The spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians
Paul paints a picture for us in 1 Corinthians 12–14 of what continuationist pneumatology might look like in the New Testament church. The passage is not primarily designed to explain individual gifts of the Spirit, but rather to place their usage in the context of the larger picture of local church worship. Continuationist pneumatology is about more than our corporate worship; it carries implications for how we live life with others, and that includes our times together as a local church.
Today’s church culture tends to highlight the theatrical. The music, drama and preaching all seem to be directed at an audience. The goal seems to be a good experience, including moving, engaging entertainment.
As someone recently said to me after visiting a church, “I felt more like I was at a good Christian concert than a time of worship.” I don’t know how conscious church leaders are of this, but the reality of it is undeniable. Today’s churches are competing for the affections and attention of a culture characterized by fast-moving images and slick technology. It’s not that God’s active presence can’t intersect with “cool”—but what Paul is encouraging is something mysterious and clearly supernatural.
Engagement with God
When contemplating the importance of maintaining our “charismatic distinctives,” it’s tempting to focus on what makes us unique as a network of churches. We all know that engaging with God is not unique to Sovereign Grace churches. In reformed circles, recognizing that utilization of all the spiritual gifts in the church today is not a secondary issue, but gets at the very mission of the church and how we live out our calling, may be. How we engage the world, deal with the enemy, minister in a broken world, and effectively engage God in worship needs an infusion of the utterly awesome activity of God.
At the heart of Spirit-filled worship is the desire to cultivate corporate interaction with God “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4). Paul states that the diversity of spiritual gifts are given by God “who empowers them all in everyone.” Whether these expressions of God’s activity are utilized in the corporate worship, in the dynamic of biblical fellowship in our small groups, or in sharing the gospel in the marketplace, they are designed to bring healthy engagement with God. Spiritual gifts are not God bestowing to his people something external to himself. They are God himself in us working his sovereign and gracious purposes through us. Sam Storms calls the charismatic gifts of the Spirit “God going public.”
Experiencing and welcoming the presence of the Spirit
Most of us have experienced it at one time or another. A prophetic word discreetly whispers to shamed secrets a woman has never disclosed, and as tears falls she’s reminded that a holy God knows, accepts and loves her. A message in tongues peeks the interest of a man who has never heard this before, and the interpretation draws his heart to a powerful God who has everything under control (including his wife’s cancer). An impression that someone is battling guilt over unconfessed sin results in a teen confessing her sexual compromise to her parents. An exhausted and discouraged former youth leader shuffles into a meeting and receives personal ministry that addresses struggles the person praying for him could never have known without the Spirit’s prompting. These stirring stories are real life examples I have been privileged to witness in our new church plant by the moving of the Holy Spirit who knows, sees, and loves all.
The Holy Spirit moves in our churches and changes lives primarily through His powerfully efficacious word. Yet as reformed “charismatics,” we have both the awesome privilege and responsibility to robustly welcome rather than politely endure the mysterious yet life-changing and active presence of the Spirit of God in our churches.