Where have the gifts of the Spirit gone? (1 Cor 12 – 14)

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“In the
course of the second century, this original spontaneity of utterance [tongues,
prophecy, revelation, etc.] died almost entirely away. It may almost be said to
have died a violent death. The dominant parties in the Church set their faces
against it. The survivals of it in Asia Minor were formally condemned. The
Montanists, as they were called, who tried to fan the lingering sparks into a
flame, are now ranked among heretics… It was inevitable that it should be so.

The growth of a confederation of Christian communities necessitated the
definition of a basis of confederation. Such a definition, and the further
necessity of guarding it, were inconsistent with the free utterance of the
Spirit which had existed before the confederation began. Prophesying died when
the Catholic Church was formed. In the place of prophesying came preaching…We
consequently find that with the growth of organization there grew up also…the
gradual restriction of the liberty to address the community to the official
class."

[The
Montanists] maintained that the revelation of Christ through the Spirit was not
a temporary phenomenon of Apostolic days, but a constant fact of Christian
life. It was the first, though not the last, rebellion of the religious
sentiment against official religion… Little by little those members of
the Christian Churches who did not hold office were excluded from the performance
of almost all ecclesiastical functions. At first a layman might not preach if a
bishop were present, then not if any Church officer was present, and finally
not at all.

[Christianity]
came into the educated [Greek] world in the simple dress of a Prophet of
Righteousness. It won that world by the stern reality of its life, by the
subtle bonds of its brotherhood, by its divine message of consolation and hope.
Around it thronged the race of eloquent talkers who persuaded it to change its
dress and to assimilate its language to their own. It seemed to thereby win a
speedier and completer victory. But it purchased conquest at the price of
reality. With that its progress stopped. There has been an element of sophistry
in it ever since; and so far as in any age that element has dominated, so far
has the progress of Christianity been arrested. Its progress is arrested now,
because many of its preachers live in an unreal world. The truths they set
forth are truths of utterance rather than truths of their lives. But if
Christianity is to be again the power that it was in its earliest ages, it must
renounce its costly purchase… The hope of Christianity is, that the class
[professional clergy] which was artificially created may ultimately disappear,
and that the sophisticated element in Christian preaching will melt, as a
transient mist, before the preaching of the prophets of the ages to come, who,
like the prophets of the ages that are long gone by, will speak only ‘as the
Spirit gives them utterance’
”.


(Edwin Hatch The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity pp. 106- 108, 114)

2 thoughts on “Where have the gifts of the Spirit gone? (1 Cor 12 – 14)”

  1. Seriously, have you ever visited churches where this is the prevailing practice. They are filled with foolishness and confusion, at best and false teaching at the worst. Most of these “prophecies” amount to nothing. It has been so since Paul wrote to the church in Corinth (chapter 14). I agree that, by playing it so “safe,” we sometimes miss the opportunity for God to speak prophetically, but the opposite extreme does not seem to edify the body, but more often puffs up those who claim to speak as prophets. Should the church consider welcoming such prophetic speech without applying the stern discipline of the Old Testament to their proclamations? (Deut. 13:1-5, 18:20)

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  2. Mark,
    I too have seen some silly and unedifying “prophecy”, but I can hardly see that this means that we should stop seeking what the New Testament clearly says we SHOULD seek (e.g. 1 Cor 14:1). I can’t help feeling that if we avoiding the non-biblical extremes of denial and trivialising, and took seriously the injunctions to seek the gift and to seriously discern apparent prophecies, we might get somewhere. David Pawson, a Baptist pastor in the UK in the 1980s, is one person I believe I can confidently state had the gift of prophecy, and his church took discernment seriously.
    I am someone whose gifts seem not to lie in these so-called “charismatic” areas, but more in teaching and understanding. But I have longed for years to be in a group where some people DID have such gifts, and where each person recognised and rejoiced in the gifts of the others, for there would be a fully balanced body.
    Best wishes

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