Mercy Hill (MH) did not start out trying to target college students. In fact, church leadership picked an initial location at least thirty to forty minutes from any college campus, Bur-Mil Park. Yet, our God had other things in mind. Despite the less than ideal location, MH soon had a small contingency of about twenty to thirty college students coming from UNC at Greensboro (UNCG), Greensboro College, and even High Point University (HPU), which was a solid forty to fifty minutes away. This group came because of word of mouth—from the evangelistic impulses of the launch team and the then eighty to one hundred people committed to MH.

After a semester of students showing up, church leadership decided to try and launch a first-ever, all guys, college Community Group at UNCG in the spring of 2013 led by Landon Jordan. At one point, this group had five non-college leaders and two students—things were not always fast-growing. However, everything was about to change. Due to the moderate success of the college men’s group, a UNCG all-women’s group along with a co-ed group in High Point were planted. By the end of the year, there were five college-specific groups.

In the Fall of 2013, over one hundred college students attended the first-ever College Connect at Bur-Mil—things had escalated considerably. With the sudden influx of college students, new groups were soon to be planted along with the launching of our first summer project, City Project. By the end of Fall 2014, MH College sat at over nine groups and launched what is now known as the SENT Initiative, adding two more summer projects: Second City and City Life.

That spring, MH College started the College Residency which expanded the college team to seven members and multiplied our reach across five campuses.

Up to this point (2018), the flywheel has started spinning faster as we have seen God do some amazing things. MH College has seen over 300 college-age individuals get baptized! We have planted over thirty groups. Over one hundred students have participated in the SENT Initiative. We are on our fourth class of college residents. We have sent out over ten students to plant churches in the United States and two international missionaries.

The Story Is Not Over

In fact, the story has just begun. A new chapter in the MH College story begins Fall 2018 as we start the first-ever college service at the Clifton Rd Campus. Yet still, the college service is just the tip of the iceberg. There is still much to come as we trust and beg God to do immeasurably more than we could ever hope or imagine. The movement has started, but it’s not too late for you to join. Come see the gospel save, grow, gather, and send from the campus to the world!

-Jon Sheets (College Ministry Director)

MH College Has News for You

The countdown continues. We are just a few days away from the big reveal of what’s new in MH College, and I promise, you are not going to want to miss this. So, why is this a big deal?

There are 80,000 college students in the Triad. What’s crazy about that number is that every year there is a shifting set of 80,000 students as students graduate and new students enroll. We have only reached a small fraction of this number. 

As these students shift, we must remember we’ve seen the Lord do some incredible things in the college ministry over the first five years of Mercy Hill. From three college Community Groups to nearly thirty groups in just four years, college students are being reached. We’ve seen student after student get into the waters of baptism and begin to walk anew with Jesus.

We’ve seen students who went through MH College move overseas as missionaries, join launch teams, leverage their jobs for the sake of the kingdom, come on staff, and lead and serve in the local body.

We look at all of this and celebrate, but we long to see more. What got us here won’t take us where we want to go. We want to see thousands of college students praise the name of Jesus throughout the Triad and beyond. It’s time to equip college students to reach college students because us graduates just can’t keep up with all the trends like we used to. Our desire is for college students to reach their campuses the same way we long to see South Asians reach South Asians.

After lots of prayer and strategizing, we’re about to embark on something new in collegiate ministry. We’ve done our homework and asked the experts. This new endeavor is something that you do not want to miss. Everyone at Mercy Hill has the opportunity to be a part of something big. We are praying expectantly for God to do great things through the new systems we are putting into place.  

Begin to pray about how you can plug in through praying, serving, hosting, and sharing the gospel with these thousands of Triad college students. How are we going to do it? Tune in on social media Sunday, or join us at one of our services this weekend for the big announcement.

