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Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Sam Storms Series: Controversial Issues In this study and the one to follow I want to identify and then respond to the six most frequently used arguments in defense of cessationism. If you are not familiar with that word it refers to the doctrine that certain spiritual gifts, typically (and mistakenly) those referred to as “miraculous” in nature (such as healing, prophecy, tongues, miracles, word of knowledge, etc.) ceased or were withdrawn by God from the church at the close of the first century or in conjunction with the death of the original apostles. I was a cessationist until 1988. Among the various arguments cessationists employ, the following six were those I most often heard and preached. I now find them wholly inadequate, indeed wholly misleading and false. Here is why. 1. An argument frequently cited in defense of cessationism is that signs, wonders and miracles were not customary phenomena even in biblical times. Rather, they were clustered or concentrated at critical moments of revelatory activity in redemptive history. John MacArthur (in his book Charismatic Chaos) writes: “Most biblical miracles happened in three relatively brief periods of Bible history: in the days of Moses and Joshua, during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, and in the time of Christ and the apostles. None of those periods lasted much more than a hundred years. Each of them saw a proliferation of miracles unheard of in other eras. . . . Aside from those three intervals, the only supernatural events recorded in Scripture were isolated incidents.” Several things may be said in response to this argument. First, at most this proves that in three periods of redemptive history miraculous phenomena were more prevalent than in other times. It does not prove that miraculous phenomena in other times were non-existent. Nor does it prove that an increase in the frequency of miraculous phenomena could not appear in yet a fourth era of redemptive history, perhaps our own. Second, for this to be a substantive argument one must explain not only why miraculous phenomena were prevalent in these three periods but also why they were, allegedly, infrequent or, to use MacArthur’s terms, “isolated,” in all other periods. If miraculous phenomena were infrequent in other periods, a point I concede here only for the sake of argument, one would need to ascertain why. Was it because God is by nature stingy with miracles? Is he skeptical of their effectiveness? Or could it be that the alleged relative infrequency of the miraculous was due to the rebellion, unbelief, and apostasy rampant in Israel throughout much of her history? Let us not forget that even Jesus “could do no miracle there [in Nazareth] except that He laid His hands upon a few sick people and healed them” (Mark 6:5), all because of their unbelief (at which, we are told, Jesus “wondered”, v. 6). The point is that the comparative “isolation” of the miraculous in certain periods of OT history could be due more to the recalcitrance of God’s people than to any supposed theological principle that dictates as normative a paucity of supernatural manifestations. Third, there were no cessationists in the Old Testament! No one is ever found to argue that since miraculous phenomena were “clustered” at selected points in redemptive history we should not expect God to display his power in some other day. In other words, at no point in OT history did miracles cease. That they may have subsided is possible. But what does that prove? Simply that in some periods God is pleased to work miraculously with greater frequency than he is in others. The fact that miracles do appear throughout the course of redemptive history, whether sporadically or otherwise, proves that miracles never ceased. How, then, can the prevalence of miracles in three periods of history be an argument for cessationism? In other words, how does the existence of miracles in every age of redemptive history serve to argue against the existence of miracles in our age? It is a strange logic indeed which contends that the occurrence of miraculous phenomena in biblical times, however infrequent and isolated, proves the non-occurrence of miraculous phenomena in post-biblical times. The continuation of miraculous phenomena then is not an argument for the cessation of miraculous phenomena now! The fact that in certain periods of redemptive history few miracles are recorded proves only two things: first, that miracles did occur and, second, that few of them were recorded. It does not prove that only a few actually occurred. Fourth, MacArthur’s assertion that miraculous phenomena outside these three special periods were “isolated” is simply false. He is able to make this argument only by defining the miraculous so narrowly as to eliminate a vast number of recorded supernatural phenomena that otherwise might qualify. I suppose the point is this: If miracles (using MacArthur’s arbitrary and restrictive definition of what constitutes a miraculous occurrence) were infrequent “then”, why should we expect them to be any more frequent “now”? He insists that to qualify as a miracle the extraordinary event must occur “through human agency” and must serve to “authenticate” the messenger through whom God is revealing some truth. In this way MacArthur is able to exclude as miraculous any supernatural phenomenon that occurs apart from human agency and any supernatural phenomenon unrelated to the revelatory activity of God. Thus, if no revelation is