Charismatic Gifts

Jacob Dodson with Amos Yong

The Christian theology of charismatic gifts has a rich and complex history, relating to many different biblical, historical, and ecclesial traditions. This article will examine these traditions and seek to discover their unique insights and contributions to the broader theology of charismatic gifts. Special attention will be given to overarching themes and theological tensions that emerge from the discourse on charismatic gifts. The goal is not to use the disparate voices of the various confessional traditions to articulate an ecumenical theology of charismatic gifts but rather to set the stage for ecumenical dialogue on the topic of charismatic gifts. While this brief survey does not intend to be exhaustive, it endeavours to address significant movements and representative thinkers that have shaped the theology of charismatic gifts throughout the church’s history.

1 Charismatic gifts in Pauline theology

The New Testament foundations and history of the theology of charismatic gifts is grounded in the Pauline tradition. The word ‘charismatic’ derives from the Greek charisma, ‘gift’, and plural form charismata, ‘gifts’. This is the term used in the biblical texts (see Rom 1:11; 5:15–16; 6:23; 11:29; 12:6; 1 Cor 1:7; 7:7; 12:4, 9, 28, 30–31; 2 Cor 1:11; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). In Pauline theology, charisma can be used in two ways: first, in reference to a general gift (e.g. redemption and eternal life, see: Rom 5:15–16; 6:23) and second, in reference to a specific gift expressed in service for a particular community (e.g. apostleship, prophecy, teaching, etc.; see 1 Cor 12:4–11; Rom 12:4–8). In its general sense, charisma is not always associated with the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:15–16; 6:23; 11:29; 1 Cor 7:7; 2 Cor 1:10), but in its specific sense it is pneumatologically oriented (Fee 1994: 33; see Rom 1:11, where Paul identifies charisma with the Greek adjective pneumatikon, ‘spiritual’ or ‘of the Spirit’). Other Greek terms are used synonymously with charisma in the Pauline literature including: doma ‘gift’ (Eph 4:8), dōrea ‘gift’ (Eph 4:7; Rom 5:15), diakonia ‘service’ (1 Cor 12:5), energēma ‘activity’ (1 Cor 12:6), phanerōsis ‘manifestation’ (1 Cor 12:7), and pneumatikos ‘spiritual gift’ (1 Cor 12:1; 14:1). The large variety of charismatic terms in the Pauline vocabulary, and the lists of charismatic gifts (see: Rom 12:6–8; 1 Cor 12:8–10; 28–29; Eph 4:11) are an expression of a rich ‘language of giftedness’ (Koenig 1978: 54).

Charismatic gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to meet the many needs of the church community and they have an inherent ‘corporateness’ about them (Schatzmann 1987: 68). Paul described this reality with an analogy relating the human body to the mystical body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12–31; Eph 4:1–16), in which each person is connected and concerned for the wellbeing of other members in the church (Schatzmann 1987: 70). The unity of the body of Christ results from the shared experience of grace through charismatic gifts (1 Cor 12:12; Schatzmann 1987: 71). The variety of gifts in the church are seen as of equal importance and judged by the whole body (Schatzmann 1987: 97).

Paul views the church as being transformed through the various modalities of charismatic gifts, such as manifestations of the Spirit, acts of service, and ministries (Fee 1993: 341, 345). Each gift contributes to the wellbeing of the community and the community tests each gift (Fee 1993: 345–346). The transformation of the community through the works and gifts of the Spirit is tied to Christian ethics, community life, spiritual growth, and the healthy flourishing of relationships (Fee 1993: 347). Charismatic gifts are very important for Pauline ecclesiology. As Catholic theologian Léon Joseph Suenens explains: ‘In the eyes of St. Paul, the Church of Christ is not an administrative organization. He sees it as a living whole made up of gifts, charisms, and services’ (1977: 98).

2 Charismatic gifts in patristic theology

2.1 Ante-Nicene writings

The use of charisma in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers followed the Pauline usage (see Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 17.2; Letter to Polycarp 2.2; Letter to the Smyrnaeans 9.2; 1 Clement 38.1). The exception to this is Didache 1.5, which invested charisma with the meaning of material ‘blessings’, or material ‘free gifts’, provided by God (Schatzmann 1987: 3). The theology of charismatic gifts in the Apostolic Fathers and later patristic authors was ‘Spirit-centered’ and ‘rooted in experience’ (Stephanou 1976b: 146). During its first two centuries, the church continued to include charismatic gifts as an important part of its theology and practice (Kydd 1984: 87). The Didache mentions the presence of charismatic ministers (particularly itinerant prophets) and provides criteria (external behaviour and discernment from elected officials) for judging the authentic exercise of certain charismatic gifts (Didache 10.7, 11, 13; 15.1–2). Clement of Rome (d. c. 96) wrote about charismatic gifts in the tradition of Paul, stressing their importance for serving others and finding their meaning in ministry. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35– c. 107) taught about charismatic gifts in a way that affirmed the hierarchy of the church and the role of prophecy in the community as he himself can be seen as both a bishop and a prophet. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170–c. 236) suggested that members of the laity, when receiving the gift of healing or a revelation, should receive the laying on of hands, which would reveal the presence of charismatic gifts in his community (Apostolic Tradition 15.1). Tertullian (c. 160/170–c. 215/220) encouraged catechumens to raise their hands and pray to receive charismatic gifts after being baptized in water, anointed, and accepting the laying on of hands (Kydd 1984: 11–12, 18).

