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Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?

The Effect of Our World View

There have been a tremendous philosophical and theological shifts in history. For most of history, tradition and the church dominated western civilization. With the reformers came a rejection of the tradition and corruption of the church and an emphasis was placed on the sufficiency of scripture. Their slogan was “sola scriptura” or scripture alone. Scripture was the authority, there was absolute truth with right and wrong defined and people were held responsible for their actions. Everyone was religious, either Jewish, catholic or protestant, and their theology affected their culture.

Then came the Enlightement where human reason ruled and the conclusions of finite minds was that there was either no supernatural being or at least He was not involved in human affairs. Scripture was rejected as being from God since He probably didn’t exist or had not revealed himself. Consequently, there were no absolutes. The shift in theology often parallels the shift in the culture. During the enlightenment, the German scholars, who didn’t believe in the supernatural (divine revelation included), took the supernatural events and predictive prophecy out of the Bible by claiming that the books were all written after the events happened, not before, and by claiming that the supernatural stories (like Jonah being swalled by a fish) were just myth.

Now we have come to an age sometimes called postmodernism. In this age experience has replaced both scripture and reason. The emphasis in society is on self and self-fulfillment. In almost every commercial you hear the message that “you deserve better.” There is still no right or wrong. There are no absolutes. People are not held accountable for their actions. Their crimes are blamed on society. There is also more acceptance of the supernatural as seen in the new age movement, channeling spirits, the popularity of TV shows about angels, etc.

Our latest philosophical shift is represented

  • by theologians, like Clark Pinnock, who teach universalism - that everyone will get to heaven. There is no hell (i.e. no responsibility for their unbelief).
  • The “you deserve better” philosophy is seen in the Charismatic emphasis that God always wants to heal you. He doesn’t want you to suffer.
  • And everything bad is blamed on demons. The Frank Perretti novels illustrate this attitude. The tendency toward blaming everything on demons also absolves people of individual responsibility.
  • Everything is relative. Experience rules. And because experience rules, it doesn’t really matter what the Bible says about a topic such as the modern day existence of the sign gifts.

    The doctrines of the past were just intellectual truth rarely applied and therefore fruitless. The study of scripture should have resulted in the worship of God and the stirring of the emotions, but it rarely did. Consequently, some have returned to the reading of the puritans and reformers because they are intrigued by their emotional response to God and their worship of God. Others are turning to a different source--a search for miracles. The charismatic and signs and wonders movements stir the emotions through experience, and so some chase after the emotional highs and scripture is often neglected. The pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other. Both extremes are wrong. As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

    I think it is helpful to recognize cultural shifts because our cultural world view affects our theology. We need to do some self-examination and understand why we might be attracted to this or that theology. We need to recognize that there is a world view that drives us and it drives our understanding of Scripture. It ought to be the other way around, but it often is not. What I hope is that we are open minded enough to let scripture shape our world view. What we need to be real careful of is adopting a theology that goes against 1930 years of orthodox church history. So we need to study the arguments and be sure before we jump into something new.

    Five Views

    Pentecostalism

    In 1901 a Pentecostal revival began in the United States which taught that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the NT are still in effect today. The one they were and are most concerned with was and is the gift of tongues. Although the original Pentecostal doctrine taught that the Holy Spirit was given at a “second blessing,” most modern Pentecostals would agree that the new believer receives the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation. But after conversion, the Holy Spirit comes in special empowering experiences, sometimes known as the baptism of the Spirit or sometimes called “the second blessing.” When they talk about being “refilled” they do not mean you get more of the Holy Spirit. You get more of His power. When this happens a person will speak in tongues as a “sign” that they have received this second blessing. They teach that all Christians should seek this experience and consequently speaking in tongues becomes a main focus of many Pentecostals.

    Charismatics

    In the 1960’s the Charismatic movement began. This was a renewal movement among evangelicals that emphasized that all the gifts were still active - tongues, miracles, healings, etc. They have not formed their own denominations, but have existed within existing denominations. Pentecostals and Charismatics are very similar in their theology.

