Jesus promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit to be The Comforter, the Helper, the Equipper of the saints and that He would draw people to Christ. The Charismatic gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon believers in Jesus are mentioned frequently in the New Testament and are enumerated in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1Co 12:3-11) These manifestations are other than natural or normally occurring phenomenon. They are intended to be signs which glorify God and draw people to Him. That is why they are referred to as the sign gifts.
Sadly, these gifts continue to stimulate controversy and division in the body of Christ.
Some contend that the functioning of these gifts has ceased after the Apostolic age and that the purpose of signs and wonders was to validate the message of the Apostles. Those who teach this are referred to as cessationists. There is not a strong scriptural basis for this position. The common reference they use is in 1Corinthians chapter 13, verses 8-10, “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1Co 13:8-10). For the cessationist, “the perfect” is the canon of scripture and the closing of the canon would make the gifts unnecessary. This is a weak argument because “the perfect” is correctly the second coming of Christ, for as we continue reading we see that “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1Co 13:12) Seeing “face to face” and knowing fully can only happen when Christ returns. Knowledge most certainly has not passed away with the close of the New Testament.
The most frequently cited proponent of cessation theology was professor Warfield of Princeton University who wrote Counterfeit Miracles. His argument is built primarily on the idea that there is a lack of evidence for true miracles after the first century (he considers any reports after the first century to be fake) and on his logic that such miracles are unnecessary to the building of God’s Kingdom. In Renewal Theology professor Wiliams of Regent University successfully refutes Warfield’s logic and lack of evidence, pointing to the writings of church historians Justin Martyr and Ireneaus recording numerous miracles after the first century.[i] Professor Wayne Grudem, Trinity University, also provides a detailed apologetic for the continuation of signs, wonders and miracles in his Systematic Theology. [ii]
Division in the body occurs when cessationists accuse those who experience the gifts or report miracles of being fake, insincere, unsaved or demonically inspired. Such accusations inflict deep wounds. Remember, that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. To be sure, there is abuse that occurs with those who seek to exercise the gifts and there is an abundance of fakery, especially with television evangelists. This abuse and false testimony must be addressed and dealt with. I will discuss this at length later.
First, let’s deal with the concept of cessation from a biblical standpoint. The writings of the New Testament were in regular use from the first century on and most, if not all, were recognized as being inspired by the Holy Spirit. They all had a consistent message of salvation through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. They consistently spoke of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith. They were generally accepted and preached throughout the church. So, when a church council met in the fourth century to establish the “Canon” of scripture (The Old Testament had been recognized by Hebrew scholars for centuries) it was more so a matter of recognizing what they knew to be true. One of the guiding principles for recognizing divinely inspired scripture is that such writing had to necessarily be of timeless and universal value. It could not be for a specific time or a certain people exclusively. (Some “modern” teachers reject the authority of certain scriptures that offend them based upon this false idea that it was only for a certain time and place. This is a deadly error.) They followed Paul’s inspired guidance in 2 Timothy chapter 3, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2Ti 3:16-17) ALL scripture had to be profitable, not just parts of scripture.
1 Corinthians chapters 12 -14 address the use of charismatic gifts in the church. Though it may have addressed a specific problem in Corinth in the first century, the message is timeless and universal. Rest assured that other local churches throughout history have dealt with the same issues as the Corinthians. So, Mr. Warfield and Mr. MacArthur, if the charismatic gifts had ceased to function after the first century, why did the church fathers decide to include a letter that would only have value to the Corinthians of the first century? They would not. If the entire letter was not profitable, then why include it? There are other letters addressing most of the other issues that 1 Corinthians covers. The message of the entire Bible is valuable today! 1 Corinthians 12-14 is for today!
There are a variety of scriptures attesting to the practice of the gifts by the body in general and not just the Apostles. “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Heb 2:4) The release of Peter from prison in answer to the prayers of the saints certainly qualifies as a miracle. Grudem defines a biblical miracle as, “a less common kind of God’s activity in which He arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to Himself.”[iii] Paul recognized miraculous works among the Galatians in his absence, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—“ (Gal 3:5) He also references “workers of miracles” in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:28). Jesus gave authority to His 70 disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons. Stephen and Phillip worked miracles (Acts 6:8, 8:6-7). Scripture is clear that the charismatic gifts are for the entire body.
Interestingly, the most confusion, dissension and abuse has centered around the gift of tongues. I surrendered to Christ through the ministry of a Pentecostal denomination. Eventually, I rejected Pentecostal orthopraxy and doctrine. I served as a pastor of a charismatic church. The Pentecostal position asserts that speaking in tongues is always the first sign that a person has been “baptized in the Holy Spirit”and that the Acts 2 experience at Pentecost should be normative (thus the term Pentecostal). They hold to a “second blessing” doctrine taught by Jonathan Wesley. Such teaching leads people to seek after a certain gift and having once attained it to thinking that other believers who have not are less blessed. This is extremely harmful and contrary to the message of the gospel.
The scripture is clear that all who believe in Jesus receive the Holy Spirit when they first believe, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” (Eph 1:13) Furthermore, there are examples of believers in Acts exercising other charismatic gifts without first speaking in tongues and in my own experience I have encountered others exercising gifts of healing, words of wisdom or knowledge, and prophecy who never spoke in tongues. My wife has never spoken in tongues. She once was praying for a woman who could not conceive. Her doctor had told her that her tubes were blocked permanently. She wanted children. As my wife was praying she was suddenly filled with supernatural faith and believed that the Lord Jesus was speaking to her that the woman would conceive. My wife told the woman what she believed the Lord was speaking. Within a year the woman had a child and eventually had five. I believe this was an example of a gift of healing, faith and a word of knowledge all combined. This is the way the Holy Spirit works. I’ve had people “read my mail” who have never spoke in tongues. Charismatics believe that the Holy Spirit still bestows signs and wonders today and that any believer can be used by God to work miracles. We do not believe that one must speak in tongues to be used in this way.