occurring in that period of redemptive history under consideration, no supernatural phenomena recorded in that era can possibly meet the criteria set forth by MacArthur. On such a narrow definition of miracle it thus becomes easy to say they were “isolated” or infrequent. But if “human agency” or a “gifted” individual is required before an event can be called miraculous, what becomes of the virgin birth of Jesus? On MacArthur’s definition of a miracle, not even the resurrection of Christ would qualify! What becomes of the resurrection of the saints mentioned in Matthew 27:52-53? Are we no longer permitted to call Peter’s deliverance from jail in Acts 12 a miracle simply because no “human” was instrumental in his escape? Was the instantaneous death of Herod in Acts 12:23 not a miracle because the agency was “angelic”? Was the earthquake that opened the prison in which Paul and Silas were housed not a miracle because God did it himself, directly? Was Paul’s deliverance from the venom of a viper (Acts 28) not a miracle simply because no human agency was utilized in his preservation? To define as a miracle only those supernatural phenomena involving human agency is arbitrary. It is a case of special pleading, conceived principally because it provides a way of reducing the frequency of the miraculous in the biblical record. MacArthur also insists that miracles always accompany divine revelation as a means of attestation. That miracles confirm and authenticate the divine message and messenger is certainly true. But MacArthur reduces the purpose of miracles to this one function while ignoring other reasons for which God ordained them. The association of the miraculous with divine revelation becomes an argument for cessationism only if the Bible restricts the function of a miracle to attestation. And such the Bible does not do. My reading of the OT reveals a consistent pattern of supernatural manifestations in the affairs of humanity. Once the arbitrary restrictions on the definition of a miracle are removed, a different picture of OT religious life emerges. (See the chart in Jack Deere’s book, Surprised By The Power of The Spirit.) Two other factors indicate that miraculous phenomena were not as “isolated” as some allege. First, there is the assertion of Jeremiah 32:20 in which the prophet speaks of God who “sets signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and even to this day both in Israel and among mankind; and Thou hast made a name for Thyself, as at this day.” This text alerts us to the danger of arguing from silence. The fact that from the time of the Exodus to the Captivity few instances of signs and wonders are recorded does not mean they did not occur. Jeremiah insists they did. One might compare this with the danger of asserting that Jesus did not perform a particular miracle or do so with any degree of frequency simply because the gospels fail to record it. John tells us explicitly that Jesus performed “many other signs . . . in the presence of the disciples” which he did not include in his gospel account” (John 20:30) as well as “many other things which Jesus did” that were impossible to record in detail (John 21:25). Second, MacArthur inists that NT and OT prophecy are the same. He also readily acknowledges, as do all cessationists, that NT prophecy was a “miracle” gift. If OT prophecy was of the same nature, then we have an example of a miraculous phenomenon recurring throughout the course of Israel’s history. In every age of Israel’s existence in which there was prophetic activity there was miraculous activity. What then becomes of the assertion that miracles, even on MacArthur’s narrow definition, were infrequent and “isolated”? Does any of this prove that God is doing signs, wonders, and miracles in our day? No. It merely proves that He may. It proves that it would be consistent with how God has acted in times past. It proves there is nothing in the biblical record concerning the alleged infrequency of miracles that would lead us to believe God will not do them in our day. 2. A second argument to which the cessationist appeals is this: “Signs, wonders, and miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit such as tongues, interpretation, healing, and the discerning of spirits, were designed to confirm, attest, and authenticate the apostolic message." It is only reasonable to conclude, therefore, as Norman Geisler has said, that "The 'signs of an apostle' passed away with the times of an apostle." It is true that signs, wonders, and miracles often attested to the divine origin of the apostolic message. But this is a persuasive argument against the contemporary validity of such phenomena only if you can demonstrate two things. First, you must demonstrate that authentication or attestation was the sole and exclusive purpose of such displays of divine power. However, there is not so much as a single inspired syllable of Scripture that does so. Nowhere in the NT is the purpose or function of the miraculous or the charismata reduced to that of attestation. The miraculous, in whatever form in which it appeared, served several other distinct purposes. For example, there was a doxological purpose. Such was the primary reason for the resurrection of Lazarus, as Jesus himself makes clear in John 11:4 (cf. 11:40). The doxological purpose of the miraculous is also found in John 2:11; 9:3; and Mt. 15:29-31. Miracles also served an evangelistic purpose (see Acts 9:32-43). Much of our Lord’s miraculous ministry was an expression of his compassion and love for the hurting multitudes. He healed the sick and