Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts – Myth Busters

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It was great to see some discussion on the last blog post regarding some issues that we will get to in the coming days and weeks. In today’s blog we will be looking at the definition of spiritual gifts and we will be looking at some of the most common myths that Storms comments on in chapter 2 of his book.

Firstly storms begins this chapter explaining why it is important to understand what spiritual gifts mean according  to the Greek  He looked at four Greek words in particular. He stresses that understanding these four Greek words we will have a fuller understanding of spiritual gifts. The words are as follows and i will use the definitions that Storms uses in my own words:

Charisma: One of the most popular terms that the Apostle Paul uses to discuss what we call spiritual gifts. It is the plural of the word charismata where we obviously get the word ‘charismatic.’ Charisma is a word that describes the amazing grace of God and something Gods grace has given, or resulted in. An example of a charisma would be that we are given eternal life.

Pneumatikon: This word translates as “spirituals” in other words spiritual things, Paul uses this word in 1 Cor 12:1, but 3 verses later Paul reverts back to the word charisma. This is by no means denying that these gifts are from the Holy Spirit or that they are not ‘spritual’ but he is stressing the point that they are a result of Gods grace towards us.  The conclusion is then, is that all gifts from God be tongues or hospitality, prophecy or administration are ‘charismatic’ gifts. Storms concludes “Hence, in one sense, all Christians are charismatic.”

Diakonia: Unlike charisma which points to the origin of gifts, diaknoia (translated as ‘ministries’) points to the purpose of the gifts. The gifts are privileges which are not to be abused. They are there to serve the wider body. “Gifts are not for personal adornment, status, power or popularity.”

Energema: A term used to describe the effects of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts are “energized” through the Holy Spirit who gives power to the believer. “Gifts then are the concrete operations of divine energy through individual believers.”

Hopefully I have faithfully summarized what Storms was trying to communicate. Basically his point was that there is one Spirit who gives many gifts. “Gifts come through the same Spirit… according to the same Spirit…by the same Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is Sovereign in his distribution of gifts and he is sovereign over the with holding of them. All of this is dependant on what God wants to do at a particular time in His church. Storms speaks out against those who would ‘claim’ gifts and says it is essential that “we submit to His sovereign will.” He says:

“When we put these words together, we discover that all spiritual gifts (charismata) are acts of service or ministry (diakonia), which are produced (energema) through the triune God.(pneuma)”

I hope that what i have said makes some sort of sense… Storms then moves on to look at (what he thinks are) myths and misconceptions surrounding the area of spiritual gifts. He looks at the following:

1) Only ordained pastors or other super-saints have miraculous spiritual gifts. Right?

2) When you are converted, you got all the gifts you will ever get. Right?

3) Miraculous gifts were given to primarily to authenticate apostles. Right?

4) Seeking spiritual gifts means you probably don’t believe in the sovereignty of God. Right?

5) If people abuse spiritual gifts, they should cease to use spiritual gifts. Right?

6) If you ever use a spiritual gift you can always use it. Right?

7) Spiritual gifts aren’t necessary now that we have the Bible. Right?

8) Spiritual gifts always operate at consistent levels of intensity and accuracy. Right?

9) Those with spectacular gifts are more spiritual. Right?

10) The only spiritual gifts God will ever give are those explicitly mentioned in the bible. Right?

Sams 10 myths make for some good reading. All of them are very interesting indeed. I find myself agreeing with a good bit of what he says however there are a few areas where I also had reservations. For the sake of time I will look at 3 of Sam’s myths. Many of the issues raised (particularly relating to Apostolic era and revelatory gifts) will be addressed later as we progress through the book. So we will look at the following:

  • When you are converted, you got all the gifts you will ever get. Right?
  • If people abuse spiritual gifts, they should cease to use spiritual gifts. Right?
  • The only spiritual gifts God will ever give are those explicitly mentioned in the bible. Right?

