- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
C. PETER WAGNER, PhD, holds graduate degrees in theology, missiology, and religion from Fuller Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the University of Southern California. He served as a field missionary in Bolivia for 16 years and he taught on the faculty of the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary for 30 years. The author of 70 books, Wagner ministers extensively nationally and internationally from his home base in Colorado Springs.
A relatively new thing happened to the church of Jesus Christ in America during the decade of the '70s. 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 have been seeing over the last two decades or so. One of the most prominent facets of this new experience of the Holy Spirit is the rediscovery of spiritual gifts.
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 90 percent of them will have been written after 1970. Previous to 1970, seminary graduates characteristically left theirinstitutions 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 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 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, as Lutheranism was considered incompatible with the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, and as Methodism was considered incompatible with the Anglican Church in the eighteenth century, so Pentecostalism was considered incompatible with the mainline American churches in the 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 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 of this movement began after World War II when Pentecostal leaders such as Thomas Zimmerman of the Assemblies of God 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. Thereby they neutralized the opinion that Pentecostalism was a false sect to be placed alongside of 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 the charismatic movement had its start. A further important movement dates to the "Duquesne Weekend," named after Duquesne University, where, in 1967, the "Catholic Charismatics" came into being.
The effect of all this 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.
How "New" Is the "New Thing"?
If my research into the part spiritual gifts have played throughout church history is any indication, the general picture is one of ambiguity. Those who are trying to make a point one way or another by historical references are generally able to do so. Some who are cool on spiritual gifts, for example, say that many of the gifts went out of use in the churches after the age of the apostles. The intellectual center of this effort is 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, writes that the fact that "miraculous charismata passed away after the apostolic period is well attested by church history." Unger argues that the miraculous gifts were given basically as credentials to the apostles for confirmation of the gospel, and therefore they passed away "when apostles no longer existed and the Christian faith no longer needed such outward signs to confirm it."
Merrill Unger makes reference to Benjamin B. Warfield of Princeton Seminary who, back in 1918, wrote a book called Miracles Yesterday and Today and also published under the title Counterfeit Miracles. 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." As we will discuss in more detail later on, this point of view continues to be strongly argued on dogmatic grounds by an influential circle of evangelical leaders in America today.
One of the reasons this theory of discontinuity of some of the gifts has gained a degree of support is that not much evidence to the contrary has been gleaned from history. Until recently, Warfield had not been aggressively challenged on his own intellectual level by scholars more favorable to spiritual gifts.
In part, scholarly contributions from Pentecostals were not forthcoming because early Pentecostals had developed a strong anti-intellectualism. Ministers who set themselves in opposition to the Pentecostals and who relegated them to false cults, if not heresy, were usually seminary trained. On the other hand, Pentecostals recruited most of their ministers from the ranks of the working class on the basis of proven exercise of spiritual gifts and not because they had attained academic degrees. Seminaries were looked upon by them with suspicion.
For years, a kind of cold war existed between the Pentecostals and the seminaries. But now this, for good or for bad, has largely been resolved. Both the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland), for example, now have accredited seminaries. I say for good or for bad because accredited seminaries are not by any means an unqualified blessing. Although they undoubtedly will help provide scholarship for their movements, they also may accelerate the process of "redemption and lift," which has been known to separate the churches from the working class from which they emerged. The history of the Methodist movement is example enough of how this can and does happen.
Nevertheless, Pentecostal scholars are already digging more deeply into historical records to find precedents for their emphases. They have organized the Society for Pentecostal Studies. Meanwhile, former Dallas Seminary professor, Jack Deere, has written Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Zondervan), which many consider the definitive refutation of Warfield's cessationist doctrine.