2.2 Nicene and post-Nicene writings

There are a variety of references to charismatic gifts in the Nicene and post-Nicene writings, especially in reference to the place of charismatic gifts in the church’s liturgical traditions (particularly in the rites of Christian initiation). McDonnell and Montague document this in the following examples: Basil (c. 330–379) and Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 330–390) relate charismatic gifts to baptism and describe them as instruments of the Holy Spirit used to perfect and transform each Christian (theosis). Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315–387) encouraged baptismal candidates to anticipate receiving charismatic gifts in the rite of initiation. Philoxenus (c. 440–523), Bishop of Mabbug in Syria, claims that early Christians received charismatic gifts immediately after baptism, but Christians in his era could only receive charismatic gifts after a long post-baptismal period of growth in holiness and spiritual maturity (and a particularly effective way of achieving this was to follow a monastic way of life). Pseudo-Macarius (c. 300–c. 390), an influential Egyptian hermit, believed that charismatic gifts are received immediately after baptism, but remain imperfect until the Christian grows toward ‘constant charity’ (McDonnell 1991: 110, 115, 225–228, 323–325).

There is another tradition associated with charismatic gifts in patristic theology based on the Spirit’s anointing of the Messiah (Isa 11:1–9). This tradition enjoyed a rich history in patristic exegesis beginning with the early apologists, continuing through the post-Nicene Greek and Latin authors, and extending into medieval scholastic theology (Schlütz 1932; van Lierde 1994: 5–110; Gardeil 1911). The early and later apologists read Isa 11:2–3 with a particular focus on the person of Jesus. Justin Martyr believed that the gifts of the Spirit were given to Jesus in baptism, perfected by him, and subsequently given to his followers (Dialogue with Trypho 87). Irenaeus of Lyon, Tertullian, and Novatian also read the passage through the lens of Jesus’ baptism claiming that the Spirit’s gifts were given to Jesus to be shared with his followers as a way for them to participate in his anointing (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.17.3; cf. Against Heresies 3.9.3; Tertullian, Against Marcion 5.8; Novatian, On the Trinity 29). The post-Nicene Greek fathers approached Isa 11:2–3 with greater interest in gifts as an expression of trinitarian life (Schlütz 1932: 32). Cyril of Jerusalem claimed that despite the many gifts of the Spirit, the Spirit is unified and one with the Father and the Son (Catechetical Lectures 17.2.5; 16.1.29). Gregory of Nazianzus asserts that the gifts of the Spirit bring glory to the Father and the Son (Theological Oration 41.9; cf. 5.29).

More than any other patristic author, Augustine (354–430) developed a theology of spiritual gifts based on Isa 11:2–3 (van Lierde 1994: 32, 34, 64, 68, 71; Gardeil 1911: 1764). Augustine connected the seven gifts with growth in virtue and holiness and spoke of them as necessary for overcoming the trials of life (On Grace and Free Will 39; Letter 194; Homilies on Ezekiel 2.7.7). He saw the seven gifts as essential to be able to adequately fulfil the requirements of the Ten Commandments (Sermon 229M.2) and associated them with the development of the beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount 4.11). Augustine is the first to have developed a connection between the seven gifts and the beatitudes. His interpretive method seems to emphasize the importance of spiritual gifts for moral theology, a distinction that Aquinas would develop centuries later.

3 Charismatic gifts in medieval Byzantine theology

Medieval Byzantine theology drew upon biblical and patristic understandings of charismatic gifts. This is evident in the writings of Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022), who was equally influenced by the Pauline theology of the charismata and later Christian monastic spirituality (Argárate 2007: 175). This dual influence can be seen in Symeon’s approach to charismatic gifts, which embraced Paul’s dynamic, experiential view of the Spirit’s work in the gifts coupled with the monastic emphasis on internal sanctification and mystical contemplation (2007: 175). For Symeon, the Spirit’s work (or ‘energies’ energeiai) in general, and charismatic gifts (charismata) in particular, are indispensable aspects of the ‘development of the Christian life’ (2007: 175–176). They come from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit given to all the children of God (Burgess 1989: 58–62).

The exercise of the gifts of the Spirit in faithfulness to the commandments of God leads to inner freedom (Krivocheine 1986: 125). In addition, certain outward disciplines can help a Christian properly receive and faithfully use spiritual gifts (Symeon, Catechetical Discourses: 6.20–30; Catanzaro 1980: 120). The discipline of fasting helps dispose the believer to receive gifts from God such as zeal, purity of mind, and fear of the Lord, which bring freedom from moral vices (Catechetical Discourses 11.50–60; Catanzaro 1980: 168). When a Christian freely chooses to prepare their heart before God, God pours out his grace, mercy, and gifts enabling the seed of his Word to take root in the believer transforming them into the ‘measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Catechetical Discourses 18.370–399; Catanzaro 1980: 220). The gifts stem from God’s grace but are given in the context of the spiritual life, which entails obedience and struggle (or askesis; see Argárate 2007: 255). Furthermore, sin is a threat to spiritual growth and can lead to the rejection of grace and loss of charismatic gifts (Catechetical Discourses 22.140–149; Catanzaro 1980: 247).

For Symeon, the ultimate goal of the believer should be the deification of the soul and the beholding of the divine light, which can be achieved through the gifts of the Spirit and grace (Catechetical Discourses 2.260–280; Catanzaro 1980: 54). ‘The light encompasses all the manifestations of God, all His charismatic gifts and the charismatic life itself which He imparts to all those who observe the commandments’ (Krivocheine 1986: 237).

4 Charismatic gifts in medieval Catholic theology

Medieval Catholic theologians drew upon the Pauline and patristic understandings of charismatic gifts (Gardeil 1911: 1766–1779; De Blic 1946; Lottin 1949). Perhaps the foremost example is Thomas Aquinas, who developed two categories of grace related to the Spirit’s gifts: first, sanctifying grace (grace that justifies and unites a person to God as seen in the gifts of the Spirit in Isa 11) and second, charismatic or gratuitous grace (grace that empowers a person to contribute to the justification of others as seen in the Pauline, charismatic gifts; [ST] q. 111, a. 1 [part I-II]). Aquinas’ twofold distinction of sanctifying and charismatic gifts was accompanied by much reflection on the Isaianic gift tradition by medieval theologians and mystics such as Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109), Rupert of Deutz (c. 1075–1129), Peter Abelard (1079–1142), Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), Peter Lombard (c. 1100–1160), Richard of St Victor (d. 1173), Bonaventure (1221–1274), Gertrude of Helfta (1256–1302), and Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) – see Burgess 1997.

