WHAT ARE THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT & ARE THEY STILL VALID?

SPIRIT LESSONS PT. 2

John Aziza

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The “gifts” are special abilities provided to Christians by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of ministry and building up the Church (Eph. 4:12). Listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, they include wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Similar lists are contained in Ephesians 4:7-13 and Romans 12:3-8. By anointing the Church with spiritual gifts, God equips His people with everything needed “for life and godliness” so we can effectively carry out His divine plan in the world (2Pet. 1:3).

 

The purpose of this study is to examine the gifts individually in order to learn more about their function and use. To best achieve this, we will divide the gifts into the following two categories, sensational and non-sensational. This may help us distinguish the gifts that are supernatural or miraculous in nature from those that are strictly related to ministry and service. We will then look at the primary arguments proposed by Cessasionists, who claim that the sensational gifts no longer exist and have passed into extinction with the completion of the New Testament canon. 

 

MINISTRY AND SERVICE (NON-SENSATIONAL)

Apostles (Eph. 4:11)

The Greek word for apostle is apostolos, which simply means representative. In this case, a representative of Christ. The original apostles, most of whom were Christ’s twelve disciples, were commissioned as Church planters to different regions of the ancient world. They were also tasked with laying the foundation of the Church and establishing its doctrines and creed: Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:19-20). We can be certain that this work was completed in the lifetime of the apostles and that no further improvement to the Church's foundation is required.

 

The apostles lived within the same historical time period as Jesus. They had personal contact with Him. And they were mandated by Christ to preach the only true Gospel. Consequently, only they could write inspired Scripture and pen the doctrines of the Church. But this particular feature of their ministry did not continue with the next generation of apostles. Hence, we now observe a closed cannon and reject any writings submitted by others who were not directly affiliated with Christ or the original apostles. Simply put, our Bible is sufficient as is and requires no further expansion or improvement to its text. The idea of a closed canon is amply supported in the following verses:

 

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the precepts which ye have been taught, whether by word, or *our* epistle (Eph. 4:14).

 

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which *we* have preached unto you, let him be accursed (Gal. 1:8).

 

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints (Jud. 1:3).

Today, there are many who claim to be apostles. Such claims must always be tested: I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars (Rev. 2:2). We can easily test any apostolic claims by following the criteria provided in 2 Corinthians 12:12: Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds (2Co. 12:12). So if someone claims to be an apostle but doesn't meet the preceding criteria we could immediately dismiss them as frauds. 

 

Now while the primary apostolic functions, such as laying the Church's foundation and penning Scripture, have expired with the departure of the first apostles, not all apostolic functions have permanently ceased. For example, the apostolic function of Church planting is still very necessary and so are all of the miracles and healings performed by the apostles, as we shall soon discover.

 

Evangelists (Eph. 4:11)

An evangelist is one who preaches the Gospel and adds new converts to the Church. According to Acts, both Philip and Stephen were such evangelists. In the case of Stephen, he would eventually become the very first Christian martyr. Acts records that Stephen and Philip were powerful preachers who produced great signs and miracles as part of their evangelistic ministry:

 

Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people (Act. 6:3-5; 8).

 

And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him (Act. 21:8).

 

Pastors (Eph. 4:11)

Pastors are elderly men anointed to serve as shepherds and overseers over God’s flock (the Church). They are instructed to lead the Church by example (1Pet. 5:3). To learn more about the role and qualifications of the pastor please refer to my article, Defining Church, An Overview of Structure, Function & Activity".

 

Teachers (Rom. 12:7; Eph. 4:11)

Teachers are those who are gifted with a deeper understanding of doctrine and theology and able to teach God's people from the Scriptures. A teacher can also be a preacher, who instructs the unconverted in the way of repentance and salvation.

 

Administration (1Co. 12:28)

The gift of administration may apply to any who are capable organizers, have financial skills, and are able to develop effective strategies for carrying out the work of the Church and aiding in its daily activities.

 

Helps (1Co. 12:28)

A person who is generally available with the proper resources and a desire to help others may be anointed in the area of helps. While everyone in Christ’s Body is called to serve in some kind of capacity, not all are always able or available. Those who can, should do so wholeheartedly and for God's glory.

 

Wisdom (1Co. 12:8)

The gift of wisdom can be defined as the ability to make wise decisions and give sound council in accordance with God's will. King Solomon was such a man who was gifted with the ability to make wise decisions and offer superior advice to all of his subjects.

 

Knowledge (1Co. 12:8)

A person with a greater capacity to understand spiritual issues and the ability to exercise proper discernment may be said to have the gift of knowledge. Those with the gift of knowledge seem to more easily understand the deep things of God and the mysteries of His Word.

 

Faith (1Co. 12:9)

Some Christians have a greater degree of faith than most. Their awareness of God’s presence and power enables them to pray in a manner that produces almost immediate results. They are God’s change agents for good, equipped with a supernatural dose of faith. We should all strive to possess this gift since its value is incalculable.

