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You may have heard of spiritual gifts. Most Christian believers have. Possibly you are among those who have identified your spiritual gifts and have been using them on a regular basis. But a surprising number of believers who have heard of spiritual gifts are not sure what theirs may be. And there are even some who feel that, for some reason, they have been left out and they do not have any of the gifts.
This book will help you understand that if you are sure you are a born-again member of the Body of Christ, you can be equally sure that you have one or more spiritual gifts. It will also set you on the road toward accurately identifying your gifts and then using them for their intended purposes. In fact, many readers will soon realize that they actually have been using one or more gifts without even recognizing that they are true spiritual gifts.
Once you start identifying your gifts, you will find that there are many excellent resources for helping you activate them. For example, my larger book on spiritual gifts has been circulating since the 1970s. But the fast-paced world in which we now live requires a smaller and more condensed manual like this one. Once you finish this, you may then wish to get the further details contained in Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow or in many similar books.
Before going on, let me explain how the whole Body of Christ only recently woke up to the fact that God has given all of us one or more spiritual gifts.
A relatively new thing happened to the Church of Jesus Christ in America during the decade of the 1970s. The third Person of the Trinity came into His own, so to speak. Yes, the Holy Spirit has always been there. Creeds, hymns and liturgies have attested to the central place of the Holy Spirit in orthodox Christian faith. Systematic theologies throughout the centuries have included sections on pneumatology, thus affirming the Holy Spirit's place in Christian thought.
But rarely, if ever, in the history of the Church has such a widespread interest in moving beyond creeds and theologies to a personal experience of the Holy Spirit in everyday life swept over the people of God to the degree we now see in our churches. One of the most prominent facets of this new experience of the Holy Spirit is the rediscovery of spiritual gifts. Why do I say "rediscovery"?
Fixing the Date
It is fairly easy to fix the date when this new interest in the Holy Spirit began. The production of literature itself is a reasonably accurate indicator. A decent seminary library will catalog more than 50 books on the subject of spiritual gifts. Probably over 90 percent of them will have been written after 1970. Previous to 1970, seminary graduates characteristically left their institutions knowing little or nothing about spiritual gifts. Now such a state of affairs would generally be regarded as a deficiency in ministerial training.
The roots of this new thing began in 1900, the most widely accepted date for what is now known as the classical Pentecostal movement. During a watchnight service beginning on December 31, 1900, and ending on what is technically the first day of the twentieth century, Charles Parham of Topeka, Kansas, laid his hands on Agnes Ozman, she began speaking in tongues, and the movement had begun. A fascinating chain of events led to the famous Los Angeles Azusa Street Revival, which began in 1906 under the ministry of William Seymour. And with that, the Pentecostal movement gained high visibility and a momentum that has never slackened.
The original intent of Pentecostal leaders was to influence the major Christian denominations from within, reminiscent of the early intentions of such leaders as Martin Luther and John Wesley. But just as Lutheranism was found incompatible with the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century and just as Methodism was found incompatible with the Anglican Church in the eighteenth century, Pentecostalism was considered incompatible with the mainline American churches in the early twentieth century. Thus, as others had done before them, Pentecostal leaders reluctantly found it necessary to establish new denominations where they could develop a lifestyle directly under the influence of the Holy Spirit in an atmosphere of freedom and mutual support. Such denominations that we know today as Assemblies of God, Pentecostal Holiness, Church of God in Christ, Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) and many others were formed for that purpose.
The Second Phase
The second phase of this movement began after World War II when Pentecostal leaders set out to join the mainstream. The beginnings were slow. Some of the Pentecostal denominations began to gain "respectability" by affiliating with organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals. Consequently they began to neutralize the opinion that Pentecostalism was a kind of false cult to be placed alongside Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Spiritists.
In 1960, an Episcopal priest in Van Nuys, California, Dennis Bennett, shared with his congregation that he had experienced the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal way, and what became known as the charismatic movement had its start. The charismatic movement took form first as renewal movements within major existing denominations, and then around 1970 the independent charismatic movement began with the emergence of freestanding charismatic churches separate from denominations. For the next 25 years, these independent charismatic churches were the fastest-growing group of churches in the United States.
The effect of all this soon began to be felt among Christians who were neither classical Pentecostals nor charismatics. Although many of these evangelical Christians still show little interest in experiencing the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the main distinguishing feature of these new movements is that they are appropriating the dynamic of spiritual gifts in a new and exciting way. Through their discovery of how the gifts of the Spirit were intended to operate in the Body of Christ, the Holy Spirit is now being transformed from abstract doctrine to dynamic experience across the board.
Witnessing the Demise
Not everyone agrees, however. Some who remain cool on spiritual gifts, for example, argue that many of the gifts went out of use in the churches after the age of the apostles. An intellectual center of this belief is found at Dallas Theological Seminary, an interdenominational school that has looked with disfavor on the Pentecostal/charismatic movement of recent decades.