    The Vineyard Movement

    In the 1980’s another movement began. It is sometimes known as the Third Wave. (Pentecostalism being the first and Charismatics being the second). It is more commonly known today as the Vineyard Movement. It was begun by and made popular by C. Peter Wagner and John Wimber and Jack Deere. They believe that all the spiritual gifts are functioning today. Their emphasis is not on tongues, it is on miracles and prophecy. Like the Charismatics, they teach that the Holy Spirit can “come in varying degrees of intensity” after salvation, so that the believer is overwhelmed, empowered, etc. These later events are identified as being “filled with the Spirit.” They teach that one can get more of the Spirit at various times in the Christian experience to help with such things as martydom, persecution, special tasks, etc. Another manifestation of getting more of the Spirit would be the ability to perform miracles, healings, speak in tongues, prophecy, etc.

    They teach that the proclamation of the gospel, done properly, is done with signs and wonders. Thus it is also called the Signs and Wonders movement. So, Third Wave, Signs and Wonder Movement and Vineyard Movement all refer to the same thing.

    John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement, in his revised book on Power Evangelism, writes:

    The explanation of the gospel -- the clear proclamation of the finished work of Christ on the cross -- comes with a demonstration of God’s power through signs and wonders. Power evangelism is a spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, empowered presentation of the gospel. Power evangelism is preceded and undergirded by demonstrations of God’s presence, and frequently results in groups of people being saved. Signs and wonders do not save; only Jesus and substitutionary work on the cross saves.

    Through these supernatural encounters people experience the presence and power of God. Usually this takes the form of words of knowledge...healing, prophecy, and deliverance from evil spirits. [(John Wimber and Kevin Springer, Power Evangelism: Revised and Expanded with Study Questions (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1992), p. 78.]

    All of the above groups think that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit continue to be in effect today. So we can call them Continuationists. From this point forward I will use the term Continuationist to include Pentecostals, Charismatics and Vineyard people. Although there are some differences, they all believe that sign gifts are still active today.

    Cessationist

    Many believe that individuals having the gifts of apostle, prophecy, healing, tongues, or performing miracles at will have ceased. These people are called Cessationists. Continuationists claim that cessationists put God in a box, but that is not true. Cessationists teach that God can still do miracles. He does still heal people when people pray. God, through the Holy Spirit can do anything He wants. But they believe, from their study of scripture and history, that God has chosen to “circumscribe His activity and to structure it according to certain patterns...”18

    The Open but Cautious View

    Another view which I had not heard of until I read the book, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? is the “open but cautious” view. This view recognizes that there are no explicit verses in the New Testament that say that miraculous gifts have ceased, and so, this group wants to stay open to the possibility that the miraculous gifts may still exist, but at the same time, they are uncomfortable with the teachings and practices of the charismatic and vineyard movements. I would guess that this is the view held by most evangelicals. It is probably held by most evangelicals because they too are uncomfortable with what they’ve seen practiced among Pentecostals, Charismatics and Vineyard people, but they don’t want to be accused of putting God in a box, and so they remain open, but cautious. When I read the position of the Open but Cautious view in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today, I could see little difference between it and the Cessationist position. In reality, these people are practical cessationists.

    Thus, we can divide the debate into two parts—the Continuationists and the Cessationists. It is a very difficult debate to sort through. I’ve spent numerous hours reading the arguments on both sides, trying to keep an open mind and study the passages used to support each side. What is confusing is that both sides use the same verses to prove their case. Which group has the correct interpretation? They can’t both be right. It is impossible to go to the Bible and be totally objective. If you were raised a Charismatic, you will understand verses one way. I was raised a cessationist, so I automatically see things the other way. Right now, I would have to say I fall in the open but cautious view. I am a practical cessationist. After reading the arguments of both sides, I can understand how each side feels scripture supports their conclusions.