Aquinas’ treatment of gratuitous graces (charismatic gifts) in his Summa Theologiae encompassed a threefold approach (ST qq. 171–189 [part I-II]). First, exploring different types of charismatic gifts operating in members of the Church, second, examining charismatic gifts in light of different ‘forms of life’ (e.g. active or contemplative), and third, locating charismatic gifts in different ‘ministries and states of life’ (Bonino 2002: 340). Stated simply, Aquinas concluded that there are three different approaches to categorizing charismatic gifts: first, differences of gifting (e.g. word of wisdom, word of knowledge, etc.), second, differences of operational purpose (e.g. active versus contemplative), and third, differences of ministerial state (e.g. apostle, prophet, evangelists, etc.; ST 171 [part II]; cf. 1 Cor 12:4–7; Eph 4:11).

Aquinas further unpacks the nature of charismatic gifts by identifying them as expressions of gratuitous grace directed toward the ‘common good’ rather than toward individual sanctification (Fernández 1983: 476; von Balthasar 1996: 357). They pertain principally to each individual’s justification relative to the Church (Fernández 1983: 478; cf. 1 Pet 4:10–11) and through them Christians can ‘cooperate in the justification of another’ (ST q. 111, a. 1, resp. [part I-II]). As linked to corporate ecclesial life, they complement ministerial offices and do not oppose them (Stiegman 1974: 733). The interpersonal relationships between Christians within the Church are strengthened through these gifts (Fernández 1983: 483; cf. ST q. 7, a. 7. [part III]) as are relationships between congregants and those outside the Church (Fernández 1983: 478).

God’s holiness is revealed through the actions of charismatic gifts as Christians participate in his goodness (Fernández 1983: 480). Charismatic gifts are not however contingent upon the holiness of the recipient for even those without the effects of sanctifying grace can receive them (von Balthasar 1996: 310, 356). Furthermore, demonic spirits can produce false gifts, which requires that the Church regularly practice discernment of them (1996: 301). Due to the particular needs of a church community over time, charismatic gifts can come and go (Fernández 1983: 480; cf. Aquinas, ST q. 66, a. 2, ad 1 [part I-II]); consequently, they can be transitory (Burgess 1997: 80). Despite these limitations, charismatic gifts can be spiritually beneficial to Christians when they are ‘received with humility and gratitude’ (Fernández 1983: 483). They are also valuable from the standpoint of being graces of the Holy Spirit, which communicate God’s ‘presence and love […] to Christians and all creation’ (1983: 487).

5 Charismatic gifts in Reformation Protestant theology

The theology of charismatic gifts for early Protestants emerged in an era of tension with the Catholic hierarchy, creating confusion around the relationship between gifts and offices (Murphy 1965: 30). Despite this, German reformer, Martin Luther (1483–1546), developed an integrated view of church offices with charismatic gifts based on his reading of 1 Pet 4:10–11. Luther writes in his Sermon on the Sunday After Ascension Day:

[T]he gifts of the Holy Spirit […] are bestowed for the good of the entire Church and particularly for its spiritual offices or government […] Some may have certain gifts and offices, and other individuals certain others. But the mutual way in which these gifts are united and related makes one individual serve another. (1525; : 323–324 [vol.7])

The mutuality and interconnectedness of gifts with offices can further be seen in Luther’s view of the importance of engaging the Christian community directly with scripture. In his work How Christians Should Regard Moses, Luther proposes that hearing the Word is as much of a gift of the Holy Spirit as preaching the Word (1525; : 161–174 [vol.35]). This provides a greater role for laypersons in the Church to participate in the ministry of the Word through the gifts of the Spirit and affirms Luther’s belief in the priesthood of all believers (Murphy 1965: 31).

Following Luther’s approach to charismatic gifts, John Calvin (1509–1564) elevates the centrality of the priesthood of all believers. Calvin views all Christians as partakers in a universal priesthood based on Christ’s commission that they dedicate themselves to God and serve him (Crawford 1968). Calvin writes: ‘In him we all are priests, but to offer praise and thanksgiving […] and all that is ours, to God’ (Institutes 4.19.28; Calvin 1845: 508 [vol.3]). Calvin also discerns the unique gifting that Christ offers to ministers:

By the ministers to whom he has committed this office, and given grace to discharge it, he dispenses and distributes his gifts to the Church, and thus exhibits himself as in a manner actually present by exerting the energy of his Spirit in this his institution, so as to prevent it from being vain or fruitless. (Institutes 4.3.3; Calvin 1845: 59 [vol. 3])

This illustrates that, for Calvin, the ministerial office of administering the Word and the sacraments is unique in the community of believers and a perquisite for the reception of all the necessary charismatic gifts (Niesel 1956: 203).

The most common context in which Calvin discusses charismatic gifts is in relation to ministerial office (Niesel 1956: 91–92, 103). Charismatic gifts benefit the congregation in the ‘ministry of the gospel’ and serve as a prerequisite for the calling of pastors (1956: 93). Office and charisma are both needed for effectiveness in ministry though neither is subsumed under or confused with the other (1956: 103). The Word is the central reference point of ministerial offices and the charismata (miracles in particular), which necessarily proclaim and validate its message (Niesel 1956: 108). Because scripture sustains ministerial activity at a fundamental level, a distinction is made between charismatic gifts relating to the Word directly and those relating to it secondarily. The former are deemed ‘permanent’ gifts (e.g. teaching, administration, and helping), the latter ‘temporary’ gifts (e.g. prophecy, tongues, healing, and miracles; Cheng 2005: 185). A distinction is also made between permanent offices (e.g. pastors and teachers) and temporary offices (e.g. apostles, prophets, and evangelists; Cheng 2005: 185; cf. Institutes 4.3.8).