 

SIGN GIFTS (SENSATIONAL)

Miracles (1Co. 12:10)

A person anointed with the gift of miracles is able to perform signs and wonders that give authenticity to God's Word and the Gospel message. Miracle working is a gift that is usually reserved for evangelists, apostles, or missionaries (2Co. 12:12). Believers who find themselves occupying an evangelistic role that requires them to convert unbelievers to Faith should earnestly pray for this gift:

 

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover (Mrk. 16:17-18).

 

Healing (1Co. 12:9)

Like the working of miracles, the gift of healing is largely connected to evangelism, but also plays a vital role within the Church. According to James 5, the elders of the Church are primarily responsible for ministering to God’s people in the area of healing:

 

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him (Jas. 5:14-15).

 

While we may diligently seek for healing in times of sickness, it's important to realize that God may not always heal those who are sick. There are various reasons for this. For instance, it may not be God’s will to heal us since sickness may sometimes serve to spiritually purify us. So even though a person may sincerely pray for healing or have faith that God can heal them, no healing will come if God doesn't will it (1Jn. 5:14). Both Paul and Timothy are an example of this, as well as Trophimus (2Co. 12:7-9; 1Tim. 5:23; 2Tim. 4:20). When Paul besought God to heal him from a debilitating physical condition, which he referred to as a "thorn" in his flesh, God refused. Instead, Paul was assured that his physical problem would serve to glorify God since His strength can shine through our weaknesses (2Co. 12:7-12). In the case of Timothy and Trophimus, not much is said about why God chose not to heal them. But we can be certain that prayers were made on their behalf by Paul and the Church. Because of this, Paul advised Timothy to take a very practical route in dealing with his stomach problems and other infirmities. He was told to drink a little bit of wine for medicine: "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities" (1Tim. 5:23). Consequently, we must not be too quick to judge the person who is operating in the gift of healing or the one who is being prayed over when healing isn't present. We should also not be reckless with our health when God refuses to heal us in a supernatural manner. He has, after all, provided medical physicians, like Luke the physician (Col. 4:14), who are gifted in the knowledge of healing and use their God given wisdom to treat disease, illness, or other maladies.

 

Note: Christians should always turn to God first before seeking the help of medical physicians (2Chron. 16:12; Jas. 5:14-15).

 

Special note: Those who feel that all sickness is the result of a person's sin should consider the case of Epaphroditus, who was sick on account of his devoted Christian service: For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me (Php. 2:27-30).

 

Important: While professional medical help is necessary under certain circumstances, as a personal preference, I try my best to avoid the use of pharmaceutical drugs as a means of curing sickness. Medical research has clearly proven that drugs only lead to further health problems, like side effects, that worsen one's overall health in the course of treatment. In my opinion, it's much wiser for people to rely on natural, God-given herbs in order to promote good health, rather than pharmaceutical drugs. In fact, it is essential to learn the use of herbs since we may not always have the convenience of consulting a doctor for help.

 

Prophecy (Rom. 12:6; 1Co. 12:10; Eph. 4:11)

Throughout the Scriptures, prophecy is promoted as the most important of all spiritual gifts. When it was reported that Eldad and Medad where prophesying in the camp but were not among the men selected to accompany Moses in ministry, Moses made this profound statement, "would God that all the LORD'S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them" (Num. 11:29). Apostle Paul similarly echoes this sentiment, when he says, “pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1Co. 14:1). So the gift of prophecy is a blessing to the Church and should never be quenched or despised (1Thes. 5:20).

 

But what exactly is prophecy? Is prophesying the same as delivering a sermon or preaching? There are many Christians who think so, and partly because of the following scriptures:

 

But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort... For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted (1Co. 14:3; 31).

In the above verses, prophecy is described as a word from God that may edify, encourage, or give comfort to the Believer. It is also described as that which may instruct God's people. Since this sounds a lot like what we would expect out of preaching, many Christians confuse preaching with prophecy. Of course, this is easy to do if we don't properly understand the scriptural function of prophecy. But preaching and prophecy are not identical. In fact, they are distinctly different, even though they share some overlapping attributes. The Scriptures consistently define prophecy as the act of foretelling or predicting the future (2Ch. 15:8; Neh. 6:12; Dan. 9:24; Mat. 13:14; Act. 11:28; 21:10-11; 1Cor. 14:24-25; Rev. 22:7). 

 

But prophecy also involves forthtelling. For example, prophetic utterances were often public proclamations that were eventually published in the writings of the Old Testament. Similarly, preaching is also a public proclamation and sermons are often recorded in books. So perhaps that is why preaching is sometimes mistaken for prophecy. Nevertheless, there is enough scriptural evidence to help us distinguish between the two. For instance, consider the fact that while women are allowed to prophecy in the Church (1Co. 11:5), they are not permitted to teach or preach therein (1Co. 14:34-35; 1Tim. 2:12-14). So by insisting that prophecy and preaching are the same, we essentially force Paul to contradict his own guidelines for women. This fact is starkly evident when substituting the word "prophecy" with "preach". Notice:

 

And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall preach, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall preach (Act. 2:17-18).

