Since this past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday, I thought it good to delve into the question of whether Spiritual Gifts are or aren’t for today. Many in the church at large fall in one camp or the other regarding the gifts and we will seek to discover a balanced and biblical approach to this issue. In full disclosure, I do personally believe the gifts are for today but if you disagree that’s ok although I would ask you to hear me out because I want to try to give a fair hearing to both sides, even though admittedly I am slanted in favor of them being for today. With this issue there are truths and errors on both sides of the argument that we need to be aware of as we seek to gain proper understanding, application, balance and biblical discernment regarding this often divisive issue.
The Gifts as They Appear in Scripture
Before we get into the arguments for and against Spiritual Gifts being for today, let’s go to the source and see what the bible actually says about this subject. I would recommend that you read the entire chapters of 1 Corinthians 12 through 14 along with other places in the New Testament relevant to this matter to get the full context on Spiritual Gifts, but for the sake of space we will only be discussing the most relevant sections of these scriptures.
In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, the apostle Paul says the following, “4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing [by the one Spirit,10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” Now in the full context of this chapter these nine manifestations of the Spiritual Gifts are not the only Gifts mentioned, in verse 28 it says, “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” To recap the entire list of gifts include: Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Words of Wisdom and Knowledge, Faith, Gifts of Healing, Effecting Miracles, Prophecy, Distinguishing of Spirits, Tongues and Interpretation of Tongues.
The Emphasis on Tongues
Notice here in chapter 12 that Paul says in verse 7 that the manifestation of the gifts is for the common good of the body of Christ. Many people today particularly in the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements tend to focus on just speaking in tongues as the de facto evidence that a Christian has been filled with the Holy Spirit, but the reality is that there are many more gifts than tongues and these are much more beneficial for the common good of the body. With regard to tongues, Paul says the following in 1 Corinthians 15:15-17, “13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. 16 Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. 18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all;19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
What Paul is saying here is that in the church, if there are tongues, there should be interpretation so that those who are ungifted may understand and be blessed. He also says he’s thankful he speaks in tongues more than those in the Corinthian church but he would rather speak five intelligible words than ten thousand words in a tongue. In orderly Christian worship we should not forbid the speaking in tongues as it says in 1 Cor. 14:39-40 but that there should be orderly worship, in other words there should be interpretation if tongues are present. This is an indictment on Charismatic and Pentecostal churches where everyone speaks in tongues during worship and there is no interpretation, therefore worship has become disorderly, is unpleasing to the Lord and the unsaved will think we are nuts, First Corinthians 14:23 says, “Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?”
Now with regard to the claim that all believers should speak in tongues as evidence they are filled with the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:30 states, “All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?” This proves that not all Spirit filled Christians speak in tongues, rather the Holy Spirit gifts believers as He sees fit for the edification of the church. In the 40 years of my Christian life, most of which have been spent in one Friends church or another I have rarely seen the gift of tongues displayed in worship services, however I have know many Friends that have the gift of tongues as a part their private prayer life and there’s absolutely nothing biblically wrong with that! On the other hand I have seen many of the other spiritual gifts Paul mentions regularly manifested in worship services and in various aspects of ministry in the Friends church, which is also very biblically sound.
Dangerous Extremes vs. Proper Balance
Now there is an extreme within the Church world involving so called Spiritual Gifts that is both unbiblical and dangerous. We see this extreme primarily in churches that again are Charismatic and Pentecostal. What I’m talking about has to do with extremely weird and bizarre manifestations. For example, in these church services or conventions, everyone speaks in tongues with little or no interpretation, in some instances there’s what is called a “drunken anointing” where those involved act as though they are intoxicated or high claiming it is the Holy Spirit. They are ignoring the scripture that says we are to be alert and sober minded. There are often odd manifestations of gold dust, “angel” feathers and gems appearing in meetings which have no scriptural precedence and have in many instances been proven to be faked. There is much strange behavior ranging from people falling on the ground, claiming to be slain in the Spirit, to those making animal noises ranging from barking like dogs or wolves to slithering on the ground and hissing like snakes, to jerking and spasmodic movements of the head and body or uncontrollable hysterical laughter or other wild emotional outbursts and erratic behavior.
