The New Testament has various lists of ‘charismata’ (spiritual gifts):-
1 Cor. 12:8-10
1 Cor. 12:28-30
1 Peter 4:9-11
|Prophecy||Word of Wisdom||Apostleship||Apostleship||Speaking|
|Serving||Word of Knowledge||Prophecy||Prophecy||Serving|
|Showing Mercy||Discerning of Spirits||Administrating|
|Interpretation of Tongues||Interpretation of Tongues|
Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps & charts : Old and New Testaments. (Rev. and updated ed.). Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson.
These lists are so varied that we may well suppose that none of them is exhaustive.
Some regard the gift of tongues as one of the ‘sign-gifts’ (the others being prophecy, gifts of healings and workings of miracles). These, it is suggested, served a unique function during a time of great change in the church, when the Mosaic order was giving way to the age of the New Covenant, and the Gentile nations being opened up to the gospel.
Those who hold the view that miraculous gifts were limited to the apostolic age draw attention to the pattern that is established in Heb 2:3-4. First, the word of the gospel preached by Christ; which is then confirmed to believers as a result of the apostolic ministry; which itself was attested by apostolic miracles and by the distribution of spiritual gifts by the apostles.
Here are some representative statements from cessationist writers:-
Visions and such things belong to the infancy of the church. Nobody thinks of putting a post to support an apple tree which has been there for the last fifty years…When a ship leaves the docks and passes down the river, you will see it towed out till it reaches the sea. But that same vessel will soon spread all her sails, and with a heavenly breeze to bear her along, she will need no tug to tow her to the desired haven. The church of God today is a tree that needs no support of miracle or vision, a vessel that has braved two thousand years the battle and the breeze, and will still, till Christ comes, outride every storm. You have the Word of God, which is better than visions. (Carter, Spurgeon at his best, 177).
With the writing of the New Testament, and its availability to believers, God’s revelation was closed. Three of the original gifts of the Spirit, namely the revelatory gifts of tongues, prophecy and charismatic knowledge, have now fulfilled their purpose. With the appearance of the New Testament they have, in accordance with 1 Cor 13:8, been removed from the list of early Christian charisms and have ceased to be. (Q in Grossmann, Stewards of God’s Grace, 14)
The gifts ‘are seen to be in operation up to the end of Acts, but not afterward, for while, for example, the gift of healing is found throughout Acts, we have no trace of anything of the kind afterwards; on the contrary, Epaphroditus is spoken of as dangerously ill, Timothy is given medical advice, and Trophimus is left at Miletus sick. The same contrast is seen if we take the epistles of St Paul written before Acts 28 (1 & 2 Thess, 1 & 2 Cor, Gal, Rom) and compare them with those written during the Roman captivity. In the former, there are 25 references to the Jew, and only one in the latter, 22 references to tongues, and none in the latter, nine allusions to gifts as opposed to two; thirteen references to prophecy as a gift, with none in the latter.’ (Griffith Thomas, The Holy Spirit of God)
These gifts were not the possession of the primitive Christian as such; nor for that matter of the Apostolic Church of the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctively the authentication of the Apostles. They were part of the credentials of the Apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them to distinctively the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it. (Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles, 6)
‘The Church in its infancy had no complete Bible (Old and New Testament). It had no extensive body of Christian literature, such as we have today. Christian hymnology, too, was still in its infancy. Numerically also, the Church was rather insignificant. It was, moreover, the object of scorn and derision from every side. In that situation God graciously provided special supports or endowments, until the time would arrive when these were no longer needed.’ (Hendriksen, commenting on 1 Thess 5:19)
I have to say that, much as I love many of the writers just cited, and am convinced that they were by no means strangers to the Holy Spirit, I find the various cessationist arguments spectacularly weak. And let it be known that the most famous cessationist of them all, B.B. Warfield, did not argue his case on biblical, but on historical grounds. He expended his energy on showing that miracles claimed by faith-healers (for example) were spurious in all kinds of ways. But he did not even attempt to show that Scripture closes the door to contemporary miracles.