When you are converted, you got all the gifts you will ever get. Right?

Storms argues adamantly that this is wrong. He challenges us to name one verse that you could get that idea from.  He says: “We are told to seek or pursue spiritual gifts that we desire but don’t yet have. In fact, its not only biblical but it is mandatory. To a Christian audience, Paul wrote ‘Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophecy.’ This is not mere permission or even a suggestion; it is a command. If you are not earnestly desiring spiritual gifts- especially prophecy- then you are disobeying an apostolic imperative!” Storms goes on to show a whole pile of verses where Christians are encouraged to seek spiritual gifts. I think Storm is correct. At conversion we are baptized in the Spirit (not getting into this discussion today!!!) but that does not mean that we are going to have all the gifts we will ever have. God may give us gifts for a particular season in our lives or for a particular task he has called us to. Are you eagerly desiring spiritual gifts? Am I?

If people abuse spiritual gifts, they should cease to use spiritual gifts. Right?

Sam begins:

“I find it nothing short of remarkable that a church obsessed and glutted with spiritual gifts; to a church awash in spiritual gifts (see 1 cor 1:5-7); indeed, to a church who had abused spiritual gifts, Paul wrote ‘Earnestly desire spiritual gifts’ (1 cor 14:1) This is stunning if only because it is so different from the sort of counsel we might have given the Corinthians!”

Storms goes on to talk about the church at Corinth. He points out that they had misunderstood spiritual gifts and there was great abuse of them. He then goes on to ponder how we would have dealt with the issue. He suggests we would ask them to slow down, turn their focus from these things and stop seeking after them. But how did Paul deal with it? To a church carried away in the charismata, Paul urges them to actively seek more. “In a situation where we might have doused their zeal with water, Paul appears to pour gasoline on the fire.” The problem in Corinth was sinful people. Not using gifts of the Spirit was not the answer. “The solution to abuse is not disuse, but proper use.”

Sam reminds us that there is many fake signs and wonders in churches, that there is a lot of nonsense and folly out there. However he encourages us, “As hard as it may be for us, we must remember that the existence of a fake is not proof of the nonexistence of the real.” Sam goes on to think about how many people formulate their theology as a result of the ugliness they see in other churches. Our theology should be informed from the beauty of the bible not upon a reaction to those who have abused or fabricated an experience or a good gift from God.

Often our reaction (in the reformed/conservative camp at least) can be to take a step back from anything moderately ‘Charismatic.’ Perhaps our reaction should be to prayerfully ponder what is going on, what if we really sought after the Holy Spirit. How would that change us? How would we react if a ‘charismatic’ gift was used in our church? would we take time to think about it, pray about it, discuss it? Or would we shut it down? Well Storms point here is, just because others do it poorly that doesn’t mean that we should neglect it.

The only spiritual gifts God will ever give are those explicitly mentioned in the bible. Right?

This is one I have the biggest reservations about. There are lots of question marks which are left as a result of Storms answer. To be fair Storms does admit from the outset that he is not as convinced that this is a myth than he is the others,and he admits that he has to be very careful with this particular answer. He goes on to list all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible and then questions:

“But are these lists exhaustive? What about intercession? Is it a spiritual gift to have the capacity to intercede with almost ceaseless energy, resulting in a track record of answered prayers? What about other ministries and activities not listed as among the charismata, such as effectiveness in deliverance? I’v known people who have a remarkable and extraordinary anointing to help others experience freedom from demonic oppression.”

He goes on to ponder and question:

“Might there not be new situations, new needs, differing circumstances in differing times and places that call for a wider array of manifestations of the Spirit than those Paul described in his own day?”

I firmly believe that God can and does equip his Church for every circumstance, situation and age. However this answer that Storms provides does not quite sit right with me. In all his other answers there has been a plethora of biblical evidence, however in this answer the biblical evidence is very sparse.  However Storms does conclude:

“If there are other gifts that God gives, they must conform to the same principles and rules of practice set forth in the Bible by which all gifts are judged. “

To conclude

I know… its been a long post!

