Friday, October 3, 2008

The Charismatic Gifts Debate

In answering the question of whether or not the sign gifts are present today, I categorize myself as a cessationist. Because cessationism can mean more than one thing, my conviction resembles that of a Classical Cessationist (while the sign gifts have ceased with the office of Apostle and the closing of the canon, I do not limit God’s ability to perform independent miracles today). The other cessationist positions are Full (no more miracles at all), Concentric (while miracles [sign gifts] have ceased, they appear in unreached areas to further the Gospel), and Consistent (both sign gifts and the ministries listed in Ephesians 4 have ceased; i.e. not just apostles, but pastors, teachers, and evangelists).1 As a cessationist, I look to Scripture to verify my own personal convictions.

First, 2 Corinthians 12:12 and Ephesians 3:4-5 demonstrate that the sign gifts are associated with the office and ministry of Apostles and Prophets. This is important as only 14 men have ever held the office of Apostle according to Scripture (Luke 6:13, Acts 1:26, and 1 Corinthians 9:2). The argument that the office of Apostle continues today is not reasonable as the personal experiences of the twelve (disciples/apostles) along with Paul, in addition to the requirements for selecting a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:22 indicates this had to be someone who was a witness of the entire ministry of Christ from John’s Baptism to the Ascension), attest to the limit of this temporary office. Additionally, Ephesians 2:20 demonstrates that the office, along with that of Prophet in the Old Covenant, is for a foundation upon which the Church is built (this would include the canon of Scripture as foundational as it was the written teaching, inspired by the Holy Spirit, of the Prophets and Apostles or someone directly related to them). So then, if the offices of Apostle and Prophet have ceased, it is reasonable to infer from Scriptural evidence affirming this point that the sign gifts associated with this office have ceased as well. As a side note, prophecy includes two things: foretelling and forthtelling. Because all orthodox Christians rightly believe that there is no new revelation, the foretelling aspect of this gift is no longer functioning. However, the forthtelling or proclamation of the Gospel will continue until the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

Second, Hebrews 2:2-4 refers to signs, wonders, and miracles in the past tense as a confirmation of the message of salvation first coming through Christ and then His apostles. This passage affirms others such as 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. Here, Paul makes the point that prophecy and knowledge will be “done away,”2 while tongues will “cease.”2 Two verses later, in verse 10, Paul refers to both prophecy and knowledge as partial, being done away with at the coming of the perfect. MacArthur raises an important point here in that, “There may be a distinction made on how prophecy and knowledge come to an end, and how the gift of tongues does. This is indicated by the Gr. verb forms used.”3 Later, he points out that this difference indicates that the gift of tongues will cease by itself.3 Although the gift of tongues, along with other sign gifts, has ceased, it does not seem that the coming of the perfect described in these verses is the completion of the canon. Rather, Scripture indicates that the perfect has come when we see face to face (verse 12), and this occurs in the eternal state (Revelation 22:4).

Finally, 1 Corinthians 14:22 states that tongues is a sign for unbelievers. While the continuationist uses Paul’s emphasis upon tongues in this chapter to support their position, this is not the context of the message. Paul was communicating two things here: First, if tongues occurs at all, it should not be practiced in an unorganized or chaotic fashion; Second, prophecy is an altogether better and more desirable gift. So then, if tongues is a sign for unbelievers, and this along with the other sign gifts are associated with the office or ministry of Apostle, and the offices of both Apostle and Prophet have ceased, the sign gifts are no longer active today.

In conclusion, many detractors label cessationist congregations as either quenchers of the Spirit or not experiencing the same Spiritually-active worship as continuationist congregations. Boyd and Eddy indicate that, “All [evangelicals] believe the Holy Spirit supernaturally works in human hearts to bring people to the point of faith in Christ. All believe the Holy Spirit gives certain gifts to people to carry out ministry, such as teaching, preaching, administration, and hospitality. And all agree that God can and does at times miraculously intervene in the affairs of people.”4 I agree with this statement and believe that using Scripture to come to the conclusion that certain sign gifts have ceased with certain offices does not make one believer any less alive in the Spirit than another. God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are alive and well in today’s fallen world.

[1] "Cessationism." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 23 Sep 2008, 17:15 UTC. 3 Oct 2008 <>.

[2] 1 Corinthians 13:8, The MacArthur Study Bible (La Habra: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 1718.

[3] John F. MacArthur, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 Notes, The MacArthur Study Bible (La Habra: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 1719.

[4] Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, The Charismatic Gifts Debate, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 213.

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