 

And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did preach (Act. 21:9).

 

But every woman that prayeth or preaches with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven (1Co. 11:5).

 

Do you see what a serious problem this substitution creates? The reason women may prophesy but not teach or preach is simply because prophecy is uttered under divine inspiration and the prophet's message is not filtered through the interpretive process of the mind. Rather, it is directly mediated by the Holy Spirit. This means that prophecies are essentially tamper-proof, while teaching is not.

 

But just in case we are still tempted to identify preaching with prophecy, the following verses may help us appreciate the predictive nature of prophecy--a quality that is absent from preaching:

 

And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar (Act. 11:28).

 

And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles (Act. 21:10-11).

 

Despise not prophesying (1Thes. 5:20).

 

This charge I commit unto you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which were spoken over you, that you by them might war a good warfare (1Tim. 1:18).

 

After reading the above scriptures, it is much harder to mistake preaching for prophecy. The prophet Agabus predicted the future twice in both Acts 11 and 21. And in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul encourages the Church to refrain from despising prophecy. But why? Perhaps because prophecy tends to make us uncomfortable. The thought of God speaking directly through a person is difficult to comprehend and may leave us feeling nervous or fearful of being exposed.

 

But going back to 1 Corinthians 14:3 and 31, is it really possible for prophecy to be instructive and leave us feeling edified, encouraged, and comforted? The simple answer is yes. This is easy to understand when considering the different types of prophetic utterances. For example, prophetic utterances that warn the Church of a future catastrophe or danger, while providing special guidance for how to prepare, qualify as being instructive. Other types of prophecy may speak to an individual's personal wants and needs, such as their success in marriage or ministry. The Believer may receive immense encouragement from the prophetic utterance that promises things like physical healing, financial provision, or a loved one's salvation. These are just a few examples in which instruction, edification, encouragement, and comfort may be ministered through the gift of prophecy.

Another feature of prophecy worth mention has to do with evangelism and the conversion of unbelievers. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul describes a particular scenario in which an unbeliever walks into a Church and is converted upon hearing his secrets disclosed by those present:

 

But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth (1Co. 14:24-25).

 

So this clearly demonstrates the importance of prophecy in the area of evangelism.

 

Now, there are certain rules that apply to the gift of prophecy and its function within the Church. These rules are located in 1 Corinthians 14. After reproving the Corinthians for their disorderly conduct, Paul sets the following guidelines for prophesying:

 

1) Two or three prophets should speak, in turn, while members of the Church listen and judge (1Co. 14:29) 

2) The prophet should hold his peace and show preference to others before sharing his prophecy (1Co. 14:30). 

3) Prophets should speak one at a time (1Co. 14: 31).

4) The Church should weigh carefully every word of prophecy (v. 29; cf. 1Thess. 5:21).

 

Notice that when God gives a gift, he also gives the person the responsibility to make decisions to use that gift in an appropriate way. Simply having the gift is not an excuse to use it whenever or however the person wants to. Paul explains his reason: ''For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace" (v. 33).

When testing prophecy (or the prophet), we must do so against the following scriptural guidelines: 

 

1) Their predictions will always come to pass (Deut. 18:22; Jer. 28:9) except in rare cases involving the repentance [or lack thereof] of a nation or individual (Jon. 3:4-10; 2 Kin. 20:1-5; 1Sam. 2:30-31)

2) Their prophecy should bring glory to God, not self (Jn. 16:13)

3) They do not give their own private interpretation (2Pet. 1:20, 21) 

4) They point out sin (Mic. 3:5-8) 

5) They warn of coming judgment (Is. 24:20, 21) 

6) They edify, exhort, and encourage the Church (1Co. 14:3-4) 

7) Their message harmonizes with the Bible (Isa. 8:20) 

8) They affirm that Jesus came in the flesh (1Jn. 4:1-3) 

9) They exemplify Christian character (Mat. 7:16-20) 

10) They are obedient to God and proclaim all of His words (Deut. 18:18)

11) They are evidence that a local congregation is marked by the testimony of Jesus and the anointing of the Spirit: "for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev. 19:10).

Finally, it's important to remember that individuals with the gift of prophecy differ from Old Testament prophets who spoke the authoritative Word of God directly to the people of Israel. God’s primary focus in the Old Testament was invested in the nation of Israel. Prophets penned inspired words pertaining to Israel, or nations and individuals in relationship with her. But God’s focus has now shifted from Israel to the Church and its individual members (Mat. 21:43; Act. 10:35). Prophetic utterances may therefore be relevant to the individual(s) of a local assembly or Church, but not to the universal Body. That is why we should never give someone's prophetic word the same weight as the inspired Scriptures. 

Discerning Spirits (1Co. 12:10)

Christians with an acute sense of discernment greater than what is typical are most likely gifted in the area of discerning of spirits. They are able to determine whether a message, person, or experience is truly from God. While the Holy Spirit gives every Believer a certain measure of this gift, some appear to be more sensitive to particular people, objects, or circumstances than others. This gift is also invaluable for the purpose of casting out demons from people who are under demonic bondage. Through spiritual revelation, the one who discerns “spirits” may assess the particular demonic strongholds and command the demons out of a person in the name of Jesus.

