Stripping Down To Christ Alone: Rethinking The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

What follows is a recent article I wrote on the work of the Spirit. I am often asked about my views on the Todd Bentley “outpouring” and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This article explores some of my thoughts on it.



Rethinking the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Frank Viola

I am often asked what I believe about “the gifts of the Spirit.” My typical answer is that I believe in them . . . all of them. However, I believe in and practice them without the classic charismatic packages and Pentecostal wrappings.

A large chunk of my life in the institutional church was spent in charismatic circles. About sixteen years ago, however, I came into an experience of the Spirit’s work and power that looked nothing like what I had seen in any charismatic or Pentecostal church to which I belonged or visited. For me, it was a new experience of the Spirit. One that was less artificial, less contrived, and less centered on the Spirit Himself. Rather, it was an experience that was authentic, pure, and centered on the Lord Jesus Christ.

For this reason, I am neither a cessasionist (those who believe that some spiritual gifts have ceased) nor a charismatic (those who emphasize spiritual gifts). Instead, I consider myself to be a post-charismatic.

I believe John Wimber was the first to use this term. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine, estimated that in 1990 that there were as many as 92 million people who described themselves as post-charismatic. In more recent times, Rob McAlpine has been writing thoughtfully on the subject. I owe parts of my definition of “post-charismatic” to him and Wimber.

When I say that I’m a post-charismatic (or neo-charismatic), I mean the following:

I believe that the authentic gifts of the Holy Spirit are still operative in the church today. Not only do I believe in them, but I’ve experienced them. However, I also believe that the artificial wrappings that have been attached to them should be discarded. For they distract us from Christ.

I believe that being “Spirit-filled” cannot be narrowly defined to refer exclusively to those people who have demonstrated one particular spiritual gift at some particular point in their life. On that score, I had a particular experience with the Holy Spirit in 1983. Some would say that I was “filled with the Spirit” because of it. However, I would argue that I was filled with the Spirit before then as well as many times afterward (see Acts 2:4, 8, 4:31; Acts 9:17; 13:9, 52; Ephesians 5:18-20).

I’ve grown tired of the excesses and abuses that many modern charismatics have fallen prey to in both practice and teaching. These excesses and abuses go way back to when the movement was spawned. It’s one of the birth defects that Pentecostalism was born with.

I’m against humanly-engineered hype and pulpit showmanship and calling it “the moving of the Spirit.” Perhaps you’ve seen this before. You pour in the right prayers, sing the right songs with the right fervor, turn the crank, and “the Spirit’s moving” comes out of the bottom.

I’m leery of “personal prophecies” that justify ridiculous practices, ludicrous decisions, and fly in the face of Spirit-inspired wisdom.

I cast a skeptical eye on the exaggerated and sometimes fabricated stories of the miraculous. That includes the puffing up of numbers when healings or saved souls are calculated. (I’ve discovered that if a Pentecostal/charismatic reports a figure of souls saved or sicknesses healed, you would be wise to cut it in half and divide by two. Typically, that will yield the accurate number.)

I’m against the elitist attitude among some who purport to possess spiritual gifts.

I’m against views of the Spirit that end up dividing believers into the “haves” and the “have nots”—those who have had a particular experience and those who have not.

I’m against forcing the exercise o
f spiritual gifts on God’s people.

I’m against those doctrines that promote seeking wealth and material prosperity from God at the expense of caring for the poor and relieving the sufferings of the oppressed.

I’m opposed to the idea that spiritual transformation normally takes place in one-time miraculous encounters rather than by a long-term process of being conformed to Christ’s image by the instrument of His cross.

I’m against using the Holy Spirit and His gifts to make human beings the center of the universe.

I’m against promoting an intoxication with the restoration of the gifts of the Spirit. (The only thing worth being intoxicated with is Jesus Christ.)

I’m critical of the legalism that was born into the bloodstream of the Pentecostal movement and later infiltrated the charismatic mind.

I’m skeptical of any activity, natural or supernatural, that claims to be a work of the Holy Spirit if it doesn’t bring attention to the Lord Jesus.