1 Cor 13:10 (‘when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears‘) is a key text in the debate about the cessation of the charismata. Does is refer to (a) the completed Scriptures; or (b) the life to come? Or does it refer to neither?- is Paul simply appealing to a general principle, that the coming of the complete leads to the disappearance of the incomplete? The idea that it refers to the completed canon is Scripture appears forced and unnatural. The idea that it refers to the life to come is supported by v12, if that verse can be thought of as continuing and extending the thought of v10.
There is, in fact, ‘no exegetical warrant for claiming that any of the gifts have ceased. They are God’s characteristic endowments for Christian service in the New Testament age, arguably the most fundamental way ministry occurs (Acts 2:17-21; 1 Cor 1:7). Against the view that maintains, from the lack of the more supernatural gifts throughout much of church history, that these charisms were limited to the apostolic age, three points must be noted: (1) these gifts did not end at the close of the first century, but continued well into the third; (2) their subsequent diminution can best be attributed to a growing, unscriptural institutionalization of the church and an overreaction to the abuse of the gifts in heretical (most notably Montanist) circles; (3) even then, no era of church history was completely without examples of all the gifts.
The twentieth century resurgence of the gifts cannot be attributed to the arrival of the last days, since for the New Testament “the last days” refers to the entire church age. They may, however, reflect a recovery of more biblical, spontaneous, and all-inclusive worship and ministry.
In short, attempts to attribute all current charismatic phenomena to the devil or mere human fabrication are misguided. Still, there is no guarantee that any alleged manifestation of the Spirit is genuine; each must be tested. First Corinthians 14:39-40 concludes Paul’s treatment of the topic with remarkably clear commands, which, if obeyed, could go a long way toward eliminating divisiveness in the church over the gifts. On the one hand, none of the gifts should be forbidden, even tongues (v. 39). On the other hand, “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (v. 40), as illustrated by the regulations for prophecy and tongues in verses 26-38. A growing number of charismatics and noncharismatics alike are beginning to heed these twin commands, but many still do not, to the detriment of the unity of the church and the success of her mission.’ (Blomberg, in EDBT)
One plea of many who discountenance miraculous gifts today is that even if they were possible, they would be unimportant. ‘Miracles might occur today’, it is often conceded, ‘but only very rarely; they are not to be looked for or expected; they are of minimal importance; the whole subject of miracles does more harm than good.’ But over against this minimalist position, others have argued persuasively that the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit are very much needed in our own time:-
[At the present time], the church would seem to need the benefits of spiritual gifts more than ever before. For at a time when Christians of all traditions realize deeply the imperfections of the church, Christ has given gifts ‘for the perfecting of the saints’ (Eph 4:12, AV). At a time when the continued existence of the Christian ministry is at stake, with panic, uncertainty and surrender on every hand, there are gifts ‘for the work of ministry’ (Eph 4:12). At a time when Christians are ashamed at their divisions but embarrassed by misdirected efforts to heal them, gifts are available ‘until we all attain to the unity of the faith’ (Eph 4:13). At a time when heresy and half-truth and doctrines of men bewilder Christians, God has given his gifts, ‘so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.’ (Eph 4:14f). (Bridge & Phypers, Spiritual gifts and the church, 30f.)
Evaluating miraculous gifts
The Scriptures teach that as the Gospel Age progresses there will be an increase in counterfeit manifestations from false christs and false prophets, Mt 24:24; Mar 13:22; 2 Thess 2:9; Rev 13:13-14.
There is, therefore, a pressing need to evaluate spiritual gifts using scriptural criteria:-
- Is Jesus attested as Lord? 1 Cor 12:3.
- Is the church edified? 1 Cor 14:26.
- Do they lead to peace, rather than to disorder? 1 Cor 14:32f.
- Do they possess the character of witness to unbelievers? 1 Cor 14:24.
- Are they exercised in love? 1 Cor 13:1.
- Do they lead to God being glorified? 1 Pet 4:11.
(Based on Grossman, Stewards of God’s Grace, 90f)