 

Tongues (1Co. 12:10)

The gift of tongues is multi-faceted and represents a variety of applications. The New Testament gives us at least three types that are distinguishable. They are as follows:

 

(1) Speaking in tongues with interpretation

This is the public utterance of an unknown language accompanied by interpretation:

 

Now I wish you all spoke with tongues, but rather that you might prophesy, for he who is prophesying is greater than he who is speaking with tongues, unless he interprets, so that the assembly might receive upbuilding (1Co. 14:5).

 

Therefore, he who is speaking in a tongue, let him pray that he might interpret (1Co. 14:13).

 

If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret (1Co. 14:27).

 

According to apostle Paul, no more than two or three individuals in a meeting should be allowed to speak in tongues, and only with interpretation (1Co. 14:27).

 

(2) Speaking in other tongues without interpretation

This is the spontaneous speaking of a foreign language through the divine power of the Holy Spirit (Act. 2:4). There are times when God sends missionaries into a foreign country and grants them the ability to spontaneously speak the language of the people to whom they are called. In this case, those who hear God's message spoken in their own language will naturally understand and require no interpretation. According to the Scriptures, this kind of tongues is used as a sign for unbelievers (1Co. 14:22). With further study we discover that it also pertains to judgment and a final call to repentance (Isa. 28:11-13; 1Co. 14:21).

 

The following are some pertinent verses that apply to this type of tongues:

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance… And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? … we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God… (Act 2:4-8).

 

For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God (Act. 10:46).

 

(3) Praying in an unknown tongue

Paul refers to this as a celestial prayer language that only God understands (1Co. 13:1; 14:2-15; Eph. 6:18). Hence those who pray in tongues are spiritually edified while “speaking mysteries in the Spirit” (1Co. 14:2-4). According to Paul, he not only had this gift, but practiced it regularly (1Co. 14:18). While he desired to see all Christians speaking or praying in tongues (1Co. 14:5), he makes it clear that this gift isn’t for everyone (1Co. 12:30; 14:5). Like Paul, Jude also encouraged the Body to pray in the Spirit continually as a means of building up their faith (Jud. 1:20). Seeing it is so important, praying in tongues should never be despised, forbidden, or neglected (1Co. 12:31; 14:39).

 

The following verses apply to the praying in tongues:

For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries (1Co. 14:2).

 

He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church (1Co. 14:4).

 

I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying (1Co. 14:5).

 

For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also (1Co. 14:14-15).

 

I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue (1Co. 14:18-19).

 

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal (1Co. 13:1).

 

But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost (Jud. 1:20).

 

But if there be no interpreter [for the one praying or speaking in tongues], let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God (1Co. 14:28).

 

Interpreting Tongues (1Co. 12:10)

The interpretation of tongues is the ability to interpret an unknown tongue uttered publicly in the Assembly.

 

CESSATIONIST ARGUMENTS

Some Christians believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit along with miracles and the hearing of God’s voice were phased out during the first century, after the New Testament canon was completed. This belief is known as the doctrine of cessation. The following sections (in red) were written by Doug Bannister, author of the book, “Word & Power Church”, and provide a concise rebuttal to the main arguments of cessationism.

Foreword:

Let it be known that I am not a cessationist: I believe that God still speaks to people today outside of the Bible (though always consistent with it, and submitted to its authority); I believe that God still works miracles today; I believe that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still in operation today (ie. tongues, prophecy, etc.); and I believe that all of the offices of the 5-fold ministry, as spelled out in Ephesians 4:11-12, are still functioning today and necessary for the Church to be effective (including the offices of apostle and prophet)."

 

Cessation argument #1: 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 teaches that the miraculous gifts passed away with the completion of the New Testament.

 

Response: Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 12-14 to answer questions the Corinthians were having about the use and abuse of spiritual gifts in their fellowship. His primary goal was to encourage the Corinthians to love one another. Chapter 13:8-13 is to show that love is greater than any gift: Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned as a child. When I became a man I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall l know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three main: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 

The miraculous gifts such as tongues and prophecy will cease. But when? “When perfection comes.” When perfection comes, these imperfect gifts will pass away. To what is Paul referring when he looks to the coming of “perfection”? There are basically two ways scholars have interpreted this passage. 1) Cessationists argue that “perfection” refers to the completed canon of Scripture. They hold that the first century church needed these miraculous revelatory gifts because the Bible was not yet complete, and when God completed the scriptural canon, these gifts were no longer needed and passed away. 2) Noncessationists believe that “perfection” refers to the second coming of Christ. They hold that these gifts are intended for the present church age but will no longer be needed when Jesus Christ returns. The majority of biblical interpreters have concluded that “perfection” refers to the second coming of Christ and not the completion of the canon.