    The Arguments

    The Proof Texts

    Right up front I will say that I don’t think we can go to any specific verse to prove that the miraculous gifts have ceased or to prove that they are still in effect today. That is probably why there is such a big debate about this. Here are some of the more commonly used verses in the debate

    1 Cor 13:8-10

    1 Cor 13:8-10 says that gifts of prophecy will be done away, tongues will cease and knowledge will be done away ... when the perfect comes. Both sides use this verse for support. Charismatics say that the perfect is the return of Jesus at His second coming, therefore, tongues, prophecy, etc. will continue until that time. Some cessationists have taught that the perfect is the Bible (i.e., the completion of the canon). If you take it to mean the completion of the canon, that makes for a very neat package that proves cessationism, but it is very doubtful that Paul is talking about the completion of the canon. What Paul is talking about in the context is our imperfect knowledge and how that will change when the perfect comes. Understanding the “perfect” to be the completed canon implies that Scripture is only sufficient when we have the completed canon. Just having the OT or a few letters from Paul was not enough. I don’t think anyone wants to say that. I certainly don’t get that impression when I read the Psalms. And the prophets didn’t excuse the people’s wickedness because they didn’t have the completed canon. I doubt that Paul even had the concept that there would be a completed NT canon some day. He thought Jesus would be back in his life time. Also, in the context, it implies that when we have the completed canon, we will no longer know only partially. Our knowledge will then be complete. That obviously isn’t so. I think we have to conclude that “the perfect” refers to the return of Christ. Therefore, this verse doesn’t prove that miraculous gifts will cease when the last book is added to the Bible. BUT, and a very important BUT, it also doesn’t prove that they will continue until Jesus returns as Continuationists say. Paul does say these gifts “will pass away,” and the Greek emphasizes that tongues will “cease,” so I would say that it argues more for cessationism than for continuation, but that doesn’t tell us when they will pass away. It doesn’t say they will pass away in the first century. We will have to look elsewhere for support.

    Heb 2:3-4

    The context is this: These Jewish Christians are wanting to return to the old Jewish law. The writer of the book of Hebrews is trying to convince them not to. Part of his argument is that in the same way that the law was confirmed by supernatural signs (vs 2)19, so also was the gospel about Jesus confirmed by supernatural signs. Therefore it is also from God and supercedes the old.

    Both Continuationists and Cessationists use this verse for support. The debate about the grammar in this verse. In the statement: “God, bearing witness by signs and wonders and various miracles…” the word “bearing witness” is a present participle. Continuationists argue that since this is a present participle, the miracles were still being worked among the readers of Hebrews.20 The problem with this is that 90% of the time, participles in a genitive absolute construction are temporal and linked to the main verb. Our main verb in this passage is the aorist verb “confirmed.” Aorist tense means past tense. Thus the “bearing witness” should be understood to be simultaneous with the apostles attestation of the message by signs and wonders. In other words, those who heard (the Lord first hand, i.e. the apostles) confirmed their message by performing signs and wonders.

    What about the “us” in verse 3? Undoubtedly, there were many first generation believers in the congregation that had witnessed the miracles performed by the apostles. The “us” doesn’t require that all the people witnessed the miracles, just that some of them had.

    So, the verse does refer to miracles worked among the readers of Hebrews. But it does not say that the miracles were still occurring. It also does not say that the Hebrew readers were performing signs and wonders. The emphasis is that this was all past tense.

    In fact, the writer of Hebrews could have made his argument much stronger if he had just pointed to miracles currently taking place among the Hebrews. Instead, he can only point to miracles performed by the apostles. Since he didn’t point to their current experience, the logic is that miracles must have ceased by then. Compare Gal 3:5, written much earlier. There Paul points to miracles occurring among the readers as proof that the new system of faith is superior to the old system of law. Why didn’t the writer of Hebrews do the same? I recognize that this is an argument from silence, and we have to be very careful when making such an argument, because one can argue almost anything from silence, but to me this silence is deafening. The problem is Continuationists can’t hear it.

    This verse is also significant in that it shows that the purpose of signs and wonders was one of authenticating that the messengers and their new revelation were from God.

    Matt 12:39

    Matt 12:39 “An evil and wicked generation looks for a sign” Luke 11:29 “This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign…” Some use these verses to prove that there are no more signs and wonders.21 They say any generation that looks for a sign is evil. And since the Third wave people are looking for signs, then they are evil.

    Is that what the verses are saying? Let’s first look at the meaning of the verses in their context. Jesus had been performing miracles (signs) for two years. The leaders accuse Him of operating by the power of Satan and then ask for a sign. Jesus is saying that a generation of people that demands that he do miraculous signs to prove to them who he is, in order that they might believe is a wicked generation. Even if he did give them a sign (which he had been doing) they would not believe.

