The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts – When Power Comes to the Church

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As mentioned in my last blog, I am beginning a series reviewing Sam Storms book, The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts. Today we get the ball rolling with chapter one.

Sam kicks off the book by sharing about the many things that he is encouraged by in the western church he lists; attendance and giving are up (american context), there is more and more conferences, sales of christian books steadily increase, small groups are becoming more and more popular and Christians are beginning to find their voices in the public arena.

But the tables soon turn:

“Preachers teach the Bible, and people snore. Homemakers share their faith and it falls on deaf ears. Lives get broken but rarely get fixed. Bodies are suffering, yet few are healed. Marriages are dying, and people just give up. Temptations are faced, and sin flourishes. The poor are hungry and stay that way.”

Tough words! Are they true? Probably.

Storms argues that most Christian leaders are thinking along those lines. He admits that there is a wide range of opinions and solutions floating around, but Storms spends the remainder of this chapter sharing his opinion of why this is (to an extent). You’ve probably guessed what his solution is from the title of the book:

“My conclusion is this: The real problems, the painful struggles and our diminishing impact wont be solved short of a fresh infusion of power- no just any power, mind you, but spiritual power, the kind of power that the human flesh can’t produce and education can’t conceive and revamped programs cant’t strategize. The Church desperately needs the power of her Lord and the energy and activity of the Holy Spirit.”

I read that and my heart cries “Amen!”. We need the same Spirit who regenerated us to continue His work in us. We need the Holy Spirit to work deeply in us so that we can grow in holiness. We need the Holy Spirit to be illuminating the scriptures to us.  We need the same Spirit to be applying our theology to our hearts. The same Spirit needs to speak through us in order for our words to contain any power. No seeker sensitive programs will work; there only is one seeker. As a Church we need the power of the Holy Spirit.

The ceasing of Cessationism; Sam continues by sharing his story with his readers. He tells us that there was a time that he would not be able to write the book. He reveals that for the first 15 years of his pastoral ministry he was a cessationist (meaning- miraculous gifts of the Spirit ceased in the first century). Sam actually wrote a book about cessationism early on in his ministry.  Storms stresses that his theological shift was not down to a miracle or a healing or anything like that. Talking about his shift from cessationionism he says “in the solitude and safety of my office, I became convinced that the bible didn’t teach it.”

One of the biggest reasons Storms rejected the Spritiual gifts in the early part of his ministry was to do with embarrassment.

“I didn’t like the way they dressed. I didn’t like the way they spoke. I was offended by their lack of sophistication and their overbearing flamboyance. I was disturbed by their flippant disregard for theological precision and their excessive displays of emotional exuberance.”

He goes on to share some of his fears:

“My opposition to spiritual gifts was also energized by fear- the fear of emotionalism; the fear of fanaticism; the fear of the unfamiliar; the fear of rejection by those whose respect I cherished and whose friendship I did not want to forfeit; the fear of what might occur were I fully to relinquish control of my life and my mind and my emotions to the Holy Spirit; the fear of loosing what little status in the evangelical community my hard work had attained.”

I think this perhaps is an issue for many. People have a fear of being labeled or put into some sort of category. We are afraid what people will say or think. Perhaps this is down to our church circles being too narrow. Often we only associate with churches that are “just like us.” I think this tendency is gradually changing. Our circles are beginning to widen. We are beginning to work along side churches that have a different style or structure, and  even churches that disagree on some non-essential doctrines. But the issue still remains, there is a fear of been put in a particular camp and what that would mean for ones reputation.

Sam admits:

” In my pride I had allowed certain extremes to exercise more of an influence on the shape of my ministry than I did the text of scripture.”

The chapter is ended with some words of advice and caution about spiritual gifts:

“There’s a crucial principal we need to understand from the outset: Spiritual gifts are not God bestowing to his people something external to himself. They are not some tangible ‘stuff’ or substance separable from God. Spiritual gifts are nothing less than God himself in us, energizing our souls, imparting revelation to our minds, infusing power in our wills, and working his sovereign and gracious purposes through us. Spiritual gifts must never be viewed deistically, as if a God ‘out there’ has sent some ‘thing’ to us ‘down here.’ Spiritual gifts are God’s present in, with, and through human thought, human deeds, human words, human love.”

