First Corinthians 12--Spiritual gifts
Jun 13, 2017
The use of spiritual gifts is the third issue regarding public worship that Paul discusses in his first letter to the Corinthians. The first was the use of veils, the second was Communion, and the third is spiritual gifts. In this third section, Paul says in chapter 12 that the purpose of gifts is edification, in chapter 13 the way to exercise those gifts is in love, and in chapter 14 their value is tested by their practical usefulness.
Pentecost and Spiritual Gifts
Spiritual gifts are inherent in Pentecost, which began in Acts 2. In later centuries, as the spiritual power of Pentecost died down in favor of ritual and carnal religious practice, churchmen explained this embarrassing cessation of spiritual gifts by claiming that Pentecost was a temporary phenomenon. Instead of seeking God to discover the reason for the withdrawal of His presence, and to know how to regain the manifestations of His Spirit, they settled for something less than what God intended for the church.
Paul, of course, assumed that the manifestation of spiritual gifts was normal in church life. Two decades after the day of Pentecost, any absence of spiritual gifts would have been cause for alarm. If spiritual gifts had died out, Paul would have run to Corinth, asking, “What have you done? Why is this body no longer alive?”
But after some centuries had passed, most of the church looked back nostalgically and wished that they could have lived in those days, regretting, but accepting the withdrawal of God’s presence. When certain individuals found spiritual gifts operating in their lives, they were called “saints,” as if to set them apart as an anomaly.
Saints, however, often found themselves viewed with suspicion by the church bishops, for those operating in spiritual gifts were dangerous to dead religion. Their gifts might cause the people to expect more from the church than the leaders were able to deliver. Hence, many leaders heaved a sigh of relief when these “saints” finally died. It is similar to the Old Testament prophets, who were persecuted in their life time, but honored with monuments posthumously (Matthew 23:29, 30).
Spiritual gifts never really died out, for the Holy Spirit has never withdrawn fully from the church. Yet until the recent revival of Pentecost a century ago, much of the Spirit’s activity came in clusters known as “revivals.” Perhaps the most prominent revivalist who first saw spiritual gifts in operation was Charles Finney in the late 1700’s. More such revivalists came on the scene in the 1800’s, reaching a crescendo on New Year’s Day of the year 1900, when the Spirit was poured out in Topeka, Kansas at the Bible School started by Charles Parham.
On its heels came the Welsh revival, the spiritual outpouring at Azusa Street in Los Angeles, and many other places. An abundance of Spirit-filled preachers arose in the early 1900’s, such as John G. Lake and Smith Wigglesworth. Pentecost itself was revived in those days, making Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 12-14 relevant once again.
Yet there were many mainstream churches who rejected Pentecost. Hence, the new Pentecostal movement took many individuals out of the mainstream churches to form new denominations, and the church was further divided. Most of the main Pentecostal denominations today trace their origins to 1909-1912, when they first formed denominations a few years into the modern Pentecostal era.
In 1928, Charles Erdman, Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, seemed unaffected by Pentecost. He wrote,
“Most persons will agree that the spiritual gifts of which Paul writes in his epistles were temporary, supernatural endowments granted to the early Christians to assist them in founding the Church. Such gifts may no longer exist.” (The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, p. 104)
No doubt he was describing the condition within the walls of his Presbyterian institution. If he had investigated what was actually happening in the world around him, he might have been quite shocked to see those gifts in action.
Nonetheless, the Holy Spirit soon was confined by the spirit of denominationalism, along with so many other factions.
The Purpose of the Pentecostal Revival
The outbreak of Pentecost in the early 1900’s occurred just before the Laodicean era, the church of the captivity in our time. Though no one could have predicted this or understood why the Holy Spirit was poured out at that time, God knew that the Federal Reserve Act was to be passed in December of 1913, coming into force in 1914-1916. This Act, which gave the power to create money to a consortium of powerful, private bankers, put America—and ultimately, the whole world—into captivity. Revelation 17 calls it “Mystery Babylon.”
Pentecost was a gracious act of God, not only to prepare the people for what was coming, but also—if it were possible—to give to the church the power to prevent it. As in the days of Jeremiah, when God gave Judah a last-ditch opportunity to turn back the Babylonian army, if they would only keep a rest year (Jeremiah 34:8, 9, 10, 11), so also did God give the church a last-ditch opportunity to turn back the army of Babylonian bankers.
What did He require of the early Pentecostals? How might they have prevented captivity? The answer is hidden, unless we understand the problem. The problem of the church was that it had been following men, rather than Christ. The church had been divided into factions, a problem already seen in Paul’s time. The Old Covenant mindset had been creeping back into the church, not only through the requirement of circumcision (which Paul opposed), but also by submission to men. Church leaders usurped the place of Christ, and the people lost their sense of priority.
So just before the Federal Reserve Act was passed, the Pentecostals began to form denominations (1909-1912). In doing so, they followed the example of the Israelites in the days of Samuel, when they demanded a king to rule them. Preferring the rule of a man (or church board), they did not realize or understand that they had rejected God as their king (1 Samuel 8:7).
This mistake put them into the same pattern as in the days of King Saul, the Pentecostal king who was filled with the Spirit and prophesied (1 Samuel 10:6, 10, 11), and yet was a rebellious king. From this came the great riddle of Pentecost: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” How can the Spirit of God come upon a rebellious king? How can a rebellious king prophesy? This saying in Israel is just as relevant today as it was in Saul’s time.
The failure of Spirit-filled people to reverse the pattern of Saul allowed the people to descend into the bondage of Mystery Babylon, because collectively, they decided that it was better to be ruled by men than by God. Perhaps more accurately, they thought that they could be in submission to men without actually overthrowing God. The people in Saul’s day thought the same, and technically, they were correct; for if they had kept their priorities straight, a monarchy would have worked for them.
You see, the problem is not that men have authority, but that men too often fail to remain stewards of the Kingdom. Once they receive authority, they tend to function as if the Kingdom were theirs. Hence, they usurp power, rather than ruling under God. They make their own laws, based on the traditions of men and put away the actual laws of God. The Pentecostal movement as a whole rejected the law of God and substituted their own moral codes: dress codes, hair codes, outlawing jewelry, lipstick, tobacco, and alcohol.
So America and the world entered into the Laodicean era, the blind church of the captivity. We are just now coming to the end of that era, as we move toward the start of the Tabernacles Age. We are transitioning from Saul’s kingdom to David’s kingdom (that is, Christ’s Kingdom).
I believe we will soon see a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will sweep through the world. At that time, spiritual gifts will become so prevalent that no one will again believe that these were only designed to assist Christians in founding the Church. Spiritual gifts, under the authority of the overcomers, will become a permanent way of life in the Age to come.
This is part 58 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.