Spiritual gifts can cause confusion. As a pastor in a charismatic church, I encounter it all the time. Some are worried whenever they hear talk of the gifts of the Holy Spirit—languages, prophecy, healing, miracles, and so forth—and others are worried whenever they hear talk of anything else. The second group risks turning a good thing into an ultimate thing; the first risks dismissing a good thing because it might frighten the horses.
God’s miraculous gifts have often been met with mixed responses. Some pour scorn over them, and some fawn over them. For a better way to think about the place of gifts in the contemporary church, it’s helpful to think back to an Old Testament example: Spiritual gifts are like manna.
There are all sorts of reasons for the comparison. Both are miraculous gifts that come down from heaven daily to sustain people. Not for nothing does Paul describe manna, and the water from the rock, as “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” (1 Cor. 10:3–4), before moving on to talk about “spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 12–14). Both are easily misunderstood. When the Israelites first encountered manna, they asked each other, “What is it?” When the church first encountered spiritual gifts, some muttered that those using them were drunk.
Both gifts bear witness to the miracle-working power of God. Both are given specifically to his covenant people. Both can be overemphasized by enthusiasts, like the Israelites who kept their manna until the next morning only to find it had gone rotten, or the hyper-charismatics who get more excited about speaking in tongues than the gospel. At the same time, both prompt grumbling from others, who complain ...1