Calvin’s teaching concerning the ‘temporary’ gifts should be viewed in light of the controversies of his day such as the alleged ‘misuse of anointing oil’ in relation to healing rituals, the use of relics, and accusations by Catholic apologists that his religious community lacked ‘confirming miracles’ (Elbert 1979: 246, 250–252; Burgess 1997: 167). Calvin wrote of this to Francis I of France, in his prefatory address to the Institutes claiming that his ‘adversaries’ had called his teaching ‘new […] doubtful and uncertain’, questioning ‘by what miracles it has been confirmed’ (Calvin 1845: 9 [vol. 1]). Calvin responded by claiming that he was propagating the same teaching of the apostles so that the miracles that validated their message would also validate his (Calvin 1845: 11 [vol. 1]).

6 Charismatic gifts in early modern Anglo-American Christianity

6.1 English theologians

During the early modern period, charismatic gifts encountered a variety of responses from both enthusiastic supporters and cautious sceptics. The English theologian and evangelist, John Wesley (1703–1791), shared some of the christological emphases of Luther and Calvin in his approach to charismatic gifts (Snyder 1980; Kürschner 2000). Like his predecessors, Wesley also believed that charismatic gifts could be experienced in ‘ordinary’ experiences in the life of the Church (e.g. preaching, knowledge, and faith). Wesley was different from Calvin in his openness to ‘extraordinary’ experiences (e.g. healing, miracles, prophesy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues), which he believed were available to believers in his day (‘The More Excellent Way’; Wesley 1771: 27 [vol. 7]; : 713). Wesley felt that it was the fault of sinful humans that extraordinary charismatic gifts had fallen into disuse and needed to be ‘restored at the nearer approach of the “restitution of all things”’ (Wesley 1771: 38 [vol. 5]; cf. 26–27 [vol. 7]; Kürschner 2000: 125).

A friend of Wesley’s and an influential figure in the Methodist tradition, John Fletcher (1729–1785), approached charismatic gifts through a tripartite dispensational view of history, which associated the time before John the Baptist with the Father, the time after him with the Son, and the time from Pentecost onward with the Holy Spirit (Dayton 1987: 51–53). Fletcher’s dispensational scheme emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit in the third and final stage of salvation history; consequently, the exercise of charismatic gifts was endorsed with new vigour because it was the age of the Spirit (Dayton 1987: 51–53). One can perceive in Fletcher’s theology of charismatic gifts a shift away from the christological emphasis of the earlier reformers toward a pneumatological emphasis (Dayton 1987: 51–53).

Following Fletcher’s notion of a final dispensation of the Holy Spirit, an English Presbyterian minister named Edward Irving (1792–1834) upheld the validity of contemporary experiences of charismatic gifts (Synan 2001b: 22). After encountering Christians speaking in tongues at a small meeting in Port Glasgow, Scotland in 1830, Irving began teaching that charismatic gifts had been restored and that tongues were ‘the standing sign’ and ‘root and stem’ of them (Synan 2001b: 22–23). The phenomenon of tongues began occurring during his church services, which stirred controversy and ultimately prompted his departure from the Presbyterian Church. Irving and some of his followers went on to found the Catholic Apostolic Church (Synan 2001b: 23–24; Strachan 1973: 193–201; Christenson 1975).

6.2 American developments

The phenomenon of ‘extraordinary’ charismatic gifts was approached quite differently by the American Presbyterian scholar Benjamin B. Warfield, (1851–1921), who viewed their authenticity with scepticism (miracles in particular; Ruthven 1993: 41–111). Warfield was greatly influenced by Calvin’s view that ‘the extraordinary (miraculous) gifts of the Spirit did in fact cease with the apostolic age’ (Ruthven 1993: 32). Warfield’s main work on the cessation of charismatic gifts, Counterfeit Miracles, was a ‘study in church history and historical theology’ (Gaffin 1996: 28). According to Jon Ruthven, Warfield was shaped by Enlightenment understandings of nature and history as well as Scottish common-sense realism, which led him to question the credibility of witnesses and the historical probability of post-apostolic miracles (Ruthven 1993: 35–39, 83–92, 110–111). Ruthven further suggests that the tension in Warfield’s approach between naturalism (denying the existence of all miracles) and Christian faith (affirming at least the authentic miracles of Jesus and the Apostles) is irreconcilable with his definition of miracles as introducing a new supernatural force into nature, as opposed to divine operation of natural forces (Ruthven 1993: 58–69). Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. challenges Ruthven’s critique by suggesting that Counterfeit Miracles has been misread as an ‘exegetical treatise’ which Warfield did not intend and needs to be interpreted within the context of broader historical developments in New Testament eschatology (Gaffin 1996: 28–29). In addition, Thomas R. Schreiner argues that Pauline eschatology assumed that charismatic gifts would end with an imminent Parousia, which challenges assumptions of later Christian interpreters (Schreiner 2018: 155). Despite these exegetical and epistemological difficulties, Warfield’s polemic on post-biblical miracles would have an enduring effect on segments of the evangelical community in America, fuelling cessationist approaches to extraordinary charismatic gifts for decades to come.

The emergence of Pentecostalism at the beginning of the twentieth century would have a large impact on the theology of charismatic gifts. Pentecostalism was inspired by earlier movements such as the Wesleyan Holiness revival of the nineteenth century (Jones 2003: 726–729), the Keswick Higher Life Movement (1874–1878; Bundy 2003a: 820–821), and the Welsh Revival (1904–1905; Bundy 2003b: 1187–1188), and grew into a worldwide movement through the Azusa Street Revival (1906–1909) in Los Angeles, California led by William J. Seymour (1870–1922; Robeck 2003). The early Pentecostals understood themselves to be heirs of a promised, eschatological outpouring of the Spirit before the second coming of Christ (Althouse 2003: 9–60). The Azusa Street Revival helped popularize this view by enabling others to witness church members prophesying, speaking in tongues, and receiving other charismatic gifts (Charette 2006: 189). The primary context for receiving and operating in these charismatic gifts was the revival meeting and church service (Poloma 2007: 108).

