Saturday, 31 May 2014

Receiving spiritual gifts

How does a Christian receive spiritual gifts and the fullness of the Holy Spirit?  That question has been on my mind for nearly fifty years.  I have thought about it a great deal. I have read many books on this issue. I have listened to many sermons, and discussed it with pastors, preachers, priests, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Baptists, Charismatics, Catholics, Calvinists, Dispensationalists, Episcopalians, Evangelicals, Lutherans, theologians, non-denominationalists and Quakers.

Linked to the above question often comes another question. Does reception of spiritual gifts and/or the fullness of the Holy Spirit require or depend on a post-conversion crisis experience?

These have been important questions for the Evangelical and Charismatic community of believers. There have been disputes, divisions and discord as well as benefits and blessing.  One of the dangers, that I have seen at close quarters, is basing doctrine and theology on personal experience, and then believing that the experience is normative and binding on all Christians. Our personal experience can never be the measure!
It may well testify to the work of the Holy Spirit, but it is wrong to assume that personal experience should be used to establish doctrine. Some claim "The Lord told me..." so it must be true. If we naively believed all such assertions then the Church would be tossed to and fro by many winds of doctrine and strange teachings. Christians have been deceived and duped by confident claims of special revelations and messages, which in time prove false and completely erroneous.  The really dangerous ones have elements of truth that resonate and strike certain chords but they do not keep in step with the Spirit of God.

On the positive side these questions are asked by Christians who hunger for spiritual reality.  The Apostle Paul enjoins us, in 1 Corinthians 14:1, to:

Make love your aim, and desire earnestly the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 
Διώκετε τὴν ἀγάπην, ζηλοῦτε δὲ τὰ πνευματικά, μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφητεύητε.

When we desire to live in a loving way and we are sincere and open to God's gracious gifts, then God will hear our heartfelt prayers. But they may not be answered in ways that we desire. The Holy Spirit moves as He wishes. Please see John 3:8.

τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ, καὶ τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ ἀκούεις, ἀλλ’ οὐκ οἶδας πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει· οὕτως ἐστὶν πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος.

He is sovereign. He works wonders, mighty deeds and signs that amaze and move people. The Holy Spirit has come through "the laying on of hands" in Acts 8:17 ff. This is one experience and it seems to be post conversion, but that does not mean that it is always post-conversion. In Acts 13:52 we read that Christians, evidently young in their faith, were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. This experience could have been at conversion or around the time of conversion. 

Max Turner in The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts argues that it is a mistake and a misunderstanding of the New Testament teaching to insist that receiving the Spirit is a discernible experience and to assume that the moment of the Spirit's coming upon a person must be consciously perceived.  Max Turner contends that the actual need for a second crisis experience of appropriation of the Spirit (under whatever name) rests on a misunderstanding. He sees, in essence, the creation of a set of false experiential dualism and the absolutizing of one of them. Such an experience, MT believes, is by no means the only way to spiritual empowering. For many this comes instead as a gradual series of growth experiences, nor is this experience a paradigmatic and normative way for Christians.

It is the reality of the Holy Spirit in our lives that counts.  We cannot always explain and prove how He moves, but like the wind we know when He does. He leaves a trail of construction!

For me, I find this prayer helpful:

Lord, I may have been filled with the Holy Spirit, but I leak. I leak frequently. O Lord, fill me again, and keep me wanting to be filled with Your Holy Spirit. Keep me aglow and willing to see Your gifts of grace manifest in the Church of God, among Your people, united by the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace. Lord, I wish to see Your goodness and loving kindness in many ways and in mighty acts that bring You glory, honour and praise.  In Jesus' Name. Amen.

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