I believe that the real fruit of prayer is not spiritual insight, spiritual revelation, or spiritual encounter, but the transformation of character. To my mind, the product of real prayer is what Ignatius of Loyola called the instrumentum conjunctum cum Deo (an instrument shaped to the contours of the hand of God).

I believe that spiritual maturity is not the ability to see the extraordinary, but the ability to see the ordinary through God’s eyes. Consequently, no matter how wonderful our experience or encounter is with God, the test of it’s worth is in the fruit it bears in our lives and the lives of others.

Consequently, I believe in the operation of the Holy Spirit, but without the classic charismatic and Pentecostal trappings. The reason is simple. To my mind, they are artificial, learned by imitation, and detract us from the reality and centrality of Jesus Christ. So while I’m post-charismatic, I’m certainly not post-Holy Spirit.

If we need a restoration of the Holy Spirit today, it’s a restoration of His pure and undefiled working. That’s my opinion anyway.

So if I’m against all of the above, what am I for? I’m for the centrality, supremacy, and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

To my mind, the Holy Spirit has but one job. It’s to reveal, to make known, to magnify, to glorify, to make central and supreme the Lord Jesus Christ.

The following is a revealing quote from Frank Bartleman. Bartleman was part of the Azusa street revival that gave birth to the modern Pentecostal/charismatic movement in the early 1900s. To my mind, his words were prophetic and ahead of their time. He foresaw the dangers of co-opting Jesus Christ by putting the Holy Spirit on the throne. He wrote,

In the beginning of the Pentecostal work, I became very much exercised in the Spirit that Jesus should not be slighted, ‘lost in the temple,’ by the exaltation of the Holy Ghost and of the gifts of the Spirit. There seemed to be a great danger of losing sight of the fact that Jesus was ‘all in all.’ I endeavored to keep Him as the central theme and figure before His people. Jesus will always be the center of our preaching. All comes through and in Him. The Holy Spirit was given to “show the things of Christ.” The work of Calvary, the atonement, must be the center for our consideration. The Holy Ghost will never draw our attention from Christ to Himself, but rather reveal Christ in a fuller way. We are in the same danger today.

There is nothing deeper nor higher than to know Christ. Everything is given by God to that end. The ‘one Spirit’ is given to that end. Christ is our salvation and our all. That we might know ‘the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ’ (Ephesians 3:18-19), ‘having a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him’ (Ephesians 1:17). It was ‘to know Him (Christ),’ for which Paul strove . . . We may not even hold a doctrine, or seek an experience, except in Christ. Many are willing to seek power from every battery they can lay their hands on in order to perform miracles, draw attention and adoration of the people to themselves, thus robbing Christ of His glory and making a fair showing in the flesh . . . Religious enthusiasm easily goes to seed. The human spirit so predominates the show-off, religious spirit. But we must stick to our text—Christ. He alone can save. The attention of the people must first of all, and always, be held to Him . . . Any work that exalts the Holy Ghost or the gifts of the Spirit above Jesus will finally end up in fanaticism. Whatever causes us to exalt and love Jesus is well and safe. The reverse will ruin all. The Holy Ghost is a great light, but will always be focused on Jesus for His revealing ( Frank Bartleman, Another Wave of Revival,
>Springdale: Whitaker House, 1982, pp. 94-96).

One of the churches I planted taught me a great lesson on this score. Their meetings were completely open, participatory, and indelibly centered on Jesus Christ. They had no building. No clergy. No set order of worship.

Each member would share his or her experience and insight into Christ as a result of seeking Him the week beforehand. That church had a steady flux of visitors. Most of these visitors would remark, “All they talk about is Christ. They seem to have a deep experience of the indwelling of Jesus.”

One particular Sunday, a couple of Pentecostals visited the church. When the meeting was over, they sat with some of the brothers and asked, “How come you guys don’t ever talk about the Holy Spirit? All you talk about is Christ.”

One of the young men who was in his early 20’s answered with wisdom that exceeded his years. He said, “Well, maybe it’s because the Holy Spirit only speaks about one thing—Jesus Christ.”

