To begin any discussion of Spiritual gifts requires me to define what I’m talking about. I believe that the Bible clearly speaks to the concept that each believer, upon salvation, is given a number of gifts (as few as one, but can be many) of which they are to use to edify the church. Different believers are given different gifts that complement each other in the local assembly. We can see this in Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians were Paul says that the gifts are complementary and necessary.
Problems come into play because of the nature of the gifts, so I guess I should list what the gifts are/were. Gifts of the spirit differ from fruit of the spirit– they usually had an action and purpose. They include speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy, exhorting, teaching, administration, helps, hospitality, and others. The ones that are dividing the church are the first three.
In order to understand the debate that’s swirling, you need to understand the appeal and importance. In the book of Acts, chapter 9, we see that tongues was used as a marker– or sign– gift to demonstrate that a Gentile named Cornelius was, in fact, a Christian. Up until this point, Peter believed that only Jews could be saved, and God was making a point.
What were tongues? Contrary to my good friend Stephen, I don’t believe that tongues are not foreign languages. I believe that there were actually two forms of tongues. One of my reasons for believing this is that in Acts 2 where the gift was first present there were many people gathered and they all heard what was being said in their native tongue. The other supporting reference is in I Corinthians 13 where Paul clearly delineates that he speaks in the tongues of men and angels. Granted that the tongues of men could be his own native tongue, but highly unlikely given the plural tongues.
However, I believe that this was a sign gift that expired. If you look at the rest of the I Corinthians passage you see the statement that tongues would cease. I believe that God used tongues at the beginning of the church to fulfill a prophecy in Joel, to give His stamp of approval on the Apostles, and to get the church up and running. I don’t believe that it is in widespread use now.
I further don’t believe that it is correct to consider this a test for salvation or something that should be sought. Quite the contrary– Paul said that he would rather everyone have the gift of exhortation to edify the saints than the gift of tongues. If anything, it was causing confusion and chaos in the Corinthian church. I will not go so far as to say that God cannot speak different languages out of the mouths of His people, but it is not something that should be elevated to a supreme position or a gift that should be desired above the others. Those in the Pentecostal circles seem to work very hard to speak in tongues praying for this gift, much more than those Paul stressed and suggested.
I also believe that healing and prophesy were gifts that passed away with the early church. I believe that the Word of God is complete and does not need any addition. I believe prophesy is closed– as the Corinthians passages suggests that prophecy would cease.
But what’s the bigger picture? If we allow ourselves to be focused on external signs and wonders rather than working on the inner man and on our heart, we are falling into the trap of the Pharisees that were always bugging Jesus to show them a sign. Something that they might believe. I fear that we’ve allowed the culture to saturate us to the point that we need entertainment, that we need proof, we need something to make us feel like we’re saved in order for us to believe it. Is that true saving faith?
And what happens when we don’t feel like we’re saved? What if we know deep down that the signs aren’t from God but from ourselves? What if we feel distant? Are we? Can we rest in knowing the truth– that God says that once we are saved we are always saved?
This is the danger of this invasion– that we begin to rely on signs/gifts/feelings more than on the Word of God. If we do that, we’ve lost our biggest strength against the enemy.