Why Millenial Christians Should Embrace Spiritual Gifts

October 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

It started young: in third grade, I began to dabble in Charismaticism. While my family attended Christ the King Lutheran Church, while I was getting my Wednesday night badges, I had spiritual questions that no one knew about, ones that I still struggle with almost twenty years later.

I was a reader, picking up anything and everything that looked remotely like a window into the many mysteries of the universe. (A habit which helped me discover much about the world that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to in my sheltered upbringing, including a—shall we say—“sensual”awakening whilst perusing the dusty stacks of a public library around the time I embarked on those tween years. Huh. Maybe that’s why I can’t stop with the “buy now with 1 click” on Amazon.)

At some point during my third grade year I found some of my dad’s old books packed away in a box in the basement. This meant that my reading selections for “free time” at school included David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade and its companion, Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz. (O! the look on my teacher’s face when she pulled it out of my hands for a closer look. And the resignation with which she gave it back to me. “Not engaging,” her eyes said.)

My vocabulary was greatly enriched by these diverse texts, both dealing with Wilkerson’s ministry to gangbangers in 1950s New York City. I learned what a “shiv” was, and a sawed-off shotgun, and rape. I called a pair of careless garbage collectors “bastards” in front of my mom. But the most mysterious parts of these books were the ones that talked about “being filled with the Spirit,” which, especially in the Cruz memoir, included speaking in tongues.

I held this strange initiation into special knowledge close to my chest, not asking, not telling. I picked up other things about the life of the Spirit elsewhere, letting a middle school friend squeeze my head between her hands in a fervent prayer for my salvation-to-be-evidenced-by-tongues. Yes, I was often confused. In high school, while attending another friend’s church lead by a fiery and compelling male speaker, two women prophesied over me: “a prophetess gifted in evangelism,” “covered in color and light.” Years later it came out that the leader-man was a con artist who was skimming church funds.

Most devastating to my belief in the gifts of the Spirit: I experienced failure in endeavors that I was sure the Lord had called me to undertake.

Confusion, betrayal, disappointment. Abuse. These risks should be enough to make us want to chuck the whole thing, right? When someone says, “I heard “X” from the Lord,” is it because they are locked in some warped mode of self-justification? Or fear? Or manipulation? These are the sentiments that I have heard a lot lately in response to expressions of spiritual giftings.

God knows, the reticence makes sense to me. But it also troubles me. In the past couple of days, I have seen several criticisms of the lack of power found in “progressive” congregations. (An interview with Brian McLaren and Nadia Bolz-Weber for one, and this one from Anarchist Reverend) I can’t help but wonder if the problem is that these congregations are rejecting spiritual gifts because they are distancing themselves from certain parts of evangelical culture. If this is the case, it doesn’t need to be.

Despite my wrestlings, I can’t find it within myself to reject that the power of the Holy Spirit is for us, all of us; it is laced through the wide breadth of Scripture, it is foundational, it is the whole point. (Or at least whole point.) God help us if an “us vs. them” attitude keeps us from experiencing our life’s very breath, the active presence of the Spirit that God intends for us.

We who have seen the Spirit used as an excuse for evil are in a unique and privileged position—the position of wisdom. We are in the position to see the complicated mess of healings, words of knowledge, visions, and dreams (as a favorite writer, Rachel Held Evans might say) for “what they are, not what we want them to be.” They are the light the Living God, refracted—sometimes imperfectly and in pieces—through us, the lens of His image.

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