Second in a series. For the introduction to this series, click here.
Let’s start off with a big one: spiritual gifts.
There are two primary passages in Paul’s writing that deal with gifts: I Corinthians chapters 12-14 and Romans 12:3-8. Modern evangelicals put the I Corinthians passage on the back burner since it deals with gifts of tongues, healing and other miracles, which most evangelicals believe are not manifest today. Obviously the various stripes of Pentecostals would disagree, but for our purposes we are not dealing with them. Evangelicals would point to Paul’s masterpiece on love in chapter 13 and Paul’s very strict and implicit instructions for operating the gifts in the church in chapter 14 to say that those gifts were intended for a particular time – the time of the apostles – and not for succeeding generations of the church.
The Romans 12 passage, however, lists what might be more properly called in context gifts of grace:
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3-8 NKJV)
These gifts are taken very seriously by many in the Evangelical world, so much so that some have developed an entire theology around them. Let me give you an illustration that outlines what I believe to be the wrong approach to this passage. When she was about 20 years old, my wife was given a “gift profile test,” basically a personality test to determine which of the seven gifts listed here she had. When her results were graded she was told that her test was invalid because she tested positive for two gifts that cannot coexist in the same person.
Who said that God’s gifts can be determined by an amateur personality test, the kind that people take to determine “Which Disney Princess are you?” and then post to Facebook? Shouldn’t a work of God in a person’s life be more obvious than that? Secondly, who determined the personality types that went along with certain gifts, and why are there some that contradict each other? Is any of that stated or even remotely implied in what Paul wrote above?
My answer is no. This passage and I Peter 4:10-11 certainly indicate that God does bring certain people into a congregation so that His work can best be done. That is a completely fair way to deal with these texts. It’s not wrong to say that God provides supernatural enablement to some people more than others to handle certain necessary jobs in the church. Peter certainly implies that in his epistle. As long as you limit your teaching to this, you are certainly within the bounds of Scripture. I know others who teach that the time for all the gifts has passed. I disagree, but I certainly respect the position, since I held it not that long ago.But to treat the seven-part list that Paul gives us in Romans as the entire spectrum of gifts God gives to people in the church, and to build assumptions upon that treatment that cannot be justified from Scripture, is another matter altogether. I’m not saying that this view of gifts violates the cardinal doctrines of the Church. Obviously it does not. But it does represent to me a poor approach to Scripture, a lazy approach that is more interested in novel applications rather than simply proclaiming the whole counsel of God.