even fed the 5,000 principally because he felt compassion for the people. There are several texts which indicate that one primary purpose of miraculous phenomena was to edify and build up the body of Christ. At one point in his book MacArthur says that noncessationists “believe that the spectacular miraculous gifts were given for the edification of believers. Does God’s Word support such a conclusion? No. In fact, the truth is quite the contrary.” What, then, will you do with 1 Cor. 12:7-10, the list of what all agree are miraculous gifts such as prophecy, tongues, healing, and interpretation of tongues? These charismata, says Paul, were distributed to the body of Christ “for the common good” (v. 7), i.e., for the edification and benefit of the church! These are primarily, but not exclusively, the very gifts that serve as the background against which Paul then encourages (in vv. 14-27) all members of the body to minister one to another for mutual edification, insisting that no one gift (whether tongues or prophecy or healing) is any less important than another. Again, what will you do with 1 Cor. 14:3 in which Paul asserts that prophecy, one of the miraculous gifts listed in 12:7-10, functions to edify, exhort, and console others in the church? The one who prophesies, says Paul in 14:4, “edifies the church.” And what will you do with 1 Cor. 14:5 in which Paul says that tongues, when interpreted, also edifies the church? And what will you do with 1 Cor. 14:26 in which Paul exhorts us to assemble, prepared to minister with a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation, all of which are designed, he says, for “edification”? And if, as MacArthur says, “tongues never were intended to edify believers,” why did God provide the gift of interpretation so that tongues might be utilized in the gathered assembly of believers? If “tongues never were intended to edify believers,” why did Paul himself exercise that gift in the privacy of his own devotions? That he did so is demonstrable from 1 Cor. 14:18-19. There he declares: “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.” This latter statement is Paul’s somewhat exaggerated way of saying he almost never speaks in tongues in church. In the absence of an interpreter, he most definitely won’t. Now listen carefully: If in church Paul virtually never exercises this gift, yet speaks in tongues more frequently and fluently and fervently than anyone, even more so than the tongue- happy Corinthians, where does he do it? Dare I say, in private? My point is this: all the gifts of the Spirit, whether tongues or teaching, whether prophecy or mercy, whether healing or helps, were given, among other reasons, for the edification and building up and encouraging and instructing and consoling and sanctifying of the body of Christ. Therefore, even if the ministry of the miraculous gifts to attest and authenticate has ceased, a point I concede only for the sake of argument, such gifts would continue to function in the church for the other reasons cited. The second thing that must be demonstrated for this argument to carry weight is that only the apostles performed signs, wonders, miracles, or exercised so-called “miraculous” charismata. But this is contrary to the evidence of the NT. Others, aside from the apostles, who exercised miraculous gifts include · the 70 who were commissioned in Luke 10:9,19-20; · at least 108 people among the 120 who were gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost; · Stephen (Acts 6-7); · Philip (Acts 8); · Ananias (Acts 9); · Prophets in Antioch (Acts 13) · Philip’s daughters / prophetesses (Acts 21:8-9) · the unnamed brethren of Galatians 3:5 · believers in Rome (Rom. 12:6-8) · believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5). Furthermore, when you read 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, does it sound as if Paul is saying that only apostles are endowed with the charismata? On the contrary, “gifts of healings,” “tongues,” “miracles,” etc., are given by the sovereign Spirit to ordinary Christians in the church at Corinth for the daily, routine building up of the body. Farmers, shopkeepers, housewives, as well as apostles and elders and deacons received the manifestation of the Spirit, all “for the common good” of the church. A counter argument is often made to the effect that signs and wonders and miraculous charismata in Acts were closely connected to the apostles or to those who were themselves associated with the apostolic company. But remember this: First, the book of Acts is, after all, the Acts of the APOSTLES! We entitle it this way because we recognize that the activity of the apostles is the principal focus of the book. We should hardly be surprised or try to build a theological case on the fact that a book designed to report the acts of the apostles describes signs and wonders performed by the apostles! Second, to say that Stephen and Phillip and Ananias don’t count because they are closely associated with the apostles proves nothing. Name one person, who figures to any degree of prominence in the book of Acts, who is not associated with at least one of the apostles? If we were to apply this argument to other issues in Acts, the results would be disastrous. For example, church planting is restricted to the apostles and those closely associated with them. Should we then not plant churches today? Someone might still wish to object, insisting that there was a remarkable concentration of miraculous phenomena characteristic of the apostles as special representatives of Christ. But the prevalence of