 

How have they reached this conclusion? Which is right? Paul says that when the perfect comes, we will see God “face to face.” The phrase “face to face” is used in the Old Testament to mean seeing God personally. Revelation 22:4 says that in heaven, “They will see his face.” The Scriptures reveal much about God, but they do not allow for a face-to-face meeting with him. This will come when Christ returns. Paul says that, for us, when perfection comes, “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” The Scriptures help us know many things, but it could not be said that we know God fully because of them. God will be known fully to his people when his Son returns. Lloyd-Jones rejects the view that the word, "perfect", refers to the closed canon: [Do] you see what that involves? It means that you and I who have the Scriptures open before us, know much more than the apostle Paul of God’s truth…if that argument is correct. It means that we are altogether superior to the early church and even to the apostles themselves, including the apostle Paul!...The “then” is the glory everlasting. It is only then that I shall know, even as also I am known; for then I shall see Him as He is. It is doubtful that when the Corinthians read this letter, the concept of a closed canon would have occurred to them. A far more common theme in Scripture is the return of Christ. When Paul pointed his Corinthian readers to a future day when they would see Christ face to face, they are far more likely to have thought of Christ’s return. For these reasons, and many others treated in the scholarly literature, the most reasonable interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 says that Paul is teaching that the gifts will cease when Jesus Christ returns. Lloyd-Jones concludes his summary of the cessation arguments with typical bluntness: Let me begin to answer by giving you just one thought…The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary – never! There is no such statement anywhere…So you see the difficulties men land themselves in when they dislike something and cannot fully understand it and try to explain it away. All things must be judged in the light of Scriptures, and we must not twist them to suit our theory or argument.

 

Cessation argument #2: The miraculous gifts ceased with the death of the last apostle. B.B. Warfield, a professor at Princeton Seminary, wrote a book in 1918 called Counterfeit Miracles, which is still the classic statement of the position that the miraculous spiritual gifts were given only to the apostles and Stephen and Philip. Warfield taught that the purpose of these gifts was to authenticate the apostles as trustworthy bearers of doctrine; when they died, this authenticating power died with them. Most of the contemporary works written from the cessationist camp are, in effect, a footnote to Warfield’s work. Warfield wrote: It is very clear from the record of the New Testament that the extraordinary charismata were not (after the very first days of the church) the possession of all Christians, but supernatural gifts to the few. These gifts were not the possession of the primitive Christian as such: nor for that matter of the Apostolic Church, or the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctly for 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. The primary texts used by cessationists to support the claim that miraculous gifts were the sole property of the apostles include these: The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. – Acts 5:12 (NIV) The things that mark an apostle--signs, wonders and miracles--were done among you with great perseverance. – 2 Cor 12:12 (NIV) This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. – Heb 2:3-4 (NIV)

 

Response: Warfield is correct in affirming the uniqueness of the apostolic office. The twelve apostles certainly enjoyed a unique wonder-working power. Because of this, only they were authorized to write the inspired books of the New Testament. The major problem with Warfield’s argument, however, is that its conclusion does not follow from its premises. The argument can be broken down into a syllogism. 1) Major premise: The apostles, as the foundation of the church, experienced unique wonder-working powers to authenticate their ministry. 2) Minor premise: The apostles are dead. 3) Conclusion: No one experiences wonder-working power in ministry today. The conclusion does not follow from the minor premise. While it is true that the apostles had unique miraculous powers and it is true that they are dead, it does not logically follow that no other Christians can experience the miraculous gifts. Jack Deere points out how flawed this reasoning is when he applies it to church planting. We could say: 1) Major premise: Only the apostles planted churches in Acts. 2) Minor premise: The apostles are dead. 3) Conclusion: No one should plant churches today. All that is needed to refute this view from a scriptural standpoint is to find any examples of non apostolic Christians using the miraculous gifts in the New Testament. Consider these: 1) Mark 9:38-39: An unknown man casts out demons in Jesus’ name. 2) Luke 10:9: Jesus commissions seventy-two disciples to preach and to heal. 3) Acts 9:17-18: Ananias heals Paul. 4) Romans 12:6: Paul refers to the gift of prophecy in Rome, a church not yet visited by an apostle. 5) 1 Corinthians 12:8-10: Gifts of healing and miracles are experienced in the Corinthian church without an apostle present. 6) Galatians 3:5: Paul refers to the Holy Spirit who “works miracles among you.” The “you” is plural and must refer to the entire congregation, which was not led by an apostle. 7) 1 Thessalonians 5:20: Paul demands that the Thessalonians not hinder the prophetic gift. 8) The list of miraculous gifts experienced by non-apostles in the New Testament grows much longer when we include tongues. Even a progressive dispensationalist like Dr. Robert Saucy of Talbot School of Theology, who stresses in his writings the uniqueness of the apostolic era, challenges cessationist logic at this point: "While agreeing with many of the emphases in the cessationist position, some of the conclusions that demand the complete cessation of miraculous gifts in my opinion go beyond the express teaching of Scripture or necessary deductions from theological principles of Scripture." Conclusion: While the unique ministry of the apostles is honored and revered, it cannot be inferred from that ministry that the miraculous gifts were limited to and died with them.