Overall storms really has raised some very interesting points. The myths that he presents responses to are all very interesting. All of them (excluding the last one) have been answered very well in a way that is respectful to both charismatics and cessationsists alike. I appreciate how Storms doesn’t dazzle us with lots of stories of charismatic practice and experience but instead  digs into the bible and takes what it has to say seriously. This Book s far has been very interesting. It challenges charismatics to think more biblicaly about how the gifts are operated and it encourages cessationsist not to have their theology informed by the ugliness of some charismatic practice.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Next time: Words of Wisdom and Knowledge

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4 responses to “Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts – Myth Busters

  • Doug W.

    This chap Storms makes some valid points, as do you my friend. The whole issue of Spiritual Gifts has been quite a divise subject in the Church and probably a lot of it comes from a misunderstanding of 1. What exactly are the gifts? and 2. What is the purpose of them?

    The point regarding those who abuse the gifts is an interesting one and yes it’s right that we should earnestly seek gifts but it should be pointed out that merely encouraging folks who abuse gifts to seek more without teaching them and correcting them on their abuse is an act of folly. As I said above the issue of the purpose of the gifts is something that should be taught because it is very misunderstood. It doesn’t help either that because the Church doesn’t teach on these things people go in search on places like God TV and actually find people who abuse gifts and get away with it and almost encourage others to do the same. There has to be a calling to account especially for those who have abused them knowingly, most of us probably do so out of ignorance because we have not really been taught, but the leaders who knowingly do it and encourage it are in a worse postion.

    I honestly cannot remember the last time I actually heard any teaching in Church on the subjects of the Gifts and that is something that is quite common in many places. It is evident that the Church (Pastor/Leadership) needs to make an effort at teaching on this issue (and of course many other subjects that could be mentioned).

    After being on the journey of faith for many years I still do not have all the answers on the subject, and this side of eternity I don’t expect I ever will!

    • kjsmcknight

      Thanks for your input Doug. Perhaps i should have made that clear. Correction is also important and that is what Paul was doing in Corinth.

      I think you make some great points Doug. The church does need to be teaching on these things as people do go in search for teaching on the gifts and they end up in all the wrong places. Thanks for those useful observations mate.

  • jimscoyle

    Hi mate,

    Firstly thanks for this series of posts, very interesting and challenging. As I said earlier, I plan on reading this book after I finish Francis Chan’s Forgotten God. I do agree with Doug that to encourage further seeking of spiritual gifts without correcting their abuse would be a disaster but I do think you are right, Paul dealt with it so differently from how we would have!

    It truly is challenging to rethink our views on this subject in the light of biblical teaching rather than reaction to their public misuse by many in the Charismatic Movement.

    God bless and looking forward to the next post.

  • Dan

    Hi Kieran,

    Another thoughtful post. It is helpful to look at what Paul says to the Corinthian church concerning gifts.

    One question, though. When Clement of Rome wrote to the Church in Corinth in 95AD, why did he not mention tongues at all?

    I think Storms provides a strong argument, I like his approach to myth busting. The question I have at this stage would be:

    Why did the position of these revelatory gifts seemingly fade over time? The chronology of the Epistles and the non-inspired writings 100 years after John died to similar churches shows a marked decrease in these things.

    I guess what I am getting at is that i don’t see how 1 Cor 14, and the exhortation to desire revelatory gifts (particularly prophecy) has a place in the practice of a post-canon completion church. It seems to me that he is applying this text today without showing his working.

    Finally, I can see how some cessationists base their entire argument on empirical evidence and I don’t think that is right. But there is truth in part. These gifts were abused by the early church and what some say corresponds to them continue to be abused today. I’m convinced of the principled cessationist argument, but i am not willing to reject the some of the claims of empirical cessationism (provided it is moderate in some respects!).

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