    The question we need to ask is this: Are the Continuationists demanding that they see miracles in order to believe the gospel to be true? No! They already believe. They simply affirm that He wants to work in the lives of believers and perform supernatural works for those who believe. If you come to the Bible with a preconceived idea that miracles don’t exist, then this sounds like a great catch-all verse. But I think that from the context, all we can say from these verses for sure is that the unbelieving scribes and Pharisees, religious leaders of that generation, who watched Christ preach and perform miracles for two years, was a wicked generation because it still wanted more proof. It was just an excuse for them for not believing.

    If Continuationists are teaching that people need to see miracles to believe, then I would say they are wrong. And this verse might apply then. But what would apply more is the recognition that Jesus performed numerous miracles, raised Lazarus from the dead, was himself resurrected, but most did not believe. In fact, several times, Jesus criticized people who only believed after they saw a sign and praised those who believed without seeing. If a continuationist says we need miracles for people to believe, then I have to ask, “If it didn’t work for Jesus, why do they think it will be any different today?

    The real clincher to me for proving this verse is worthless in arguing against Continuationists is Acts 4:29-31. There the apostles prayed for God to work miracles.

    2 Cor 12:12

    2 Cor 12:12 is often used to prove that miracles were only done by apostles and that it was the sign of a true apostle. The logic is that this would be no argument for Paul’s apostleship if anyone could do miracles. The problem with this view is that the Greek grammar does not support only that interpretation. It allows it, but does not prove it. The first word “signs” is in the nominative case, but the “signs, wonders and miracles” are in the dative case. If Paul wanted to say that the signs of an apostle were “signs, wonders and miracles” he could have been more precise by putting them in the nominative in apposition to the first word “signs.” The NIV wrongly translates the verse this way.

    In fact the signs of an apostle that Paul is talking about with the first “signs” word are probably the changed lives that resulted from Paul’s preaching; the transformed Christ-like life of Paul; his sufferings, hardships and persecution, spiritual power in conflict with evil, his jealousy over the welfare of the churches, not taking material advantage of churches, etc.22 There are numerous verses in 1 and 2 Corinthians that show these are what Paul considered to be the most important signs of an apostle. It also makes more sense to understand that these “signs” were worked with “patience” or “perseverance.” It doesn’t take patience to do miracles. It takes patience to go without pay, to suffer hardship and persecution, to disciple and preach, etc. I think the miraculous signs were also evidence of his apostleship, but less important to Paul. The verse should better be translated, “The signs of a true apostle were worked among you with all perseverance accompanied by signs and wonders and miracles.”

    This verse does not prove that signs were unique to apostles. It does not prove that only apostles performed signs, wonders and miracles. I think the false teachers, claiming to be true apostles, could have been performing signs (perhaps by Satan’s power) and trying to lead the Corinthians astray. Paul points to something they couldn’t fake, personal self-sacrife and the changed lives of others, as proof of his apostleship. In contrast to Paul, these super apostles were lording it over the flock ruling like kings - not functioning as servants.

    This verse does point us to two important principles. First, Paul downlplays the importance of the miraculous and emphasizes his personal life and the changed lives of his converts. Second, we see the importance of examining the message, the focus of the message, the results of the message in the audience, the life of the messenger, etc. These evidences are more important proof than signs and wonders.

    Summary

    Well, I’ve just shown that some of the most used verses to prove cessationism are also used to prove the continuation of the miraculous gifts. I think Hebrews 2:3-4 is pretty strong for cessationism, but it doesn’t prove it. What are we to do? I think we could look at the historical argument.

    The History of Salvation

    When I refer to the history of salvation, I’m referring to those periods in history when it is real obvious that God is working in history to bring about the salvation of man.

    Also, we need to distinguish those special periods when miracles were performed by individuals from God’s sovereign power and providence. Sprinkled throughout history are the miraculous acts of God Himself. E.g. Joshua had miracles take place (i.e. sun stood still), but Joshua didn’t do it. The writing prophets performed no miracles even though they were getting divine revelation from God. Hezekiah’s life was extended. That was miraculous, but Hezekiah didn’t do it.