Along with these are visions and mystical, ecstatic experiences where those involved claim to have had visits to heaven and receive special revelation, espouse doctrinal distortions and heresies as being biblical, to even having a romantic even sexual desire for or sexual union with Jesus (which is outright blasphemy)! There are often prophecies given pertaining to the future of the world, the church or to individuals that end up never happening or at best are hit and miss. These practices are a perversion of true spiritual gifts, involve doctrines of demons and can often be demonic manifestations or outright demonic possessions in the guise of being from the Holy Spirit.
Often times you will hear people in these charismatic meetings proclaim they couldn’t control their behavior therefore it must be the Holy Spirit. However the scripture is clear that the fruit of the Spirit is self control and the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets, therefore if these individuals were not in control of their actions they clearly were not acting in accordance to or by the leading or power of the Holy Spirit. They were either being controlled by their fleshly desires or by a spirit other than the Holy Spirit. They were seduced and deceived through hypnotic induction and demonic deception prevalent in these meetings.
It’s important to understand that when signs and wonders happened in Acts and in other places in the New Testament it was most often in connection with spreading the Gospel and God’s Kingdom with God’s power evident in the signs and wonders for the purpose of inspiring faith in the Gospel and for bringing people into the Kingdom or for empowering the Church for ministry, and not ever for inspiring faith in the signs and wonders themselves. Very often in the west where these charismatic gifts, signs and wonders conferences and services take place, the gifts and wonders themselves are elevated to the central and primary focus of these meetings and is there any connection with evangelism or spreading the Gospel to the unsaved, or equipping and empowering the Church for ministry? Rarely if at all and that is problematic.
I’m not saying God cannot or does not use signs and wonders for and within the Church, but for them to be proper there must be the discernment of spirits in operation and they cannot be elevated to the primary focus of the Church. If proper order and focus is not followed and spiritual discernment is not in operation then the devil can easily slip in unnoticed and that’s when things go crazy. When Jesus and the apostles were on earth they did not have a healing ministry or a signs and wonders ministry. Their ministry was focused on the Gospel, on getting people into the Kingdom, on forgiveness, repentance, loving the brothers and holy living and even though the gifts and miracles were in operation as a display of God’s power, they always took a back seat to the primary focus of the ministry.
Also understand that when it comes to prophecy, the bible is clear that there must be 100% accuracy demonstrated by clear, provable fulfillment otherwise the persons giving never fulfilled or hit or miss prophecies are by default false prophets. When it comes to other gifts, for example if a Christian claims to have a word of knowledge for another Christian, that word must be laser sharp in its detail, it has to be something they would not otherwise know and it has to be provably true, and it should be something that either warns, convicts, strengthens, exhorts, comforts, builds faith or gives clarity to issues confronting the other believer, otherwise if it is like a generalized psychic prediction that tickles the ears of the hearer, it is clairvoyance and unbiblical and should be rejected. Psychics and clairvoyants are the devils counterfeits and he tries to bring this into the church disguised as being of the Holy Spirit in order to deceive believers. When we think of a Benny Hinn healing crusade or a Tod Bently conference where he’s kicked old ladies in the face with biker boots, claiming it was the Holy Spirit or listen to Christian music in services that is mesmerizing to the point of being hypnotic then we can see that there is much quackery and deception in the charismatic movement. Therefore it is imperative to use caution when encountering such gifts or manifestations and we absolutely do need to discern the spirits when we encounter this or any other Spiritual Gift or spiritual manifestation.
