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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Why Is There So Much Division over Spiritual Gifts?

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Don Stewart

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The subject of spiritual gifts causes much division among believers. This is extremely unfortunate, because one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to unify the believers in Christ. Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

Fear Of Unknown

It is acceptable that people hold different views upon the subject of spiritual gifts, but it is wrong when the differences cause division. One of the reasons for the division over spiritual gifts is ignorance. When something new or unusual occurs in the church, people may naturally experience fear. Many people have their own particular view of what God will and will not do, and may not be open to differing points of view.


Another cause for the divisions over spiritual gifts is tradition. The Bible scholar F.F. Bruce provides an example of how tradition can color a persons view of a subject:
A group of biblicist churches in a certain country was under the influence of a few Pentecostal teachers. Their leaders were particularly concerned at the increasing practice of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) which was attributed to the influence of Pentecostal visitors. It might have been thought that, since glossolalia was a feature of some apostolic churches, it would have been acceptable in a biblicist community - but it was not countenanced in the tradition of these churches. There were historical reasons for this, arising from the differences between their spiritual ancestors and Edward Irving, but they were probably unaware of this. They would not have wished to appeal to tradition: Scripture was their authority. But while Scripture discourages an over-high evaluation of glossolalia, it does not forbid the due exercise of the gift. The leaders of the affected churches, however, inherited an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:10, "When the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away," which took it to mean that glossolalia and similar manifestations of the Spirit were intended to be temporary, and would pass away when the New Testament canon was complete. In one circular letter that they issued on the subject, they appealed to this as the "standard" interpretation in their churches. Quite apart from the validity of the exegesis - and that the concept of the completed New Testament canon was present to Pauls mind is extremely improbable (F.F. Bruce, Tradition: Old and New, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971, p. 14).

Differences of opinion over spiritual gifts are acceptable - unless they cause division.

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