In the Apostolic Faith publication of the Azusa Street Revival, Seymour taught that Spirit baptism was important for the fullness of the Christian life, transforming and orienting one’s affections toward Jesus Christ (Seymour 1906b). Seymour also claimed that many in his services received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues, enabling them to compare their own experiences to stories in the Bible (Seymour 1906a). Another article written by Florence Crawford, a ministry partner of Seymour, claims that charismatic gifts may have ceased for a time but had been restored as part of the renewal of the Church in the last days (Crawford 1907). Spirit baptism was presented as foundational for this renewal and outpouring of gifts (Seymour 1907). Though the early Pentecostals viewed the gift of tongues as ‘the “Bible evidence” of the baptism in the Holy Spirit’ (Owens 2001: 42), several later Pentecostal groups accepted the experience of other charismatic gifts as evidence for Spirit baptism, including the Elim Pentecostal churches, the Swiss Pentecostal mission, and the Chilean Pentecostal movement (Hollenweger 1972: 335).

In addition to emphasizing Spirit Baptism, Seymour and others at Azusa Street drew attention to the importance of Christian unity, racial reconciliation, and cross-cultural ministry (Robeck 1991: 100). All these goals were understood to be possible through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in tongues and other charismatic gifts. Many who came to Azusa Street were from the margins of society, representing diverse Christian traditions, ethnicities, social classes, and nationalities (Goff 1996: 171–172). For them, the experience of tongues and other charismatic gifts was liberating, giving them a new identity, unifying them with other Christians across all types of divisions, and inspiring them in their ministry to the world (Irvin 1995). While charismatic gifts served to build bridges within the Pentecostal community it also became important for the broader movement to carefully consider the relationship between gifting and power in order to work against exploitation of spiritual authority for control or personal gain (Kärkkäinen 2003: 883).

7 Charismatic gifts in contemporary global Christianity

7.1 Roman Catholicism

Two of the greatest theological influences on the contemporary Roman Catholic approach to charismatic gifts are the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (Hocken 2001: 212; Sullivan 1982: 14). Pope Paul VI, who presided over the majority of sessions at Vatican II had a broad understanding and appreciation of charismatic gifts as beneficial for laypersons, religious communities, and leaders in the Church (O’Connor 1978: 247). The participants at the council addressed many important questions about charismatic gifts. They affirmed that the ‘external, hierarchically structured’ Church is filled with ‘internal spiritual, and charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, thus forming one unified spiritual Kingdom’ (Murphy 1965: 123). It was understood that the unity of the Church evidenced the existence of both the hierarchical and charismatic gifts (Murphy 1965: 123–124; cf. de Monléon 1995: 8). Both the hierarchy and the laity are given charismatic gifts for the edification of the body of Christ and are complementary in the ministry of the Church (Murphy 1965: 136–137). In addition, the hierarchy and the laity are both participants in the royal priesthood as the messianic people of God, who share in Christ’s ministry to the world through charismatic gifts and other forms of empowerment from the Holy Spirit (Murphy 1965: 131–133).

The renewed theological interest in charismatic gifts articulated in the documents of Vatican II influenced many participants in the Catholic charismatic renewal such as Stephen B. Clark, Donald L. Gelpi, Peter Hocken, René Laurentin, Francis Martin, Ralph Martin, Kilian McDonnell, Léon Joseph Suenens, and Francis Aloysius Sullivan. Core principles of their work include the beliefs that: charismatic gifts are available to all Christians (Laurentin 1978: 7) as part of God’s normal activity in the ‘life of the church’ (Laurentin 1978: 7; McDonnell 1993: 30) to strengthen personal prayer and praise (Sullivan 1982: 145), and include those who had been excluded (Gelpi 1976: 99).

Charismatic gifts have a beneficial impact at all levels of ecclesial and lay life including the priesthood, religious life, marriage, and parenthood (Sullivan 1982: 80). Charismatic gifts also reflect aspects of the church’s catholicity through their ability to meet the diverse needs of different local communities (historically and geographically) as well as human physical and psychological needs (Laurentin 1978: 7–8; de Monléon 1995: 12). Charismatic gifts of ecclesial leaders and the laity are complementary, contributing jointly to the edification and unity of the ‘whole’ people of God (Suenens 1977: 45, 98–99; McDonnell 1993: 11). Love is the ‘fundamental principle’ of the charismatic community and the context for its communion and operation of gifts (de Monléon 1995: 28, 49; Suenens 1975: 38).

Charismatic gifts constitute a permanent ‘visible mission’ in the Church that is in ‘continuity with Pentecost’ (Suenens 1975: 39; McDonnell 1993: 9–10). Each charismatic gift is a ministerial expression of the Holy Spirit (McDonnell 1993: 10), empowering Christians to teach, witness, and ‘perform signs’ of God’s presence (Clark 1976: 132). The Holy Spirit provides renewal through human beings operating in charismatic gifts (Clark 1976: 132). The diversity of gifts invites the many members of the Church to find their own ministerial contributions to make to the body of Christ (McDonnell 1993: 11). Charismatic gifts can contribute to a personal understanding and practice of a calling (Suenens 1975: 84). Certain charismatic gifts are permanent vocations (Laurentin 1978: 10; Gelpi 1976: 29), such as consecrated celibacy (Suenens 1977: 43–44), the deaconate, the priesthood, and the episcopate (McDonnell 1993: 11; Suenens 1977: 100). In addition to permanent vocations involved with the administration of the Church, charismatic gifts impact worship ministries, prayer ministries, and teaching ministries (Laurentin 1978: 10) all of which contribute to the ‘day-to-day life’ of the Church (McDonnell 1993: 11).

