Part 1 of 4: Why the Gifts of the Holy Spirit Are for Today

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Cor. 12:4-11; cf. Eph. 4:4-12; Rom. 12:3-8).

Are the gifts of the Holy Spirit for today?

Continuationists vs. Cessationists
Continuationists (i.e. Pentecostals/Charismatics) say yes, and Cessationists (many in the Reformed/Presbyterian circles) say no. This is an oversimplification, since Cessationists do recognize the possibility of supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, they insist that the gifts were largely limited to the lifetime of the original Apostles (11 disciples + Matthias and Paul, defined as those who were directly commissioned, or sent out, by Jesus Christ as witnesses to the resurrection; Acts 1:1-26; 1 Cor. 15:1-11).

Hebrews 2:3-4 teaches that “salvation, which was first announced by the Lord (i.e. Jesus), was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will,” and Mark 16:20 recounts that “the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” From verses like these, the Cessationists argue that “signs, wonders and various miracles” confirmed the message of Jesus and His disciples. Therefore, once the signs and wonders had served their purpose, they ceased.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit Are Not Confined to the Apostolic Era
It should be noted, however, that these verses point to a purpose of the signs and wonders, not to their duration. While these signs and wonders did serve to authenticate the ministry of the Apostles, they were not restricted to the Apostles.When Jesus sent out 72 of his followers, which obviously includes non-Apostles, he commanded them to “heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you'” (Lk. 10:9).

Jesus also taught that “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (Jn. 14:12). The natural reading of this text suggests a continuity between the signs and wonders of Jesus’s ministry and that of those who believe in Him (which is not limited to the Apostles).

Furthermore, non-Apostles like Stephen (Acts 6:8) and Philip (Acts 8:6) are recorded to have performed signs and wonders, and Paul asks the Galatians: “does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?” (Gal. 3:5), which suggests that God is working miracles among the Galatians in general.

Again, in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, Paul explains that various members in the Church (and not just the Apostles) are given gifts of healing and other workings of miracles. In fact, he suggests that every Christian has some kind of spiritual gift with which to edify the Church, and specifically distinguishes the Apostolate from these gifts when he says in verse 28 that “God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healingsand of different kinds of tongues.”

Some scholars point to 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 as evidence for Cessationism: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.” They argue that “completeness” refers to the completion of the New Testament revelation. Now that we have the whole of Scripture, we do not need partial revelations like tongues and prophesy.

However, the immediate context of the passage reveals that Paul is talking about Jesus’s second coming. He says in verse 12 of the same chapter, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” The “reflection as in a mirror” corresponds to the “know[ing] in part” and “face to face” corresponds to the “completeness.” The expression “face to face” lends itself easily to the second coming, at which time we will know and be united with God completely, but not so to the compilation of the New Testament.

Gift of Tongues
Often, this debate revolves around the gift of tongues, since it is the most frequently attested, and the most fervently vitiated, gift. Those who deny the validity of modern-day occurrences of tongues quote Acts 2 to say that the gift of tongues is an ability to speak in a previously unlearned, yet intelligible, human language. Therefore, they argue, that glossolalia of the Pentecostals and Charismatics today are simply ecstatic utterances attested in every culture, not the gift of tongues witnessed at Pentecost.

However, this is not true because it says in Acts 2:6 that “each one heard their own language being spoken.” If the believers at Pentecost were speaking in language x, only those onlookers who spoke x should have heard their own language, but each one heard their own language being spoken. If the tongues being spoken were human languages, they would not have been “utterly amazed,” and asked “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language” (Acts 2:7-8)?

For this reason, I do not think that the tongues being spoken at Pentecost were human languages. I think the Holy Spirit enabled the onlookers to understand them in their own languages, as a symbolic reversal of the curse of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). As Apostle Paul teaches, “anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:1-2ff.). This is why another Christian with the gift of interpretation is required.

Now, some disclaimers:

  1. This is not to deny the sufficiency and finality of the Scriptures. 1 Corinthians 12:3; 14:37-38 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 prove that prophets are subject to the authority of Scripture, since prophecy is not the word of God per se but human words voicing what God has brought to mind. We “know in part and prophesy in part” (1 Cor. 13:9), so we must test the spirits with Christ and His message (1 Jn. 4:1-3).
  2. This is not to deny the unique ministry of the Apostles. The Apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus’s resurrection and responsible for the initial propagation and preservation of the gospel in the Scriptures. No one today, however spiritually/prophetically gifted, exercises the same kind of authority. Nevertheless, as I have shown above, Scriptures show clearly that the gifts were intended to continue to our time. Peter taught that Pentecost was the beginning of the fulfillment of prophet Joel’s prophecy that “[God] will pour out [His] Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Acts 2:14-21 cf. Joel 2:28). If Peter lived in the end times, we certainly live in the end times, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is for today.

