A few thoughts on a couple of questions relating to the charismata (‘spiritual gifts’):-
1. How many charismata?
It is unreasonable to suppose that the lists of gifts mentioned in Scripture are exhaustive. It is, however, reasonable to suppose that these lists are indicative. In other words, it is reasonable to say that ‘there are probably more than 15 charismata’, but less reasonable to inflate that number to as many as 150 or even 500.
One can readily think of charismata that might have been included in the biblical lists, but for some reason were not (e.g. intercessory prayer, casting out demons). Moroever, one can easily think of multiple manifestations of some of the gifts that are listed (e.g. helps and serving).
The fact that the biblical lists vary, together with the notion that they are not exhaustive, suggest that it may not be God’s will that all gifts should be manifested in all local churches at all times. However, if we take Rom 12:6-8…
…we would readily agree that 2-7 are universally needed. On what ground then would we suggest that 1 (prophecy) was not universally needed?
2. Under what conditions might God sovereignly bestow, or withhold, certain charismata?
(a) Critical moments. The bestowal of miraculous gifts seems to be centred on key moments in redemptive history; in particular, of course, the redemptive work of Christ himself. This is not the same as linking them exclusively with the revelatory role of the apostles, which is the big mistake of the cessationists. But if the ‘sign-gifts’ are linked with certain critical moments, they might be expected to be less apparent, or even absent, at some other times. After all, miracles are almost by definition unusual events. Such gifts might be expected to make a significant ‘comeback’ in the build-up to the restoration of all things (assuming, for example, that the meaning of Joel 2:28-32 was not exhausted at Pentecost).
(b) Specific need. Particular gifts might be given at times of special need. For example, the appeal of the disciples in Acts 4:30 seems to be based on pure need.
I often think of the words of Bridge & Phypers, dating from the 1970s but still relevant now:-
‘Times of special need’ would include especially times of advancement and opposition, and this thought suggests the cyclical nature of spiritual empowerment that can be seen in the history of revivals.
(c) Expectations. “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” If we do not expect, we do not ask; and if we do not ask we cannot expect to receive. Expectation is related to teaching: if people are not taught about the charismata, they are not likely to expect them.
(d) Divine sovereignty. Any other reasons, known to God himself but not disclosed to us. God gives (or withholds), ‘just as he determines’, 1 Cor 12:11. They are distributed (or not, as the case may be) ‘according to his will’, Heb 2:4. “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.”