UCG and “Gifts of the Spirit”

Do spiritual gifts come in a box?

Scott Ashley presented the first keynote of the 2013 General Conference of Elders titled “Edifying the Body Through Spiritual Gifts.”

Mr. Ashley stated that Dennis and LeeAnn Luker are partly responsible for this topic being discussed…. Mr. Ashley wrote a detailed study paper on the topic….

Section 3.2 of the UCG Constitution actually mentions spiritual gifts as an important aspect of the role of the Church of God. The Church’s efforts aren’t just the efforts of the ministry, the home office or the Council of Elders, but what every member supplies to the work of God.

He said that the Bible is clear that members of God’s Church should be desiring spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31). Not everyone has the same gifts, but God’s people are given gifts so that they may serve in different roles and fulfill necessary and profitable tasks for the Church.

~ “GCE 2013: Scott Ashley Illuminates Spiritual Gifts“, United Church of God, United News, May – June 2013

I recently was forwarded a copy of a “Spiritual Gifts Assessment“, and I’m making it available for viewing, but only as evidence of what is going on and not because I want you to get involved in Satan’s ploy to distract people from what they should be doing.  It is a handout that was passed out in some UCG congregations.  It is apparently used to try to determine your “spiritual gifts”.  To say this is concerning is quite the understatement!

Where does this sort of notion come from?  Is it biblical?  Is it godly?  I’m going to come out and say this is ungodly!  UCG seems determined to see how close it can get to evangelical without actually becoming so, just as a moth gets as close as possible to a flame without becoming burned.  Of course, the result is almost never good.

Not all in UCG are so blind, however.  One speaker gave a sermon warning of this path.  Unfortunately, it seems that it was revised at least once and then taken down.  Did someone at UCG HQ complain?  I have my suspicions.

It should be clear that the origins of this “doctrine” is in Pentecostalism.  It is also clear that it has morphed, been toned down and is now infecting various mainstream churches.  The Lutheran Missouri Synod did a study of this back on 1994, partly as a result of concerns over doing inventories trying to assess one’s spiritual gifts.  Here is what they have to say on this:

The concern for Christians to discover and develop their spiritual gifts appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon. C. Peter Wagner refers to it as a “new thing.” Historically the emphasis on spiritual gifts coincides with the rise of two important theological and ecclesiastical movements in the latter half of the 20th century. Both of these movements strongly advocated the need for a renewal of the church and identified spiritual gifts as one of the keys to the church’s renewal.

The first movement that helped create and contribute to the current interest in spiritual gifts was the Pentecostal movement, out of which arose the neo-Pentecostal or charismatic movement. The latter has proven to be more of an interdenominational movement than the former. During the 1960s and 1970s the neo-Pentecostal movement found its way into many of the mainstream Christian denominations such as Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Presbyterianism. Reflecting on the characteristics of these movements, Wagner has observed that “the most prominent facet of this new experience of the Holy Spirit is spiritual gifts.” According to his research, the bulk of the literature on spiritual gifts has appeared since 1970. In fact, he contends, more has been written on this subject since 1970. In fact, he contends, more has been written on this subject since World War II than during the previous 1,945 years put together. Generally speaking, the neo-Pentecostal and charismatic movements have focused largely on the so-called miraculous or “sign” gifts, especially glossolalia (speaking in tongues), healing, and miraculous powers. These have been discussed in two previous CTCR reports.

The second movement that has contributed to an intense interest in the subject of spiritual gifts—although for slightly different reasons—is the so-called Church Growth Movement, which many identify as having originated in its contemporary form at Fuller Seminary, California. Unlike those involved in neo-Pentecostalism, the advocates of the Church Growth Movement tend not to focus on the so-called “sign” gifts. They emphasize instead the less spectacular gifts listed in the Bible. Also unlike neo-Pentecostalists, who stress a distinct second experience of the Spirit manifested by gifts, proponents of the Church Growth Movement assume that certain gifts have already been given to all Christians at some point in time. They maintain that every Christian possesses at least one gift and that many have several gifts in varying numbers, degrees, and variations. This is the basis for the belief that if the church can mobilize its people to discover, develop, and use their particular gift(s), it cannot help but grow in numbers and vitality.

It is the Church Growth Movement that has given rise to the development and use of spiritual gift inventories. These are instruments designed to aid the church in discovering and implementing the spiritual gifts of its members….

~ “Spiritual Gifts“, Lutheran Missouri Synod, 1994

As I’ve stated before, my mother was raised a “holy roller”, and much of that side of the family still has a charismatic bent.  Speaking in tongues at church or “praying” is a way of life for them, and it is supposed to be a “gift of the spirit”!  Yeah, well, it might be a spirit alright, but not necessarily the spirit they are looking for!

The evangelical version certainly is stripped down and presumably not as dangerous, but in the end, is it right?  Seriously, did the apostles sit down and “inventory their gifts”?  Are even most of the “gifts” they are talking about anything more than natural talents?

David Register apparently had gotten wind of this sort of thing going on, and he gave a sermon on “Gifts of the spirit” that is as of this writing still online.  If you have any doubt about what I’m writing, I urge you to give it a listen.