-Amy Overton (College Team)

 

Why Parents Love City Project

As I write this blog post, our younger daughter has just landed in South Asia as part of the College Ministry SENT initiative program called City Project. This is NOT my first “parent-of-a-City-Project-student” rodeo. Three years ago, our older daughter was visiting South Asia in the same program. I cannot think of a more thorough “hands-on” discipleship opportunity that further grows disciples of Christ and equips them to “make disciples who make disciples.” Both daughters sensed a prompting from the Holy Spirit to apply and participate in the program, and I want to encourage you to be open if and when college students in your life feel similarly led. Towards that end, allow me to share some City Project parent observations with you.

From a Parent’s Perspective

Our older daughter began attending Mercy Hill four years ago, making the forty-minute drive from her Elon University dorm every Sunday. Mercy Hill had been recommended to her by a friend from our Ohio church who was a student at High Point University. We were thrilled that she found such a solid gospel-centered church home in NC. It was comforting to me as a mama of a college student who was an eight hour drive away from home.

When she informed us of her plans to apply for City Project three years ago, we were so proud of her decision, but if I am being completely honest here, I was more than a little uncomfortable about her traveling to a less developed country in Asia. We had traveled extensively as a family, but this was different, and it felt scary to me. Thankfully, the LORD grew ME just as he was growing HER! That summer, our daughter learned AMAZING truths that saturated her soul and changed the trajectory of her life. Because of City Project, our daughter desired to pursue Christ more authentically, learning that her worth was found in him only, not in what her resume shows. She was reminded of the grace that saves her, and as a result, she was more interested in sharing that grace to everyone around her. She realized how very close and present God was to her as she was SO far out of her comfort zone during the many aspects of City Project. God stretched her and grew her; he made himself known to her in new ways. God does not call us to be comfortable, and as she was being reminded of that, I was being reminded of that as well.

As a family, we moved to the Triad in August of 2017 to be closer to aging parents, and Mercy Hill became our new church home. We had attended MH when visiting our older daughter over the last four years. We saw firsthand how the college ministry grew our daughter and how the gospel focus at Mercy Hill changed her and countless others! Our younger daughter was watching this, too. 

Our younger daughter is a student at Samford University in Alabama. Like her older sister, she had a number of options for the summer after her first year of college. Again, my husband and I were delighted when she told us she was applying for City Project, and this time around, we better understood how thorough the program was in making the students ready for the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:19-20) 

A Challenge from One Parent to Another

So, parents, I challenge you to put YOUR dreams for your college-aged children on hold for a summer or two and see where God takes them AND YOU through them. God wants to grow your student as much as he wants to grow you. We take very seriously the call to be our children’s primary faith trainers, but are we getting in the way of God’s best for them when we (secretly or not so secretly) hope that they pursue a particular job at all costs? We raise our children to release them—they really are not ours to begin with. I ask you, as I have asked myself, do you want your college-aged young adults to leverage their life for the gospel more than you want them to land their (or your) dream job? How can we best encourage them to pursue a life with gospel-centered purpose? The answer for our family has been a lot of prayer, discussions, modeling, and discipling—and a whole lot of grace that ultimately has led them to City Project. And for this, I give God ALL the glory. 

-Anne Swanson (Mercy Hill Member)

Photograph above by Amanda Castle Photography.

Marriage Is Good; Singleness Is Better If…

“Not many Western Christians give adequate consideration to the possibility of remaining unmarried for the sake of wholehearted devotion to the Lord’s work. More need to do so.” – Craig Blomberg

As we are continuing in our Dysfunctional Church sermon series, there will be sections of Scripture that we’ll have to skip over on our weekend services because it would take several years to do a sermon series on the whole book. Occasionally, I’ll try to fill in some of the gaps with a blog. This blog will cover 1 Corinthians 7:25-35 and specifically, the issue of singleness. I would advise reading this blog with your Bible open because there won’t be space to cite these verses.

