Do you have a Biblical understanding of the charismatic gifts?
Spiritual gifts are something that every Christian should be informed about (1 Cor. 12:1) so that we don’t miss out on an opportunity to receive God’s grace. The Greek word for “gift” is “charisma” (grace) which means that spiritual gifts are “gifts of grace.” That’s where we get the word “charismatic.” Therefore, technically speaking, all of the spiritual gifts are charismatic gifts.
However, when people talk about charismatic gifts they are primarily referring to the gift of tongues, healing, and prophecy. To believe that those gifts still exist today makes one a “charismatic” generally speaking.
Here is a very loose spectrum of Christian beliefs and practices regarding the charismatic gifts. It’s not a perfect diagram, but may be helpful as you sort out where you are at or where you’ve come from. I created this diagram to help our church at Citylight Benson to sort out healthy and unhealthy views and practices regarding the gifts.
Cessationists believe the charismatic gifts ceased after the first century. If you’ve grown up in a cessationist church you might have heard that the charismatic gifts are not biblical or extra-biblical. But that’s simply not true as we’ll see below. The foundation of cessationism itself comes not from a passage of Scripture, but from personal experience and observation. As one cessationist pastor (who is a great leader and shepherd) admitted:
As I look around today and at church history I don’t see happening what I see in the early church… the trajectory of the New Testament seems indicate these supernatural gifts are tapering off… While I believe my conclusions to be true this type of argumentation remains uncomfortable for me. I really like having chapters and verses for my positions. In this case however, I don’t think you can do that. Instead you are left with (convincing) observation and deduction.
This camp, where I’ve been most of my Christian life, is open to believing in the charismatic gifts but there is a genuine fear that if they are practiced or pursued that things things will get really weird really fast. There’s a fear of emotionalism, fanaticism, or the unfamiliar. This is completely understandable. There is a lot of wacky stuff out there.
That being said, my humble advice to those in this camp would be to not let fear be an obstacle. As we all know, fear is never a good reason or motivation not to do something especially if it prevents you from obeying the commands of Scripture.
For example, though the gift of teaching is often abused and some churches preach a “health and wealth” gospel it doesn’t mean that we should chuck the gift of teaching from our worship services for fear that we might go down the same path. That would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
The reason I believe that the charismatic gifts have “continued” on until the present day is for Biblical reasons.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away… For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:8-12)
This passage seems to be saying that gifts like prophecy and tongues will cease but won’t do so until the “perfect comes” and we see Christ “face to face.” There is a lack of Biblical evidence that the gifts will cease in the middle somewhere.
Additionally, the God-breathed Scriptures command us not be neutral toward or fear the charismatic gifts, but to purse them in our individual and corporate worship.
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Cor. 14:1)
Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. (1 Cor. 14:5)
When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Cor. 14:26)
So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. (1 Cor. 14:39)
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thess. 5:19-21)
The Apostle Paul is no small figure in the early church. So we should pay attention to the fact that he tells us, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to earnestly desire the charismatic gifts and to not get in the way of people brining a revelation, a tongue, or a prophetic word when we gather. To do so would mean working against the building up of Jesus’ church.
Yes, prophetic words may sound very subjective and may be fallible, but so may the words of a preacher every time he gets on stage. Paul’s answer to this genuine concern is not to despise or reject the gift of teaching or prophecy, but to test everything according to the inerrant Word of God.
Though Paul taught that the Scriptures are sufficient for us to know God and live a godly life, he also makes the case that the charismatic gifts are incredibly helpful in life and ministry. Paul writes to young Timothy:
Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. (1 Tim. 4:14)
Why this exhortation?
This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare. (1 Tim. 1:18)
Paul is essentially saying, “Hold on dearly to those prophetic words and don’t forget them because they will help you fight the good fight and persevere for the long haul in ministry!”
Pentecostals believe that what the disciples experienced at Pentecost should be true of every Christian. That’s why they are Pentecost-als. They believe that every believer will have a post-conversion “baptism of the Spirit” experience. Because the disciples spoke in tongues at pentecost they believe that every Christian will speak in tongues when they’ve been baptized in the spirit. Paul however says in 1 Cor. 12:27-30 that not every believer will speak in tongues. That’s where we deviate from our Pentecostal brothers and sisters.
Additionally, sometimes Pentecostals (and others on the spectrum) will over-emphasize the Holy Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit to the neglect of Jesus. This means that there may be a lot of talk about the Spirit, but not a lot of preaching the gospel going on. However, we see in John 15:26 that the Holy Spirit’s primary testimony is to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Which means, to be Spirit-filled is to be gospel-centered making much of Jesus!
In this camp the gifts of the Spirit are not just pursued, but exalted. Prophesies and revelations can be elevated over the truth of the Bible. Additionally, charismatic leaders may be exalted as well. There can be an unhealthy manipulation, brainwashing, or cult-like activity going on in these circles. These kind of leaders need to know that they are not an authority unto themselves. Prophetically-gifted individuals must operate under the authority of elders. In fact, all use of the spiritual gifts must be done under the authority of the Bible and of local church elders whose role it is to protect sound doctrine and keep the church from going off the guard rails.
One example of going off the rails is the well-known practice of being “slain in the Spirit.” We wouldn’t deny that when people are filled with the Holy Spirit that they may experience a variety of physical effects, but the common practice of blowing on people, pushing on foreheads, or hitting people with suit jackets to knock them over is found nowhere in the Bible.
Showing the Spirit
Theologian D.A. Carson entitled his commentary on 1 Corinthians 12-14 “Showing the Spirit.” What a great title! Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). To manifest something means to show it off. When we put our gifts into action the invisible Spirit of God becomes visible and we are built up as a result. As pastor Sam Storms says, “Gifts are God going public among His people.”
The charismatic gifts help us to see the Spirit of God and and feel His love in concrete and even dramatic ways that help us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is present in our lives – comforting, equipping, strengthening, and giving guidance.
It’s easy to be skeptical of the gifts and hard to wrap your mind around them until you actually experience them. At that point, I’ve found, there’s no going back!
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