Pentecostals and Charismatics have been mocked and accused by cessationists over the gift of tongues. Detractors are correct in pointing out that the tongues of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 were most likely known foreign languages of the people in attendance at the feast from 70 countries. Since that is true, if the Pentecost experience is supposed to be normative, it would seem that the “baptism” would be manifested by known foreign languages. In practice it rarely is. Which might cause one to be suspicious about the authenticity of the experience. On the other hand, cessationists make the mistake of assuming that there is only one type of tongues. But there is a tongue that is not a known language. There is a tongue that speaks only to God and there are tongues of angels. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1Co 13:1) What language do angels speak? 1 Corinthians 14 is the Bible instruction for the use of tongues in the church. It begins, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” (1Co 14:2) Does God only speak in the known languages of man? I think not.
If you read through chapter 14 believing that there is only one type of tongues (known languages) you are going to be confused and might think that the Bible contradicts itself. It does not. Verse 4 says that tongues is for self edification or speaking to God. Verses 5 and 13 mention interpretation. That would have to be a message from God (prophecy) or of a known language (sign to an unbeliever). Verse 10 speaks of “languages in the world”, ie. known languages. Verse 14 says that I can pray in the Spirit “without understanding”. I must be speaking to God. Verse 17 says I can give thanks to God without others understanding. Verse 22 says that tongues are a sign to unbelievers. They would have to understand. It would have to be a known language. But it also says that prophecy, a message from God, is for believers. Verse 23 says that if the church is all speaking in tongues the unbeliever will think we are crazy. But, tongues are a sign to unbelievers! That must be a different type of tongues. Verse 25 speaks of the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart being revealed. That would be a word of knowledge. The conclusion, the timeless, universal conclusion of 1 Corinthians 14 is, “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1Co 14:39-40) A word of caution here: God’s definition of decency and order does not equal modern Baptist decorum. Throughout the Bible there are accounts of God doing things that modern man might think strange.
I learned about the functioning of the charismatic gifts from John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement and from Jack Deere, who was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He had to leave his post there because he had an encounter with the Holy Spirit where he spoke in tongues and prophesied. He wrote Surprised by The Spirit. I was taught and I believe that the charismatic gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 are not given permanently to individual believers. They are not residential with the person. They are situational and bestowed for a certain time and place as the Holy Spirit wills. A person doesn’t “have” the gift of healing. I was once asked by a young cessationist youth pastor from DTS why John Wimber didn’t go to the local hospital and heal everyone. Obviously, that was not the Holy Spirit’s plan. I have seen bona fide signs and wonders. I was at a healing conference in Anaheim where we went to learn about praying for the sick and hearing from God. The Vineyard had a strong emphasis on the priesthood of all believers and equipping all of the saints for the works of ministry. We didn’t have healing lines where some “anointed” evangelist lined people up and prayed for everyone. At this conference, someone shared what they believed was a word of knowledge that God was going to heal people who were blind in one eye. A call was made to have those who qualified to come forward. Hundreds came forth! Wimber reminded them that this was for people who were blind in ONE eye. Hundreds turned around and about a dozen or so stayed (there were about 4,000 at the conference). Then they instructed us, all of us, to lay hands on them and pray for healing. The next day it was reported that 4 had experienced healing. They were referred to an eyes doctor for confirmation. It was a miracle! A true sign of God’s love and power. A true sign of how God wants to use us to advance His kingdom. When the signs were seen, some trusted Christ for the first time.
Sometimes these prayer times, with everyone seeking to minister, would get messy. Sometimes people would react in unusual ways. In 1992, ABC News with Peter Jennings did a special report called “In the Name of God.” I don’t think their intentions were to glorify God. In one episode, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I9YCue3Fkk&t=313s) they came to the Vineyard in Anaheim. It was a powerful service where people were praying for each other. Some people fell on the floor, some were weeping along with other unusual manifestations. Afterward, Peter Jennings interviewed John Wimber. He asked John if he thought that all of the “manifestations” were a sign from God. He was surprised when John said, “Oh no, most of them aren’t.” His response was that they were ministering to many sick people and he didn’t believe that it was his job to be the Holy Spirit’s policeman. He always felt that God is perfectly capable of doing that. Wimber was criticized for his lack of discipline in his ministry. Perhaps some of the criticism was warranted. But, his detractors also forget that he gave the left foot of fellowship to the Kansas City Fellowship and the Toronto Blessing church because they refused his guidance about identifying weird manifestations (barking, roaring) with the Holy Spirit. Wimber related an account where an old parishioner came to him complaining about all of the messy manifestations and asking what he intended to do. He held up his Bible and said, “I won’t let it go any further than this book.” He said, “She took comfort from that! She must not have read it!”
My exhortation to my brothers and sisters is this: Don’t quench the Holy Spirit. Do everything in order, God’s order, not man’s.
[i] Williams, Renewal Theology, Zondervan, 1996.
[ii] Grudem, Systematic Theology, InterVarsity Press, 1994.
[iii] Ibid., p. 355