The wise Christian should steer clear of these false and unbiblical manifestations and practices and avoid churches or conferences where these take place. If you’ve never heard of these things going on in the church you’re probably shocked to hear this but sadly it does go on and you needed to be warned so that if you do encounter them, you are not seduced and deceived by them. The distortion of spiritual gifts, signs and wonders is no small occurrence only existing in some remote or fringe element of the church. Charismatic (both Protestant and Catholic) churches and Pentecostals comprise one forth of Christians worldwide and this phenomenon is infiltrating and overtaking this segment of the church like wildfire. For more information on this extreme and unbiblical application of Spiritual Gifts, signs and wonders, I strongly suggest you read Andrew Strom’s book Kundalini Warning or check out his videos on You Tube.
With All This Mayhem, Isn’t it Safer to Assume the Gifts Have Ceased?
Now in an understandable reaction to the extreme and unbiblical manifestations of Spiritual Gifts, signs, wonders and prophecy that I’ve mentioned, many Christians, especially those in Calvinistic circles including many if not most, in the Reformed movement, have taken a polar opposite approach. They believe that all Spiritual Gifts, including signs and wonders are absolutely not for today. John MacArthur, a nationally known pastor in the Reformed movement put on a conference called “Strange Fire” which you can look up and view on You Tube, that not only denounces the unbiblical extremes found in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement but they also lump in with the extremes all spiritual gifts, signs and wonders as well. Now as I’ve already stated the extremes in Spiritual gifts including weird signs, freakish wonders, ecstatic mystical experiences and inaccurate, unfulfilled, hit or miss prophecies are unbiblical and dangerous and should be avoided; they are embarrassing and shameful to the Body of Christ. Not only to those who believe the gifts are not for today but also to those who have a balanced and biblical approach to Spiritual Gifts signs and wonders.
In a sense if you exclude all the gifts and their manifestations you also get rid of all the distortions, fakery, deception and extremes. However if there is biblical evidence that Spiritual gifts have been available since Pentecost for all believers and for the Church even to today, then saying all gifts have ceased is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Let’s take a look at the scripture that those who believe the Gifts are not for today use to justify their position. First Corinthians 13:8- 13 says the following, “8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of[ prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
From these verses it is clear that the Gifts of the Spirit will pass away, the question that remains is when? Those who believe the gifts have already ceased state that they were in operation to get the early church off the ground and once the apostles died and scripture was canonized the Church no longer needed the Spiritual Gifts. To answer these points raised by those who believe the gifts have ceased, we need to ask another question and that is why did God give us the gifts in the first place? The primary reason I believe God gave the gifts of the Spirit is because we as Christians in our current state we are extremely limited. We are limited in our experience, our knowledge, wisdom, insight and understanding. We are limited by our gender, by our culture, our age, our current state of health, socioeconomic status and by our location (we are limited to being in one place at a time and are unaware of events occurring elsewhere). We are also limited by our mindsets, our perceptions of reality, our subjective beliefs, experiences and our personal biases.
We are also limited by what we are consciously aware of at any given moment, not only in our own lives but in the lives of others around us. These limitations put us at an extreme disadvantage in all kinds of situations, not only individually but collectively as the Church. If the gifts have ceased then both individuals and the collective Church are in a continual state of being greatly limited and hindered in both spreading the Gospel and in building up and edifying the body of Christ. God on the other hand has none of the limitations we are subject to in these current bodies of ours. By giving us spiritual giftings and access to Him through the Holy Spirit then our individual and collective limitations are overcome. Verse 12 In 1 Cor. 13 bears out what I’ve stated which says. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” Can any of us honestly say we know fully just as we have been fully known? No! The Spiritual Gifts are here for us until we meet the Lord face to face then the limitations we have here are done away with, when that happens the gifts will no longer be needed. If the limitations I’ve listed here were faced by the early Church who had the gifts of the Spirit, they are also faced today, therefore we need the Gifts today as much as the early church needed them back then.