John Walvoord, former president of Dallas Seminary, feels that miracles have declined in the Church since the age of the apostles. His colleague, Merrill Unger, makes reference to Benjamin B. Warfield of Princeton Seminary who, back in 1918, wrote a book called Miracles: Yesterday and Today, True and False. Other than the Scofield Reference Bible, it has been the most influential book written in America against the validity of the charismatic gifts today. Warfield argues that "these gifts were ... distinctively the authentication of the Apostles.... Their function thus confined them to distinctively the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it."
The notion that the more spectacular spiritual gifts ceased with the apostolic age is now commonly known as cessationism. As I have detailed in my larger book Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit have been recognized by relatively small segments of the Church from time to time throughout Church history. But until quite recently, cessationism has been the prevailing Church doctrine. Yet times are changing. Today, on a global scale, including the United States, most Church leaders would agree that cessationism now belongs on some "endangered doctrines" list.
Realizing the Ministry of
Martin Luther permanently changed Christendom when he rediscovered the priesthood of all believers back in the sixteenth century. Still, Lutheranism retained much of the clericalism of the Roman Catholic Church. One wonders why it took more than 400 years for the churches born of the Reformation to rediscover the biblical teaching of the ministry of all believers. It is very important to understand the difference.
I believe that 1972 can be considered the year that the concept of the ministry of all believers attained a permanent status in contemporary Christianity. In 1972, Ray Stedman's book Body Life was published, and it became a best-seller. In his book, this highly respected non-Pentecostal leader recognized, in so many words, that spiritual gifts were OK. Although his list of the gifts turned out to be shorter than some others, because he also was a cessationist, Stedman showed clearly how spiritual gifts, the ministry of all believers and "Body life" had brought health, vitality and excitement to Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California.
The ripple effects of the publication of Body Life have had a profound influence. Rare is the church today that will advocate that the professional pastor or staff should do all the ministry of the church. Although some have not been able to implement it as rapidly as others, most affirm, at least in theory, that laypeople should be empowered to discover their spiritual gifts and through them actually do the ministry of the church.
How this can become a reality in your life is what this book is all about.
One of the Scripture texts most frequently recommended to new Christians for memorization is Romans 12:1-2: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
This Scripture goes on to say that the key to coming to practical terms with the will of God for our lives is to "think soberly" of ourselves (Rom. 12:3). This means that each of us needs a realistic self-evaluation as a starting point.
We need to take two steps-one positive and one negative-if we are going to "think soberly" of ourselves.
Negatively, we are not allowed to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. In evaluating ourselves, therefore, we have no room for pride. Sober judgments always involve humility.
Positively, we are to recognize that part of our spiritual constitution is a "measure of faith" (v. 3), which God has distributed to every Christian person. The implication is that every Christian may receive a different measure and, therefore, every Christian is unique. But unique in what sense? Before Paul answers this question, he gives us the analogy he is preparing to use extensively to explain spiritual gifts, namely, the analogy of the human body. "For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ" (Rom. 12:4-5).
What Is the Body of Christ?
What, precisely, is the Body of Christ to which we have been introduced? Because the Bible says that we Christians are all one Body in Christ, we understand that it is a group of believers. It is the Church.
But how did God organize the Church, the Body of Christ?
On the one hand, God did not plan that the Body of Christ should be organized around the model of a dictatorship where just one person rules, benevolent as that person might be. On the other hand, neither did God intend that it should be a democracy where every member rules. This latter point needs to be emphasized, especially here in America where our civil culture prides itself so much on democracy and where this is frequently carried over into our churches.
Instead of a dictatorship or a democracy, God has chosen to make the Body of Christ a living organism, Jesus being the head and each member functioning with one or more spiritual gifts. Understanding spiritual gifts, then, is the foundational key to understanding the organization of the Church.
The major biblical passages on spiritual gifts reinforce the above conclusion. It cannot be mere coincidence that in all three of the explicit passages on spiritual gifts, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4, the gifts are explained in the context of the Body. "God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased" (1 Cor. 12:18). This means that God has not only designed the Body on the model of an organism, but He has also gone so far as to determine what the function of each of the individual members should be.
If each one of us knows what our particular function is in the Body, we are able to "think soberly" of ourselves and launch into doing the will of God.
Who Has Spiritual Gifts?
Not everybody in the world has spiritual gifts. Unbelievers do not. But every Christian person who is committed to Jesus and truly a member of His Body has at least one gift and quite possibly more. The Bible says that every Christian has received a gift (see 1 Pet. 4:10) and that "the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all" (1 Cor. 12:7). First Corinthians 12:18 stresses that every one of the members is placed in the Body according to God's design. Possession of one or more spiritual gifts is part of God's plan for every Christian.
This comes as good news to the average believer. It is pleasant to be reminded that God knows me, He loves me, and He considers me special enough to give me a personal gift so that I can serve Him. This is especially true in a society such as ours in America where many school districts establish special programs for "gifted children." The implication of that is that ordinary citizens aren't gifted. Not so in the Body of Christ! God gifts us all!
What Are Gift-Mixes?
Many Christians are multigifted. I would suspect that probably the majority, or perhaps even all Christians, have what we could call a gift-mix, instead of a single gift.
Excerpted from Discover Your Spiritual Gifts by C. Peter Wagner Copyright © 2004 by C. Peter Wagner. Excerpted by permission.
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