miracles performed by the apostles in no way proves that no miracles were performed by/through others. See 2 Corinthians 12:12. Does not this text refer to the miraculous as “signs” of the apostles? No, in point of fact, it does not. The NIV contributes to the confusion by translating as follows: “The things that mark an apostle --- signs, wonders and miracles --- were done among you with great perseverance.” This rendering leads you to believe that Paul is identifying the “signs/marks” of an apostle with the miraculous phenomena performed among the Corinthians. But the “signs/marks” of an apostle is in the nominative case whereas “signs, wonders and miracles” is in the dative. Contrary to what many have thought, Paul does not say the insignia of an apostle are signs, wonders and miracles. Rather, as the NASB more accurately translates, he asserts that “the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, BY signs and wonders and miracles.” Paul’s point is that miraculous phenomena accompanied his ministry in Corinth. Signs, wonders and miracles were attendant elements in his apostolic work. But they were not themselves the “signs of an apostle.” The signs of an apostle, the distinguishing marks of true apostolic ministry were, among other things: (1) the fruit of his preaching, i.e., the salvation of the Corinthians themselves (cf. 1 Cor. 9:1b-2, “Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, as least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord”; cf. 2 Cor. 3:1-3); (2) his Christ-like life of holiness, humility, etc., (cf. 2 Cor. 1:12; 2:17; 3:4-6; 4:2; 5:11; 6:3- 13; 7:2; 10:13-18; 11:6,23-28); and (3) his sufferings, hardship, persecution (cf. 2 Cor. 13:4; 4:7-15; 5:4-10; and all of chp. 11). Paul patiently, in perseverance, displayed these “signs” of his apostolic authority. And this was accompanied by signs, wonders and miracles he performed in their midst. Let us also remember that Paul does not refer to the “signs” of an apostle nor to the miraculous phenomena that accompanied his ministry as a way of differentiating himself from other, non-apostolic Christians, but from the false apostles who were leading the Corinthians astray (2 Cor. 11:14-15,33). “In short,” writes Wayne Grudem, “the contrast is not between apostles who could work miracles and ordinary Christians who could not, but between genuine Christian apostles through whom the Holy Spirit worked and non-Christian pretenders to the apostolic office, through whom the Holy Spirit did not work at all.” Nowhere does Paul suggest that signs and wonders were exclusively or uniquely apostolic. My daughter once took dance lessons and especially enjoyed ballet. Although only 10 years old at the time, she had incredibly strong and well-developed calf muscles. Indeed, it might even be said that the “sign” of a ballet dancer is strong calf muscles. But I would never argue that only ballet dancers display this physical characteristic. I only mean to say that when taken in conjunction with other factors, her lower leg development helps you identify her as one who dances on her toes. Likewise, Paul is not saying that signs, wonders and miracles are performed only through apostles, but that such phenomena, together with other evidences, should help the Corinthians know that he is a true apostle of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the fact that miraculous phenomena and certain of the charismata served to attest and authenticate the message of the gospel in no way proves or even remotely suggests that such activities are invalid for the church subsequent to the death of the apostolic company. 3. The third argument for cessationism pertains to the alleged negative assessment given by many to the nature, purpose and impact of signs, wonders and miracles in the NT. I had been taught and believed that it was an indication of spiritual immaturity to seek signs in any sense, that it was a weak faith, born of theological ignorance, that prayed for healing or a demonstration of divine power. Some are even more pointed in their opinion. James Boice, in his contribution to the recent book Power Religion, quotes with approval the sentiment of John Woodhouse, to the effect that “a desire for further signs and wonders is sinful and unbelieving.” But consider, for example, Acts 4:29-31, which records this prayer of the church in Jerusalem: “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bondservants may speak Thy word with all confidence, while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders takes place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” This text is important for at least two reasons: it shows that it is good to pray for signs and wonders, that it is not evil or a sign of emotional and mental imbalance to petition God for demonstrations of his power; and, secondly, it shows that there is no necessary or inherent conflict between miracles and the message, between wonders and the word of the cross. Let me take each of these points in turn. First, it is good and helpful and honoring to the Lord Jesus Christ to seek and pray for the demonstration of his power in healing, signs and wonders. But what about Mt. 12:39 and Mt. 16:4? Doesn’t Jesus denounce as wicked and adulterous those who “crave” and “seek” after signs (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22)? Yes, but note well whom he is addressing and why they are denounced. These are unbelieving scribes and Pharisees, not children of God. These who made such demands of Christ had no intention of following him. “Seeking signs from God is ‘wicked and adulterous’ when the demand for more and more evidence comes from a resistant heart and simply covers up an unwillingness to believe” (John Piper). Seeking signs as a pretext for criticizing Jesus or from a hankering to see the sensational is rightly rebuked. But that certainly wasn’t the motivation of the early church, nor need it be ours. Perhaps an illustration will help. John Piper explains: “If we are carrying on a love affair with the world, and our husband, Jesus, after a long separation comes to us and says, ‘I love you and I want you back,’ one of the best ways to protect our adulterous relationship with the world is to say, ‘You’re not really my husband; you don’t really love me. Prove it. Give me some sign.’ If that’s the way we demand a sign, we are a wicked and adulterous generation. But if we come to God with a heart aching with longing for vindication of his glory and the salvation of sinners, then we are not wicked and adulterous. We are a faithful wife, only wanting to honor our husband.” Do you come to God insistent on a miracle, being prompted by an unbelieving heart that demands He put on a show before you will obey him? Or do you come humbly, in prayer, with a desire to glorify God in the display of his power and an equal desire to minister his mercy and compassion and love to those in need? The former, God condemns. The latter, he commends. Second, the power of signs and wonders does not dilute the power of the gospel nor is there any inherent inconsistency or conflict between wonders and the word. Still, there are those who appeal to Rom. 1:16 and 1 Cor. 1:18,22-23, texts that assert the centrality of the cross and the power of the gospel to save (theological truths to which all of us, I am sure, wholeheartedly subscribe). But who wrote these passages? Was it not Paul, the same man who described his evangelistic ministry as one characterized by the “power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:19)? Was it not Paul, the same man who wrote 1 Cor. 12-14 and about whom most of Acts, with all its miraculous phenomena, is concerned? Was it not Paul, the same man whose message and preaching came “not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4)? Was it not Paul, the same man who reminded the Thessalonians that the gospel did not come to them “in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”? And here I speak reverently when I say that if there is an inherent inconsistency or conflict between miracles and the message then someone forgot to inform God, for it was He, according to Acts 14:3, “who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.” If signs and wonders dilute the word of God’s grace, if signs and wonders detract from the centrality of the cross, if signs and wonders reflect a loss of confidence in the power of the gospel, someone should have told the Almighty about it for He seems to have thought differently on the matter. If there is a conflict between wonders and the word, it is in our minds that the problem exists. It isn’t in Paul’s mind. And it certainly isn’t in God’s. Signs and wonders and miraculous phenomena could not save a soul then nor can they now. The power unto salvation is in the Holy Spirit working through the gospel of the cross of Christ. But such miraculous phenomena “can, if God pleases, shatter the shell of disinterest; they can shatter the shell of cynicism; they can shatter the shell of false religion. Like every other good witness to the word of grace, they can help the fallen heart to fix its gaze on the gospel where the soul-saving, self-authenticating glory of the Lord shines" (Piper; cf. Acts 9). Furthermore, be it noted that if any generation was least in need of supernatural authentication, it was that of the early church. Yet they prayed earnestly for signs and wonders. Remember: “This was the generation whose preaching (of Peter and Stephen and Phillip and Paul) was more anointed than the preaching of any generation following. If any preaching was the power of God unto salvation and did not need accompanying signs and wonders, it was this preaching. Moreover, this was the generation with more immediate and compelling evidence of the truth of the resurrection than any generation since. Hundreds of eyewitnesses to the risen Lord were alive in Jerusalem. If any generation in the history of the church knew the power of preaching and the authentication of the gospel from first-hand evidence of the resurrection, it was this one. Yet it was they who prayed passionately for God to stretch forth His hand in signs and wonders” (Piper). Others have argued that signs, wonders and miracles breed a spirit of triumphalism inconsistent with the call to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Those who desire and pray for the miraculous, so goes the charge, do not take seriously the painful realities of living in a fallen world. Weakness, afflictions, persecution and suffering are an inevitable part of living in the “not-yet” of the kingdom. But when I read the NT, I see no inherent conflict between signs and suffering. And be it known that it is the NT, not the posturing or glitz of certain TV evangelists, that must be allowed to decide the issue. Paul certainly sensed no incompatibility between the two, for they were both characteristic of his life and ministry. As C. K. Barrett put it, “Miracles were no contradiction of the theologia crucis he proclaimed and practised, since they were performed not in a context of triumphant success and prosperity, but in the midst of the distress and vilification he was obliged to