Fundamental Belief Number 17 (Spiritual Gifts and Ministries)

God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts which that each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy, proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation, compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic, and teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity, and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of God’s varied grace, the church is protected from the destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth that is from God, and is built up in faith and love. (Acts 6:1-7; Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)  (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:9-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)

The changes in San Antonio were very minor. The change from “which” to “that” was editorial for the sake of current English usage. “Apostolic” was dropped because it was felt to be unclear to most readers without definition or elaboration. As with the other FBs, the Bible texts at the close have been re-arranged.

The wider Christian Church basically ignored the spiritual gifts for centuries, so it is not surprising that other Christians criticized Ellen White and the Adventist Church for receiving and promoting the gift of prophecy. Adventists themselves, on the other hand, basically ignored all the other gifts, emphasizing only the gift of prophecy. Now the pendulum is swinging the other way in both contexts. Evangelical churches are much more open to spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy, and Adventists are emphasizing the broader panoply of gifts, although prophecy still has pride of place (Fundamental 18). So the very existence of this fundamental is an advance and an expansion on the original Adventist tendency to emphasize only the gift of prophecy.

It is interesting that the church’s practice in regard to women in ministry is not entirely in line with this fundamental. There is no gender language at all in the statement, in implying that the gifts of the Spirit are equally available to all. Yet many parts of the church question whether some of these gifts are available to women or at least whether we are allowed to publically recognize that these gifts are available to women. If the Spirit called another Ellen White today, many in the church would probably reject her for the very same reasons that they reject the ordination of women.

The statement makes no reference at all to speaking in tongues. One might have expected a negative reference, but there is none. Speaking in tongues is not encouraged by the church but is not forbidden either. In practice members can speak in tongues as long as they do so privately and do not make it a public issue. When speaking in tongues goes public in the Adventist Church it leads to unnecessary division, but it is not forbidden in principle. In many ways, speaking in tongues is like keeping the feast days of the Old Testament. It is permissible under some circumstances, but must not be mandated.

This fundamental is particularly important for the work of Loma Linda University.  The purpose of the School of Religion at Loma Linda is not generally the training of ministers, but the training of laity for ministry. And the spiritual gifts provide the biblical basis for such a mission (note the wording “all members of the church”). It is interesting that the statement moves from a focus on general gifts that all might exercise in behalf of everyone else to a more narrow focus on the kinds of gifts more typical of clergy.

Interesting question. Can non-Christians have spiritual gifts and in fact be part of the body of Christ even though they don’t know His name? John 1:9 indicates that the light of Christ to some degree enlightens every human being (see also Acts 14:14-17 and 17:26-28). So there is a healthy tension between what God is doing in the church and what He is doing through the Holy Spirit more broadly in the world. I have found in dialogue with non-Christians that a lot of spiritual learning can take place in both directions. There is mutual transformation when open hearts encounter each other. The Spirit is the agent of transformation among Christians, but also is present wherever genuine inter-religious dialogue occurs. The Holy Spirit can use people from very different backgrounds to change us.

Loma Linda is a place where people of other faiths, including non-Christian faiths, have found common cause with Adventists in the mission of continuing the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus in today’s world. The Hebrew of Malachi 1:11 affirms that people ignorant of the biblical God may yet offer acceptable worship to Him from a sincere heart. At Loma Linda we have often experienced this. So I have suggested a unique Loma Linda application of this belief. I can say to non-Christians, “If God brought you here (to Loma Linda), you belong here and you are called to contribute to the unique mission of Loma Linda University Health. If God called you here you have something we need.” So even non-Christians can have a role in training laity for ministry. That’s the way the Spirit works.

A final observation. All the Bible texts for this fundamental come from the New Testament. This pattern has been increasingly the case as we move through the fundamental beliefs. One wonders what that says about the value that is placed on the Old Testament in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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