I have been reading Dallas Willard’s book the Great Omission recently (book review to follow shortly), which is largely about spiritual formation. Although I don’t think he classes himself a charismatic, a brief comment on the gifts of the Spirit in one of his chapters got me thinking about the relationship between spiritual gifts and spiritual disciplines.
Spiritual formation – the process of our character being transformed to be more like Jesus – is brought into effect by spiritual disciplines and spiritual gifts.
Spiritual disciplines are those things we do to promote growth to Christian maturity in our own lives. This include such things as Scripture memorisation and meditation, private prayer and worship, and Dallas Willard would add things such as fasting, solitude, silence, frugality (exercises which are not often emphasised in charismatic circles for various reasons – often because they are thought too ascetic or legalistic).
Spiritual gifts are those things we do to promote growth to Christian maturity in the lives of others. As Paul makes abundantly clear in 1 Cor 12-14, the gifts are primarily for edification (building others up). Their purpose is not to show how spiritual we are, or even to give us self-esteem because we are being “used”, but to promote growth in one another.
So we could say that spiritual gifts and spiritual disciplines are two means to the same end. But they are not alternatives, as though the charismatics can choose the gifts path to holiness and the “emerging church” types can choose the disciplines path. We cannot become more like Jesus in isolation from his body (the church), but neither can we expect to grow in Christlikeness if we ignore our personal devotional lives and rely solely on input from others in meetings. The two must go hand in hand or we will remain spiritually immature.