endure.” As John Piper has said, “Paul’s ‘thorn’ [in the flesh] no doubt pressed deeper with every healing he performed.” His own personal trials and afflictions did not lead him to renounce the miraculous in his ministry. Nor did the supernatural displays of God’s power lead him into a naive, “Pollyanna” outlook on the human condition. Again, if signs and suffering are incompatible, one must look somewhere other than in the Bible to prove it. 4. A fourth argument pertains to the closing, completion, and sufficiency of the canon of Scripture. Signs, wonders and miraculous gifts accompanied and attested to the truth of the gospel until such time as the last word of canonical Scripture was written. The need for such manifestations of divine power therein ceased. The Bible itself has replaced miraculous phenomena in the life of the church. There are several problems with this argument. In the first place, the Bible itself never says any such thing. No biblical author of whom I am aware ever claims that written Scripture has replaced or in some sense supplanted the need for signs, wonders and the like. Secondly, why would the presence of the completed canon preclude the need for miraculous phenomena? If signs, wonders and the power of the Holy Spirit were essential in bearing witness to the truth of the gospel then, why not now? In other words, it seems reasonable to assume that the miracles which confirmed the gospel in the first century, wherever it was preached, would serve no less to confirm the gospel in subsequent centuries, even our own. Thirdly, which is greater: Jesus or the written word? Which is greater: the Son of God or the Bible? Jesus, of course! But if signs, wonders and miracles were essential in the physical presence of the Son of God, how much more so now in his absence! Surely we are not prepared to suggest that the Bible, for all its glory, is sufficient to do what Jesus couldn’t. Jesus thought it necessary to utilize the miraculous phenomena of the Holy Spirit to attest and confirm his ministry. If it was essential for him, how much more so for us. In other words, if the glorious presence of the Son of God himself did not preclude the need for miraculous phenomena, how dare we suggest that our possession of the Bible does? 5. Yet another argument is from church history: “If the so-called miracle or sign gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid for Christians beyond the death of the apostles, why were they absent from church history until their alleged reappearance in the twentieth century?” To argue that all such gifts were utterly non-existent is to ignore a significant body of evidence. After studying the documentation for claims to the presence of these gifts, D. A. Carson’s conclusion is that “there is enough evidence that some form of ‘charismatic’ gifts continued sporadically across the centuries of church history that it is futile to insist on doctrinaire grounds that every report is spurious or the fruit of demonic activity or psychological aberration” (Showing the Spirit, 166). If the gifts were sporadic, there may be an explanation other than the theory that they were restricted to the first century. · Limited access to the Scriptures · Theological ignorance · Spiritual lethargy I don't think it at all unlikely that numerous churches which advocated cessationism experienced these gifts but dismissed them as something less than the miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The ministry of Charles Spurgeon is a case in point. Consider the following account taken from his autobiography: “While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!’ A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, ‘Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the man, ‘I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul’” (The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon [London: Curts & Jennings, 1899], 2:226-27). Spurgeon then adds this comment: “I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, ‘The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door’” (ibid., 227). My opinion is that this is a not uncommon example of what the Apostle Paul described in 1 Cor. 14:24-25. Spurgeon exercised the gift of prophecy (or some might say the word of knowledge, 1 Cor. 12:8). He did not label it as such, but that does not alter the reality of what the Holy Spirit accomplished through him. If one were to examine Spurgeon’s theology and ministry, as well as recorded accounts of it by his contemporaries as well as subsequent biographers, most would conclude from the absence of explicit reference to miraculous charismata such as prophecy and the word of knowledge that such gifts had been withdrawn from church life. But Spurgeon’s own testimony inadvertently says otherwise! If we concede that certain spiritual gifts were less prevalent than others in the history of the church, their absence may well be due to unbelief, apostasy, and other sins that serve only to quench and grieve the Holy Spirit. Both theological ignorance of certain biblical truths and a loss of experiential blessings provided by spiritual gifts can be, and should be, attributed to factors other than the suggestion that God intended such knowledge and power only for believers in the early church. Finally, what has or has not occurred in church history is not the ultimate standard by which to judge what we should pursue, pray for, and expect in the life of our churches today. The final criterion for deciding whether God wants to bestow certain spiritual gifts on his people today is the Word of God. It is unwise to cite the alleged absence of a particular experience in the life of an admired saint from the church’s past as reason for doubting its present validity. Neither the failure nor success of Christians in days past is the ultimate standard by which we determine what God wants for us today. We can learn from their mistakes as well as their achievements. But the only question of ultimate relevance for us and for this issue is: “What saith the Scripture?” 