Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Spiritual gifts do not guarantee the perfect church

"If only we could get the gifts of the Spirit to flow freely in our church, then our church will be just like it was in the New Testament times and everything will be perfect for us!"

This is what many a charismatic has thought before, and I was there myself many years ago. Charismatics seem to think that everything will become perfect when they can just "flow" in the gifts of the Spirit. I am a charismatic myself (I prefer to call myself a continuationist or non-cessationist), so I know what I am talking about. At some point a charismatic will think that the gifts are the answer to everything. Most of them never move on from this point because they have been duped into believing this by their church leadership.

The fact is that no-one knows how the New Testament church really "flowed" in the gifts of the Spirit. Look at tongues, for example. Almost every charismatic/pentecostal church I have been to sees tongues as God speaking to us in some mystical way. However, 1 Cor 14:2 says clearly that "one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God." The thing is that charismatics have an idea of what that "flowing" in the gifts should be like even when no-one knows what it looked like in New Testament times. This is one of the reasons why I have held onto a healthy scepticism concerning the gifts.

Of course, the one book in the New Testament that speaks about the gifts the clearest is 1 Corinthians. It is clear from reading 1 Cor that the gifts did not perfect that church at all. In fact, Paul deals with some heavy stuff in the Corinthian church, since problems abounded there. There were divisions (1:10), they held onto worldly wisdom (1:18), they were fleshly and infants in Christ (3:1), they were into hero worship (3:5), they thought too highly of themselves (4:8), they allowed heinous sexual immorality among themselves (5:1), they took each other to worldly courts (6:1), they had marital issues (7:1) and practiced easy divorce (7:12), they had problems with idolatry (10:14), they were disorderly in the use of the spiritual gifts (14:6ff), some did not even believe in the resurrection of the dead (15:12).

Spiritual gifts are not a silver bullet. In fact, Paul saw that the very gifts produced by the Spirit could also have diverse problematic effects in the church. It is for this reason that he wanted to ensure that these gifts were under control and that people weren't going gaga with the gifts (1 Cor 14:26-40)!

What the gifts have created, in the modern church at least, is a group of Christians that can only perform based on their experiences. The problem with a Christianity that is based solely on experience is that the fuel that such experiences create never lasts for more than a few weeks, then the next experience must be sought after, like an addiction! And the gifts have become this replacement for true Christian faith. A faith that walks in the truth of the Scriptures, trusting daily in the goodness of God.

To many, the gifts have become a distraction from the one true Gift that we have received in Jesus Christ. It is very interesting that after Paul wrote on the gifts in 1 Cor 12-14, he jumps right into the gospel by saying "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand." (1 Cor 15:1)

It is the gospel that changes our lives and puts us in right relationship with God. Christ made propitiation for us with the Father, and this is the strength of the gospel, of Christianity. The gospel brings us deliverance and victory. Do not presume to think that the gifts will do all these things for you. Christ and His gospel is central.

Do not make peripherals the central things of the gospel. That is just a distraction!

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