Spiritual Gifts are the ultimate gifts for Christian believers. There is a unvarying religious debate going on the existence of spiritual gifts. The debate is basically on the consistency of these (charismatic) gifts. Without God’s grace, human being is incomplete. Rather human life itself is a precious gift given by the Almighty. And this gift (human life) is given to mankind to attain a certain duty on the earth. These duties are like the mission. Spiritual gifts are the source of inspiration from Almighty Lord to human being to live a life with the mission. The gifts signify God’s wills that are expected to be fulfilled by human beings and for fulfilling the divine expectations, the gifts are like tools our Divine Father has given us. There are several thoughts developed among the Christ body regarding gifts. According to Bible, Christian believers received the gifts in the first century.
The main objective behind these gifts was to mature the church and to know the will of God. The foundation of Christianity lies in the fulfilment of mission, assigned to every human being by God. While stating the necessity of the spiritual gifts, Arthur and Lawson say, ‘All of us, as Christ followers should be working together to strengthen the body, to produce unity to be lights shining in the darkness, and to bring glory to God. This is done through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, through the gifts that He gives us.’ The gifts are there to make us enlightened and to show proper path towards attaining the goal of our life, and our goal is to come out of the darkness (ignorance) and walk towards light (spiritual knowledge)
The debate on spiritual gifts is between two groups. One argues that the spiritual gifts still exist; while another stream of thought asserts that they (spiritual gifts) do not exist in modern world. Before getting into the discussion, it is very important to know what charismatic or spiritual gifts are. “Charismatic Gifts” refer to those gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11-12; Romans12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, 27-31; and 1 Peter 4:10. ‘The term charismatic gift means simply a divine inspiration.’ The term Charismatic refers to the ‘groups that trace their historical origin to the charismatic renewal movement of the 1960s and 1970s and that seek to practice all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament (including prophecy, healing, miracles, tongues, interpretation and distinguishing between spirits) The issue of “charismatic gifts” has been published in popular media such as magazines, newspapers, radio and television. Much has been discussed in scholarly circle, seminars, and also among the students of linguistics, psychologists, and social scientists. The debate is revolved around the three main doctrines, and they are cessationism, semi-cessationism and continuationism. In the paper these two opposite thoughts have been discussed in detail.
Confusion and Interpretation about Spiritual Gifts
The debate regarding the existence of the charismatic gifts has created a great confusion among Christians. The confusion arises over the exact form of the gifts; what exactly these gifts are, and whether they are still there in modern world. The form of the gifts is mentioned in 1 Corinthians, which reveals the intangible form of spiritual gifts.
“A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial: to one is given a message of wisdom through the Spirit, to another, a message of knowledge by the same Spirit, to another, faith by the same Spirit, to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another, the performing of miracles, to another, prophecy, to another, distinguishing between spirits, to another, different kinds of languages, to another, interpretation of languages.(1 Corinthians 12:7-10)”
In short the spiritual gifts consist of some extraordinary qualities of human beings. These qualities incorporate:
- Speaking and interpreting tongues
- Working of miracles
The objective of spiritual gift is to promote the unity of body according to Paul. If there is arrogance or disunity, the spiritual gifts will not be in effect. In short your good behaviour and good deeds are the only necessary things to preserve your spiritual gifts.
A Survey of Spiritual gifts
A survey had been conducted regarding the spiritual gifts and whether they exist in modern world. It is also studied what kind of spiritual gifts are there according to the people. The report of the survey found the facts that, “About one-fifth (21 percent) of respondents said they have heard of spiritual gifts claimed to have gifts such as a sense of humour, singing, health, life, happiness, patience, a job, a house, compromise, premonition, creativity, and clairvoyance – ones that are not among those deemed to be spiritual gifts in the passages of Scripture that teach about gifts.” The people thus tried to associate the supernatural gifts with the modern phenomena.
Before studying the two opposite viewpoints of the debate, first of all it is essential to know the two opposite terms associated with the debate. The Cessationism, and the Continuationism. Some believers think that the above mentioned four gifts were short lived and they existed during a limited time span between Jesus’ ascension and the death of last Apostle and Jesus’ beloved disciple John. While others believe that the gifts still exist in some or other forms. So, first of all it is very important to discuss these two controversial doctrines.
The term Cessationism is defined by Merrriam-Webster dictionary as “a temporary or final ceasing.” It is a temporary or permanent stopping or discontinuance of supernatural gifts. While associating it with Christian viewpoints about spiritual gifts, the cessationist group asserts that the holy gifts no longer exist in modern world. These gifts according to cessationists, are temporary and stop functioning; when their use is complete. They emerged just to fulfil the need of that particular era. While giving the exact period of cessation of gifts, the cessationists state that these miraculous gifts ceased in the first century To support their view, the cessationists, explained the term with a biblical allusion. In New Testament, the divine gifts were found and further those gifts were used for building the church. These gifts were in form of guidance as there were no completed scriptures available in those days. At that time, the gifts were required, but now they do not. So they have disappeared. The availability of the spiritual gifts depends upon its requirements. According to cessationists, the charismatic gifts in modern time require special knowledge, which is not possible in modern world. Probably the modern society does not have that much depth in their belief. The society is still struggling between science and spirituality. Consequently the complete faith in God no longer exists. Their commitment toward God is not whole hearted.