The personal effects of the work of the Holy Spirit in charismatic gifts include joy, motivation in prayer and the study of scripture, consciousness of God’s power, improvement of the moral life, emotional healing, increase in love, and enabling of the intellect, affections, and psyche to cooperate with the Holy Spirit (Martin 1975: 91–92; Clark 1976: 110; de Monléon 1995: 12; Laurentin 1978: 8). In an outward sense, charismatic gifts manifest God’s action of changing the world (Clark 1976: 110).

7.2 Eastern Orthodoxy

The theology of charismatic gifts in contemporary Eastern Orthodox theology has been influenced less significantly by the charismatic renewal than contemporary Roman Catholic theology (Emmert 1976: 29; Stephanou 1978: 95). At the beginning of the charismatic renewal, various leaders in the Greek Orthodox Church adopted positions against the movement, though the continued existence of the charismata and acceptance of charismatic gifts as a normative part of the life of the Church had not been historically problematic, with the exception of the gift of tongues (Emmert 1976: 30, 40–41; Gillet 1961: 73).

As seen earlier in the writings of Symeon the New Theologian, charismatic gifts are understood in the Orthodox tradition to be received through the sacraments (baptism, chrismation, Eucharist, confession, anointing of the sick, ordination, and marriage). Water baptism and chrismation open the life of each believer to receive the many infillings of the Holy Spirit, which can come from prayer, praising God, and the Eucharist (Stephanou 1976a: 63–64). All the baptized have a ‘priestly nature’ and are ‘sealed’ with charismatic gifts with which they participate in the Eucharist as ‘living sacrifices’ (Rom 12:1; cf. Matt 10:17–42; Charalambidis 1988: 18). The clergy through ordination and the laity through chrismation ‘participate in the same priesthood of Christ with sacramental charisms that result from the functional diversity of the Church’ all of which is exercised for the salvation of the world (Charalambidis 1988: 29–30; cf. Meyendorff 1965: 24–26; Verghese 1968: 30–50).

The diverse charismatic gifts of the laity are complemented by the ‘charismatic diakonia’ of the episcopate, which brings unity through prophecy, teaching, and ‘offering of the Eucharist on behalf of the community’ (Charalambidis 1988: 25). The unity of the Church derives from the ‘Eucharistic assembly where all the gifts of the Spirit occur as the perfect realization of the Church as the Body of Christ […] “all in one mind and one thought” (1 Cor 1:10)’ (Charalambidis 1988: 17). Charismatic gifts have a unique relationship with the Eucharist: ‘The Eucharistic elements are bearers of the Holy Spirit, since Jesus Christ is full of the Holy Spirit and it is His function to send and infuse the Spirit and bestow this heavenly gift on those that seek it’ (Stephanou 1976a: 64).

There are numerous effects of the work of the Holy Spirit in charismatic gifts listed by Orthodox theologians. They help Christians ‘express love’ (Stephanou 1976a: 11), progress in ‘the state of prayer’ (Emmert 1976: 39), feel an assurance of salvation (Stephanou 1976a: 34–35), grow in obedience to God while experiencing Christ’s glory’ (Stephanou 1978: 87), serve God in living out the truths of the faith in ‘social and human relations’ (Charalambidis 1988: 163), and receive ‘cognitive illumination’, which brings a sense of certainty to theological truth (Stephanou 1975: 21). In sum, charismatic gifts help Christians to know the Triune God through deeper love, service, and Eucharistic communion (Charalambidis 1988: 161).

7.3 Charismatic renewal and neocharismaticism

The theology of charismatic gifts in contemporary Protestant theology has been shaped greatly by the charismatic renewal, which entered the mainline denominations around 1960 (Synan 2001b; Synan 2001c). Contributors to the charismatic renewal hail from a variety of denominational backgrounds and include figures such as Dennis Bennett, Richard Winkler, and Michael Harper (Anglican/Episcopalian), Harold Bredesen, Arnold Bittlinger, and Larry Christenson (Lutheran), Brick Bradford and J. Rodman Williams (Presbyterian), Tommy Tyson (Methodist), John Osteen (Baptist), and Gerald Derstine (Mennonite; Synan 2001b; Synan 2001c). The charismatic renewal embraced the gift of tongues and other charismatic gifts emphasized in the earlier Pentecostal movement, though it distanced itself theologically from the Pentecostal understanding of Spirit baptism as subsequent to water baptism (Synan 1997: 254–255). The movement tended to view Spirit baptism as a ‘release’ or ‘actualization’ of the ‘grace given and received at baptism’ often accompanied by the gift of tongues (Synan 1997: 254).

Several of the important themes from earlier historical periods resurfaced in contemporary Protestant theologies of charismatic gifts. Principally, this can be seen in charismatic theologians from Anglican/Episcopalian and Lutheran traditions, who view charismatic gifts in relation to baptism and other sacraments (Bennett 1975; Christenson 1968; Christenson 1987; Bittlinger 1967; Harper 1979). These theologians maintain the christological emphasis of Reformation theology, associating the work of Christ with the work of the Spirit in charismatic gifts (Bennett 1975: 16; Bennett 1971: 78–79; Williams 1996: 328–329 [vol.2]). They also maintain the corporate emphasis that charismatic gifts are to be exercised by all the members of the church body for its edification (Bennett 1971: 79; cf. Christenson 1968: 124; Bittlinger 1967: 21). One of the results of the charismatic work of the Holy Spirit is a broadening of the ministry of the church to include lay participation as well as clerical participation (Harper 1979: 71–74). Charismatic gifts also produce personal benefit, change, and spiritual growth in their recipients, and tongues in particular is useful for private devotions (Bennett 1971: 72–79, 109).

