Summary: Christians ministering together through the gifts of the Spirit to advance the Kingdom.
Ministry—In A New Way
Even though I’ve been in Ohio for more than a decade I still receive a newsletter from the Amarillo Baptist Association. More and more it mentions names I don’t recognize. But recently the name of one church caught my attention. Under the heading “Pray for Our Pastorless Churches” was Temple Baptist Church, Hereford.
That could only mean that H. W. Bartlett had, at long last, retired. H. W. was a fixture in Hereford and over the years while I served in a neighboring community we had the opportunity to become friends. H. W., who had stayed at the church long after he could have retired, once told me that he wanted to leave the church on a high note. I hope he did.
But right now I’m want to tell you about another experience he related to me. In the early 1990’s he called on a young couple who had visited Temple on a Sunday morning. After a brief conversation the wife asked, “We didn’t see a family life center or a gymnasium, do you have one?” H. W. said, “No, we don’t have one.” Incredulous, the husband asked, “Then, where do you play?”
Some people still come to churches asking, “What’s in it for me? What will this church do for me?” Even though I believe such people have got it all wrong I do understand why they might ask such questions. You see, we ought to expect to get something out of being part of the church since the church is filled with gifted people.
Gifts of a Gracious God
Using the illustration of the parts of the human body, Paul affirmed our interdependence as believers: We need each other. And why do we need each other? We need each other because believers are specially gifted to minister to one another.
Paul discusses spiritual gifts three times in his letters, here in Romans 12, in I Corinthians 12-14, and in Ephesians 4. Each time he stresses the source of these gifts, abilities, or faculties; they are given to believers by a gracious God. They are called “spiritual gifts” because they are the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. The word translated as “gifts” is “charisma”. Unfortunately we use charisma to describe a persons innate attractiveness. That loses sight of the fact the word has the same root as the word “grace”. We do not receive a charisma because of any worth of our own, we receive a charisma solely because of the benevolence of the Giver. Forget that and all sorts of trouble will follow—just ask the Corinthians.
Still, any mention of spiritual gifts or “charismatic” gifts will cause some Christians to hold their breath. They know there’s a lot of controversy swirling around this topic. Those who hold the extreme views in this controversy may be called “the charismatics” and “the ceasationists”.
The charismatics claim that all the gifts listed in the New Testament (and some not listed) are normative and to be expected in the church today. In fact, if the more spectacular gifts, like speaking in tongues, aren’t part of the believer’s life, that believer is somehow spiritually deprived. In fairness, not all charismatics nor all Pentecostals hold such an extreme view, but unless their emphasis on receiving the Spirit as a “second blessing” is very carefully stated, it’s easy to conclude that they see the ordinary Christian as a kind of spiritual second-class citizen of the Kingdom.
The ceasationists, on the other hand, claim that spiritual gifts—especially the more spectacular gifts—ceased to be given about the time of the last apostle’s death or about the time the New Testament was completed. They would argue that phenomena like “speaking in tongues” are, at best, psychological aberrations or, at worst, works of the demonic. The beloved Bible teacher G. Campbell Morgan held the ceasationist position so strongly that he once described Pentecostalism as “the last vomit of hell.”
Both perspectives are wrong. In I Corinthians Paul argues that the gifts do not necessarily denote spirituality. At the same time, nothing in Scripture suggests that such gifts are signs of spiritual immaturity. And, when cooler heads prevail, New Testament students admit that there are no grounds for arguing that the gifts were to cease at the end of the first century.
Craig Blomberg addresses the issue of the “reappearance” of spiritual gifts in a very persuasive way. He argues that such gifts seemed to disappear from the church due to “a growing, unscriptural institutionalization of the church and an overreaction to the abuse of the gifts in heretical …circles.” At the same time, he argues that “the twentieth century resurgence of the gifts cannot be attributed to the arrival of the last days, since for the New Testament ‘the last days’ refers to the entire church age. They may, however, reflect a recovery of more Biblical, spontaneous, and all-inclusive worship and ministry.”