There is a line of thinking/theology that the gifts of the spirit – speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy and so on – were gifts for the early church only. It is a line of thinking that I really struggle with. When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit he did not say that it would be for a limited time or generation; in fact, He said that He would be with us always. “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever…” [John 14:16]
It is argued by some that they (miracles, signs and wonders) were there as a sign and a kind of supernatural resource to somehow kick-start the early church; only for the Apostolic period.
The problem with this assertion that these gifts were time-limited to the life of the Apostles is that they were frequently evident in Wesley’s meetings, and that many of us have witnessed them ourselves – that would include me.
So, what changed? The assertion that signs and wonders and miracles ceased is simply not born out universally. It may be the experience of large parts of the Church, but the Charismatic movement sees this kind of gifting as an accepted and current part of spiritual life.
This, for me, was one of the big wake-up calls as I began travelling with Pioneer. I personally experienced manifestations of the prophetic which were simply undeniable and could only have been supernatural in origin.
The people of God go through seasons. There are times when, in our personal devotions and spiritual life, we feel closer to God; and then there are times when God feels terribly distant and difficult to connect with. This can be true of an entire Church too.
There were periods in the history of Israel when the nation simply did not hear God’s prophetic word: Between Malachi and John the Baptist; before Samuel’s calling, the writer tells us – “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” [1 Sam 3:1]
The fact is that God does not absent Himself. What changes is our ability to hear from Him; our expectations of Him; our experience of Him.
It is easy to believe in a God of whom we expect nothing; in a god who does not “intervene”; in a God who simply will not respond to our calls for healing, for guidance, for visions, for signs or wonders. If we expect little, then we can not be disappointed. Our belief system is not threatened by a lack of response because we never really expected one in the first place.
For many Christians this is the unrecognised “elephant in the room”. To pray for healing and not receive it is hard. To seek direction and still feel lost is spiritually disorientating. To pray for renewal and see decline is soul-destroying. To prophecy and be met with scepticism and cynicism is humiliating and awkward. It takes great courage to keep praying and seeking these gifts in the face of these kinds of risks.
For the past few years I have journeyed with people for whom these risks have been faced head on – they exist (praise God) both in the Methodist Church and in Pioneer, in the Anglican church and in Catholicism. I have been greatly encouraged that God continues to raise up people who are risk-takers.
The gifts of the Spirit are alive and well.
In our Church (with a big “C”) we need to provide spaces and places in which such gifts may be expressed – so that those who step out in faith in this way can nurture them and develop what God would do through them.
Let’s give Jesus the last word: “Very truly I tell you, WHOEVER believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…” [John 14: 12]