Spiritual Gifts in the Early Church
Growing up the son of a Pentecostal Pastor, I have always been interested in spiritual gifts. Believe me, I have seen my fair share of craziness and have participated in it as well. But over time, even as much of my theology has evolved, and I have thankfully matured, I still find myself deeply drawn to the gifts of the Spirit.
There is just something profound about the Holy Spirit using ordinary people to pray for healing, deliverance from demonic torment, or speak a prophetic word of encouragement.
However, for much of my life, I felt there was a gap of silence between the book of Acts and what Pentecostals/Charismatics practice today as spiritual gifts.
It seemed like church history for Pentecostals/Charismatics began at Azusa Street in 1906, and for all intents and purposes, God was pretty well inactive after the book of Acts.
To my great surprise, I have discovered that many of the church fathers exercised spiritual gifts in similar ways to what takes place in the Pentecostal/Charismatic church today.
Here are just a few examples from the Early Church:
– The Didache (An early 1st-century Christian treatise)
Did 10:7 Allow the prophets to give thanks as much as they wish.
Did 11:8 Not everyone who is speaking in the Spirit is a prophet.
– Clement of Rome (approx. AD 35-99)
1 Clement 38:1 So let our whole body be preserved in Christ Jesus …, and let each put himself at the service of his neighbor as his particular spiritual gift dictates.
– Ignatius of Antioch (approx. AD ? – 108/140)
Ignatius to Polycarp 2:2
Ask for invisible things so that they may be made manifest to you in order that you may lack nothing and abound with all spiritual gifts.
Ignatius to the Philadelphians 7:1-2
While I was among you, I cried out, I was speaking with a loud voice, God’s voice, “Pay attention to the bishop, to the presbytery and deacons.” And some more suspecting that I had said these things as one who had prior information about a division which certain people had caused, but he for whom I am in bonds is my witness that I did not get this information from any man. But the Spirit proclaimed allowed, saying, “Do nothing without the bishop; keep your flesh as the temple of God; love unity; flee division; the imitators of Jesus Christ as he is of his Father.”
– St. Justin Martyr (approx. AD 100-165)
Ch 39 Dialogue with Trypho
Some are also receiving gifts, each as he is worthy, illumined through the name of this Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another or teaching, and another of the fear of God.
Ch 82 Dialogue with Trypho
For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time.
– Irenaeus (approx. AD 130 – 202)
Against Heresies quoted by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History:
… For which causes also his (Christ’s) True disciples having received grace from him use it in his name for the benefit of the rest of men, even as each has received the gift from him. For some drive out demons with certainty and truth, so that often those who have themselves been cleansed from the evil spirits Believe and are in the church, and somehow for knowledge of things to be, and visions and prophetic speech, and others care of the sick by the laying on of hands and make them hole, and even as we have said, the death have been raised and remain with us for many years. And why should I say more? It is not possible to tell the number of the gifts which the church throughout the whole world, having receive them from God in the name of Jesus Christ, who is crucified under Pontius Pilate, uses each day for the benefit of the heathen, deceiving done and making profit from none. For as it received freely from God, it ministers also freely.
– Tertullian (approx. AD 155 – 240)
We recognize an honor the prophecies and the recent visions which had been promised equally. We also regard the rest of the powers of the Holy Spirit as tools of the church to whom the spirit was sent, administering all of the outstandingly impressive gifts to everyone just as the Lord distributes to each.
This is only a small sampling of spiritual gifts mentioned by the early church after the book of Acts. From the day of Pentecost to today, the Holy Spirit has been gifting ordinary people with spiritual gifts.
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