After reading this part of my report to our AGM; “To release the expression of the diversity of gifts that Jesus gives to his whole Body remains a challenge into the future (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4). Most churches will never mature because they are afraid to enter into the seeming randomness which must precede an outpouring of the power of the Spirit of God.”, Ros asked me to speak on the topic of spiritual gifts. This immediately triggered personal connections.
The first two spiritual books I ever read were the Bible and The Cross and the Switchblade and the first five years of my Christian life were spent in a Pentecostal Church where the sick were prayed for, deliverance from the demonic practiced and prophecy and tongues regularly exercised in public services.
When I joined that church my family thought I had joined a cult, the culture shock was so great they came along to protect me and were all converted! In the decades following that time the Charismatic Movement in the traditional churches became inward and collapsed whilst amongst Pentecostals “worship” = singing progressively marginalised spiritual gifts pushing them out of Sunday meetings. We must seek a deeper biblical foundation for the exercise of the gifts from the one our spiritual ancestors laid for their time. Here is my approach.
When at the start of 1 Corinthians 12 Paul states, “no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” he is making a Christ-centred statement which underlines the significance of all the gifts (12:3).
Charismatic gifts are important because they communicate something of the reign of Christ through and beyond the local congregation.
This is emphatically how Peter explains Jesus’ relationship to the Spirit in his sermon on the day of Pentecost; “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, (Jesus) he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” (Acts 2:33).
As ascended to heaven Jesus is “Lord of all” and has sovereign authority to pour out the Spirit of God upon his Church (Acts 10:36).
Just as Jesus had explained it before returning to the Father, ““when the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth…he will bear witness/testify about me.” (John 15:26).
All the gifts are designed to testify to Jesus, and using the language of Revelation 19:10, since “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” all these manifestations are, in the broadest sense, prophetic of Christ.
If the Spirit brings a word of wisdom and knowledge it is a communication of Jesus’ wisdom and knowledge (1 Cor 12:8; Col 2:3), if there is a healing or miracle it is a share in the power which raised Jesus from the dead (1 Cor 12:9-10), if tongues are “mysteries in the Spirit” this must be an expression of God’s mystery which is Christ and so on (1 Cor 12:10; 14:2; Eph 3:4; Col 1:27; 2:2; 4:3).
If this way of understanding spiritual gifts is correct, then the collapse of the manifestation of spiritual gifts in the Church represents a collapse of Christ-centredness. A collapse of relating to Jesus in a spiritual mode of understanding which desperately needs to be restored today. Paul’s introduction to 1 Corinthians points us to what this sort of spirituality might be.
Apocalyptic Gifts and Popular Culture
Compare the framework of thought behind these words to parts of my introductory scripture, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” (Rev 1:1-2) and it becomes plain that Paul and the Corinthians shared what we would call an apocalyptic worldview.
This is an understanding of the world which expects supernatural revelation from heaven and an in breaking of the power of a new world order. From an apocalyptic perspective spiritual gifts are a sign of a new creation that has come in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). This new world order is centred on the heavenly Lordship of Jesus (Rev 5ff.).
When Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor 12:7 ESV), it is not just a case that someone is helped or healed, but that in this way there is a revelation of the exalted glory of Jesus Christ through the work of the Spirit who is the one bringing in the renewed cosmic order.
The gifts of the Spirit are evidences of the identity and character of Christ in a world where the powers of darkness seem to reign and the Church is a misunderstood and persecuted minority.
Every manifestation of the Spirit is a tangible assurance that the Holy Spirit in the Bride of Christ is joining with her in a joint witness to the testimony of Jesus, ““Surely I am coming soon.” (Rev 22:17, 20 cf. Rom 8:16).
An intense apocalyptic framework like this is the regular atmosphere of the Early Church, was prevalent in various dimensions at the time of the Reformation and was the case with the revival of spiritual gifts in Pentecostalism.
The traditional Pentecostals I knew had sustained an expectation of the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan and the soon End of the world and deeply believed in the necessity of all the gifts of God for spiritual survival and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.
Times have radically changed. Charismatics became a part of the church furniture and formed their own groups that threatened no one.
Pentecostalism enjoyed great numerical and financial growth and power and inevitably adjusted to the dominant culture around them.
The idolatrous drive for respectability and influence proved incompatible with God’s radical Spirit-given presence to the poor, weak and marginalised. This is the state the Western Church today. There is however a way forward.
The Show – Off Spirit
The title of a well known book on 1 Corinthians 12-14 is called, “Showing the Spirit”. I think the Holy Spirit is “The Show -Off Spirit”; but in a good sense. Let me illustrate.
I was listening to a conversation between Merle and (pastor) Dale the other day. When she asked him, ‘Can I do a show and tell’ in the Sunday service?” we all know what this means.
Or, to put the same point from a slightly different angle, the Spirit of the Father wants to show off his Son.
This sort of scenario should not surprise us; the whole universe is filled with evidences for God.
As I was out praying in the early morning the other day with a full moon against a clear sky and shining stars this was gloriously unmistakeable. There are signs of the reality of God in creation, powerful signs of the kingdom of God throughout biblical history and spiritual gifts are signs of the sheer grace which is in Christ.