Historical Evidence for Continuationism
To show some historical continuity, here are selected reports of spiritual gifts and prophetic utterances throughout Church history:

Early Church

  • Justin Martyr (100-ca. 165 AD; Dialogue with Trypho, XXXIX)
  • Irenaeus (2nd century-ca. 202 AD; Against Heresies, II.32; V.6)
  • Tertullian (ca. 160-ca. 225 AD; Against Marcion, V.8)
  • Origen (184/185-253/254 AD; Against Celsus, III.24)
  • Eusebius (ca. 263-339 AD; Ecclesiastical History, III.37)
  • Chrysostom (ca. 347-407 AD; W. H. Turner, The Baptism and Gifts of the Holy Spirit, p. 107).
  • Augustine is often cited as a champion of Cessationism in the Early Church. His reputation comes from his statement that after “the Catholic Church had been founded and diffused throughout the whole world, on the one hand miracles were not allowed to continue till our time, lest the mind should always seek visible things, and the human race should grow cold by becoming accustomed to things which when they were novelties kindled its faith” (390 AD; Of True Religion, xxv.47). However, at the end of his life, he qualified this statement, saying, “what I said is not to be so interpreted that no miracles are believed to be performed in the name of Christ at the present time. For, when I wrote that book, I myself had recently learned that a blind man had been restored to sight in Milan near the bodies of the martyrs in that very city, and I knew about some others, so numerous even in these times, that we cannot know about all of them nor enumerate those we know” (ca. 426-428 AD; Retractions, I.12.7). Augustine conceded that “even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ, whether by His sacraments or by the prayers or relics of His saints; but they are not so brilliant and conspicuous as to cause them to be published with such glory as accompanied the former miracles” (354-430 AD, City of God, XXII.8). As these examples show, the gifts of the Holy Spirit did not cease after the Apostolic age, but prophetic excess and abuse by Gnostics, Montanists, Marcionites, and other heretics forced the orthodox believers to institutionalize and localize the gifts of the Spirit in the office of the bishop, thus curbing the exercise thereof (Stanley M. Burgess & Eduard M. van der Maas, New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, “Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: Ancient Fathers,” p. 730-731).

Medieval Church

  • Isaac of Nineveh wrote about spiritual ecstasies and visions (7th century AD), and many miracles were attributed to Gregory of Narek (951-1003 AD) (NIDPCM, “Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: The Medieval Churches,” p. 748-749).
  • Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022 AD) reported mystical visions of God, gift of tongues, gift of tears, gift of knowledge, healing, and exorcisms (Nicetas, Life of St. Symeon the New Theologian). He even taught about the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Symeon the New Theologian, Vol. 1, XXXVII.4).
  • Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) acknowledged the gift of tongues, gift of knowledge, prophecy, and other miracles (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II.177.1; II-II.178.1).

Reformation Church

  • Martin Luther (1483-1546 AD) was a Cessationist for most of his life, but late in life, he seems to have had a change of mind. For example, in a letter, he writes that he was accustomed to laying his hands on and praying for the sick for healing (Theodore G. Tappert & John Bailley, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, XVIII.52). In a similar manner, he prayed for his colleague Philip Melanchthon, and he was healed, which Luther confirms was a miracle wrought by God (NIDPCM, “Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: Reformation Traditions,” p. 764).
  • Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) wrote about spiritual gifts and mystical experiences in his Spiritual Diary. He discussed the gift of loquela, “speech” or “language,” whose description fits the characteristics of sung glossolalia (NIDPCM, “Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: Reformation Traditions,” p. 765).
  • Thomas Müntzer emphasized baptism in the Holy Spirit and asserted that modern-day Christians can experience the Holy Spirit as powerfully as the Prophets and Apostles of old (NIDPCM, “Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: Reformation Traditions,” p. 767).
  • Persecution from Louis XIV against 17th century French Protestants produced the French prophets known as the Camisards, who experienced trances, shakings, and glossolalic sounds (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, p. 237).

Modern Church

  • Shakers appeared in New York in the 19th century, and in 1820s and 30s, followers of Edward Irving experienced the gift of tongues (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, p. 237).
  • Agnes Ozman receives the gift of tongues when Charles Parham lays his hand on her and prays (1901 AD).
  • The Azusa Street Revival led by William J. Seymour (1906 AD).
  • Dennis Bennett is baptized in the Holy Spirit (1960 AD).

This is Part 1 of 4 posts in my series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Go to Part 2: Why We Don’t See More Signs and Wonders Today.

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