My Story

If one were to include boyfriend status in the reckoning of my not having been single, then I could say that I’ve been single for thirty-two of the thirty-three years I’ve been alive. There have been times when loneliness has crushed me and my desire for and valuing of being in a relationship was scandalous idolatry. Within the past couple of years (after years of pleading with God), I think that God’s grace has removed that idol from my heart. That doesn’t mean that I think finding myself in a healthy marriage one day is out of the picture, but through studying this particular section of Scripture, the Lord has opened my mind and heart to thinking about other options. I hope that if you are single the Lord will begin to work the same way in your life.

The Church

Where the Western church gets dysfunctional in this is when it treats singles as second-class citizens. The single Christian can be left feeling that certain levels of the Christian life can’t be unlocked, a certain maturity can’t come, until they get married. This is not only foreign to Scripture, but it leads people to feel incomplete and to avoid the type of consideration of choosing singleness that Paul advises in 1 Corinthians. So let’s look at the text.

. . . But First (1 Cor. 7:9)

Paul talks here to the unmarried and widows: “But if they do not have self-control, they should marry, since it is better to marry than to burn with desire.” This should go with everything Paul is about to say. Marriage is good and is something that should be pursued if the Christian cannot control their sexual desires. Paul often prioritizes the fight against sexual immorality in the pursuit of sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3-4), and so, someone without self-control is actually pursuing devotion to the Lord and holiness through getting married.

If you are someone who is currently unable to control their desires but doesn’t have a prospect for marriage, know this: God is sovereign which means that his giving you or not giving you something is for your good. 2 Pet. 1:3 says that God’s divine power has given us everything we need for a life of godliness. And so, a sovereign God who chooses not to give you marriage yet has given you Holy Spirit power to learn and live a life of self-control. He has also given you a church family that will come along side you, pray for you, and keep you busy. This battle may take years, but it is what you are called to in this time. If the Lord gives you victory, maybe he’ll then give you the strength to pursue singleness.

The Married Will Have Trouble in This Life (1 Cor. 7:25-28)

Paul starts off here saying he has no command from the Lord. It’s necessary to point out that this probably means he had heard of no tradition where Jesus specifically gave a command to those who are unmarried (whether to stay single or get married). This does not mean that what he says is not from God. In fact, he says that his opinion is a faithful one as God’s mercy has granted him great wisdom. So what does Paul understand godly wisdom to say about this issue? That it is better because of the present time that the single remain unmarried because the married will have trouble in this life. Marriage is still good and not sinful, but Paul is adamant: if we give careful consideration to WHEN we are, we’ll be careful to choose what allows us to run our race as hard as we can (Phil. 3:12-15).

The Wilderness Mindset (1 Cor. 7:29-31)

Paul points to the idea of the time that we live in—that is, the post-resurrection/pre-Kingdom time. Later in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul will use the analogy of the exodus in terms of placing us where we are spiritually as Christians. Through Christ, we have been brought out of slavery in the Egypt of sin and death, we have walked through the Red Sea in our baptism, and now we live in the wilderness of the world awaiting the Promised Land of God’s Kingdom with God currently tabernacling in us through his Holy Spirit. And while God took care of the Israelites, fed them with manna and quail, and lived among them, he continually led them around the wilderness so that they wouldn’t get comfortable. He didn’t want them to put down roots in the sand of the wilderness and grow content with it. He was leading them into a rich, beautiful land where they would have all that they needed, but in the wilderness, he was instructing them in both obedience and dependence on him (Deut. 8). Christians live in a temporary wilderness time.

So when Paul goes on to say that, considering the time that we’re in, those who have wives should live as though they do not, he is not advising that married Christians should neglect their spouses, but that they should understand that their marriage is not eternal (it ends at death), and its purpose in this life in the wilderness is as a tool to lead us to obedience to God and dependence on God. Paul did not want any believer’s heart and mind to be attached to this world but on the Kingdom to come.

And while I must stress that marriage is a good, beautiful, and God glorifying thing, it is among the things that are passing away (except for the eternal and ultimate marriage of the Church and Christ). It also comes with the possibility of adding earthly cares and concerns to this life. It is no wonder that Paul encouraged the pursuit of singleness. Paul was worried that Christians might start to forget they are in the wilderness. And I fear, especially in our day, we have done just that.

