Saturday, March 08, 2008

On Charismatism: The gifts of the Spirit

[continued from here, here, here, here, here, here and here]

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Cor. 12:7-11)

The Gifts of the Spirit, or charismata, refer to the spiritual gifts that are given to believers by God through the operation of the Holy Spirit, of which there are various passages delineating the various gifts which are stated as being given by the Holy Spirit. One such pasage, in fact the main passage, is 1 Cor. 12:7-11 where the gifts of the Spirit are delineated as follows:

  • Wisdom
  • Knowledge
  • Faith
  • Gifts of healing
  • Working of miracles
  • Prophecy
  • Discerning of spirits
  • Various kinds of tongues
  • Interpretation of tongues

Another such passage, Rom. 12:6-8, lists down a few other gifts:

  • Prophecy
  • Service
  • Teaching
  • Exhortation
  • Generosity
  • Leadership
  • Acts of mercy

Some people may decide to add Eph. 4:7-13 as describing spiritual gifts. However, although Eph. 4:7 seems to indicate spiritual gifts, the list in verse 11 states the ministries of people who function in such a capacity as being used by God "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12). As it cannot be used to prove the offices of the Church, neither can it be used to delineate any spiritual gifts, for gifts are not equal to function. After all, is the gift of Eldership mentioned anywhere in Scripture (and leadership ≠ eldership!)? Similarly, 1 Cor. 12:28-29 seem to add the gifts of helps and administration to the list, but looking at the context, this is mentioning the functions of believers in the body of Christ, thus mentioning the various functions like apostles, prophets, teachers together with the exercise of the various gifts like miracles, gifts of healing, tongues, and services like helping and administration. And therefore, what this verse is stating has to do with the manner in which believers serve in the church, not about the gifts of the Spirit. Some believers will serve in the Church as Apostles (Foundation of the church), some as Prophets (bringing the Word of God authoritatively onto various situations), some as teachers (instructing people in the Word of God), some by doing miracles, some by exercising the gifts of healing, some by helping out in various ways (ie lay out chairs before the service), some in administration of governance, and some by their gifts of tongues. Note that this refers to believers serving in the Church, not believers serving in the churches, and therefore it makes no sense to say that we must have Apostles now, for the saints who are physically dead are still part of the Church — the Church Triumphant and the Church of all Ages. Those who insist that these and other verses indicate that we must have apostles now are basically cutting themselves off from the historical Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, which spans the ages and the times. Ditto for those who use the same reasoning for other gifts and functions too.

Before we talk about the charismata in more detail, let us combine the two lists as follows:

  • Wisdom
  • Knowledge
  • Faith
  • Gifts of healing
  • Working of miracles
  • Prophecy
  • Discerning of spirits
  • Various kinds of tongues
  • Interpretation of tongues
  • Service
  • Teaching
  • Exhortation
  • Generosity
  • Leadership
  • Acts of mercy

The controversy with regards to the Charismata is with regards to the continuation/cessation of various gifts. But to tackle the issues directly is premature and would do no justice to the issue at hand. Rather, it would be better to look at the description and purposes of these gifts first of all, for how can the gifts be discussed without knowing what they are and why they were given in the first place?

The gifts of the Spirit can be briefly described as follows (Full description would be done later):

  • Wisdom = Having heavenly wisdom that is from God
  • Knowledge = Having spiritual knowledge given by God
  • Faith = Having a strong faith in God despite adverse circumstances
  • Gifts of healing = Healing people of their physical sicknesses
  • Working of miracles = Doing various miracles, signs and wonders
  • Prophecy = Speaking the authoritative Word of God
  • Discerning of spirits = To differentiate/discern whether something is of God or not
  • Various kinds of tongues = Speaking in a language which the mind does not understand
  • Interpretation of tongues = Interpreting words spoken in a language which you have not learned
  • Service = To serve God by doing various things for the Church
  • Teaching = Able to teach and edify people
  • Exhortation = Able to exhort and encourage people
  • Generosity = Having a heart of generosity
  • Leadership = Having the ability to lead in a biblical manner
  • Acts of mercy = Having a heart to love and help others

The purposes for which the Charismata are given can be seen in the immediate context, and also must be seen in the larger context of the Christian life and walk. In the immediate context, we can see that they are given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7), for diverse service as the Body of Christ and to make up for each other's weaknesses (1 Cor. 12:12-30), and to perform the many functions within the Body of Christ (Rom. 12:4). Individually, they aid us to serve God in the capacity God has placed us in, and enable us to live the Christ life as we ought to do so (1 Cor. 12:6). Therefore, to summarize within the larger context, the Charismata are given for our sanctification and ministry. They are never given to show off or be boastful about, or to create an "elite team of Christian warriors" and to snub the 'inferior' non-tongue speaker for example. Neither are they given so that we can 'convert' Christians to 'believe in them'. The patronizing attitude of many charismatics in belittling those who disagree with them on this issue, and that not based on Scripture but on their subjective experience, shows that they are most definitely not using their gifts for their intended purposes, if they indeed have those gifts they say they have in the first place.

The next purpose that some of the Charismata have is that they function as signs of a larger spiritual reality, and those are theologically called the Sign-Gifts, to signify that they are given as signs. In this category belong the gifts of tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy (fortelling), healing and miracles. Proving the categorization of these gifts would be done when discussing each of them in detail, but assuming the categorization of them are correct, this would then mean that these gifts are more special and as such have less usage nowadays, for since we have the fulness of revelation, we do not typically need these signs anymore. Again, this would be discussed more after we look through the various gifts, which we shall do so now.

[to be continued]

2 comments:

Justin Nale said...

Thanks for the posts. I'm especially looking forward to the one where you address prophecy in particular.

PuritanReformed said...

Justin, you're very welcome.