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Why do many churches have conflicting
views about spiritual gifts?

Most churches have far more in agreement than people ever realize. However, the matter of spiritual gifts is one of those particular issues that remains controversial and divisive to some, with varying degrees of opinions.

The New Testament describes 21 gifts to the church that are sometimes categorized under the heading of (1) Ministry (office) gifts, (2) Motivational (practical) gifts, and (3) Charismatic (spiritual) gifts. These are found in Eph. 4:11, Rom. 12:3-7, 1 Cor. 12:1-12, and are listed below:

Ministry Gifts
Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher

Motivational Gifts
Service, Exhortation, Giving, Leadership, Mercy, Helps, Administration

Charismatic Gifts
Wisdom, Knowledge, Discernment, Prophecy, Tongues, Interpretation, Faith, Healing, Miracles

Among various churches and denominations there's not too much squabble over the acceptance of the more subtle, "Motivational" and "Ministry" gifts (although the modern day offices of apostle and prophet are frequently disputed).

However most of the controversy usually lies with the nine spiritual gifts (Greek, CHARISMATA) listed in 1 Cor. 12:1-12. On the farthest extreme, some churches do not believe in any modern day operation of such gifts. In brief, their view is that these were only intended as a limited supernatural empowerment to help the early church get started, and that they vanished after the last Apostles of Jesus died — the scriptures taking their place. Their estimation of those who embrace these supernatural gifts, such as the Pentecostals or Charismatics, may vary — that they are either fanatical extremists or possibly even demonic and cultish. This view, however, is not as prominent as it once was and has been diminishing since the emergence of the Charismatic renewal in the late 1960's, which affected many of the historic, mainline churches — believed to be a part of a latter day outpouring of the Holy Spirit as described in Acts 2:17 and James 5:7.

Historical records indicate that the abundant exercise of the Charismatic gifts may have diminished somewhat after the post New Testament era — especially in the dark ages, due to the years of inaccessibility of scripture to the common people in their own language. But there is much history to substantiate that the supernatural gifts were never absent from the church. Scores of statements to this effect were recorded by church leaders such as Irenaeus, who wrote around A.D. 150 "...we hear many of the brethren in the church who have prophetic gifts, and who speak in tongues through the spirit, and who also bring to light the secret things of men for their benefit [word of knowledge]..." Elsewhere he said, "When God saw it necessary, and the church prayed and fasted much, they did miraculous things, even of bringing back the spirit to a dead man."¹ Near the close of the second century, Tertullian cited similar incidents, describing the operation of prophecies, healings and tongues,² and in 210, Origen reported many healings and other Charismatic gifts, as did later writers such as Eusebius, Firmilian, Chrysostom and others through many centuries.³

The Encyclopedia Britannica says that Charismatic gifts such as glossolalia (speaking in tongues) have occurred in Christian revivals of every age. In the same vein, a German work, Souer's History of the Christian Church, cites a reference to the famed leader of the Protestant reformation of the 16th century, stating, "Dr. Martin Luther was a prophet, evangelist, speaker in tongues, and interpreter, in one person, endowed with all the gifts of the Spirit."

Today, Charismatic gifts are increasingly being manifested in all kinds of Christian fellowships and denominations throughout the world. Although the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are especially known for this, the gifts seem to emerge wherever believers or congregations are receptive to their existence and open themselves to the inner workings of the Holy Spirit.

It is obvious that the Charismatic gifts never vanished and remain as a part of God's plan for His church. These gifts are sometimes called God's "power tools," given to the body of Christ as valuable helps to accomplish ministry objectives. As the scripture describes, they are distributed through persons within the body at the Holy Spirit's discretion.

1 Cor. 12:7 "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:
12:8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,
12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit,
12:10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
12:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills."

Among those fellowships which embrace the operation of Charismatic gifts, as with most other doctrines, there continue to be moderate differences in opinion as to their value, application, order, and so forth. But most will generally agree that each of the nine gifts are a supernatural intervention of natural laws, bestowed by the Holy Spirit where His presence is invited and accommodated.

A definition of the 9 Charismatic gifts:

(1) Word of Wisdom — A Word means "a supernaturally imparted fragment." Wisdom generally means a practical skill in the affairs of life, such as prudence, decision making.
(2) Word of Knowledge — Supernaturally inspired utterance of facts.
(3) Faith — Supernatural impartation of assurance in God.
(4) Gifts of Healings — Supernaturally ministering health to the sick.
(5) Working of Miracles — Supernatural intervention of natural laws. The Greek describes it as "works of power" and implies instantaneous results.
(6) Prophecy — A supernaturally inspired utterance from God. A genuine prophetic utterance never contradicts, neither is equal to, the written Word of God. To forthtell or foretell. To speak from the mind of God. (Prophecies are to be judged according to 1 Cor. 14:29, 1 Thes. 5:20-21).
(7) Discerning of Spirits — This gift enables one to discern a person's spiritual character and the source of his actions and messages, such as the Holy Spirit, demon spirits, the human spirit or the flesh.
(8) Different Kinds of Tongues — Supernaturally imparted utterance in an unlearned language. The purpose is to edify the body. This is distinguished from "praying" in tongues, which is intended to edify one's own spirit (1 Cor. 14:14). A message in tongues to the body is always to be interpreted (by another gift), and is limited to three within a gathering (1 Cor. 14:27).
(9) Interpretation of Tongues — To interpret a message in tongues into the understandable language of the hearers. It is not a "translation" but an interpretation.

The scriptures show that the purpose of the charismatic gifts is to edify the church, and their delegation within the body relies upon the volition of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11). The Apostle Paul intimated that it's appropriate to seek particular gifts, however, one's motive must be for the building up of the church, not for self gratification. "...since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel" (1 Cor. 14:12).

There is a difference between spiritual gifts and fruit. Gifts are the Spirit's manifestation through a vessel, but fruit is the offspring of one's spiritual character. Spirituality cannot be measured by gifts, but by fruit (Gal. 5:22-24). Love is the predominate feature of spirituality (1 Cor. 13:13), without which, charismatic gifts cannot function effectively (1 Cor. 13:1-2). Paul expressed that the church should have a desire for spiritual gifts, but it should follow the foremost pursuit of love. "Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts," (1 Cor. 14:1).

Churches who allow such gifts to operate within their services are sometimes criticized for promoting confusion or mayhem. Without doubt, the service where these gifts function will take on a less structured, more spontaneous environment that may seem peculiar to some. But in 1 Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul established specific guidelines for their use so to remove the potential for confusion and disorder. Rather than banishing the operation of these gifts entirely as some churches have done, they should seek to understand and implement the order Paul instituted. Concerned that churches might "throw the baby out with the bath water," the Apostle addressed this issue with his closing words of that chapter: "Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:39-40).

Generally speaking, the various gifts to the church have several beneficial effects: (1) They manifest Christ's body on the earth (1 Cor. 12:12-14,27), (2) They assist in world evangelization (Mark 16:15-18), (3) They demonstrate God's power and bring Him glory (1 Cor. 2:4-5, 1 Cor. 12:7), (4) They edify the church (1 Cor. 14:3,12,26), (5) They provide ministry help and deliverance of God's people (Rom. 12:6-8), and (6) They contribute toward the maturing and equipping of the church (Eph. 4:11-14).

¹ Refutation and Overthrow of False Doctrine
² Anti-Nicene Church Fathers, Tertullian Vol. IV
³ Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians, James Gilchrist Lawson

This article is copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1995, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA 95949. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.You may download for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain published quantities of this title, email us.