aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

A word on spiritual gifts

In one of his works, C.S. Lewis said that many of the miracles of Christ demonstrate what God is always doing, though in compressed form. God turns water into wine all the time -- that happens on every sunny hillside with a vineyard and in every fermenting tank -- it's just that Jesus needed it done now. Likewise, God multiplies grain to provide ever more bread constantly, so when Jesus fed the multitude, he was just doing what God always does, except he did it in a single afternoon. I think much of the same sort of thinking applies to the bestowal of charismata, of spiritual gifts, to the Church. God gave all the spiritual gifts to the Church as a whole, though some individuals display the use of particular gifts in particular ways.

For example, take the gift of healing. We pray for healing all the time, in every church in the world, and we wouldn't do that if we thought such prayers weren't effective. It's just that sometimes, some people's prayers are made effective now, immediately.

Or take the issue of speaking in tongues. If we could position ourselves on a satellite somewhere and pick up all the praise of God voiced by all the Christians in the world over a single Sunday -- and if we could channel at the same time that experience over the last two thousand years -- we would say that the whole Church was speaking in tongues. So it is; it's just that some people in their prayer lives voice their praise in a tongue not their own.

Or take "discernment of spirits." Is this not what we do when we consider whether to recommend someone for ordination? Yes, God can speak through an individual; but he can also speak through committees.

Casting out demons? Yes, there is an immediate and supernatural confrontation here, but the same is done routinely through sacramental action. Remember, exorcist has been a minor office in the Church for centuries, and the sacrament of baptism was once replete with exorcisms of converts from paganism.

Prophecy? Prophecy is both what ordinary preachers do and what anybody might do, all of a sudden, without thinking about it beforehand. God works both ways, and is not limited only to the ways with which we are comfortable.

Of course, the immediate display of the gifts of the Holy Spirit can cause quite a stir. People say, "God showed up!" Well, yes he did. But he didn't not show up when the people of God gathered to do what they always do. After all, Jesus said, "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." God is faithful, and he always shows up. The issue isn't God's faithfulness, but ours: Not his willingness to bestow his gifts, but our willingness to accept them, and act on them.

Meanwhile, the use or display of charismata is not an indication, at least not always, of spiritual maturity. God can give a gift to an immature individual, as he did Dame Julian of Norwich, who spent the rest of her life contemplating the visions that came to her in her youth. Even so, the giving of a spiritual gift should prompt a person who receives it to reflect upon it and become wiser. But at the same time, there are those who hanker after extraordinary gifts, who strain after them, who even, dare I say, pretend to them. How many people from "charismatic" or "pentecostal" churches have you met who want to "speak into your life" and utter banalities or even harmful tosh from a spirit of arrogance? This is why we are not to be overly impressed by wonders; the spirit (including the spirit of the person standing in front of us) who confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh -- that is, who has the right doctrine -- is the one speaking for Christ, not the person who can do the sorts of things that make you go, "Wow!" At the same time, we are to speak the truth in love, and perfect love, as Wesley taught, is the experience of heaven in the here and now, the thing we should aspire to.

I think we should expect miracles. Sometimes we need a miracle, and nothing else will do. But we should be prepared to be faithful and fruitful, even if no miracle seems to be forthcoming. Maybe God is content to do it the slow way this time, instead of all at once. To quote the prophet Habakkuk,
Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail,
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the LORD, is my strength;
he makes my feet like hinds' feet,
he makes me to tread upon my high places.
At the same time, when Joel says,
. . . your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions . . .
he's not just being metaphorical.


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