Yes today we do have the complete scripture readily available to each of us, but that hardly qualifies as fully knowing as I am fully known. How many of us have the entire bible memorized and if they do can they skillfully and accurately apply it to every situation they ever encounter? Not without the Holy Spirit. If the Christian or the church is facing a spirit not from God how will they know that is what it is without the gift of discerning of spirits? They can’t. In ministering to or counseling another person whether a Christian or not, can a Christian have the inside scoop on the hidden source of a problem this person has not revealed or is not aware of themselves? Sure you can get a counseling degree, gain a lot of experience in working with people or just Google it but that doesn’t mean you’re right or that you’ve accurately pinpointed a hidden or unknown key to a problem a person is facing. On the other hand, if the Lord gives us insight in the moment through an accurate word of knowledge then the problem, which otherwise may take years to resolve can be taken care of in a much shorter time. I could go on about the other gifts and how they lift our limitations but you probably get the point.
One who believes the gifts have ceased may say that we have the bible and those who teach, preach and serve and that’s all we need. That is not an intellectually honest answer because prophets (in this case I will limit this to mean those who proclaim truth only but not foretell future events – which I suppose is where they get the notion of pastors from) and teachers fall within the Spiritual Gifts listen in 1 Corinthians. If the Spiritual Gifts have ceased, so have pastors (e.g. prophets), teachers, administrators and those with the gifts of helps. Well, they may say, we have the leading of the Holy Spirit through prayer and the Word, therefore the gifts are not needed. The leading of the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit work in tandem with each other, if the Holy Spirit is giving me a passion to deeply study the bible and also a desire to help others better understand scripture, then my Spiritual Gift would be teaching.
A Christian may have more than one spiritual gift but they do not have all the gifts because they are only one part of the body. If all we have is the leading of the Holy Spirit and not specifically assigned gifts then every member could at any time do everything associated with any gift and the individual parts would lose their distinctiveness and the body metaphor in scripture would not have been used. Another problem with saying the Gifts have ceased has to do with control. As humans we like to have and be in control, to say the gifts have ceased, means we are the ones in control, but how does that even square with scripture? It doesn’t, there is one head over the body and that is Jesus and there are many parts to the body with various functions and giftings to carry out the call of God on our lives and to fulfill the purposes God has for the Church. That does not in any way mean we have to accept any and every expression of the Spiritual Gifts, scripture commands us to be sober and vigilant and to use discernment in the expression of spiritual gifts because not everything spiritual is from the Lord.
The Gift that’s Not for Today
With all this said, there is one gift that I do believe is not in personal operation for modern Christians and that is the Gift of Apostleship. Here are some reasons I believe this to be the case. First all the apostles (except Paul) knew Jesus in the flesh (in person in his natural physical body), since Jesus is not here in bodily form modern Christians cannot be or claim to be eyewitnesses to his resurrection, which was a requirement for apostleship. Second Jesus personally commissioned each of the apostles; since he is not physically among us he cannot commission new apostles. Third apostles proved their apostleship through miracles. A Christian may validly operate in miracles today but without being an eyewitness to the resurrection and Jesus personally commissioning them to be apostles; they cannot claim the gift of apostleship. Finally if we believe Scripture is a closed cannon then there can be no modern apostles. I’m sure Joseph Smith and many others would love to claim apostleship in order to get their false writings canonized into scripture. We do benefit from the apostolic gift today through the writings contained in the New Testament, but as we can see no one today has the ability to claim apostleship.
Finally to quote Larry Norman, a Christian musician from the Jesus Movement, “Without love you ain’t nothing, you ain’t nothing without love.” In Corinthians 13:1- 7 we see that love is superior to the Gifts of the Spirit, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Regardless of what our position is on the Spiritual Gifts, love must take first place. Let’s work on truly loving our brothers and sisters in the Truth!
It is my hope this blog post has brought you some clarity and understanding as well as a balanced approach to the area of Spiritual Gifts, as well as the pitfalls to avoid. May the Lord bless you as you continue to grow, walk in and serve Him!
Elder of Spiritual Life
Sebring Friends Church