What guidelines should be followed if using spiritual gifts in a church setting today?

  • 2
    Could you define, a bit more please, what you mean by "spiritual gifts?" – Audio Sancto Feb 3 '12 at 15:15
  • 1
    I created this question by splitting it off from another one. I'm assuming the questioner meant supernatural ones - tongues, prophecy, healing etc. – DJClayworth Feb 3 '12 at 16:48
  • Since it wasn't tagged as Catholic I didn't want to answer thinking it was a reference to charismatic graces when it really was a reference to a gift offering -- bread and wine? -- used in a spiritual ceremony. – Audio Sancto Feb 3 '12 at 16:51
  • I think this, like the other question, needs to be made much more specific. Teaching, for instance, is listed in the Bible as a spiritual gift, and the answer for that will be quite different, and irrelevant, to the answer for healing, as Mark's answer touches on. – Flimzy Feb 4 '12 at 6:04

Wowsers! Great question! Also a loaded one. I'll be deconstructing 1 Corinthians 14 since this is the clearest example of guidelines (I'm also assuming that you meant the spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12).

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.

I have so much to say about this in terms of non-cessationalism, but because it doesn't directly answer the original question, suffice it to say that Paul tell us that spiritual gifts are to be desired. We were never given a choice between chosing to love God and spiritual gifts. I often hear, "I rather love Jesus and focus on Him", as if that can minimize Jesus in some way to pursue spiritual gifts. So then, in this guideline, we're told first of all to desire spiritual gifts. Paul, as if to argue the possibility that some may doubt, establishes the topic of this snippet (chapter 14).

6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? 7 Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? 8 For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? 9 So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. 11 Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. 12 Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. 13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. 16 Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

This is one of the verses that I see that Paul clearly establishes a differentiation between two different kinds of "tongues". Here he is talking about the public use of speaking in tongues. Later in verse 28 he says that if there is no one to interpret, we speak in tongues privately (which is actually to God and for our edification as we see in verses 4, 14 & 28). We're told here that the public use of tongues is useless in terms of the edification of the Church as a whole when there is no interpretation. Thus, we should rather speak from our understanding if there is no interpreter present. Notice here, though, that the word is interpret and not translate. Because there are different kinds of tongues (1 Cor. 13:1), there will not always be someone there who knows that particular language and the Spirit gives an interpretation. It's not a word-for-word translation, but the message is conveyed the same. I've seen this happen many times in a service where one speaks in tongues and interprets what He feels the spirit is saying, then someone has stood up and said, "that was my native tongue and you have said everything exactly as you spoke it!". It an amazing thing to watch and it instills a fear and awe of the Lord.

20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. 21 In the law it is written:

“With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,”says the Lord.

22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. 23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.

Here is a good guideline. Be careful that you don't "overuse" tongues in a public service because those who are unbelievers will think you are crazy if they come in and you're babbling in languages that they don't know. Although, if there is prophecy and his heart is revealed then he will know there is a God. I've seen this many times. People who don't believe in God will quickly listen when you tell them the secrets of their heart that no one else could know but God alone.

26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (I've ommited verses 34-38 to keep from debating such a sensitive topic.) 39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.

This is probably the "meat" of the guidelines section. Verse 40 basically sums everything up. The thing we need to keep in mind when operating in spiritual gifts in a Church setting is that things need to be done decently and in order. There should not be chaos in the Church of the God of peace. Each has his own part and there is no rush to make yourself heard since everyone can take a turn and be edified.

I hope this helps and makes sense. Sorry if it's too long!


(The following answer is given from the Catholic point of view.)

Spiritual Gifts (also called "Charismatic Graces" in Catholic parlance) are gifts given to members of the Church for the benefit of others in the Church. As such, the guidelines are: those to whom such gifts have been given ought to make use of them for the benefit of others according to the law of Charity (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). The scriptural basis for this guideline would be Christ's exhortation: To whom much is given, much is expected.