What History Tells Us
In the second century, both Justin Martyr and Irenaeus acknowledged that the miraculous gifts were in operation in the Church. In the third century, Hippolytus made reference to one of his own writings, "On Charismatic Gifts," although the essay itself has never been located. In the same century, Tertullian observed with approval the exercise of spiritual gifts, and then himself converted to Montanism, a kind of third-century charismatic movement, which was declared heretical by many of the mainline Christians. Bishop Hilary of the fourth century spoke of the exercise of the gifts with favor, as did John Chrysostom. The great theologian of the fifth century, Augustine, is interpreted as supporting both those who say the gifts blinked off and those who say they continued. However, James King Jr. has discovered that Augustine "completely reversed his views on miracles. Originally he disputed their continuance into his day. He later taught their present validity and claimed to be an eyewitness to some miracles."
Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, considered the charismatic gifts essential to the Church, although he did not address the matter of whether they actually had continued after the Apostolic Age. Other references to spiritual gifts between Augustine and the time of the Reformation, a span of more than 1,000 years, are sparse, but undoubtedly much gold is yet to be mined by scholars who will pursue the field. It is reasonably certain that evidence will continue to build showing that charismatic gifts were operative in segments of the Church in many different eras of church history.
The two most prominent theologians at the time of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther and John Calvin, had little to say about spiritual gifts. Although Luther did not restrict the possibility of the use of the miraculous gifts to the Apostolic Age, neither did he expect them to be manifested in his churches. Calvin is generally interpreted as contending that the gifts had ceased with the Apostolic Age, although he also seemed to be open to the idea that they could have surfaced later on. In fact, he once included Luther among modern "apostles."
The most extensive treatment of the work of the Holy Spirit between the Reformation and the twentieth century comes from the pen of John Owen of seventeenth-century England. His writings were influential in the thought of the later Reformed or Calvinistic theologians. Owen does recognize that gifts are valid in the Church, but he may have been the first to distinguish between extraordinary gifts and ordinary gifts, a distinction common in later Reformed theology. Extraordinary gifts, restricted to the days of the apostles, include tongues, miracles, healings, and the offices of apostle, prophet and evangelist. Similar thinking appears in people such as Abraham Kuyper in the nineteenth century and Benjamin Warfield in the twentieth century.
John Wesley, the father of Methodism and the subsequent holiness movements, is in a way the stepfather of the Pentecostal movement. His openness to the Scriptures and the New Testament pattern, as well as his stress on the responsibility of the individual Christian, helped set the stage. But, although he mentioned spiritual gifts on occasion, he was "unsystematic and incomplete in his treatment of the gifts." He was so inconsistent that his direct contribution to subsequent understanding of spiritual gifts must be considered minimal.
Throughout church history, marginal groups came into being that were characterized, among other things, by the use of spiritual gifts. Many of these groups were considered fanatical and even heretical by mainstream Christians of their day. One wonders whether such criticism might not have been parallel to mainstream Christian ridicule and persecution of the Pentecostals in the early part of our own century. Groups such as the Waldenses, the Albigenses, the Camisards, the Jansenists, the early Quakers, the Shakers and the Irvingites have been mentioned as using the charismatic gifts, and many of them suffered persecution at the hands of Christians who had not come to terms with the operation of spiritual gifts in their midst.
So when I say that a new thing happened in the '70s, I mean just that. Although charismatic gifts may have been manifested in some segments of the Body of Christ all through Christian history, nevertheless, today in America and in other parts of the world their use is far more widespread. The movement crosses the boundaries of more ecclesiastical traditions than in any other time this side of the first century.
The Ministry of All Believers
Martin Luther permanently changed Christendom when he rediscovered the priesthood of all believers. 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.
I believe 1972 can be considered the date that the concept of the ministry of all believers attained a permanent status in contemporary Christianity. In 1972, Ray Stedman's book Body Life (Regal Books) was published, and it became a best-seller. In his book, this highly respected non-Pentecostal leader said that spiritual gifts were OK. Although his list of the gifts was shorter than some others, because he also was a cessationist, he showed 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 such 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 to do the ministry of the church.
How this can become a reality in any church is what this book is all about.
Excerpted from Your Spiritual Gifts CAN HELP YOUR CHURCH GROW by C. Peter Wagner Copyright © 1994 by C. Peter Wagner
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.