Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Thoughts on spiritual gifts...

I don't know what you think about spiritual gifts. I know I grew up believing that the "sign gifts" like tongues, healing, prophecy, and the like stopped being given to the church after the first century. So I was always suspicious of people who practiced these gifts. I think at one time I would have considered Christians who practiced sign gifts to be wrong, probably just overtaken with emotion. But I really didn't see God still working that way any more.

As I got older, I saw some of my friends get involved in Pentecostal churches. Some of them started speaking in tongues, some started talking about a "second blessing" of the Holy Spirit. That usually meant that someone who was a believer had to speak in tongues in order to be complete. I saw that then as being a very divisive belief in the body of Christ. It groups God's people into 2 camps--the tongue-speakers and the non-tongue-speakers.

My own position has changed quite a bit. I don't see anywhere in the Bible where you can legitimately infer that any gifts stopped after the Scriptures were written. (Please forgive me, Mr. Dike!) I also don't see any particular gift as being necessary for a Christian to be complete in Christ. I think Scripture is pretty clear that we are complete in Christ from the moment of salvation.

The gifts are just that--gifts. God gives them out as He wishes, to enable us to do His work. There aren't 2 classes of Christians, or 5, or 100. If you are in Christ, you are a child of God.

Two things really make me sad about the whole debate over gifts. One, it's divided Christians unnecessarily. (It's one more proof that the devil often uses good things to mess up the Church.) There isn't much difference theologically between most people who attended Baptist (or Brethren) churches and groups like the Assembly of God or other Pentecostal) denomination. But both sides are dug in, thinking the other is strange, or off-base, or out of step with God.

The second thing that makes me sad is that when we focus on gifts, we lose sight of the Giver. Really gifts aren't important at all. I'm not enabled to do God's work because of my gifts. I can do God's work because it's Jesus who is in me, to do what He wants. Gifts are tools He uses through His people.

Why am I thinking about this? This afternoon I heard 2 guys in the radio, each talking about their experience speaking in tongues. For both, they were believers who were seeking some reassurance that their faith was real. God gave them the sign they were looking for, namely, tongues. Both of them described how their lives had changed. They were secure in their knowledge that God was in them and with them. They were more in love with Jesus. They trusted God more than they ever did before.

Before, I probably would have dismissed them as self-deluded, convincing themselves that they had received something that wasn't really God at all. It was just their own minds, playing a trick on them.

Now, I believe those experiences, which are very different from mine, really do come from God. I mean, He meets me where I am, in all my weakness and strengths and pre-conceived notions. Why shouldn't He do that with His other children? Further, I think we probably need to give each other some room to maneuver when it comes to things of the Spirit. The one standard? It doesn't violate what we already know about God, revealed in the Bible. Otherwise, if God wants some of His people to speak in tongues or prophesy, let 'em do it. If He wants others to use "quieter" gifts, like hospitality or mercy, that's great too.

I think it's when you make your experience with God the norm, the experience that judges all the others, that you get into trouble.I hope we can some day get to the point where we can celebrate God's work in each of us without trying to stuff each other into boxes...

My gifts? Napping, and general mischief...


The Reluctant Homeschooler said...

Interesting post, and I agree that the debate divides. I do not have the gift of tongues; my husband does. Often I wish I did because he seems to have something I don't. But tongues or not, we are one in Christ.

Richard J said...

Thanks for coming by! I know I've struggled for years, looking for something more, something that will help me get to the "next level" of intimacy with God.

I think I'm starting to realize, little by little, that there really isn't anything else I need when I have Him. He really is with me, and in me, in everything that happens. And He doesn't require anything of me. He loves me because of who I am: His son.

It's the fact that He's made all of us believers into His family that unites us. It's got nothing to do with the gifts He gives...

Emmychka said...

If anybody would read 1 Cor 12, 13, and 14 they would see that tongues is said to be the least out of all the giftings, but it all gifts we do have should edify the body. If we are going to speak in tongues, then there should be interpretation, otherwise, keep your mouth shut. <- According to Paul

I have to say that I also grew up in the same background believe all gifts were gone. Then I moved into a Pentecostal sphere where a lot of people told me I must not be saved if I didn't speak in tongues.

I personally believe the truth is in the middle. God still gives out the gifts, but if we start believing tongues is this ultimate gift or weapon or whatever, then we lose sight of God and what gifts were intended for. *coughs*buildingupofthechurch*coughs*

Good post. :)

Michelle said...

The greatest gift is love and that is the gift we should use when looking at our brothers and sisters in Christ and observing the gifts God gives them.

Richard J said...

Em--(Can I call you Em?) You're right. Some people hold one gift up as THE gift to have. Tongues are exalted in some circles. Teaching in other circles.

I'm not sure where you get this idea that God gives gifts so He can build up His church. We all know that God gave me gifts to build up ME! Only ME!!

We'll have no more of that crazy "building up the church" talk from you young lady! ;)

Michelle--Love? I'm supposed to look on my brothers and sisters with love? But what about judgment and condescension? What about gossip and innuendo?

Seriously though, I think you've got it right. In fact, didn't Jesus say that people would know we belong to Him because of our love for each other?

If that's true, unbelievers must look at the church and wonder who's in charge...