THE GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT

 

You may recall in my last chapter that some of the litmus tests for salvation were.  “Have you been baptized in/by the Holy Spirit?” or “Have you spoken in tongues?”  These are questions that are characteristic of many of the more “Charismatic” sects.  At the time of this writing it seems that the majority of media oriented Christian groups will have an association with some form of the “Charismatic” movement.  I will warn you that in many ways I am a Charismatic sympathizer.  The majority of these groups I give an A+ for their energy and enthusiasm.  I find that more Christians with this background attempt to be doers of the word not merely readers or believers.  This does not mean that these groups do not suffer from their own debilitating problems.  These groups have a longer trail of victims than any other group that I can think of.  Before we jump into their problems lets review some foundations.

The central tenet of all these groups will be the manifestation and gifts of the Holy Spirit.  To a Charismatic, all of the gifts the Apostles had are still manifest today.  To many Charismatics, unless you have one or more of these gifts manifest in you, you are not truly in the body of Christ.  The one gift that is central to the majority of these groups is the gift of tongues and to many of these groups, unless you speak in tongues, you are not a saved person. 

The approach of the more hard-core fundamentalist sects is to try to disprove Charismatic claims about the gifts of the Spirit.  As I had stated in earlier chapters, many fundamentalists claim that the majority of the Spiritual gifts passed with the passing of the apostolic age.  All these claims are centered on an interpretation of I Corinthians 13:10.  And as I stated in my chapters on Church government and Scripture, these claims do not have sound theological foundations.  Please refer to these chapters if you would like to review this argument. Augustine in the fourth century was confronted with similar claims as asserted by the hard-core fundamentalist.  In The City of God, he documents many miracles against the naysayers of his time.    This does not mean that Charismatic claims are validated because an attempt to disprove them is faulty.  I concede that I can find no valid scripture reference or theology that firmly says the gifts of the Spirit known in Apostolic times are passed.  A good source of information for the gifts of the Spirit is I Corinthians 12.

 

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.  For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. 1 Cor 12:7 11


Nine gifts are mentioned here.  I think the total number of gifts mentioned in scripture is nineteen.  It is not my objective to number the gifts or to set limitations on how many gifts there are. I would like to note the diversity of gifts and in particular that the source of these gifts is God and he gives them out “severally as he will.”  It is not up to you or I to determine what gift we have or will receive.  Although it is true the gifts of the Spirit can show God’s grace and thus salvation we must not let this divert us from their primary function.   The primary function of the gifts of the Spirit is to insure a functioning body of Christ.  They are practical in nature.  I think this is where some Charismatic groups loose sight of the tongues issue.  As I stated above, there are a few sects that hold the speaking in tongues as the primary sign of salvation, you will find these churches encouraging all its members to participate in the activity.  What is the stated function for the gift of tongues?

 

 

1 Cor 14:22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.

 

 

Likewise Paul asks the rhetorical question.

 

Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 1 Cor 12:30

 

The answer of course is a resounding NO.  I have read and heard many attempts to circumvent this verse by saying there are different kinds of tongues and this verse speaks only of foreign language, but this may be one occasion that we will have to take a bulldog grip on this verse and not let go.  Not all are intended to have the gift of tongues and if God deems it unnecessary for a particular body to have this gift to function, then you may see the gift totally absent.  It is God who determines the need for each gift and it is God who determines who will receive what gift.  I have known a few people who have attended Charismatic functions who felt so pressured to speak in tongues that they faked it just to get some peace.  If I concentrate too much on one or two gifts I will eventually neglect the other parts and they may fall into dysfunction.  If I have a car with well-tuned powerful 450 engine, it will do me little good if I have flat tires. 


Allow me to stray away from scripture for a while and make a general observation.  Of the Charismatic groups I have observed, all seem to have one thing in common.  That is high emotion.  The most popular of their preachers are the ones that can stir up the emotions and keep them high.  I find that many of the people that are attracted to these churches are in some need for an emotional release or fix.  Almost like the weekend alcoholic, you will see people coming in for their Sunday fix.  During the service emotions will run high, people will cry, shake, get “slain in the Spirit”* and experience “Spiritual laughter”** If you have never seen it before it can be quite a circus.  I think more often than not an emotional experience is confused with a spiritual experience.  Once the emotion dies down they are left with very little.  Like a new couple that discovers sex and then once the thrill is gone they break up and find new partners, you will see people go from church to church.  Charismatic churches have the highest turn-around in membership of all the denominations.  Once the experience dies at one church it is off to another one to try to regain the thrill.  One Charismatic church, that was a few miles from where I used to live, gained national fame.  It could hold over two thousand people and services were so large that people would stand outside and listen to the service on speakers.  Now the church is gone.  The building now hosts a Baptist church.  Where did everybody go?   Now emotion is a good thing and I don’t want to hint that emotion should be eliminated from the Christian experience but I will refer to one of my favorite verses. 