Another influence on the theology of charismatic gifts in contemporary Protestant theology is the ‘neocharismatic’ movement, which adopted many of the charismatic experiences of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, but placed less emphasis on the gift of tongues (Barrett 2001: 396–397; Burgess 2002: 928; Synan 1997: 271–274). Many participants in the neocharismatic movement were evangelicals unrelated to the Pentecostal and charismatic movements and members of post-denominational and indigenous churches in Africa, Asia, and South America (Barrett 2001: 396; Burgess 2002: 928). Among the numerous neocharismatic approaches, an emphasis on practicing charismatic gifts ‘anywhere and anytime’ such as ‘in the streets, marketplace, home, and […] in the church’ is noteworthy (Wimber 1991: 147–159). This perspective moves the use of charismatic gifts beyond the spheres of church life and personal spiritualty into places of interaction with non-Christians in the world.

In Latin American contexts, this theology is expressed in social justice advocacy through which charismatic gifts operate in the local community to create hope for the poor, comfort and support for those without power, and opposition to the exercise of power over others when it is unjust (Álvarez 2018: 120). In these ministries, the Spirit is understood to support each gifted person in standing against what is evil in their community and working for ‘true transformation in society’ (Álvarez 2018: 120). This search for deep and meaningful transformation for all in society leads the Church to use charismatic gifts ‘holistically’ and ‘denounce those individual and structural sins that distorts the image of God for humanity’ (Álvarez 2020: 307; cf. Campos 2004). In this way, the power for changing the broken systems and practices of society is present in the Church through the gifts of Spirit and reflect God’s redemptive work in the world.

Similarly, the desire for social transformation through the Spirit’s work is present in Asian Christian communities who view charismatic gifts as a source of hope, unity, and inspiration for indigenous churches; particularly, in finding local expressions of ecclesial community free of Western organizational influences (Inouye 2018: 86–118). These gifts provide opportunities for empowerment and participation in leadership for a wider range of members in local churches, including women (Inouye 2018: 119–156; Hong 2003: 206). Charismatic gifts also serve an important part of leadership development and empowerment in local churches and cell groups (Myung 2003: 128–129).

This passion for empowering leaders is also emphasized by African neocharismatic groups who identity the Spirit’s gifting of every believer as vital for healthy Christian ministry and charismatic gifts as foundational to the ecclesiology of independent churches (Asamoah-Gyadu 2004: 97). This is seen in the inclusion of gifted youth in the ministry of the church and youth gospel music groups in renewal movements (Asamoah-Gyadu 2004: 107). The empowerment with charismatic gifts and important role of ordinary people in independent churches and movements is essential to their growth and flourishing (Asamoah-Gyadu 2004: 238–239). Conversely, a major challenge to healthy Christian ministry in these contexts is the exploitation of charismatic language by authoritarian leaders claiming to possess unique gifts (central to their own wealth and influence), which are disconnected from the needs of the church and local community (Wariboko 2014: 234, 293).

8 Theology of charismatic gifts: contemporary trends

Contemporary approaches to charismatic gifts exhibit a rethinking of theological language in light of pneumatology and ecumenical engagement (Dodson 2011: 57–67). This can be seen in the work of Miroslav Volf (Macchia 2006: 25; Yong 2005: 28). According to Volf, charismatic gifts can be expressed in a wide range of activities related to ministry and vocational calling (1991: 111–113). As Christians are called to respond to specific needs in their communities and serve in a variety of places over the course of their lives the Spirit empowers them with different charismatic gifts (1994: 38–39; cf. 1998: 233). The purpose of charismatic gifts is to inspire and enable Christians to participate in what God is doing in their lives and surrounding communities (1991: 113–114).

The impact of charismatic gifts extends beyond the church into the world in the lives of both Christians and non-Christians (Volf 1991: 111; 1994: 184). Scriptural examples of this include the gift of evangelism (Eph 4:11), bringing the gospel to non-Christians and the gift of giving (Rom 12:8), meeting the needs of the poor (Christians and non-Christians alike; 1991: 111; 1994: 184). The Spirit’s work through charismatic gifts reflects the values of the new creation and is present in human thought, work, art, rest, and worship, drawing human beings into partnership with God’s eschatological transformation of the world (1991: 113–114; Volf 1994: 39–40, 45). Charismatic gifts also have the capacity to establish mutuality and healthy interdependence in human relationships, reflecting the ‘reciprocal’ and ‘symmetrical’ relationships within the trinitarian life of God (1998: 236, 239, 247).

Similar to Volf, Frank Macchia views charismatic gifts as spiritually and socially transformative, however he locates their grounding in the experience of Spirit baptism (Macchia 2006: 146). This is a crucial principle in Macchia’s theology, which connects giftedness with greater awareness of and participation in divine love (the core of Spirit baptism and spiritual transformation; 2006: 60). The effects of these experiences and gifts of the Spirit extend beyond the individual into the broader community and world (including creation itself; 2006: 60). Macchia writes: ‘ultimate justification in new creation is foreshadowed in a variety of ways in the Church through a broad diversity of gifts that function as channels of the Spirit to sanctify and empower the people of God’ (2000a: 19). Such gifts are a ‘foretaste of justified existence’ providing ‘transformed lives’, ‘justice’, and ‘reconciliation’ during the time leading up to the eschaton (Macchia 2001: 215).

Charismatic gifts can also serve as vehicles for ecumenical cooperation in ministry. Macchia writes, ‘We might even discover that every church tradition is gifted in unique ways toward the edification of the church catholic, discovering perhaps that gifts of grace are not even confined to the universal church’ (2000b: 29). He states further:

If we can all function as gifts of Christ to each other across the deep divisions that separate us, we might begin to understand together what Paul meant when he said that […] [a]ll belongs to us because we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God. (Macchia 2003: 6)

The different Christian communities in the world have been gifted by the Spirit ‘to channel together the diverse ministry of the charismatic Christ in the world’ (Macchia 2000b: 29).