So far i have really enjoyed this book and it has really got me thinking. Stroms writes in a very warm and honest way and I look forward to reading what he has to say about spiritual gifts over the coming days and weeks. However one thing that Storms said in this chapter has set the ‘alarm bells’ off, he claims that spiritual gifts are not a secondary issue. He says “In affirming them (the gifts), we welcome Him. In denying them, we deny Him.’ This seams rather strong, hopefully Storms will clarify as the book goes on.

Next time: Myth Busters – Spiritual Gifts

“The Spirit is the first power we practically experience, but the last power we come to understand.” – Oswald Chambers

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7 responses to “The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts – When Power Comes to the Church

  • Dan

    Good article Kieran.

    He said this:
    “in the solitude and safety of my office, I became convinced that the bible didn’t teach it.”

    And also this:
    “In affirming them (the gifts), we welcome Him. In denying them, we deny Him.”

    It seems to me that this is a necessary assumption considering that he became convinced that the Bible didn’t teach that cessationism is correct. I agree that it is worrying for someone to say something like that, but surely his affirmation of ‘that is what the bible does/does not teach’ means he must say something like that?

    I am looking forward to his extra Biblical argument, not because I don’t believe in the supreme authority of Scripture, but that this is an instance in which we are talking about something that happened after the Scriptures were completed. Surely, then, our strongest evidence would be that of the church fathers and early Christians? Don’t get me wrong, there are Biblical arguments, I agree with the view that Paul predicts the cessation of certain spiritual gifts at least 6 times, as well as holding to the ‘chronological progression’ argument. But they are not conclusive and it is important to look at the evidence in Church history, which we both know that from Ante Nicea up until the late 19th century speaks very little about charismata.

    Grace.

  • Andrew Mathieson

    A quick response to the idea/claim that the church fathers and later the reformers don’t mention the charisma.

    · Justyn Martyr (~A.D. 150), in his famous Dialogue with Trypho, speaks of the fact that Jews continue to leave their communities in order to become Christians. In this context, he makes the following comment:

    [some] are also receiving gifts, each as he is worthy, illumined through the name of this Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God.[24]

    · Irenaeus (~A.D. 180) was the Bishop of Lyons. In his famous work, Against Heresies, he said:

    . . . for which cause also his [Christ’s] true disciples having received grace from him use it in his name for the benefit of the rest of men, even as each has received the gift from him. For some drive out demons with certainty and truth, so that often those who have themselves been cleansed from the evil spirits believe and are in the church, and some have foreknowledge of things to be, and visions and prophetic speech, and others cure the sick by the laying on of hands and make them whole, and even as we have said, the dead have been raised and remained with us for many years. And why should I say more? It is not possible to tell the number of the gifts which the church throughout the whole world, having received them from God in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, uses each day for the benefit of the heathen, deceiving none and making profit from none. For as it received freely from God, it ministers also freely. (Against Heresies, 2, 49:2) — Just as also we hear many brethren in the church who have gifts of prophecy, and who speak through the Spirit with all manner of tongues, and who bring the hidden things of men into the clearness for the common good and expound the mysteries of God. (Against Heresies, 5, 6:1)

    · Novatian (~A.D. 250) was a prominent Christian elder in third-century Rome. In chapter 29 of his book Concerning the Trinity, he discusses the Holy Spirit and his gifts:

    Indeed this is he who appoints prophets in the church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, brings into being powers and conditions of health, carries on extraordinary works, furnishes discernment of spirits, incorporates administrations in the church, establishes plans, brings together and arranges all other gifts there are of the charismata and by reason of this makes the Church of God everywhere perfect in everything and complete.

    · Tertullian (~A.D. 200) was a prolific Christian author in Carthage (North Africa). He wrote:

    Therefore, blessed ones whom the grace of God awaits, when you come up out of that most holy bath [baptism] . . . ask the Father, ask the Lord to make you subject to the riches of grace, the distribution of the gifts. (Concerning Baptism, 20:5)

    He affirms the gifts of the Spirit. And we need to remember the Early Church / Reformation Church the­olo­gy we dis­cussed earlier. They viewed water/Spirit baptism as twins. Baptism was powerful, but not magic.

