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.
” 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