6. Sixth, and finally, there is another reason why I remained for years committed to the doctrine of cessationism. It isn’t based on any particular text or theological principle and yet it probably exercised more of an influence on my life and mind than all of the other arguments combined. I’m talking about fear: the fear of emotionalism, the fear of fanaticism, the fear of the unfamiliar, the fear of rejection by those whose respect I cherished and whose friendship I did not want to forfeit, the fear of what might occur were I fully to relinquish control of my life and mind and emotions to the Holy Spirit, the fear of losing what little status in the evangelical community that I had worked so hard to attain. I’m talking about the kind of fear that energized a personal agenda to distance myself from anything that had the potential to link me with people who I believed were an embarrassment to the cause of Christ. I was faithful to the eleventh commandment of Bible- church evangelicalism: “Thou shalt not do at all what others do poorly.” In my conceit and pride I had unconsciously allowed certain extremists to exercise more of an influence on the shape of my ministry than I did the text of Scripture. Fear of being labeled or linked or in some way associated with the “unlearned” and “unattractive” elements in contemporary Christendom exercised an insidious power on my ability and willingness to be objective in the reading of Holy Scripture. I’ve learned an important lesson, far beyond the point at issue in this study. I’ve learned, in the words of J. I. Packer, that “the reaction of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” Packer explains it this way: “If you are walking backward away from something you think is a mistake, you may be right in supposing it is a mistake, but for you to be walking backward is never right. Sooner or later people who walk backward in the physical sense stumble over some obstacle behind them which they never saw, because their minds and their eyes were fixed on what they were trying to get away from, and then they fall. We are meant to walk forward, not backward. Reaction is always a matter of walking backward, and thus it brings its own nemesis.” I believe all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid for the contemporary church for these reasons. First, there is the absence of any biblical evidence indicating they are not valid. This is not, however, a mere argument from silence, because the NT is anything but silent concerning the presence of the charismata in the church. If certain gifts of a special class have ceased, the burden of proof is on the cessationist to prove it. Second, the ultimate purpose of each gift is to build up the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:3,26). Nothing that I read in the NT nor see in the condition of the church in any age, past or present, leads me to believe we have progressed beyond the need for edification and therefore beyond the need for the contribution of the charismata. I freely admit that spiritual gifts were essential for the birth of the church, but why would they be any less important or needful for its continued growth and maturation? Third, four texts come to mind. 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 implies that the gifts of the Spirit are operative until “the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 7). Ephesians 4:11-13 explicitly dates the duration of the gifts. They are required “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (v. 13). In 1 Corinthians 14:39 Paul commands “the brethren,” among whom I include myself, “desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.” And despite the controversy that still surrounds it, I remain convinced that 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 dates the cessation of the charismata at the perfection of the eternal state, consequent upon Christ’s return. Fourth, I believe that the charismata are designed by God to characterize the life of the church today for much the same reason I believe in church discipline for today and in rule by a plurality of elders for today and in the observance of the Lord’s Supper for today and in a host of other biblical practices and patterns explicitly ordained in the NT and nowhere explicitly designated as temporary or restricted to the first century. Fifth, and finally, I do not believe the Holy Spirit simply inaugurates the new age and then disappears. He, together with His gifts and fruit, characterizes the new age. As D. A. Carson has said, “the coming of the Spirit is not associated merely with the dawning of the new age but with its presence, not merely with Pentecost but with the entire period from Pentecost to the return of Jesus the Messiah.” Spiritual gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and related revelatory phenomena such as dreams and visions, are explicitly said by Peter to be the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit, the latter being the evidence for the advent and presence of the "last days" (Acts 2:17ff.).
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