“Gifts of the Spirit,” Church History Topics
“Gifts of the Spirit”
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ promised His disciples that “signs shall follow them that believe,” including casting out devils, speaking “with new tongues,” and healing the sick.1 By the early 1800s, however, many Christians debated whether such miracles had been intended only as signs for the authority of the ancient Apostles or if they followed believers in any age. Christians who believe the gifts ended with the Apostles are often called “cessationist,” while those who believe these gifts continue are called “charismatic.” Early Latter-day Saints, believing in the Book of Mormon message that the “day of miracles” had not ceased,2 were charismatic: they sought for and expressed the gifts of the Spirit in a variety of ways.
The Saints soon learned, however, that not all charismatic displays came from God. When Joseph Smith came to Kirtland from New York in 1831, he witnessed meetings filled with charismatic behavior and became concerned over how to distinguish authentic spiritual gifts from other displays.3 Through revelations given to the Prophet, the Saints learned that false spirits could deceive individuals who sought spiritual manifestations for their own sake and that gifts should be used to serve and to edify.4 The Lord also clarified that those ordained to “watch over the Church” would have the gift to discern whether the exercise of certain gifts was from God.5 Church leaders continued to counsel with each other and the Saints about the purpose and proper use of spiritual gifts.6
The ways spiritual gifts have been manifested within the Church has varied over time. For example, in the 19th century, speaking in and interpreting unknown tongues in Church meetings was common. Later, Church members experienced the gift of tongues primarily as divine aid given to missionaries to help them preach the gospel in foreign languages.7 Latter-day Saints today continue to enjoy the gifts offered to Christ’s disciples, affirming that the day of miracles has not passed.