    Through the ages, as God has unfolded His plan of Salvation, there have been several turning points where some big changes were made. At these points, various individuals were instrumental in bringing about the changes.

    The first big event in the history of salvation was when God picked Abraham from among the nations and promised that He would bless the world through Abraham’s descendents. The ultimate fulfillment of this promise was the birth of Jesus, His death, resurrection, ascension, and giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. There were not a lot of people that needed to be convinced of this revelation -- just Abraham, and he believed, therefore, no miracles were performed.

    In history there really were only five periods in which miracles occurred regularly and were performed by an individual.

  • Moses: God used miracles with Moses to confirm Moses as God’s messenger and to show Israel God’s power over the gods of Egypt. Israel needed to be separated from Egypt and back in the land so that God could fulfill His promise to Abraham. The miracles confirmed Moses and his message so that the people would follow him back to the promised land.
  • Elijah and Elisha were raised up in a time of great apostasy primarily to deal with baal worship and deliver the people from Ahab and Jezebel. (I don’t know if it is significant to our argument. It’s just a thought I had. John the Baptist did no miracles. If he was “Elijah,” (Matt 11:14) and miracles are normative, then why didn’t he do miracles? Especially since Elijah did)
  • Jesus - miracles were performed to authenticate that He was the promised Messiah. This was obviously a major event in the history of salvation.
  • The Apostles - miracles were performed to authenticate them as apostles of Jesus and their message as being from God. As the apostles took the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the end of the earth, they performed miracles to authenticate themselves as messengers of God and to authenticate this new message when they arrived in each new area.
  • The two witnesses in Revelation will also do miracles. Pointing out that they will do miracles implies that others will not (even the 144,000).

    Let me point out that some Continuationists teach that just because miracles weren’t mentioned in between these periods doesn’t mean they didn’t exist.23 They argue that they did occur, but were not recorded in scripture. That statement is an argument from silence. We’ve already discussed the danger of using “arguments from silence.” If we go to the Bible to try to observe some sort of pattern in God’s dealings with man, we have to analyze the evidence that we are given. We can’t just ignore it. Which attitude is correct? “I don’t care if the Bible only mentions three people in the OT with the ability to perform miracles. I think it happened all the time.” or this: “Why is it that only three people in the OT performed miracles? What could the reason be?”

    One explanation or reason is this: There are special periods when God is more obviously at work to bring about the salvation of mankind, and it is at those times when God chooses to use certain individuals in miraculous ways to authenticate the messenger and his message. Therefore, the ability to perform miracles is not the norm throughout history. Yes, miracles did occur throughout history, but not miracles performed by a miracle worker.

    A related argument made by Continuationists is that Cessationists define the “miraculous” too narrowly. If we limit our definition to signs performed through human agency, then we can claim that miracles only happened at three distinct times in history and consequently leave out most of the miracles in the Bible which prove that miracles are normative. What about the sun standing still for Joshua, the Virgin Birth, Jesus’ resurrection, the earthquake that delivered Paul and Silas from jail, the instantaneous death of Herod in Acts 12:23, etc.24 It’s true we don’t count those, but I don’t see any signs and wonders people claiming to have experienced anything on par with the sun standing still, earthquakes, virgin births, people being raised from the dead, etc. If miracles are normative throughout history and those are “normal” miracles, then where are those types of miracles. The miracles that occur today are healing miracles brought about by laying on of hands and prayer, or someone’s life being saved because a dog walked in front of a car and kept the car from going into the intersection just as an armored truck sped through the intersection. Certainly, God caused that dog to be there. Certainly, God healed the person of the cancer overnight. But do these qualify as gifts of miracles. Couldn’t the healing also be attributed to what James talks about when he says, “If anyone is sick, call the elders and have them pray…”

    The Argument from the closed Canon

    Continuationists argue that none of the spiritual gifts have ceased. At the same time mainstream Continuationists would all agree that we have a completed canon. No new inspired revelation is being given today to be added to the end of our Bible. The gift of apostle and prophet involved the giving of revelation which was recorded in scripture. If we aren’t receiving new revelation, then at the least there is some measure of discontinuity or cessationism. Either the revelatory gifts have changed in quality or they have ceased. If those gifts have ceased, then why can’t other gifts cease? Especially those gifts that typically accompanied the messenger and new message to authenticate them as being from God.

