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Empowered to Serve: an interview with French L. Arrington

PR: Do you think that the use of spiritual gifts is on the decline in North America? The rest of the world?

Arrington:The emphasis on gifts does not seem to have declined, but the gifts themselves have declined, at least in a number of churches that I have observed. I think a survey of popular Pentecostal/charismatic materials will support this. The Third Wave movement is expanding and these groups (Vineyard and others) have a strong emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit, but whether this emphasis has resulted in an increase in spiritual gifts is debatable.

There is a lack of the manifestation of the gifts in their diversity. What we see is the operation of certain gifts among a few believers in congregations. The rich diversity of spiritual gifts do not seem to be flourishing among God’s people. The reasons for this are many: materialism, institutionalization, and the contemporary view of diversity, which has a way “flattening out” experiences and differences. No one is distinctly different. At least one’s distinct differences no longer matter. This mindset does not create a church environment in which a large variety of spiritual gifts is celebrated and can thrive.

I should also state that the decline of spiritual gifts corresponds to the decline of prayer and worship. Too much emphasis has been placed on a few gifted leaders rather than on a gifted congregation praying and ministering. The need is to reclaim the historic Pentecostal experience. The Brownville revival and others have emphasized Spirit baptism and the gifts of the Spirit. But for the most part, we are still comfortable. Comfort breeds complacency and lessens our felt need for the supernatural. I am convinced there will be no sustained revival of Spirit baptism and gifts of the Spirit until we see large numbers of God’s people praying.

PR: What do you think would be a good posture for the church’s anticipation of the return of Christ?

Arrington: The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the twentieth century restored a sense that God was at work in history. This outpouring confirmed to Pentecostals and charismatics the belief that they were living in the last days and that Christ could return at any time. The anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ gave rise to speculation, which has not served the church well. Many of the early Pentecostals were excited about the return of Christ and grasped the urgency of evangelism in light of the Second Coming. Their excitement and enthusiasm have waned. They have become more affluent and feel comfortable in their homes on the earth.

But the Pentecostal church began as a radical counter-culture movement that was uncomfortable in this world. Those believers saw the Second Coming as delivering them from this fallen world. In short, the dual effect of acculturation to life in this world and the pressure to be tolerant of what had been intolerable in the past blunted the church’s sense of tension between this world and the world to come. The posture the church should take is to reclaim the vision of that city whose builder is God and the sense that God is moving history and the church toward the Second Coming. This posture should include a Christian lifestyle of evangelism and social ministry.

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Summer 2004

About the Author: French L. Arrington, Ph.D., has served as a pastor, was on the faculty of Lee University for seventeen years, and was on the faculty of the Church of God Theological Seminary (now Pentecostal Theological Seminary, from 1981-2002) until his retirement. A respected lecturer and Pentecostal educator, he is the author of numerous books and articles including being a general editor of the Life in the Spirit New Testament Commentary and author of Encountering the Holy Spirit: Paths of Christian Growth and Service.

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