“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.”
A seminary professor decided that he would visit a local Pentecostal Church so that he could have first hand knowledge of the gifts of the Spirit. In this particular church, at the end of the service they have an altar call, much like in many Baptist Churches, except this call is to receive both salvation and the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the accompanying sign of speaking in tongues. The professor was moved by the worship and the sermon and so he decided to go forward, wanting to receive anything and everything that God had for him. The congregation was thrilled that a scholar was coming forward to get the Holy Ghost and so when the pastor asked for anyone who was led to come lay hands on the professor, the pews nearly emptied. The professor knelt and as the crowd laid hands on him, they offered their own admonitions and encouragement. Some were telling the professor to tarry and wait on the Spirit. Others were telling him to get out of the boat and speak as the Spirit gave him utterance. Some were telling him to breathe in the Spirit and others were telling him to breathe out the Spirit. It was so confusing and not a little overwhelming to the professor. After a long time of people praying and shouting and claiming, nothing seemed to be happening and so the professor went from wanting to receive, to wanting to get out of there, but he had no idea how. Then it hit him. He spoke a few lines in Hebrew, they all shouted that he had received, and as they returned to their pews the professor made his exit. While he had figured out a gracious way to remove himself from an awkward situation the sad thing is that he did not get what he was seeking…..or did he?
While I am an Anglican who cannot imagine being anything else but Anglican, I have to confess to being an ecclesiastical mutt. I have been committed to following Christ as his disciple since I was 18 years old, and as a consequence this journey has taken me through many experiences and while I may not have seen it all, I have seen a lot. I want to share some of those experiences with you in an effort to highlight experiences about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, both good and bad. My goal is, as St. Paul said, that we will not be uninformed concerning spiritual gifts. I want to emphasize that these are my experiences and my not be yours. You may not agree with my conclusions but I make a sincere effort to have my conclusions informed by Holy Scripture and not just experience.
First I think it is important to establish what the gifts of the Spirit are. We have a list before us here in 1 Corinthians 12 but when you compare that list with Romans 12 they do not match. This tells us that these lists are intended to be representative rather than comprehensive. In other words these are a list of some of the gifts but not necessarily all of the gifts. So if you read through this list and don’t see yourself in it, don’t panic. It does not mean that you are a giftless clod in the Body of Christ. The text says that EACH of us has been given a manifestation of the Spirit. So you are gifted rather you realize it or not.
Of course some branches of Christianity claim that the gifts have all passed away but there is no evidence of that in Scripture and the experience of the Church is that is simply not the case. If tongues have passed away then faith has also passed away because they are in the same list. I have heard some claim that because we have the Bible we no longer need tongues but I have never heard anyone say that because we have the Bible we no longer need faith, because that would be ridiculous. We need to be biblically consistent. But what do these gifts look like? Again, I can only tell you from my experience and what I understand from Holy Scripture.
Prophecy. A friend of mine was a pastor in Tampa and he told me that he was having a prophet come speak to his church and he invited me to attend. To the best of my knowledge I had never seen a prophet and so I went to the meeting. After a lengthy and not altogether biblically accurate sermon, he invited anyone who wanted, to come forward to receive a prophecy. Nearly everyone there wanted to receive a word from the Lord so that part of the meeting went on into the night. I went forward toward the end and while he prophesied over me I came away unconvinced. I say that because every person, and I mean every person, received a prophecy of how God had a special calling on them and how God was going to do wonderful things for them in the future. It was like a spiritual version of Tony Robbins. But when I compared what he was doing with the prophets of the Bible I did not see a similarity. In the vast majority of times in Scripture when God sent prophets to you it had the same effect of the cops knocking on your door. Think of Nathan coming to David to confront his adultery or the major prophets calling on Israel to repent and warn them of being sent into exile or even the unnamed prophet in the book of Acts who told Peter what kind of death he was going to die. If this guy had been a true prophet we would have heard at least once. “Thus saith the Lord, you’re a total jerk and you need to repent” Prophets tell us uncomfortable truths. That said I have met a number of people who claim to be prophets but in reality they are just mean, nasty people who hide behind the title. A true prophet convicts but does not condemn and points to a way out. If you want to read a modern prophet pick up a book from AW Tozer. In the 1950’s and 60’s he warned the church and we have landed where he said that we would because we ignored the Lord’s warnings.
Discerning of spirits. Years ago I was at a meeting of clergy around Florida. Because most of us really liked each other, whenever we got together is was like a family reunion. Often we would sit up half the night with an adult beverage and fellowship until we could no longer keep our eyes open. One of the pastors, who had been an armed robber and had a Pauline like conversion, was still a little rough around the edges. He had a little too much adult beverage that particular night and as I was coming down the stair of the hotel to go to breakfast the next morning I passed him and another cleric who was attempting to cast a spirit of hangover out of him. It did not work because there is no such thing as a spirit of hangover. Parts of the church are obsessed with the idea of demons and casting them out and they see demons in their corn flakes. This obsession makes for a very imbalanced Christian walk because it focuses too much on evil and not enough on the Christ who has overcome the powers of darkness.