While answering the cessationist view, Troy Edward opines that if you do not expect God to work miracles in our day, it is difficult to expect supernatural assistance in resisting sins and temptation and we will go through the repeated cycle of defeat and repentance. He further continues that most of the promises of God become absolutely meaningless because we embrace the doctrine of cessationism. In simple word Edward wants to say that if our belief in God and his gifts are shaken, it is not possible to attain these precious gifts.
Between cessationsim and continuationism, there is one more group, which is called semi-cessationism. The group partially agrees the existence of spiritual gifts in modern world. This (Semi-cessationism) group believes that some gifts have stopped functioning, but they have not stopped completely, and some of them are still in operation. Many times we experience some miracles. But our rational mind does not easily accept the miracles and try to find out the scientific reasons of all things that come around us. According to the viewpoint of semi-cessationism, the gifts have two categories; first is speaking and second is serving. These two categories are permanent gifts. The permanent charismatic gifts of Holy Spirit include knowledge of Scripture, prophecy, teaching and discernment. The third category is a special category; and it incorporates the charismatic factors such as miracles, languages, etc. These gifts are permanent according to John MacArthur, a theologian, cessationist, and Calvinist.
The complete opposite group of cessationist, there are three groups that encourage the use of spiritual gifts today. They are Pentecostals, charismatics, and the Third Wave. These three groups, though holding somewhat different opinion, believe that the charismatic gifts still exist today. The continuationist approach strongly believes that Jesus always wants His followers to serve God and that is why with the help of the Holy Spirit, He conferred precious spiritual gifts upon human being. The purpose of Jesus behind giving supernatural gifts is that human being should all the time serve the Lord and follow the path He has chosen for them. The continuationists support that the supernatural gifts of Holy Spirits have not ceased and they still are available for the believers and they exist just as they were in the past. Further they also believe that the spiritual gifts are as relevant today as they had been in the past. The continuationism is the complete opposite view of cessationism.
The gifts mentioned above are the spiritual or charismatic gifts that the individual is endowed with by the Supreme Lord. It is the priority of God to maintain harmony among all living things exist on the earth. For keeping the balance and harmony intact, the spiritual gifts are constantly sent by the Almighty. The spiritual gifts have been given by God for the betterment of mankind and the well being of his universe. Even if there are opposite views regarding the spiritual gifts, one opinion is common and that is all the spiritual gifts are intangible and they are never in the form of concrete commodity. God never gives you gifts in forms of precious things. The gifts are more valuable than any gem or jewel or any precious metal. They are in the form of qualities, talents, or virtues. They are intangible and permanent and are not subject to finish. If you share them with other people, they are not going to diminish but they will grow more. We can also say that the gifts are still there in the modern world, but in another form. They are not constrained within its biblical and religious form. The form has been changed. If a person has a very good health, it is a gift bestowed him by God. His good health is like an asset for him/her. It is because the healthy body is like an abode of God. It is the medium to pray God. If a person is a good dancer, singer, composer, instrument player, sportsman, scientist, a good speaker, a good teacher, he/she is said to have those natural qualities. These qualities are given to the person with a certain aim in mind. Through these extra ordinary gifts we can serve our Lord. We can worship Him through dance or through beautiful songs dedicated to Him. We can experience God in our qualities God has given us. We just need to engross ourselves in his thoughts through the spiritual gifts He has given us. The knowledge required for scientific inventions, technological development is nothing but the Grace of God.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
–James I:16 – 17
Through the discussion on the debate, the author just wants to convey that the perception of looking at the gifts needs to be changed. We may conclude this debate with the urge of serving God unconditionally. Instead of getting into any such type of debate, it is the duty of each and every individual to serve God through his/her good deeds. The gifts will come to the person automatically. But at the same time everyone is not lucky to have supernatural gifts. The person will also be chosen by God himself. The deserved person only will be honoured with supernatural gifts. As stated in Bhagavad Gita, we should never think of the fruit. Being a human being and creation of God, it is our duty to obey God and involve ourselves in doing work assigned to us by Him. God’s work is like a mission and if he has decided particular task for us, He will give us an ability to fulfil the task. The ability is in form of the supernatural gift. We should not think about the gifts or about any kind of fruit. If our action is dependent upon the fruit of the gift, we lose happiness.
Arthur Kay, David Lawson, BJ Lawson Understanding Spiritual Gifts Doubleday Religious Publishing Group, 2010.
Bhagavad Gita Chapter2, Shloka 47, part 1
Boyd, Gregory A., and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. Kindle ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.
"Cessation", Merriam-Webster http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cessation.
Gaffin Richard B., Grudem Wayne A. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views, Zondervan, 1996.
Harley Schmitt Many Gifts One God, Xulon, 2002
Jennifer Riley, Many Christians Claim Unbiblical Spiritual Gifts, Survey Finds, The Christian Post (2009) http://www.christianpost.com/news/many-christians-claim-unbiblical-spiritual-gifts-survey-finds-36865/
John MacArthur, The Macarthur Bible Handbook Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003.
Sang Kyu Park, Christian Spirituality in Africa: Biblical, Historical and Cultural Perspective from Kenya, Wipf and Stock, 2013
Thomas Edgar, Miraculous Gifts: Are They For Today?”Wipf and Stock , 2001
Troy Edwards, Miracles Are Today: Confronting the Powerless Gospel With God’s Word, 9.
What is Continuationism? What is continuationist? Got question.org www.gotquestions.org/continuationism.html