I feel like a fuse has been lit within my soul concerning right teaching and practice of Pentecostal doctrines and spiritual gifts. This blog is number three this week on the subject. (read part 1 or part 2)
I believe that the gifts of the Spirit recorded in Scripture remain active in and available to Christians in the church today. In our membership class at LifePoint we go through the two prevailing views on this. One is cessationism, the belief that these gifts ceased at the close of the canon of Scripture or the “Apostolic age.” The other view (the one we hold) is sometimes called “continuationism.” This is the belief that the gifts continue to be active in the church today. I, and the church I pastor, are firmly planted in the continuationist camp.
This means we believe that the gifts of the Spirit are alive and well, working to point us to Jesus and to build up the church body. One of the coolest things about what I get the privilege of being a part of as a local church pastor is seeing the gifts of the Spirit work in and through people day to day and week to week. If you study the biblical passages on the gifts (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, among others) you will find 20 different Greek words used to describe spiritual gifts. These gifts range from mercy to administration to exhortation to tongues to faith. It is awesome to see these actively work in the body of Christ. I can say with full assurance that I have seen all of the gifts of the Spirit actively working in the church I have the privilege of pastoring. It’s awesome to see God work in and through His church.
Unfortunately, when people hear the term “gifts of the Spirit” they have a tendency to think about (and limit the work of the Holy Spirit to) a couple of gifts. I’ve seen this happen with the gifts of tongues and prophecy most often. If someone hears or sees those happen, not in normal life, a life group, or a leadership training setting, but in a large corporate worship gathering, then they assume the Spirit is actively working in a local church.
I had a guy approach me one time who was falling prey to this exact error. He said, “When is the Holy Spirit going to come into this church?” I wasn’t sure at first how to answer him. He asked this question around the time our youth ministry had returned from camp, and in a service the previous week we had baptized 22 of them in water after they confessed Christ.
“Why don’t you tell me what ‘the Holy Spirit’ in this church looks like to you,” I said.
“Well, his gifts being active.”
“What gifts are you specifically talking about?” I said, “Are you referring to gifts like mercy, administration, helps, discernment, leadership, or celibacy?”
He remained unmoved: “I mean like tongues and interpretation and prophecy.”
I went on to let him know of some great stories I had heard from a couple of our Life Group leaders that previous week. As groups of Christians gathered praying in homes (kind of like in Acts 2) a few members who were gifted in those ways moved in those exact gifts. This news didn’t deter my “spirit-filled” friend.
“Well, when are those things going to happen on Sunday morning?”
“When on Sunday morning?” I asked.
“During the worship service.”
I persisted: “You mean the largest gathering of the week in the main auditorium?”
At this point I went on to clarify that the “prophetic word” is actually delivered every single week in our main worship gatherings, in the form of the text of Scripture being exposited and applied in our sermons (2 Peter 1:19-21). I also told him that I couldn’t guarantee when or if his spiritual gifts bucket list could be checked off, but that he could be sure that we would be doing everything “decently and in order” because our God is a “God of peace and not confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40).
I ended my conversation with this guy by clarifying that I believed he had put God in a box. A very tiny box. To equate the work of the Spirit of God with the exercise of two gifts, two gifts that must be exercised in the time, place, and way that you deem spiritually and practically appropriate is ridiculous at best, idolatry at worst.
God doesn’t fit in that kind of box (or any box for that matter). So if you’ve got Him in your pocket in a little box that you’ve designed, I would double check the contents of said-box.