There is one area, however, that he gets it a bit wrong.  Notice 1 Corinthians 12:1:

12 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

If you will notice, I pulled that from the AV online rather than the public domain KJV.  Bible Gateway online makes no alterations to their texts — not even the public domain KJV.  I dunno.  It sounds silly to me, but they don’t, in spite of one or two obvious errors.  Another thing about the public domain KJV is that the italics are missing.  Notice that “gifts” is italicized!  That means the KJV translators added the word “gifts” to that verse!

In fact, if you do a word search on BibleGateway.com for “spiritual gifts” in the AV, all of the verses return with “gifts” italicized!

So, what is a “spiritual gift” then?

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.

Ep 2:8-9 (AV)

14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.

1Ti 4:14 (AV)

23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Ro 6:23 (AV)

Notice these gifts!  Grace is a gift.  The Holy Spirit itself is a gift.  And, of course, you cannot be saved without the Holy Spirit, so salvation and eternal life is a gift!

Are there spiritual gifts then?  Sure!  However, all of them have to do with organizing, exhorting and supplying needs for one another.

So, should we be doing an assessment for these gifts then?  No!

28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? 30 have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

1Co 12:28-31 (AV)

Then, Paul launches into the “Love Chapter”, doesn’t he?  Instead of trying to build up some sort of supposed gift, a “better way” is to cultivate love!

No, it isn’t “gifts of the spirit” we should be looking for, but Fruits of the Spirit!



  1. It is good that you have highlighted a potential trap that UCG could fall into. However, to me it is still unclear what direction they are going to take. The plan seems to go back to the COE meeting on 27 February 2013 (http://coe.ucg.org/council-report/council-elders-meeting-report-february-27-2013-2013-03-01) where spiritual gifts were discussed at length. The discussion clearly identified that talents are not the same as gifts.

    My experience in both WCG and UCG is that ministers are often control freaks unwilling or unable to delegate and utilize the member talent pool. Happy to delegate the dirty low jobs like hall set up, but not really involve members in meatier roles. I have experienced this first hand myself. Also I have heard first hand from others where taking initiative was equated with the rebellion against authority. The story of Korah’s rebellion often quoted. It seems the eleventh commandment is “Thou shall not take initiative”.

    My hope is that UCG is genuine in wanting to develop its member talent pool. However I see some of the ministry as blockers to this.
    In the meantime I will watch with interest this development. Only time will tell if this is the trap of Pentecostalism.

    • Watcher wrote: “The discussion clearly identified that talents are not the same as gifts.”

      No, they are not, but people have often confused them. That handout makes it seem like they really don’t know the difference, if that is going to be their guide.

      I agree that none of the churches have done a very good job in the past at tapping the talent pool, but I do see signs of that changing. Many of the articles on LH&T, for example, are written by members rather than ministers. If UCG starts doing the same, I’m all for that, but again talents are not spiritual gifts. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Holy Spirit won’t enhance a natural ability, just as apparently was the case with Bezalel in working with the Tabernacle.

      For the record, I will stress that I doubt UCG is going Pentecostal, but it seems like they could gravitate to the evangelical notion of the gifts of the Spirit, which is still based upon the same idea if not as dramatic.

  2. It seems to me that the need to survey member talents and abilities in itself shows one of the key problems in the church. The ministry don’t know their congregations.

    Also in relation to spiritual gifts, are humans really able to assess these? The end time false prophet exhibits spiritual signs. However the source of these signs is Satan, not God. Yet the Bible warns that the very elect could be fooled by these.

    I think we need to assess our talents and abilities and work out ways to use these through the application of the Holy Spirit. That is, how do we use them in love? If the UCG ministry can assist people to do this it will be good. But it is clearly an area fraught with potential traps if not handled properly.

    • @Watcher: I thnk we’re on the same page. Keep in mind, though, that the handout was specifically for, and the continuing COE dialog is about, “spiritual gifts”, not abilities or talent. I don’t have nearly the problem with the latter as with the former.

      Also, something that gets overlooked in a lot of assessments (and businesses seem to engage in far too many of these sorts of things) is that people generally don’t know what they are good at or what their abilities are until they get up and try them. In general, people don’t like to get outside of their comfort zones, but God gives people many talents in varying degrees, and He expects each of us to use them to His glory.

      None of us want to be the person with one talent, if you don’t mind the pun. I’ve often wondered if the only reason he received the one talent was because he never took the time to learn the skills to handle more (and even then, he didn’t handle his one!).

  3. Hi John,
    Thank you for your post on this. Fwiw, I agree with the concerns posted here. I think you hit the nail on the head by quoting the following scripture:

    “But “covet” earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”

    It does not require surveys and inventories for people to be allowed to serve, and frankly, a lot of these things are things that should be able to be handled at the local level without major involvement from the Home Office and COE. Frankly, this sounds like another idea of trying to figure out how to grow the church that actually stands in contravention to the principles of properly discerning the Lord’s Body (i.e., application.)

    It seems that whenever the approach of trying to inventory spiritual gifts has been adopted, it has led to strife, conflict, competition – a lack of orderliness and a lack of consideration and outgoing concern for others. In other words, fruits of “covet”eousness. Ezekiel 33:31.