The spiritual gifts are a matter of significant debate and division in the church today. Millions of Christians around the world attend churches which believe the miraculous gifts are a normal part of the Christian life today. The most familiar religious television channels feature a large portion of preachers and ministries who teach the miraculous gifts are still accessible to modern Christians.
The belief in the continued use of miraculous spiritual gifts is the hallmark of the charismatic movement. Charismatics can be found in every major Christian denomination, including Catholicism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism and Baptist. Several major denominations were formed around the belief in the miraculous gifts, including, Pentecostals, Church of God, Assembly of God and Four Square Gospel Churches.
All Christian denominations believe that spiritual gifts continue to this day and that the Holy Spirit is actively at work in the life of Christians. The disagreement centers around the relation of miraculous gifts- tongues, interpretation, prophecy and healing- to modern day Christianity. The argument about the charismatic gifts is not based the interpretation of a single Biblical text. The discussion ranges around the purpose of the miraculous gifts in the early church and the sufficiency of the Word for today.
Everyone is agreed the miraculous gifts were not commonly in evidence during most of church history. A few scattered, small Christian groups may have believed in the continuation of miraculous gifts but the vast majority of Christian churches from the late first century to the early twentieth century believed the miraculous gifts to have ceased after the apostolic era.
This changed in the early 1900’s with the birth of Pentecostalism. Growing out of the Holiness Methodist movement Pentecostalism’s earliest proponents were searching for evidence of the baptism of the Holy SPirit. In Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came upon the first Christians they began to speak in tongues. Thus, the earliest charismatics experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit by speaking in tongues. This early Pentecostalism soon spread across the world as a result of a three year revival in Los Angeles. Pentecostals poured out from Azusa Street to spread charismatic theology across the globe.
The charismatic movement springs out of a fundamental disagreement regarding the purpose of miracles during the New Testament era. The miraculous gifts were given as signs for the Jews. The miracles of Jesus and the apostles were the Divine stamp of authenticity verifying the validity of the claims of Jesus and His apostles. “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs.” (Acts 2:22) “God also bearing (the apostles) witness both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles.” (Hebrews 2:4) (also consider Matthew 11:4-6; Mark 16:20; 1 Corinthians 14:22) The miracles done in the earliest days of the church were God’s testimony that Jesus was truly God’s Son and the apostles were preaching God’s truth. The ministry of the apostles has been completed. The gospel has been authenticated. The miraculous gifts are no longer necessary or normal for the church today.