 

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 1 Cor 9:25

 

Temperance is the key.  It is a good and right thing to experience emotion as a Christian.  A person who has never cried contemplating the crucifixion of our Savior has missed out on a lot.  Too much emotion can distract us, though.  If you listen to their preachers you will find a lot of their substance is based upon the human experience.  “Joe over in fill in the blank had this happen to him.” I recall one preacher I observed giving a sermon that carried a Bible, pounded it during the sermon, even threw it on the ground during one of his high points, yet never quoted or referred to it during his sermon.  On another occasion I was with a friend of mine who dabbled in magic and hypnotism.  We watched a service on television where people were having “spiritual laughter” and being “slain in the spirit.”  He told me that the preacher employed well-known hypnotic techniques during the service.  I don’t know if it was a conscious or unconscious tactic; I do know he had a very willing audience. 

If the subject of Spiritual gifts is of interest to you, I would suggest that you read I Corinthians Ch. 12,13, & 14.  I have always been amazed that many people who have been involved in this movement know little of the teachings given in these chapters.

So, if the Charismatics don’t quite have it right on the Spiritual gifts and the Holy Spirit in general, what is the purpose of the Holy Spirit in our lives?  Well without the Holy Spirit, we are lost.  I call the Holy Spirit the great enabler.  It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to discern Christian truth.

 

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor 2:14

 

 

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 1 Cor 2:12

 

 

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor 1:18

 

Jesus said that his words were Spirit.

 

It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. John 6:63

 

In order for us to understand and believe the words of Jesus we must have the Spirit.  Likewise Paul teaches.


Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. 1 Cor 12:3

 

In order for us to proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we must have the Spirit.  So in order for us to have the most basic of Christian function we must have the Spirit.  Without the Spirit I cannot, in faith, proclaim that Jesus is Lord or believe it.  When the Holy Spirit takes hold of our lives it is true that we receive gifts.  To me though we should not let the gifts overshadow what is truly essential in our Christian lives.  That is the fruits of the Spirit. 

 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Gal 5:22 23

 

To me, this is much more important than any gift.  I think this is what Paul preaches about in I Corinthians 13.   If I speak in tongues and have not love, joy, peace, etc, tongues do my neighbor and me little good.  One of the lessons I have had a hard time with is Jesus and the fig tree.  I think with light on this subject we can see a purpose for Jesus’s actions. 

 

And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it. Mark 11:12 14

 

And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursest is withered away. Mark 11:20 21

 

Without fruit, the fig tree was little use to Jesus.  The consequence was being accursed.  Likewise, if we call ourselves Christians and have no fruit, what use are we to God or our neighbor?  If as Christians we have no fruits, do we not deserve condemnation?   The true sign of the Spirit is to have the fruits of the Spirit.  I can fake tongues but it is hard for me to fake love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance for a length of time.  Tongues are a sign of the Spirit and likewise fig leaves are a sign of a fig tree.  Without fruits of the Christian experience, tongues do my neighbor or me little good. 

Above I mentioned two activities, being slain in the Spirit and Spiritual laughter.  Oddly enough neither of these activities is mentioned in scripture.  I have heard several attempts to find verses that support these things but none can stand up to the context test.  One thing that both these activities have in common is a suggestion that if the Spirit is in control, we are not.  To lose control of ones function does directly go against the very teaching of the Holy Spirit.  Paul teaches that when the body experienced or practiced Spiritual episodes, that this was to be done in an orderly manner. 

 

And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.  For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.1 Cor 14:32 33

 


Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.  Let all things be done decently and in order. 1 Cor 14:39 40 

 

The Holy Spirit puts one in control, not out of control.   The Spirit brings knowledge, discernment and ability.  If I experience something like spiritual laughter, am I in control of the Spirit, or am I succumbing to the power of suggestion or my own need to have an emotional release?   This is why I hold these and other activities very suspect.  A church service should not have a circus atmosphere.  A church service, like the gifts, is for edification and learning.

 

*Slain in the Spirit:  a description of this phenomena would be that the subject reacts to a gesture or spoken word by the leader of the meeting by appearing to pass out falling over backwards.

 

**Spiritual laughter:  this is a similar phenomenon to being “slain in the Spirit”.  It can occur at the same time as the above phenomena or separately.  The subject will appear in a trance-like state and laugh uncontrollably.