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Friday, July 12, 2013

Pneumatology: Spiritual Gifts

The following essay was originally for a class project. Please add a comment at the bottom and let me know what you think.

Pneumatology: Spiritual Gifts
 
 Spiritual gifts were given to believers at Pentecost for the edification of the Church. Spiritual gifts allow one to perform a service or ministry within the church . Spiritual gifts and the fruit of the Spirit are sometimes confused. Spiritual gifts are grace gifts, while the fruit of the Spirit includes the attributes of one who is “in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). In Galatians 5, Paul contrasts our old sinful nature with our new nature in Christ. This new nature produces the fruit of the Spirit (v.22), “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These attributes show ones spiritual maturity.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Christ was known as a worker of miracles, which characterized His kingdom. After His ascension, Jesus promised that He would send the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:26) that would “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” In the second chapter of Acts, we see the fulfillment of this promise. The Baptism of the Spirit was an empowerment of God’s people to edify the church and fulfill God’s will on Earth. Jesus was not going to leave His kingdom empty of the same power He demonstrated during his earthly ministry.

One spiritual gift that gets the most attention is perhaps the gift of tongues. A Biblical definition of tongues is given in Acts 2. The gift of tongues was sometimes used as a “divine affirmation” of new converts. In the early 19th century, a group of Bible students from Topeka, Kansas were asked to identify the evidence of being baptized in the Spirit. One student, Agnes Osmond, began “speaking in tongues” while researching this topic. The students then adopted the belief that tongues were the initial evidence of being baptized in the Holy Ghost. Pentecostals still hold this doctrine; thus, they believe that being baptized in the Spirit is a separate work of grace apart from salvation. However, we should never allow an experience to dictate our doctrine.

Using Acts 19 as a proof-text, Pentecostals often point out that some disciples had a separate experience in God after salvation. The passage doesn’t support their claim. It is clear the disciples in question received the Holy Ghost straightway after putting their faith in Jesus (v. 5-6) as opposed to John the Baptist. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that every believer has a measure of the Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14) as God’s earnest deposit. We receive the Holy Spirit when we are born again.

In many places in the NT where a believer receives the Holy Ghost, the receiver begins speaking in unknown tongues. However, St. Paul asked the question, “Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Cor. 12:30). The implied answer is no. Apparently not every believer speaks in tongues, as not every believer has the gift of healing. This does not mean that tongues have already ceased nor any of the gifts ended. Indeed, St. Paul predicted that tongues will “be stilled” (1 Cor. 13:8) and that knowledge will “pass away.” Clearly this passage hasn’t come to pass. In fact, it sounds like hyperbole – he was simply pointing out the superiority and lastingness of love. The purpose of tongues, like the other spiritual gifts, is for edification. St. Paul teaches that unless someone interprets, the gift only edifies the one doing the uttering; conversely, it can hinder a service if misused.

Many cessationists would strongly disagree with my position, insisting that the Gifts have ceased at the end of the apostolic age. They cite 1 Cor. 13:8-10 to support their claim. Verse 10 states, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” To apply this fairly obscure verse to the gifts of the Spirit is beyond dubious. It is clear that St. Paul is speaking of a time when believers can see, not “in part”, but “clearly.” The very fact that believers are still debating proves my point.

Conclusion

Speaking in tongues is not the necessary sign that one has been baptized in the Holy Ghost. Not every believer speaks in tongues, however, it follows that since the gifts are still in operation, tongues are still valid today. I can find no evidence that the gifts were to cease before the Lord’s return. That being said, many of the gifts appear to be in operation on Christian TV by super-star evangelists. I must add that everything that speaks in tongues and puts on a show is not of God.

Bibliography

Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001.

Note: this essay was originally for a small class project at Liberty University (2013). It is released into the Public domain; Please use freely giving credit to this blog and/or author. This essay deviates from both classical Pentecostal and mainstream Baptist doctrine. I have found Baptists, however, to be much more open minded than I ever expected. I'm enjoying my stay at Liberty. They even respect my Charismatic Christian worldview. In fact, many students share it!

P.S. I do not want to give the impression that I believe that either one has the Holy Spirit or he or she does not; rather, I believe Christians, more specifically, certainly can have different measures of the Spirit. It is very evident in the many different churches I have visited. Frankly, some pentecostal churches I have visited were less spiritual than some non-charismatic churches.

I believe that one is as close to God and as spiritual as he or she wants to be (James 4:8, KJV). I have visited churches where the presence of God was so strong that it made me never want to leave the place. Conversely, I have visited churches that seemed to be having a religious service, which bored me to death. I couldn't wait for it to be over.

What are you thoughts?

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