 

Cessation argument #3: Church history proves that all evidence of the miraculous gifts passed away after the first century. This argument filled the bulk of Warfield’s pages and has been popular in cessationist writing ever since.

 

Response: Two responses are in order. First, even if it could be proved that the gifts passed away in the history of the church, this does not prove that God will not grant them again. Second, history does not prove that the miraculous gifts passed away, as we will see below. 1) Stanley Burgess has produced a three-volume study on the history of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. He writes, “Before John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407) in the East and Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430) in the west, no church father suggested that any or all of the charismata were intended only for the first-century Church. 2) The Patristic Era (A.D. 100-600).

 

An early second-century document, The Didache, was written to ministers. It exhorted the church to “permit the prophets to give thanks as much as they desire” and then proceeded to give instruction on how prophetic utterances were to be tested. Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 100-165) reminds fellow Christians in a letter that “many of our Christian men…have healed and do heal, rendering helpless and driving the possessing devils out. c) Irenaeus (ca. A.D. 130-202) writes, We do also hear many brethren in the Church who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men…those who are in truth His disciples…do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come; they see visions…others still heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up and remained among us for many years. Origen, writing in the third century, reported that signs and wonders validated the proclamation of the gospel: The Gospel has a demonstration of its own…this…method is called by the apostle the “manifestation of the Spirit and of power:” of “the Spirit” on account of the prophecies, which are sufficient to produce faith in anyone who reads them…and of “power”, because of the signs and wonders. The Latin theologian Hilary of Poitiers, writing in the fourth century, affirmed that the miraculous gifts were operating in his day: The gift of the Spirit is manifest…where there is…the gift of healings, that by the cure of the disease we should bear witness to His grace…or by the working of miracles…or by prophecy…or by discerning of spirits…or by kinds of tongues, that the speaking in tongues may be bestowed as a sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit; or by the interpretation of tongues. Finally, Augustine, who wrote in the late fourth and early fifth century, believed that the gift of tongues was not given to the church in his day, but that the gift of miracles was.

 

The Medieval Era (600-1500). a) Colette of Corbi (d.1447) founded a convent and earned a reputation as one through whom God worked in miraculous ways. The Reformation and the Modern Era (1500 to present). It is widely reported that the Reformers did not believe in the miraculous gifts. Therefore it is somewhat surprising to find Martin Luther writing the following advice to a pastor who sought his counsel in ministering to a sick man: I know of no worldly advice to give. If the physicians are at a loss to find a remedy, you may be sure that it is not a case of ordinary melancholy. It must, rather, be an affliction that comes from the devil and must be counteracted by the power of Christ and the prayer of faith. Accordingly you should proceed as follows…Graciously deign to free this man from all evil, and bring to naught the work that Satan has done in him…Then, when you depart, lay your hands on the man again and say, “These signs shall follow them that believe; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.

 

In this century, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones helped to foster a renewed interest in Reformation theology in general and the Puritan way of thought in particular. He writes: There is evidence from many of those Protestant Reformers and Fathers, that some of them had a genuine, true gift of prophecy…read these books…you will find this gift of prophecy…[and] the occasional miracle. Anyone who is prepared to say that all this ended with the apostolic age, and that there has never been a miracle since the apostles…gives the lie…*and] is to quench the Holy Spirit. Conclusion: It is probably fair to say that the charismatic church has seen too much of the miraculous in the history of the church, and evangelical church has seen too little (There is no entry under “miracle” in the subject index of Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church). As is so often the case, the truth appears to be somewhere in the middle. God has continued to give the miraculous gifts throughout the history of the church, although in varying degrees.

 

Cessation Argument #4: Jesus says, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign” (Matt. 16:4). This means that we should not pray for the miraculous in our ministries today.

 

Response: The problem with this objection is that it fails to consider who Jesus’ audience was. Matthew 16 shows us that the “wicked and adulterous generation” referred to were the Scribes and the Pharisees who came to test Jesus by asking for a sign. Jesus was rebuking hard-hearted unbelievers who mocked him with this request. Notice the greater frequency with which Jesus compassionately responded to a request for a miracle. Significantly, Acts 4:30 relates that the apostles and the early disciples prayed for signs and wonders to follow their preaching ministry. Paul, rather than discouraging his readers from seeking the miraculous gifts, told them do desire them eagerly (1 Cor. 14:1). John writes that “many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name” (John 2:23). Then he reinforces the positive role of signs in proclaiming the gospel: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31).

HOW TO DISCERN COUNTERFEIT SPIRITUAL GIFTS AND FALSE REVIVALS

How can the Christian be certain that the spiritual gifts they are witnessing are not counterfeit, but genuine? And what are the marks of true revival in the Church? Since the gifts of the Spirit are endemic to spiritual revival, it is important to investigate both of these areas.