Be Without Worldly Concerns (1 Cor. 7:32-35)

The obvious objection to what Paul says here is that not every Christian who is single is devoted to the Lord. No, but he is specifically talking about those who have chosen singleness for devotion. There are just certain worldly cares and concerns that come with marriage. Anyone who is married can tell you that. It is nearly impossible to be 24/7 available to your brothers and sisters in Christ when you must provide for your family. To provide for the needs of your family is good and right, but it limits the missions trips you can go on, the churches you can help plant, the people you can disciple and visit, your time in Scripture and prayer, etc.

John Piper once said, commenting on Hebrews 12:1, that even good things are a hindrance if they don’t help you run the race of your relationship with God, Kingdom advancement, and the pursuit of holiness in yourself and in the church. If you are single, are you considering doing whatever it takes in order to run the race in full?

Conclusion

I think that Craig Blomberg is right and that more Christians need to consider choosing singleness. But the tenor of the New Testament is that this is not a choice that many will choose. It requires a special gift of grace from the Spirit, and in this, those who choose singleness for the sake of devotion to God should be held in high honor in the church. But if we aren’t even considering it, are we really aware of WHEN we are? If we aren’t praying for the ability through the Spirit to remain unmarried, do we understand that these are the last days in the wilderness? Worldly marriage is fading away, but Christ and his Kingdom are forever.

-Alex Nolette (Equip Coordinator/Community Groups)

Three Ways to Pray for Our City Project Students Abroad

MH College exists to see the gospel save, grow, gather, and send from the campus to the world.

Year after year, thousands of college students come to campuses across the Triad looking to make their college experience the best four years of their life. These students’ vision is much too small. (Really? Four years is all you want to think about?) We have a much bigger vision—one that not only focuses on their four years in school but the rest of their life; not even just that, but ETERNITY! When we meet college freshman, we’re not offering that student a fun four years with only their campus in mind. We’re offering them something that goes far beyond their four years and far beyond the several acres that make up their campus. We’re talking about eternity and the world!

Each year, students catch this vision and accept our invitation. One of the ways they do this is through a summer program called City Project. As you’re reading this, we have students half way across the world sharing the good news of the gospel with people who have never heard it before. We send them from their campus to the world with great confidence knowing that it is God who is preparing both them and those they will share with and knowing that people at home are praying for them. We’re asking God to move, and we want to invite you into this just as we invited them.

Here are three ways to pray for our students as they’re on mission abroad:

1. Pray our students would be in awe of their own salvation.

It’s easy to see that people talk about what they love. It’s why I tell everyone they need to watch “Madam Secretary” or “The West Wing.” If our students are going to tell others about Jesus, it is because they are deeply in love with Jesus. The more beautiful they find the gospel to be, the more they will tell others about it. Pray our students would be overwhelmed by the love shown to them through Jesus Christ. After all, they love him as a response to his love for them.

Verse to Pray: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing Spirit.” (Psalm 51:12)

2. Pray for God to prepare hearts and save lost people.

We know that it will not be our students’ eloquence or persuasion that saves lost people. It will be the hand of our almighty God. Only he has the power to save. We know from Scripture that God is gathering a people for himself from EVERY tribe, tongue, people, and nation. There may be people that you and I spend eternity with because God saved them in these next ten days through our students. Pray for people to come from death to life in these next ten days… and when you’ve prayed for that, pray for more.

Verses to Pray: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” (Psalm 67:1-3)

3. Pray for unity on our teams.

Our students are taking light into darkness. Satan hates that. He wants our students to be distracted from the task of proclaiming the gospel to the world. Pray against spiritual attacks on our team that they might be united in Christ. Our students will not only face spiritual attack but have to fight their own flesh. Being in community can be hard enough in a comfortable place, let alone a foreign context. Pray our students would be reminded that Christian community is marked by love and service because Jesus has first done it for us.

Verse to Pray: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:11-12)

-Greta Griswold (College Resident)