In a similar vein to Macchia, Daniela Augustine identifies the value of charismatic gifts for unity within the great diversity of the church. She writes, ‘the Spirit celebrates, sustains, and gardens the diversity of different persons within the charismatic singularity of the Son’s Body, making possible its simultaneous oneness and catholicity’ (Augustine 2012: 27). This language of the Spirit at work in the ‘body’ reinforces the Pauline understanding of unity and giftedness in the church (see Rom 12:3–8; 1 Cor 12:4–30; Eph 4:10–13). This is explained further:

[T]he Spirit is expressed in His building the bonds of the charismatic koinonia [...] His therapeutic presence deconstructs stereotypes and walls of divisions across gender, class, ethnicity, and language divides and ministers healing and wholeness to individuals and communities […] The charismatic gift unites the material and spiritual dimensions of existence […] It manifests the Church as the new creation in which heaven and earth are reunited in the life of the Triune God. (Augustine 2012: 36)

Charismatic gifts are not only expressed in unifying human interpersonal relationships but they also reflect more deeply ‘the union of the redeemed creation with its Creator’ (Augustine 2012: 37). The gifts offer an experience of the ‘eschatological fullness of Christ in His Body’ and ‘the presence and self-sharing of God in His Spirit’ (2012: 37). This is especially the case with the gift of hospitality, which is an ‘expression of the charismatic presence of God in and with His people on earth’ (Augustine 2012: 45). Through ‘self-sharing hospitality’ Christians can offer ‘an extension of God’s welcoming the other expressed in bearing forth the fruit of the Spirit’ (Gal 5:22–23; 2012: 96).

Amos Yong further explores the idea of God welcoming the other (Dodson 2013). He concludes that the outpouring of the Spirit on humanity at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–21) creates many contexts and ways for charismatic gifts to infuse Christian communities, transforming their power dynamics and patterns of relating; particularly, in their connection with those at the margins. Yong writes: ‘the “weak” and the oppressed are not only recipients of divine favor, but are also, precisely through endowment of the gifts of the Spirit, instruments of God’s activity in and for the world’ (Yong 2005: 19–20). God works prophetically through the lives of those who have been marginalized, pouring out charismatic gifts through them (2007: 218–225) and ‘enact[ing] righteousness, justice, and peace’ (2005: 21).

Because Christians at the margins of the Church and non-Christians are sometimes present in contexts where charismatic gifts are in operation, the Spirit creates space through such charismatic activity for these individuals to be ‘drawn into the saving work of God in Christ’ (Yong 2008: 62–63). In contemporary ‘post-Christendom’ and the ‘postmodern world’ charismatic gifts take on a ‘multiplicity of forms’ to meet the needs of others, while sharing the good news of Christ in the world (2008: 64). The diverse charismatic gifts of the Spirit make interfaith dialogue and hospitality possible (2008: 65). As Christians practice their faith in a pluralistic world their interactions with people from other faith traditions and non-religious backgrounds become opportunities not only to extend hospitality according to the gifts of Spirit but also to receive hospitality and gifts from others (2008: 107). Todd Miles voices concern about Yong’s approach to interreligious hospitality claiming that the economy of the Spirit should not be seen as distinct from the economy of the Son (Miles 2010: 233). Yong responds to this concern in his frequent affirmation of the principle of perichoresis (mutual indwelling). The many charismatic gifts of the Spirit empower human beings to conduct ‘hospitable practice’ because they reflect the perichoretic hospitality of the Triune God (Yong 2008: 107). Yong writes: ‘the practices of hospitality – of being hosts as well as guests – become the concrete modalities through which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are poured out on all flesh’ (2008: 134) and thus ‘as guests and hosts we can also be instruments of the hospitable God for the reconciliation, healing, and redemption of the world’ (2008: 160).

9 Conclusion

Several unique theological emphases have emerged from the discussion in this article, including: renewal in ministerial offices and sacramental life through charismatic gifts (patristic, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions); enriched preaching and interpretation of scripture through charismatic gifts (Reformation Protestant traditions); deeper experience of communal ministry and worship through charismatic gifts (Pentecostal and charismatic traditions); greater empowerment of the marginalized in confronting injustice through charismatic gifts (global neocharismatic traditions); and fuller engagement with those outside the church through charismatic gifts (contemporary theological trends). In addition, several theological tensions have emerged such as the rejection of ‘supernatural’ charismatic gifts by cessationists in the early modern period and the movement away from hierarchical and ecclesial models for understanding charismatic gifts in contemporary theology toward more polycentric and relational models. One overarching theme that the various theologies of charismatic gifts share across Christian traditions is the Pauline belief in the body of Christ united in diversity through the gifting of the Spirit. This fundamental truth about the nature of charismatic gifts provides the key for understanding how Christians can serve one another in local churches, across Christian traditions, and in the world.


Copyright Jacob Dodson ORCID logo, Amos Yong (CC BY-NC)


  • Further reading

    • Aker, Benny C. 2002. ‘Charismata: Gifts, Enablements, or Ministries?’, Journal of Pentecostal Theology 11, no. 1: 53–69.
    • Bloesch, Donald. 2000. The Holy Spirit: Works and Gifts. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
    • Njiru, Paul Kariuki. 2002. Charisms and the Holy Spirit’s Activity in the Body of Christ: An Exegetical-Theological Study of 1 Corinthians 12,4–11 and Romans 12,6–8. Roma: Editrice Pontificia Universita Gregoriana.
    • Palma, Anthony D. 1979. ‘Spiritual Gifts – Basic Considerations’, Pneuma 1, no. 2: 3–26.
    • Suurmond, Jean Jacques. 1990. ‘The Meaning and Purpose of Spirit-Baptism and the Charisms’, EPTA Bulletin 9, no. 4: 96–130.
    • Suurmond, Jean Jacques. 1998. ‘A Fresh Look at Spirit-Baptism and the Charisms’, Expository Times 109, no. 4: 103–106.
    • Turner, Max. 2005. The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: In the New Testament Church and Today. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. Revised.
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