 

Today, more than ever before, the Church of Christ is inundated with false spirituality. Much of the activity taking place in churches and labeled as the "Holy Spirit" is completely contrived by man or demonic powers. And while some of these things may appear harmless on the surface, they have power to bind us spiritually in a way that may take years to undo. For this reason, it is important that we learn to recognize the real work of the Holy Spirit as opposed to that which is not. Moreover, we must be sharp enough to pick up the tell tale signs that reveal the true, while exposing the false.

 

In the following article by Shane Idleman (in red), we will see some of these principles expressed succinctly so that we may better distinguish the real from the fake:

 

“Christians are called to discern truth from err, light from darkness, and right from wrong ... but how? Jeremiah 23:17 offers one answer, They continually say to those who despise Me, The LORD has said, You shall have peace; And to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, No evil shall come upon you.

 

False teachers often don't warn, confront or convict. They offer comfortable messages and a false sense of peace, or they mislead with rules and regulations as found in 1 Timothy 4:2-3—speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

 

Jesus said in Matthew 24:24 that, false Christs and false prophets will appear and deceive many. Deception comes in many forms but centers around false hope or legalism. Not all leaders in experience-oriented movements are false and misleading. Many are sincere and open to the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

God's Word is the foundation on which all truth stands (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15). What is true revival then? Simply stated: a genuine revival is God reviving His people— Wilt thou not revive us again that thy people may rejoice in thee? (Ps. 85:6). Repentance is often a mark of true revival as what was reflected in the life of Griffith Jones, who preached during the Welsh revivals of the 18th century: 'The tears [of the congregation] began to flow in streams down their cheeks. Soon, they wept openly, and cried out, 'What shall we do to be saved?'' It was not uncommon for people to tremble and weep or shout for joy under the anointed preaching of George Whitefield. Whitefield was the primary evangelist during the Great Awakening that occurred in the mid 1700s. During this time, old grudges and debts were forgiven, morality improved, many were added to the church, and there was a greater sense of the fear of the Lord.

 

Those who use past revivals in an attempt to validate odd events today perhaps have not truly researched revivals. In reading the historical writings of charismatics and Calvinists, Pentecostals and Puritans, Acts and Azusa, as well as countless biographies of leaders such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, Charles Spurgeon and D.L. Moody, and puritans such as Thomas Goodwin, John Bunyan, John Owen and Richard Baxter, nowhere do these leaders encourage the hysteria or the outright weirdness that we sometimes see today. Granted, there were times of strong conviction such as when people held on to trees thinking that they were falling into the abyss of hell during the famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," by Jonathan Edwards. And people did cry out to God, and/or fall on the ground under the strong conviction of sin during the revivals of George Whitefield, John Wesley and Evan Roberts, but this is because sin, righteousness and holiness were preached—falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you (1Co. 14:25). This is true revival.

 

Perhaps a balanced end to this article is found in an excerpt from Duncan Campbell's book, The Price and Power of Revival: ‘How is it that while we make such great claims for the power of the gospel, we see so little of the supernatural in operation? Is there any reason why the church today cannot everywhere equal the church at Pentecost? I feel this is a question we ought to face with an open mind and an honest heart. What did the early church have that we do not possess today? Nothing but the Holy Spirit; nothing but the power of God.’ Here I would suggest that one of the main secrets of success in the early Church lay in the fact that the early believers believed in unction from on high and not entertainment from men. So how did the early church get the people? By publicity projects, by bills, by posters, by parades, or by pictures? No! The people were arrested and drawn together and brought into vital relationship with God, not by sounds from men, but by sounds from heaven. The early Church cried for unction and not for entertainment.

 

Unction is the dire and desperate need of the ministry today. There is a desperate need to preach and proclaim God's Word with genuine power if we are to experience true revival. Without God's authority and power, words are lifeless.

 

Where are those with uncompromising power and authority in the pulpits today? The one thing that all of the great revivals in church history had is the one thing that we often lack—the genuine power of the Holy Spirit. The very thing that we need is the very thing that we are afraid of. Many do not truly want revival because of fear of what it may involve. A few years ago I prayed, ‘Lord, bring revival to the churches’—I was not ready for the response that followed. I felt impressed with these words: ‘You don't want revival—it will ruin your schedule, your dignity, your image and your reputation as a person who is 'well-balanced.' Men will weep throughout the congregation. Women will wail because of the travail of their own souls. Young adults will cry like children at the magnitude of their sin. With the strength of My presence, the worship team will cease playing. Time will seem to stand still. You won't be able to preach because of the emotions flooding your own soul. You'll struggle to find words, but only find tears. Even the most dignified and reserved among you will be broken and humbled as little children. The proud and self-righteous will not be able to stand in My presence. The doubter and unbeliever will either run for fear or fall on their knees and worship Me—there can be no middle ground. The church will never be the same again. Do you really want revival?’”....

 

The preceding article reminds us to be extra cautious whenever men attempt to conjure up revival through fleshly means. How vigilant we must be to check for genuine fruit every time we are confronted with a “great move of God”. In light of these dangers, the following checklist may help us to recognize the true earmarks of any spiritual work:

 

1. Is there a healthy emphasis on repentance from sin and holiness?

2. Is there a tangible fear of God in the place?

3. Are the leaders of the church relying on entertainment, comedy, rock music, and concert style performances to garner interest and participation? If so, steer clear of it!