I was not present for that meeting; the story was rehearsed to me. But it is one I shall never forget.

If you wish to determine if a person is full of the Holy Spirit, listen to his words and watch his life. As far as his words go, he will have but one obsession. It will be Christ. And his life will match his words. He won’t be perfect by any means. Nor will he be above making mistakes. But he will exhibit a spirit of kindness, honesty, and an inclusive openness to all of God’s children . . . the outstanding marks of Christ’s character.

Awhile back a friend of mine was perplexed about a certain minister whom he had sat under for years. He said, “Frank, I don’t understand. This man’s message was Christ-centered. He talked a lot about Christ. But as I got to know him personally, I discovered that he lied constantly, he ridiculed and demeaned others, he was always jealous of other people whom God blessed, he was very sectarian, and he was highly egotistical. He also hurt many people even though he preached against hurting Christians. I don’t understand it.”

My response was simple. A person is not Christ-centered just because they preach the centrality of Christ. If they contradict the nature of Jesus by their character (their consistent, patterned behavior), they are not Christ-centered despite the rhetoric they parade.

Let me pass on a word of advice. If you ever hit a fork in the road with the people with whom you church, there’s one sure way that the Lord will get what He wants. Drop whatever is causing the problem, and let it go into death.

There is nothing that we must cling to except for the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing! So let that other thing that your group is dividing over go into death. Give it up, and watch what the Lord can do.

This is the principle of death and resurrection. Whenever we place something into death, if it was born of Christ to begin with, it will return again. It will come forth out of the ground. But when it comes forth, it will always look different from what it looked like before it went into death.

Everything looks different in resurrection.

A group of Christians that I was a part of did this very thing with respect to our initial differences about the Holy Spirit. The result: the gifts of the Spirit operated in a very natural, unassuming way. There was no grandstanding or bluster. It was truly organic—out of life. We had learned the lesson of stripping down to Christ alone. Somehow I believe that’s what the Lord desires when it comes to the work of His Spirit in the earth today.

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The above blog post was written at a time when I was eclectic in my theological & biblical views and understanding.  As of 5 February 2017 I am a functional cessasionist, that is, I believe the spiritual gifts, in particular gift like the vocative, prophetic gifts as well as healing & miracles have ceased. This means that my understanding is that at the end of the apostolic era, when the last apostle died (that would be John who was at Patmos & Ephesus, the author of the Gospel of John, Epistles of John & the Revelation of Jesus Christ, with his passing, the need for these particular gifts, the oracles of God given to men through the Holy Spirit, were no longer required.  With the forming of the Canon of Scripture, there came to be no need for revelatory gifts. In fact in Revelation, John himself records the words of Jesus, “18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. 19 And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, which are written about in this book.” [Revelation 22, CSB]

God is sovereign, still heals, still manifests in the miraculous, but not at the whim or the discretion of men. We pray and ask the Lord, and then we yield and surrender to His will, echoing the words and the spirit of Christ, “Not my will but your will be done.” [Luke 22:42].

I embrace and hold to a Reformed understanding of theology & Christian living in the world. I have abandoned my other views entirely. I would be more akin to a Reformed Baptist (1689 Confession) type of Reformed theology. I used to be a continuationist (akin to John Piper) but no longer.

God bless you as you seek to know Christ and the power of His resurrection [Philippians 3:10 CSB].

In the eternal grip of Jesus,

Samuel M. Buick

Waterloo, Ontario

29 January 2018

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About Sam Buick

A lover and disciple of Jesus Christ. Married to my best friend, Lori-Anne. Father to 3 incredible daughters, Carragh, Caitlin and Erinn, and sons-in-law Alex, and Stephen Davis. An avid reader, a Droid user, a Mac addict, a lover of footy ball and football (there is a difference), and hockey. Once a soldier. Once a youth worker. Once an ordained minister. Once a claims adjuster. I don’t mind labels, labels define what type of Christian I am: I am a creationist I am a monergist I am a Trinitarian I am an imputationalist I am a Calvinist I am a cessationist ~ Samuel M. Buick
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