My guidelines would be: "due caution"

  • many people over the years have claimed supernatural powers; and yet, in this sceptical world, not one has ever been shown to actually exist
  • healing is particularly dangerous, as many countries exercise strict laws about claiming to be able to heal: healing is a medical claim, and even by a church demands full medical evidence (and the previous tests aren't very compelling); if you make any claim of being able to heal, you are on rocky ground; even listing things that you think can be cured through faith is risky, as HOTS found recently
  • prophecies have failed equally damningly - obviously there will be some "hits"; the question is: do the "hits" stack against the many "misses" (cough rapture cough) - unfortunately, most "misses" are silently ignored
  • as a result, if you claim supernatural powers, as per the question, there is a good chance that you will be seen as a charlatan, by some in the church, and by most outside the church
  • Note: the above is referring to the context from a comment (by the OP): "I created this question by splitting it off from another one. I'm assuming the questioner meant supernatural ones - tongues, prophecy, healing etc." – Marc Gravell Feb 3 '12 at 17:11
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    You could probably have sourced all those guidelines with the Bible if you had wanted to. – Peter Turner Feb 3 '12 at 17:22
  • I should clarify that "charlatan" only applies to someone knowingly claiming something that they know to be untrue; if the claimant genuinely believes it, another term that might be used by the sceptic is "delusional" (please don't start a row about me insulting people; for someone who doesn't believe the foundation of the claim, that is the correct term) – Marc Gravell Feb 3 '12 at 18:02

I will try to combine a biblical, charismatic and scientific perspective.

  1. First of all spiritual gifts are to be eagerly desired. This is a repeated command even to the Church of Corinth, in spite of the abuse of the gifts they had. Moreover, the pentecostal-charismatic /P/C) movements bear witness to the value of the gifts. The phenomenal growth of P/C Christianity is the most successful grassroots movement since the start of Christianity. The most comprehensive study made on growing churches(NCD), worldwide, confirm that lay people serving using their spiritual gifts is one of 8 universal key characteristics for quality of Church life.

  2. The gifts in 1 Cor 12:1-11 are "manifestations" of the Spirit (verse 7) and since the whole passage is written in the present tense, the essence of these gifts is not on "having" the gifts permanently, but that every time the believers gather for worship, they are to seek and expect various manifestations of the Spirit. See exegesis by James Dunn and more recently by Gordon Fee about this.

  3. Thinking that only a few select ministers can function in the gifts, including the gifts of healings and the workings of miracles, is making a travesty of 1 Cor 12-14 and is a recipe for disaster. First of all, studies indicate that very few actually receive healing in these settings, but studies done in settings that emphasize that "everyone gets to play" indicate far greater, even spectacular success. See studies by David Lewis and Candy Gunther Brown. OTOH, the healing evangelist model is filled with temptations to exaggerate, blame the sick person for lacking faith, produce hype, etc. Pure charlatans, like Marjoe and Popoff, can also operate in this model.

  4. The gifts of Eph 4:11 are not charisma, but people, whose job it is to equip everyone else to serve (verse 12), in order that everyone may contribute (verse 16). The above mentioned NCD studies also identifies equipping leadership as a key characteristic for healthy churches.

  5. The purpose of the gifts is edification of the believers and evangelism (e.g. 1 Cor 14:24-25). Thus gifts should not be used to exalt the gifted person, nor should we be in awe about such persons, since gifts are concrete manifestations of grace. Being used by God in the gifts is not a sign of spiritual maturity or sound doctrine. They are "gracelets", not merit badges. Using the gifts are to be expressions of love.

  6. When gifts are being used, they must also be tested. While this is clearly applicable to prophecy, the principle apply to all gifts. This requires that the use of spiritual gifts take place in a fashion where such testing is possible and encouraged. Love both means trying to help and cleaning up any messes when mistakes are made.

  7. While people who encounter the love and power of God understandably often will get excited or may manifest reactions to the touch of God, drumming up emotions is unnecessary and in fact counter productive. Discerning God's guidance is best done in peaceful settings. Dynamic order is commanded in 1 Cor 14, however we must also realize that "order" is not necessarily things being tidy and predictable. Modernity has taught western people to equate "order" with control and a sequential order of events. In the mind of Paul or the Corinthians, or in other cultures than our western ones, this was/is not the case.

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