In the last century, particularly in the in the 1980’s and 90’s the
subject of spiritual gifts was hotly debated. John Wimber (1934-1997) was then the leader of an offshoot of the
charismatic movement, known as "The
third Wave of the Holy Spirit", also known as the “Signs and Wonders movement”. The term “Third Wave” was coined by Peter
Wagner (1930-2016), professor of church growth at Fuller Theological
Seminary. He became a leading proponent of Third Wave methodology, which then in
turn gave rise to the New Apostolic Reformation movement (NAR).
According to Wagner,
'The first wave was the
Pentecostal movement, the second the charismatic movement, and now the third
wave is joining them.'"
The proponents of the 'third Wave' movement were persuaded that
miracles, visions, tongues, prophecies, and healings are essential supplements
to the gospel. They viewed Christianity without these things as impotent,
adulterated by the Western, materialistic mind-set.
Some in the Third Wave movement even went so far as to say that,
"…unbelievers must experience the
miraculous to be brought to full faith. Merely preaching the gospel message,
they believe, will never reach the world for Christ. Most people will not
believe without seeing miracles, they say, and those who do will be
inadequately converted and therefore stunted in their spiritual growth."
The storm which this movement has created has left a trail of severe
destruction in the church. Rarely has such division occurred in the history of
the church as that which has happened with the advent of the
Pentecostal movement which began in 1906 with the so called Azuza Street
revival in Los Angeles. To the biblically instructed mind it is hard to reconcile
the bitter fruit of many subsequent divisions and ever multiplying
denominations with the work of the Holy Spirit.
John Mc Arthur of the Grace Community Church in Los Angeles decided to
address the matter by calling a conference entitled “Strange Fire” in 2014. Mc Arthur had already published a book,
entitled “Charismatic chaos” (first published in 1992), in which he pointed out
that the signs and wonders done by the apostles ended with the end of the
apostolic era. These were signs given by God to achieve a specific purpose.
They were given to prove that the apostles were God’s messengers on earth and
that they were trustworthy sources of teaching. MacArthur shows how even
throughout the unfolding revelation of the Bible we find the signs disappearing
so that even before the close of Scripture with the writing of the book of
Revelation, these signs and miracles had ceased. This does not mean that God
can or will no longer perform miraculous deeds. It does mean, though, that God
no longer uses men to make such signs and miracles normative, as they were in
the days of the apostles. Speaking in tongues, seen as normative by modern day
Pentecostals and Charismatics also falls into the category of gifts that were
given by God for a short time and a specific purpose.” 
Incidentally and from an African perspective I would recommend the reading of an article
by Dr. Conrad Mbewe entitled, “why is the Charismatic movement thriving in Africa?”.
Dr. Mbewe maintains that there is a very thin line (if any) between the African
witch doctor and the so called man of God, as
charismatic leaders often like to
be known. In these circles there is a rank and file abuse of the so called spectacular gifts, whilst the important gifts like the office of the pastor teacher - the preaching and teaching the Word of God is neglected, whilst the true sheep remain hungry, naked and starving.
HOW THEN SHALL WE THINK
ABOUT SPIRITUAL GIFTS?
Do so called conservative churches like ours have any use for the spiritual gifts? Conservative churches like the Baptists are often thought of by Pentecostals and Charismatics as churches devoid of the Holy Spirit. In our Namibian context I have heard this charge frequently laid at our door.
But is this true?
Our answer is that we assuredly do have a place for the spiritual gifts, but we would question the insistence of the charismatic movement that the manifestations of spectacular gifts and signs and wonders in particular should constitute the heart of a church’s ministry. We would argue that Pentecostals and Charismatics have a subtle tendency to make the signs and wonders aspects more important than the person and work of the Holy Spirit. They are in danger of exalting the gifts above the Giver.
Above all they may be in
danger of misunderstanding the actual purpose of the spiritual gifts.
We turn our attention now to this matter.
A BRIEF SURVEY: UNDERSTANDING
THE PURPOSE OF THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS
The first mentioning of a spiritual gift is found in Romans 1:11,12
For I long to see you,
that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is,
that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and
The first and most obvious thing we learn from this text is that
spiritual gifts are for strengthening the church!
Secondly, take note of what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians:
about spiritual gifts, brothers, I DO NOT WANT YOU TO BE IGNORANT" (I Cor. 12:1).
Ignorance concerning the proper use of
the spiritual gifts was a major problem in the Corinthian church. A casual reading
of the first letter to the Corinthians on this point reveals that the
Corinthians were using the spiritual gifts in a self- centred way.
The Greek word here used by Paul for spiritual gift is "pneumatikon" which literally translates as "spirituals". The context shows that these "spirituals" were gifts and abilities that were given to Christians by the Lord and energized by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word normally translated as spiritual gifts is "charismata". The root word "charis" is the Greek word for "grace".
- Rom. 12:6 – 8
- 1 Cor. 12:8 – 10
- Eph. 4:11- 12
UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS IN 1 CORINTHIANS 12 – 14
- 12:12 – 31a: The application of the spiritual gifts – the church, the body of Christ.
- 12:31b – 13:13 : The essential starting point for a correct use of the
spiritual gifts in the church – LOVE.
- 14:1 – 25: stresses the priority of certain gifts over others.
- 14:26 – 40: stresses the importance of order in church worship
a. Spiritual gifts are sovereignly given by God.
Ephesians 4:7–11 teaches that
spiritual gifts are
- given to every individual believer
- given for the good of others
- given sovereignly through the Holy Spirit
- given at the time of salvation
- given on the basis of grace
b. That means that we do not need to ask for them. They are given to us; we simply have to discover them. Spiritual gifts are discovered:
- By praying (asking)
- By studying the Scriptures
- Through desires
- Confirmed by ability
- Accompanied by blessing
are 4 tests
- Easy to do
- Since the church benefits from spiritual gifts, can you as a believer afford not to make a spiritual difference in the church?
- Is the church really poorer without your gift?
- How can you truly honour God if you withhold your gifts from the body of Christ?
Jr., John F., Charismatic Chaos , Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992:p 128
p. 131, quoting Wimber, Power Evangelism, pp. 39-41].