    · Origen (~A.D. 230) was a prolific writer in the Early Church. He said, “Baptism is the principle and source of the Divine charisms.” Like Tertullian, he believed the seed of Spirit baptism occurred at water baptism. More to our point, this quote demonstrates that Origen believed in the continuing existence of the spiritual gifts.

    · Cyprian (~A.D. 250) was a Bishop of Carthage. Not only did he believe in the gifts, so did his contem­poraries. Some fellow Christians responded to his letter, saying that he had prophesied to them:

    For by your words you have both provided those things about which we have been taught the least and strengthened us to bear up under the sufferings which we are experiencing, being certain of the heavenly reward, the martyrs’ crown, and the kingdom of God as a result of the prophecy which you, being full of the Holy Spirit pledged to us in your letter.

    · Eusebius (~A.D. 350) was a pre-eminent Church historian. He was explicitly charismatic. He said, “the prophetic charisms must exist in the church until the final coming.”

    · Philoxenus (~A.D. 510) was a Syriac-speaking Persian who affirmed the continuation of the gifts, but said that they were only for serious Christians who obey Christ wholeheartedly. In his letter to Patricius, he says:

    Among the first believers, as soon as they were baptized they received the Spirit through baptism. The operation of the Spirit appeared in them by all kinds of wonders. . . . Now again, the Holy Spirit is given by baptism to those who are baptized and they really receive it (the Spirit), like the first believers. However in none of them does [the Spirit] manifest its work visibly. Even though [the Spirit] is in them, it remains hidden there. Unless one leaves the world to enter the way of the rules of the spiritual life, observing all the commandments Jesus has given, walking with wisdom and perseverance in the narrow way of the Gospel, the work of the Spirit received in baptism does not reveal itself.

    Examples from the Reformation Church and Beyond:

    · The 39 Articles of Religion (1514-1572), were established in 1563 and finalized in the Church of England in 1571. They are the historic defining statements of Anglican doctrine.[25] Article 35 enjoins Anglicans to regularly read a particular list of homilies, one of which (#16) is “Of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost”. This homily explicitly affirms the continuation of the Charismatic Gifts of the Spirit, and directly references 1 Corinthians 12.[26]

    · John Knox (1514-1572), was a Scottish preacher, central to the Protestant Reformation. In a biography of Knox, historian Jasper Ridley says Knox and other Protestants “expected their leaders to have the gift of prophecy.” Ridley records several prophecies that came true. For example, Knox said as he was dying:

    You have formerly been witnesses [he said] of the courage and constancy of Grange in the cause of the Lord; but now, alas, into what a gulf has he precipitated himself. I entreat you nor to refuse the request which I now make to you. Go, and tell him in my name that unless he is yet brought to repentance, he shall die miserably; for neither the craggy rock [the castle] in which he miserably trusts, nor the carnal prudence of that man [Lethington] whom he looks upon as a demi-god, nor the assistance of foreigners, as he falsely flatters himself, shall deliver them; but he shall be disgracefully dragged from his nest to punishment, and hung on a gallows in the face of the sun, unless he speedily amend his life, and flee to the mercy of God. The man’s soul is dear to me, and I would not have it perish if I could save it.

    Ridley then details the fulfillment of the predictions:

    On August 3, Grange and his brother James . . . were hanged. Lethingron had died suddenly soon after the surrender of the castle: he probably committed suicide.

    Thus two of his prophecies were fulfilled. All the chronicles state that when Grange met Drury in front of the castle walls to discuss the terms of surrender, he was unable to come out through the castle gate because it was blocked by the stones that had fallen after the English bombardment. He was therefore let down over the wall by a rope, or ladder. Knox had prophesied that Grange would be spewed out of the castle, not at the gate but over the wall. When Grange was hanged at the market cross of Edinburgh on a sunny afternoon, he was hanged facing towards the east; but before be died, his body swung round to face the west, so he was hanged, as Knox had foretold, in the face of the sun.

    · Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) was a Scottish pastor and theologian and one of the most influential delegates to the Westminster Assembly (1643-1649), which composed the Westminster Confession of Faith in London from 1643-1646. In a book he authored in 1648, Rutherford discussed “revelations and inspirations of the Spirit” at some length. Among his words are these:

    There is a revelation of some particular men, who have foretold things to come even since the ceasing of the Canon of the word, as John Husse, Wickeliefe, Luther, have foretold things to come, and they certainely fell out, and in our nation of Scotland, M. George Wishart foretold that Cardinall Beaton should not come out alive at the Gates of the Castle of Sr. Andrewes, but that he should dye a shamefull death, and he was hanged over the window that he did look out at, when he saw the man of God burnt, M. Knox prophecied of the hanging of the Lord of Grange, M. Ioh. Davidson uttered prophecies, knowne to many of the kingdome, diverse Holy and mortified preachers in England have done the like . . .

    · George Gillespie (1613—1648) was also a delegate to the Westminster Assembly, and one of its influential and prominent debaters. Gillespie wrote that several heroes of the Scottish Reformation such as John Knox and George Wishart were such extraordinary men as were more than ordinary pastors and teachers, even holy prophets receiving extraordinary revelations from God, and foretelling divers strange and remarkable things, which did accordingly come to pass. An excellent source for examples of remarkable cases of prophecy in the ministries of Scottish preachers is John Howie’s book, Scots Worthies.

    · The Wesminster Confession of Faith (1646), is one of the preeminent Reformed Confessions. In the first chapter of this confession (“Of the Holy Scripture”), paragraph 10 says:

    The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

    Here “private spirits” are placed on the same level as “decrees of councils,” “opinions of ancient writers,” and “doctrines of men.” All of these are to be subordinate to “the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture.” According to Byron Curtis, “…in mid-seventeenth-century England there was an established meaning to the phrase ‘private spirits’ denoting personal revelations.” Curtis shows significant evidence from literature close in time to the WCF, showing that the term “private spirits” was commonly understood to mean “personal revelations” that people received from the Holy Spirit. The Westminster Divines affirmed the existence of these revelations.

    · The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, is probably the most famous Reformed Baptist confession. In the first chapter of this confession (“Of the Holy Scripture”) paragraph 10 closely mimics the WCF:

    The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.

    · Charles Spurgeon (~A.D. 1875) was a famous Reformed Baptist preacher. In his autobiography, he said:

    While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!’ A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, ‘Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the man, ‘I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul’ . . . I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’

    Love ya.

    Andrew. 😉

  • Dan

    I’m glad that you can so quickly bury me in this copy and pasted piece of evidence. It has not buried me though, so let me respond to each piece.
    By the way, here is the link for the purpose of Citation: http://www.39articles.com/samples/charismatahistory.htm

    Now, to address the argument that the church Fathers didn’t speak of Charismata as anything more than, at best, a tertiary claim (Which, after all is what I said). What logic can you personally see in them spending time in arguments about spiritual gifts when

    1. Canon of Scripture was a primary concern, and their arguments and objectives were centered in solidifying a) The authority of Scripture b) The orthodoxy of doctrines such as the Trinity and c) the refutation of heresies.

    2. The later comments in Scripture on spiritual gifts are concerning rebuke. It is likely then, that times when these things do appear in early church writings that they are concerned with heresies.

    3. Name one creed that affirms the Charismata. Then you will get a picture of what concerned the minds of councils and Church fathers.

    I did not mention the reformers. I know full well what some glazed eye accounts of Knox’s reformation speaks of.

    Some of your quotes I would say are individual speculation; the content does not actually affirm directly what we are talking about (Tongues, prophecy etc). To name a few misquotes: Tertullian, Origen (This quote concerns regeneration), Cyprian (Really Andrew, did you read that? It is like folklore) and Philoxenus, who I would waver about being a church Father, is not explicitly talking about Charismata.

    I fully believe in the gifts of the Spirit, just not those ones that have ceased because they no longer fulfil the purpose they were originally intended for.

    In short, beware what you quote!

    D

  • Dan

    I realise now that I wrote ‘Ante Nicea to the 19th Century’, so forgive me for overlooking that.

    • Andrew Mathieson

      Of course it was copy and pasted, it was relevant to the ante Nicea to 19th century stuff.

    • Andrew Mathieson

      I am aware what I quote I was sharing an article that lists church fathers through to Spurgeon in response to the Ante Nicea – 19th century comment.

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