The Anglican Church does recognize that demonic oppression is a reality. It doesn’t happen every day but as required of the clergy, I have sought the Bishop’s permission to perform an exorcism and I have seen it work. In fact Fr. Palmer is feeling much better……..JUST KIDDING! The gift to discern spirits is so that we know which enemy we are battling as we do spiritual warfare. Jesus showed us that when he asked the demon its name and the demon said, “Legion for we are many.” Spiritual warfare is a reality and we need those who discern spirits to remind us of that to help us maintain the victory of Christ. But as in all things it must be done decently and in order
Gifts of healing. The trick that the TV guys use is that they have screeners who interview folks before they are allowed to go up on the stage. They weed out those who could cause embarrassment to the Miracle Worker by being an obvious failure to heal. They also utilize the power of groupthink and the power of expectation and the power of suggestion, which are more powerful than most realize. Some may actually take a step where they have not done so in years but when people follow up after the “Miracle Crusade” they find that people have returned to their original condition. These kinds of charlatans have made some Christians not believe in the gift of healing.
1968 was a very bad year for my family. In the same year my father and my mother were told that they had a terminal illness. My father was diagnosed with MS and my mother with emphysema. It was a scary and depressing time. My father was forced to take a medical retirement from the Navy and so they moved to Orlando. My mother found a small loving Episcopal Church and talked my father into attending a Wed night healing service. There were no TV cameras, no screeners, no one was falling over. There was just anointing with oil, as instructed by the Book of James, and a quiet simple prayer. Even though my father was skeptical they were desperate and went forward to receive the sacrament of unction. Both of my parents had their diseases not eradicated but arrested. My father lived on until his late 80’s and my mother is still alive. I have no idea nor can I offer an explanation why God heals some and not others but the Bible and my experience tells me that God still heals.
Various kinds of tongues. I have been in meetings where they say that the focus is to receive the Holy Spirit but in reality the focus is to receive the gift of tongues. To accomplish this they use a technique referred to as “priming the pump.” After hands are laid upon you they get you to loose your tongue by repeating phrases like “tie my bow tie, retie my bow tie” or to repeat “coca cola” as fast as you can. Then when you launch into a series of indiscernible words on your own, you are told like the professor that you have received it. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to doubt that the disciples on the day of Pentecost were repeating “coca cola” in order to get the tongues of fire to come upon them. I believe what I just described to be psychological manipulation and not the gift of tongues.
When I finished my undergraduate degree I managed a Christian Bookstore before going to seminary. One regular customer was an American Christian woman who was married to a Hindu from India. He was of the Brahman caste, had a PhD in paleontology and was a professor at the real university of Florida, F.S.U. He was proud and brilliant and stubborn. He mocked her Christianity and so she regularly asked me to pray for him. On occasion we would pray together in the store for his salvation. She had the gift of tongues, which she used in her private devotions. As St. Paul said to do she would pray with her mind to edify her mind and she would pray in the spirit to edify her spirit. One morning she was in her bedroom quietly praying in tongues. When the professor walked past the door he heard her proclaiming Christ in the dialect of his childhood village in India. Given that she was an American and had no way of knowing what she was saying, that was what it took for the light of Christ to break through to him. He was baptized and eventually joined my church. To be honest he maintained much of his pride and stubbornness and so as a parishioner was a pain in the neck but the gift of tongues was used to bring him into the kingdom.
I wish I had more time because I could go on and on with testimonies of other gifts of the Spirit but I must move to some important observations.
First, our focus is to be on the Giver and not on the gifts. Paul said, “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” What this is telling us is that the Holy Spirit, as we say in the Creed is Lord and giver of life, and we are to seek Him. As Sovereign He will give gifts as He sees fit. The list of gifts is not a cafeteria where we get to pick out what we want. That is the choice of the Holy Spirit.
Second. Beware of pride about your gifts. Since it is a gift you didn’t do anything to earn it so in reality you have nothing of which to be proud.
Third. Avoid comparison. “…who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” There is a temptation in parts of the Body to say that unless you have the gift that I have, then you do not really have the Holy Spirit. When I was in college I was visiting a home group with my parents and a discussion broke out wondering if Billy Graham spoke in tongues and how much more effective he would be if he had the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Even though I was a very immature Christian I thought to myself “Really? Billy Graham leads more people to Christ in one day than all of us together will do our lifetimes and you are concerned if he speaks in tongues or not? Where are our priorities?” Again, beware of pride and don’t compare.
Fourth. Use your gifts to build up the Body of Christ. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit FOR THE COMMON GOOD.” Your gift is not a merit badge for you to impress others. It is a towel you use to wash the feet of the disciples. It is the ability to turn the water into wine as an act of love for the host. It is a healing touch so that those healed and all who witness it will glorify our Father. Don’t let your gift draw undue attention to yourself and don’t allow your gift to divide. Use it to serve and build up.
Fifth. Trust. Did the professor I spoke about at the beginning of the sermon receive the Spirit even though he did not speak in tongues? First of all if you are a Christian then you already have the Spirit. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” You receive the Spirit at baptism. “For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.”
Can you receive more of the Spirit? Yes. St. Paul speaks of being continually filled with the Spirit. The sacrament of Confirmation is the hands of an Apostle laid upon you to receive the Spirit, as the prayer says, “more and more.” But did the professor receive the Spirit more and more. Let me let Jesus answer that question. “If you being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” If we want more of the Holy Spirit, and we all should, all we need to do is ask and then trust our heavenly Father. It does not have to be a dramatic event with people gathered around you. He can come to you in response to a simple prayer. “Come Holy Spirit, come.”
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.”
Fr. Ray Kasch
2 Epiphany 3013