4. Are people "riding the high" of a “feel good” experience or are they being motivated by love and devotion to Jesus?

5. If active, do the spiritual gifts reflect those described in Scripture or do they appear to be extra-biblical in nature?

Note: Counterfeit spiritual gifts can include being “slain in the spirit” (falling backward to the ground), making animal noises, and bizarre behaviour such as sticking out one’s tongue or laughing uncontrollably.

Important: While the Spirit may produce overwhelming joy in a Believer (Act. 13:52; Gal. 5:22; 1Pet. 1:8), it should never cause us to act foolish, silly, or without self-control (Gal. 5:23; 2Tim. 1:7).

6. Are members of the church being coerced into speaking in tongues with unscriptural promptings such as, “now repeat after me” or “just blabber whatever comes to mind”.

Note: The Apostles never attempted to artificially induce individuals to speak in tongues. We are told that the Holy Spirit “fell upon them” and they supernaturally spoke in tongues and prophesied. Man was not involved in creating this experience. Remember, there is a big difference between the artificial contrivings of man and the genuine work of the Holy Spirit. So be extra wary of such things!

Important: If you were ever deceived into participating in any of the aforementioned activity then you must repent of your involvement forthright and renounce all affiliation with it.

 

HOW DOES GOD SPEAK TODAY?

Many of us often wonder whether God still speaks today, and if so, how. As those who believe in the continuity of the spiritual gifts, we also affirm that God continues to speak to people today the same way He has in times past. According to the Scriptures, there are eight definite ways in which we can discern God’s voice or understand His will in our current life situation. These are as follows: 

 

Audibly (Ex. 3:4; 1Sam. 3:8; Act. 9:3-4) 

Internally, through the Spirit's “still small voice” (1King. 19:12; Jn. 16:13) 

Through angels (Gen. 18:2-15; Luk. 1:26-38; Rev. 1:1) 

Through visions or dreams (Gen. 31:11; Joe. 2:28; Mat. 2:22) 

Through the casting of lots (Lev. 16:8; Josh. 18:6; Act. 1:26; Prov. 16:33) 

Through prophecy (Ezek. 37:4; Dan. 9:24; 1Co. 12:10; 2Pet. 1:21) 

Through tongues (Act. 2:11; 1Co. 12:10) 

Through the Bible—God’s Word (Psa. 119:105; Pro. 30:5-6; 1Thes. 2:13; 1Tim. 3:16- 17; 2Pet. 1:20)

 

COMPARING THE "GIFTS" WITH THE "FRUIT"

There is an unhealthy tendency within the Church to either focus exclusively on the fruit of the Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit. Rarely, are both of these in operation simultaneously as they ought to be. Yet both of these are equally important to the spiritual well being and survival of the Church. While the fruit of the Spirit represent the character traits of Jesus that ought to be exemplified in every Believer (Gal 5:22-23), the gifts of the Spirit are essential for ministry and edification, and should be an integral part of every Christian fellowship. Now, if we place too much emphasis on the gifts and lose sight of the fruit, then we will never be any more Christ-like and deserve the same rebuke as the Church at Corinth (1Co. 12:31). But if we exclusively pursue the fruit and undermine the need for the gifts, we will be like a boat using only one oar to paddle across the waters. We will go round and round in circles without any forward progress.

 

Jesus Christ was a complete spiritual man because He displayed both the spiritual fruit and the spiritual gifts operating together in His life. Nevertheless, if we are to get our priorities in proper order, it is the fruit of the Spirit that we should strive for first and foremost (1Co. 12:31).

 

CONCLUSION

Over the centuries, many Christians have undermined the spiritual gifts or completely neglected their powerful contribution to the Church. Even worse, the great majority who lay claim to them have only produced counterfeit manifestations that have deceived multitudes and lead them astray. Yet the gifts are part of the very nature of God, imparted to Believers so that they may expand His Kingdom on earth. To this effect, Paul reminded the Ephesians that the gifts were given “for the perfecting of the saints, and the work of the ministry, and the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12–15). So imagine what happens when we remove the gifts of the Spirit from our assemblies. Can the Church continue to grow into perfection? Does ministry outreach still contain the power it needs? Can the Body still receive edification from those who practice their God appointed roles in the Church?... Undoubtedly not. Once we extinguish the spiritual gifts and their operation then the spiritual life in the Church is also gone.

 

We can state with confidence that apart from the supernatural working of the Spirit, Satan would have prevailed against the Church a long time ago contrary to the promise of Scripture (Mat. 16:18). But is it possible that the lack of the supernatural is why so many churches around the world are failing and faltering? Perhaps Christianity has lost a great deal of relevance in society because so many churches have intentionally squelched the sensational gifts of the Spirit. If so, then it’s time to plead with God for a greater outpouring of His Spirit so that individual members may once again receive Pentecostal power and the Body of Christ may be edified, unified, and matured to more closely resemble Jesus.