If you and I ever have the opportunity to spend time together you will quickly discover that I am passionate about the Scriptures and the present day ministry of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, in many churches these passions appear to be in terrible opposition of one another as if the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures have competing causes. Many Pentecostal/Charismatic churches who hold to a Continuist position, which believes that miraculous spiritual gifts continue until the return of Christ, have modeled a ministry that in many ways has created more confusion than authentic demonstrations of the Spirit’s power.
In turn due to this misuse of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in certain churches a number of people have abandoned the pursuit of miraculous spiritual gifts altogether, and others have adopted the theological position of Cessationism. However, there is a large and growing part of the Church that is not convinced by the theological assertions of Cessationism and have instead chosen to adopt an “open but cautious” view regarding miraculous spiritual gifts. Thus choosing to live in a theological and experiential limbo. They are not convinced by the theology of Cessationism nor are they convinced by the expression of Continuists. While it may appear noble to remain in this “open but cautious” state the Scriptures command us to pursue spiritual gifts not stand on the sidelines in doubt or unbelief.
Please hear me I am sympathetic to many of the critics of the contemporary expression of the miraculous because of the lack of sound doctrine and even common sense exemplified in certain charismatic circles. Nevertheless, we should not allow ourselves to be fooled. While it is tempting to think that the first century Church was unadulterated in their use of the gifts of the Spirit that would be wildly mistaken. Even a surface level reading of the epistles reveals that the apostle Paul spent a large part of his time combating errors surrounding spiritual gifts rather than praising their success. Thus we must be careful not to allow a misinformed nostalgia to blind our understanding of history as if the Early Church had everything together and only now in our contemporary experience are there errors and excess surrounding supernatural Christianity that must be addressed. I say this not to lower your expectations of the gifts of the Spirit but to remind you that all of humanity is in need of the saving and transforming grace of God. The mistreatment of spiritual gifts no more refutes there purpose than the misuse of government refutes the need for just authority and leadership. So, instead of reacting to the abuse of spiritual gifts and abandoning them we need to discover what the Scripture says about how they are to be pursued in the life of the believer and how they are to operate in the local church.
1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
In the same breath Paul commands the Corinthians to pursue love and spiritual gifts. It is remarkable that he does not lay out two choices for them to decide between as if to say either pursue love or pursue spiritual gifts but commands Christians to pursue them both at the same time. This verse should challenge and encourage us because it show us that spiritual maturity does not pin love against the gifts of the Spirit but calls us to pursue both at the same time. Before moving too quickly past this point it is significant to consider who wrote this passage. The same Paul that wrote the book of Romans also penned this command to the Corinthians. If you are familiar with these two books you will realize the power of such a simple statement. The book of Romans is considered by nearly every theologian to be the most theologically robust book in the entire New Testament where Paul deals intensely with weighty subjects like justification by faith, and the imputed righteousness of Christ. And 1 Corinthians deals with the subject of spiritual gifts more than any other book in the New Testament where Paul plainly says “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” (1 Cor. 14:18) So from Paul’s life and theology we can resolve that doctrinal clarity and the gifts of the Spirit are not mutually exclusive but are intended to be one in the same. This was the pursuit of the Early Church and it should be ours today.