Charismatic Spiritual Gifts
The church in which I was raised spoke in the present tense about the work of the Father and the work of the Son. Sadly, however the work of the Spirit, was only spoken of in the past tense! The church was both theologically and practically cessationist! That is to say, they believed that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit and the supernatural phenomenon revealed in the New Testament, ceased with the completion of the canon of Scripture. We did not expect then to see such happenings today and logically doubted either the sincerity or the sanity of those that claimed they did! Having surrendered my own life to Jesus sometime in 1986, I soon met ‘charismatics’, who I both trusted and respected. It was this that initially led me to wrestle with Scripture and brought me to a different doctrinal position and into a very real experience of the Holy Spirit of which I will mention later.
The arguments I faced then, are in essence the same still raised by cessasionsists today. My friend and colleague, Sam Storms has identified the six most common arguments against continuing supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit: Although I have ‘borrowed’ the list of arguments from him, I take full responsibility for the comments that follow.
- That signs, wonders and miracles were not customary even in biblical times.
I do remember laughing when I was told this as a teenager. It was only a few years before that I was fed a staple diet in Sunday School of the crossing of the Red Sea, the feeding of the 5000 and Peter and John instructing the crippled man to walk. Was prophecy not a supernatural gift in the Old Testament and was it not widespread even in the compromised church at Corinth? And why, even if this argument were true (which it is not) would it legislate against God working as God wished to work in the present?
- That signs, wonders, and miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit such as tongues, interpretation, healing, and the discerning of spirits, were designed to confirm, attest, and authenticate the apostolic message.”
Not only do I appreciate this argument, but indeed whole heartedly agree with it! If the purpose of the sign is to validate the message, what was the message? Hopefully the same as it is now! We like Paul would want to claim that ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’ (1 Co 2:2)
I suspect that on this point a cessationist may redefine their objection. Maybe it wasn’t the message, but the messenger, being the Apostle, that was attested and authenticated. Therefore it would be logical that signs, wonders and miraculous gifts, died along with them. The problem though remains that this phenomena is not just associated with the Apostles, but with many more, including to name but a few, the 70 who were commissioned by Jesus (Lu 10:19-20), all those gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), Stephen (Acts 6-7) and Philip’s four daughters (Ac 21:8-9)
Lastly, although there is substantial evidence in John’s Gospel that Jesus’ miracles were ‘signs’ that pointed to a greater truth, there can be no disputing that they were very definite signs of God’s love and mercy and His Kingdom come!
- The alleged negative assessment given by many to the nature, purpose and impact of signs, wonders and miracles in the New Testament.
When questioning the church’s stance on Spiritual Gifts, I was quickly reminded of the disbelief at Chorazin and Bethsaida (Lu 10:13) as well as the immorality at Corinth. I was told that to chase after such phenomena was, a sign of my own immaturity and that I was simply pursuing the ‘gift’ rather than the ‘giver’. Yet I still noticed that whenever someone fell ill, even those who argued against supernatural phenomena would have no hesitation in praying for healing and when confused, would always ask for God’s leading. It seemed evident that they too longed to see an outworking of that which has supposedly ‘passed away’.
- Signs, wonders and miraculous gifts accompanied and attested to the truth of the gospel until such time as the last word of canonical Scripture was written. The need for such manifestations of divine power therein ceased. The Bible itself has replaced miraculous phenomena in the life of the church.
This was the main argument presented by the undoubtedly sincere pastor who sought to enlighten me. Indeed he had just published a book in which he argued that which was partial would pass away when the ‘perfect comes’ (1 Co 12: 10). The problem with the argument however, is that it is evident from the context, that this is not what the text means. In fact nowhere in Scripture is there even a hint that the gifts of the Holy Spirit will cease to operate in the church until the Lord Jesus returns. Why would they? Does the church not still need encouraging, do people not still need healing and does the message not still need authenticating?
- If the so-called miracle or sign gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid for Christians beyond the death of the apostles, why were they absent from church history until their alleged reappearance in the twentieth century?”
As a young man with no understanding of church history, I had no evidence with which to counter this argument. However, having read historical accounts since (even from those that cessasionsists so often esteem, such as C.H. Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards), I discovered that there have been numerous miraculous moves of the Spirit of God. In refuting this argument, Sam Storms quotes D. A. Carson’s as saying “there is enough evidence that some form of ‘charismatic’ gifts continued sporadically across the centuries of church history that it is futile to insist on doctrinaire grounds that every report is spurious or the fruit of demonic activity or psychological aberration.” (Showing the Spirit, 166).
- 6. Finally, many cessationists appear to validate their position due to the fear ‘of emotionalism, the fear of fanaticism, the fear of the unfamiliar, the fear of rejection by those whose respect they cherished and whose friendship they do not want to forfeit, the fear of what might occur if they fully relinquish control of their lives and mind and emotions to the Holy Spirit, the fear of losing what little status in the evangelical community they have worked so hard to attain.’
Wow, that’s honest! Although I didn’t articulate it at the time, it has since occurred to me, that those cessationsists who so claim that charismatics build a doctrine around experience, may be guilty of building an argument around their lack own of experience.
So, having read the books, wrestled with Scripture and being warned about my own sinful nature I persisted in prayer. After a number of weeks, one night, alone in the privacy of my own room while praying and reading scripture, I experienced an infilling of the Holy Spirit which simply overflowed causing me to praise God in an unknown ‘tongue’. Over the next six months, my relationship with God accelerated, my love for Scripture increased and issues in my personal life were addressed. At seventeen years old, I also knew I had to leave the church in which I had been raised.
Looking back there are things that I did and said which I wish I could change. Did though, my lack of wisdom invalidate the move of the Spirit? I would argue categorically, NO! In fact, according to Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth it simply highlights my need of it! (1 Co 12:7; 14:3, 26).
I remain very grateful to the Lord for the way he has led and guided me since. For fresh fillings that have enabled, for prophecy that has brought breakthrough, for healing that has led to praise and for the ongoing gift of tongues that continues to strengthen. Sadly, I have also seen abuse and excess within the church, but never of the Spirit. Long ago I concluded that we can never have too much work of the Holy Spirit, only to much of ‘the flesh’. Contrary to initial warnings my charismatic conviction and experience has not led me from the Word. Rather, my testimony is that the Spirit always brings us back to the Word and the Word always to the Spirit. Indeed it is within the Word that Jesus tells us ‘how much more will your Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask’ (Lu 11:13).
According to Scripture the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit should be operative in the church, ‘until we all attain to the unity of the faith’ (Eph 4:11-13), undoubtedly until the ‘revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Co:4-9) . Therefore looking at the present predicament in which the church finds itself, should we not be taking far more seriously Paul’s instruction to ‘eagerly desire the greater gifts?’ (1 Co 12:31) http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/are-miraculous-gifts-for-today—part-i