Church History and the ‘Gifts’

One of the most prominent arguments against the embrace of functioning spiritual gifts (those outlined in 1 Corinthians) is that they ceased to exist in the church after the first century and twentieth century realizations of these gifts are void and misguided. This point is striking and requires us, especially those of us that maintain a view of the active work of the Holy Spirit through gifts, to study further and evaluate if it is true.

Sam Storms has presented telling examples of historical work of the gifts throughout church history and gives seven points to consider in how we view spiritual gifts. This is a must-read for anyone contemplating spiritual gifts in the church.

While the complete text is refreshing and challenging, a few statements and thoughts leave me pondering today.

Storms points out that even among cessationist churches, those that claim gifts expired with the early church, the gifts could be functioning but we refuse to label them as such. Storms claims that “God mercifully blesses us both with what we don’t deserve and what we refuse or are unable to recognize. I am persuaded that numerous churches today who advocate cessationism experience these gifts but dismiss them as something less than the miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit.”

“For example, someone with the gift of discerning spirits may be described as “possessing remarkable sensitivity and insight.” Someone with the gift of word of knowledge is rather said to have “deep understanding of spiritual truths.” Someone who prophesies is said to have “spoken with timely encouragement to the needs of the congregation.” Someone who lays hands on the sick and prays successfully for healing is told that God still answers prayer but that “gifts of healing” are no longer operative. These churches wouldn’t be caught dead labeling such phenomena by the names given them in 1 Cor. 12:7-10 because they are committed to the theory that such phenomena don’t exist.”

This is a challenging thought that we as a church have simply semantically denied the work of the Holy Spirit. I think it robs God of glory when we try to rationally process things in our lives that are more rightly understood as a work of the Spirit. To this point Storms strongly suggests that “Both theological ignorance of certain biblical truths and a loss of experiential blessings provided by spiritual gifts can be, and should be, attributed to factors other than the suggestion that God intended such knowledge and power only for believers in the early church.”

Storms finishes his lengthy, but easily digestible, piece with thoughts on Sola Scriptura, that the Bible should be our only guide in determining how we are to live and experience the Holy Spirit’s work. “The final criterion for deciding whether God wants to bestow certain spiritual gifts on his people today is the Word of God. I am continually shocked and grieved to hear people cite the alleged absence of a particular experience in the life of an admired saint from the church’s past as reason for doubting its present validity. As much as I respect the giants of the Reformation and of other periods in church history, I intend to emulate the giants of the NT who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I admire John Calvin, but I obey the apostle Paul.”