In the wisdom of God the Holy Spirit has been poured out from heaven to show Jesus and he does this in the most unexpected ways.
The Spirit loves to show off the Lord Jesus by distributing gifts seemingly randomly across the Body.
Unpredictability however is not the same as randomness, whatever the manifestation of the Spirit it has as its goal to point to the glory of God in Christ.
The choreographed style of the dominant church culture of today (especially the influential megachurches) is completely incompatible with the Spirit who “blows where it wishes” (John 3:8).
At the point of intersection between this present evil age and “the powers of the age to come” we should not expect the sort of order that keeps things continuing as they always have been (Gal 1:4; Heb 6:5; 2 Pet 3:4). Perhaps the strangest or most offensive way in which the Spirit distributes his gifts is who he chooses to give them to (1 Cor 12:11; Heb 2:4).
The Corinthians were a rabble; divided, immoral, disorderly, subject to bad teaching, and prone to show off their own spirituality rather than Christ, but they are “not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Cor 1:7).
To explain how this is possible let me use an analogy.
Some of the most wretched people I have ever met have been Christians. One of the most charismatic people I ever worked with who was seeing good church growth decided without any discussion to dismiss me by dropping a note in my letter box, and was greatly offended when I had the audacity to ring him up over it.
There were lots of weird as well as wonderful things in that parish but it helped me greatly to conclude that if the Spirit of God and his gifts can live in me he can live and work in anyone who confesses Jesus as Lord.
Paul has a deep theological grounding for this.
If as he says in 1 Corinthians 1:30 Christ Jesus is our “righteousness” = justification, then the gifts must be freely distributed to all believers independent of their spiritual maturity. They are a sign of sheer grace and as such should be “earnestly desired” (1 Cor 12:30; 14:1, 39).
Rare however is that body of people that prays earnestly for these giftings. I can think of a number of reasons for this.
It is easy to set the fruit against the gifts of the Spirit as if they were in competition and Jesus was somehow divided.
BOTH FRUIT AND GIFTS SHOULD BE SOUGHT.
Then some folk fear displays of spiritual gifts as the misuse of these can be dangerous and confrontational. I have been in some meetings that were disordered to the point of demonised (1 Cor 14:33).
Paul however didn’t dampen the Corinthians’ enthusiasm for manifestations of the Spirit, he simply taught them about good order and right conduct. The apostolic injunction remains true today; “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thess 5:19-22).
I do not however believe that any of the above reasons for the decline of the showing of the Spirit are adequate explanations.
Throughout the New Testament the outpouring of the Spirit and his gifts is connected to the coming of the gospel.
There are a number of examples in Acts to do with speaking in tongues and prophecy but Hebrews spells it out like this; “it (the message) was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Acts 10:34-46; 19:1-6; Heb 2:3-4).
It must be that the power of the gospel releases the presence of the gifts of the Spirit. Paul starts off 1 Corinthians by saying, “I…did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,”, and says towards the close of the book, “I delivered to you as of first importance …that Christ died for our sins…that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (2:1-4; 15:3-4).
If the proclamation of the gospel is the key to the activation of the gifts of the Spirit why do we not see them in many churches that are faithful in gospel preaching?
I think a foundational part of the answer is the neglect of the fact that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the mother of every apocalyptic reality.
The falling away of the disciples, the darkness which covered the land as Jesus hung on the cross and the cry of dereliction, “My God…why have you forsaken me?” witness to the reality that every element of sin’s curse, divine wrath, Satanic assault and human rebellion unveiled by the Lamb in the book of Revelation came upon the Son of God.
That in the hour of “the power of darkness” Jesus loses sight of himself as “the gift of God” and so of all the gifts of the Spirit to/in/through him (John 4:10).
The tearing of the curtain of the temple, the earthquake splitting the tombs and the resurrection of the saints with the angelic presence at the resurrection are the first signs of the manifestation of a new world (Luke 22:53; Matt 27:45-54; cf. 24:7, 12, 29; 28:1ff.).
Biblical apocalyptic is neither a source of fear about the loss of our current stable prosperous order of life nor is it an object of mere fascination.
The spiritual drama unveiled by a biblically grounded apocalyptic worldview is the vehicle for the revelation of Christ as the crucified and exalted Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8). It is within this intensely revelatory framework that the gifts of the Spirit belong.
Since we are far removed from this sort of way of seeing and experiencing the world and the Church it might seem that any significant hope for the restoration of spiritual gifts as we see them in scripture is very slim.
Surely however, “the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7).
I am hopeful we will witness the rebirth of a genuine apocalyptic environment in the Church.
This can only arrive as we accept that whilst new advances for the light of the gospel are happening in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America a dark shadow is falling over the lands of Western Christianity.
In the wisdom of God those alert to the Spirit of God will find the clash between Christ and culture increasingly unbearable without a greater measure of the power of God.
It is time to seek Christ for the Spirit’s gifts, not for the sake of the reputation of the Church, which in our land is humanly irredeemable, but for the sake of testimony of Jesus of which these gifts are a part (Acts 2:33).
This is a testimony that assures us that despite all this earth’s sufferings, travails and terrors this world is not abandoned but under the Lordship of Christ in God.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 21.8.16 | St Mark’s Anglican Perth
Author: Dr. John Yates