    The continuationist argues that they haven’t ceased, they just changed in quality. That brings us to our next point.

    The Argument from the inferiority of modern sign gifts

    As far as I can tell all continuationists agree that modern tongues, prophecy, and healing gifts are not the same as first century gifts. Tongues were a known language then, they are gibberish now. Prophecy was infallible and often incorporated into scripture, it is now ok to make mistakes when prophecying and nobody has added anything to scripture in 1900 years. Those with the gift of healing could do so at will then, now it is only an occasional thing and usually the result of prayer. And Gordon Fee, a charismatic scholar admits that nobody knows what the difference is between a word of wisdom and a word of knowledge.

    This raises a couple of questions in my mind:

    (1) How can we have gifts of prophecy, tongues, etc. coming from the Spirit that are not inspired and infallible. If it is directly from the HS, then it is inspired and there can be no errors.

    (2) Does the Holy Spirit who gives gifts to unify and edify work in such an ambivalent, uncertain and confusing way?25 There is no confusion about the exercise of the other gifts.

    The Argument from Acts

    The book of Acts is extremely important to the Continuationists’ argument. They see the events of Acts as being normative for the church throughout the Church age. Since the Holy Spirit filled people and they spoke in tongues in Acts, that should happen today. Since the apostles and others in Acts prophesied and performed miracles, then we should do that today.

    They like to take you to Acts 4:8, 31; 13:9, 52 to show that the same group that was filled with the Spirit at Pentecost was again filled with the Spirit on other occasions. They use that as proof that believers can have several fillings. What I find interesting is, for a Continuationist, being filled with the Spirit results in speaking in tongues or prophecying or performing miracles. When I go read those verses they cite in Acts that describe this subsequent filling of the Spirit, I notice that, in all these verses, whatever being filled with the Spirit meant, it didn’t involve speaking in tongues. In fact the result of all these fillings was that they spoke the Word with boldness. So, if the Continuationsts want to go to Acts for proof of subsequent fillings of the spirit as their model for what the Holy Spirit is doing, they should be also use it as the model for what they should be doing when they receive those extra fillings. They need to be doing public evangelism after each filling instead of speaking in tongues or prophecying. What they have done is take the event at Pentecost where the people were filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues and then found several other places that mentioned believers being filled with the Spirit to prove that it still happens today. What they refuse to see is that only at Pentecost was miraculous phenomenon the result.

    They take you to Acts 4:29 where there was prayer for the ability to do signs and wonders and say that we should pray for that too.26 However, the context shows that it was the apostles who prayed for the signs and the apostles who performed them. As already discussed, the apostles are in a class all by themselves.

    What we have to recognize is that the book of Acts is just what its name implies - the acts of the apostles. In Eph 2:20 Paul says that the Church is built on the foundation “of the apostles and prophets.” Acts describes the building of the foundation of the church. We are not still building the foundation today. To carry the building analogy a little farther, we use different tools to lay a foundation than we use to put up the frame, sheet rock, cabinets, etc.

    One thing to keep in mind when studying the book of Acts is this: The salvation provided by Christ—His death, resurrection, ascension, sending the Spirit at Pentecost was one big salvation event made up of several components. The giving of the Spirit at Pentecost was the culmination of the salvation event. It is not necessarily descriptive of a process that is normative for today. To go to Pentecost for proof of what the church should experience today is very debatable.

    Additionally, using the miracles of the apostles in Acts as proof that all believers can do miracles and speak in tongues is also debatable. If miracles were common among all Christians in Acts, why was it that they had to bring their sick to the apostles for healing (Acts 5:12-16)? Acts gives us the historical account of how Jesus’ command in Acts 1:8 was fulfilled by his apostles. It is the account of the apostles spreading the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the end of the earth (Rome). What the apostles did was unique. The gift of apostle was a temporary gift that only a dozen men had who were responsible for establishing the church. When the gift of apostle ceased, it makes sense that the miraculous gifts ceased.

