Are You Afraid of Spiritual Gifts? – An Excerpt from Sam Storms
How can Christians pursue and implement the miraculous gifts of the Spirit without falling into fanatical excess and splitting the church in the process? In today’s excerpt from Practicing the Power, pastor and author Sam Storms helps us rethink our approach to spiritual gifts.
My working assumption is that you are reading this book because you sincerely desire to see a more robust and vibrant expression of the Holy Spirit at work in your personal life and in your church. Please know that this is a good thing! Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 14:1 is that we should eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. To long for and humbly pursue all the spiritual gifts that are described in the NT is both pleasing to God and biblical. That being said, there are several other things you must consider if you wish to experience God’s Spirit and see his power manifest.
First, take a moment to answer this simple question: How important is it to you that spiritual gifts operate fully? If you regard this as something optional and not worth the effort or sacrifice that must be made, you will not be willing to endure mistakes, deal with flaky folk, and push through those times of discomfort. You won’t be willing to take risks or look stupid. I’ve spoken with countless Christians and local church leaders who, when pressed, honestly admit that while they prefer having all the gifts operating, it doesn’t rank all that high on their list of priorities. If you are a church leader, this is an especially important question for you, because at the first sign of failure or push back on the part of people in the church or perhaps under threat of the loss of income, leaders are tempted to shelve the discussion and move on to other matters.
Some leaders refuse to move forward unless they have a guarantee in advance that no mistakes or errors will be made. Absent that guarantee, forget about it! Having been in ministry for more than four decades, I can say that rarely is anything done in the life of the local church, especially if it’s new or different, that is devoid of error. Mistakes should be expected. We are by nature and choice mistake-prone people. It’s a consequence of our sin. We act out of fear or selfishness or self-protection or pride and ambition Sometimes it’s simple ignorance. Should the day come when these inclinations in the human soul are wholly eradicated, we might be able to obtain a guarantee that no goof-ups or gaffes or odd behavior will occur. Obedience must matter more to you than success or your image. It’s easy to assent to that statement—who wouldn’t agree? No one openly declares that they are obsessed with what other people think and are reluctant to obey God’s Word lest it diminish the size of their congregation. Instead, we figure out a way to justify our disobedience to God’s Word. But in our hearts, we know that to obey the commands of Scripture in this regard comes with a price we simply aren’t willing to pay. We are quite adept at rationalization when our livelihood is on the line.
I came to grips with this principle several years ago. A televangelist (whose name you would immediately recognize, so I’ve left it out) was attempting to minister to the people in his audience, both those who were physically present and those, like me, who were watching on TV. He would periodically close his eyes, tilt his head slightly upward, poised to listen to what he claimed was the voice of God. “Yes, Lord, okay, I understand. Uh huh, right.” He would then turn and share the word he was hearing with his audience. Once again closing his eyes, he repeated the performance, but with a slight twist: “What was that, Lord? Hold on. Just hold on. I’ll get back to you in a minute.”
Needless to say, putting God on hold while he attended to what he believed was a more important matter was instantly offensive to me. What made this even worse was that he proceeded to pray for the sick and pronounce the healing of numerous people in the audience. The entire affair was highly manipulative and irreverent, even blasphemous. I remember feeling a knot develop in my stomach. I was physically repulsed by the disgraceful manner of what this man called ministry. I quietly but decisively said to myself: “If that’s what it means to operate in the gifts of the Spirit, I want no part of it.”
No sooner had I silently spoken those words to myself than this question flashed in my mind: “Sam, are you justifying your disobedience to what Scripture tells you to do because someone else badly abused what he claimed was a spiritual gift?” I knew the answer to that question, and it stung my soul. Ever since that day, I have realized that I tend to live by an unspoken eleventh commandment, one that is not found in the Bible but guides my actions and thoughts all too often. I call it the Eleventh Commandment of Bible-Believing Evangelicalism, and it goes like this: “Thou shalt not do at all what others do badly.” It’s the habitual response that we have to completely reject something when we see someone else doing it in a way we feel is wrong or manipulative.
Stating it this way makes it seem harsher than it typically feels when we obey it. When we see someone browbeating a non-Christian, trying to extract a confession of faith from him, few of us resolve that we will never share our faith in Christ again. When we endure a bad sermon where the preacher twists the text and makes inappropriate applications of it, we don’t decide that preaching itself must be abandoned. The same could easily be said of countless other things we observe in the professing Christian church. But for some reason it’s different with the so-called miraculous gifts. The eleventh commandment comes into play, and we decide there is nothing to redeem here. Let someone speak loudly in tongues in a corporate gathering without the benefit of interpretation, and we decide that we’ll never permit tongues. Or we see someone, like the TV evangelist I mentioned, manipulate a crowd with a word of knowledge or prayers of healing, and we make an inner vow never to permit anything remotely similar in the life of our church. That’s what I felt as I watched the evangelist that day.
Looking back now, I know that this so-called TV evangelist served a purpose in my life. I began to see that I could not rely upon my initial, gut-level response to these experiences. They were leading me to obey a law that is not found anywhere in Scripture. That day, I resolved in my heart that I would never justify my disobedience to God’s Word because of the abusive or embarrassing practices of others.