    The Argument from Church History

    Throughout church history belief in the continuationation of the sign gifts existed only among a very few fringe denominations or sects. One could always argue that these continuationists were the true remnant and that most of the Christian world was wrong, but I have a hard time believing that all the church fathers, the reformers, the pilgrims, the great missionaries and preachers of the past 200 years missed it.

    The Argument from the Emphasis of Scripture

    I think one of the strongest arguments against the Pentecostals, Charismatics and Vinyard movements is that the emphasis in scripture is on walking by the Spirit and producing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, etc. When Paul deals with the use of the sign gifts in the church, it is to downplay their importance and re-emphasize love (which is the summary word for the fruit of the spirit) and to emphasize the other gifts. If we examine the Continuationist groups who think miracles and tongues are still in effect today, we see that for the most part their emphasis is on the miraculous gifts. Every Christian can have them, should seek them and is not complete until he or she has them. We have to examine the fruit of their teachings. And when we do, we see that they have terribly missed the emphasis of scripture.

    The emphasis on scripture is that being filled with the Spirit means forsaking our attempt to control life and submitting to God’s control. The Holy Spirit’s control gives us a supernatural ability to love, have joy, peace, patience, etc. inspite of the circumstances. Nowhere does being filled with the Spirit result in speaking in tongues and doing miracles except in Acts, which we have already shown is not a good book to use to determine what is normal for today.

    Another emphasis from scripture is the importance of studying scripture and applying it. I was recently listening to a series of tapes of Jack Deere’s book, Surprised by the Voice of God. In it he describes how he converted from a Cessationist to a Continuationist. He began hanging out with John Wimber and a few other Vineyard people and witnessed their prophecies, healings, etc. and began praying that God would speak to him. One day he had his own vision and began pursuing God’s voice in his church meetings. He claimed that he was the best Bible teacher in his town, but in his church of 500, over an 18 month period, only two people were evangelized by his church, no one was cured of their need for prozack, etc. He says he realized that traditional Bible Church teaching was not changing lives. It wasn’t until they started listening for the voice of God and several people started prophecying in the church meetings that lives started changing and God became real. For some reason, people couldn’t receive comfort from scripture, but they could receive comfort and believe the words of the modern prophets. These words and illustrations from Deere’s book certainly seem to me to deemphasize the role of scripture in attaining life and godliness. Just because his church was lifeless, does not mean that no one experiences God with only scripture to guide them.

    It is obvious from recorded church history that mainstream Christianity did not experience the sign gifts. Jack Deere teaches that the reason for this is because there was a conspiracy to cover up all the miraculous events that have happened in the past 1900 years and that they really were common occurrences.

    How is it that we need prophecy and tongues and healings for God to minister to us and change lives here in the 20th century when it didn’t happen for the past 1900 years.

    Summary

    We could discuss this issue for the next six months and not solve the debate. Our purpose is not to prove that miracles don’t happen. It is to put miracles in perspective. We must remember that God can do anything He wants, with anyone He wants, anytime He wants. There are plenty of modern day stories of miraculous events in which God obviously got directly involved in a situation. We need to be careful not to become pharisaical and say this is what God cannot do, what God can do, or what God must do, etc. Miraculous things do happen, even today, but the question is whether or not people are going around performing miracles at their will, receiving direct revelation from God or speaking in tongues.

    After saying all this, I realize that if you have personally experienced or know someone who has experienced tongues, miraculous healing or visions from God, then none of what we’ve said matters. What I want you to walk away with is the emphasis of Scripture on the other gifts and on applying Scripture.


    18 Richard Gaffin, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Ed. Wayne Grudem, p. 25.

    19 according to rabinic tradition

    20 Samuel Storms, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today, p. 190.

    21 I have heard this argument in my discussion with some local pastors. In fact, one pastor actually told me that he only needed one verse to prove that miraclulous gifts were finished and settle the whole debate -- Matt 12:39. Everything else in his theology is black and white too.

    22 Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 435-37; also Charles Powell, paper read at 1996 ETS convention.

    23 Storms, p. 187-88.

    24 Storms p. 188-89.

    25 Gaffin, p. 60.

    26 Samuel Storms, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today, p. 196

  • Related Topics: Apologetics, Miracles