*Note: I decided a couple week after the fact to publish this because it’s a concept that I believe has anything and everything to do with culture. Whether or not the American church believes in the charismatic spiritual gifts is a completely cultural issue and constant debate—the argument is different and much more confined in other cultures. Think outside the box–what is our culture saying?
I left the sources cited at the bottom because I am no certified theologian eligible to write position papers without the backing of much higher educated theologians gone before.
Theological Position on the Modern Day Presence of Charismatic Spiritual Gifts
Dr. Mark Moore
2 December, 2013
We believe that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit have not ceased and are still present in this day and age. These gifts, to specify, are speaking in tongues, the interpretation of tongues, prophecy and healing. We believe that, though they may not be seen in the universal and drastic way they were demonstrated in the apostolic age, the Holy Spirit still works through these spiritual gifts to bring forth the evidence of the Kingdom of God on this temporary earth. We respect that cessationism strives to maintain the authority and sacredness of the Holy Word of God, but also believe that a lack of belief in charismatic spiritual gifts is a result of a lack of believing without seeing. There are three solid truths that we have built this doctrine upon. First, charismatic gifts were acknowledged, encouraged and given order by the Apostle Paul for the sake of long term usefulness to the Church. Secondly, charismatic gifts are shown in Scripture to be present for the unity of the body of Christ. Thirdly, all spiritual gifts will eventually cease, but only when we once again see Christ face to face. It will be then, that they will be needed no longer. These statements are to be proven true by the Holy Word of God alone.
Charismatic Gifts are for Long Term Usage
There is a battle in modern Christian culture that argues both for and against the current presence of charismatic spiritual gifts. It is without an ounce of hesitancy that any individual who wishes to righteously explore this controversy dives first into scripture to see what the Holy Word of God has to say. The main passage that argues for the case of charismatic gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 14. The entirety of the chapter speaks fluidly on this issue, but some of the key verses are as follows.
v.18-19- I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. (NIV)
v.27-28- If anyone speaks in a tongue, two-or at the most three- should speak, one at a time and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. (NIV)
Paul just finished telling the Corinthian church, who was having some issues with ecstatic eruption, that he would be thrilled to have them speaking in tongues, but that that action is not nearly as valuable as prophesying, unless there is an interpreter for the message spoken in tongues and thus the church be uplifted. Tongues is not a lesser gift as much as it is slightly more complicated since it takes two (the speaker and interpreter) for the gift to be beneficial to the body of Christ.
v.29- Two or three prophets should speak and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that every may be instructed and encouraged. (NIV)
v.33- For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace. (NIV)
Siegfried Schatzmann makes an excellent case for the gift of prophesy in his book A Pauline Theology of Charismata. He states, “Prophecy refers to the function of communicating revelations from God as a spontaneous utterance. The factor of spontaneity seems to capture the idea of intelligible communication under the inspiration of the Spirit” (Schatzmann 22). Many cessationists may argue that spontaneity is the exact disorderly, dangerous factor that assists many charismatic gifts in being unaligned with the solidity of Scripture. However, the way that Paul encourages these gifts, yet sets guidelines, treads against the very idea of dangerous spontaneity. One nature of the Holy Spirit is spontaneity; however, the Church, being in its very nature mortal and sinful, must have guidelines to go by in order to keep its potential spiritual extravagance organized and in check.
v.39-40- Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (NIV)
The supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit are not meant to be separated; they were created and intended to be used as a holistic operation, hand in hand with all other spiritual gifts, to serve the Church Body. Schatzmann writes, “Rather than viewing each element in isolation, it may be more Pauline to gather all elements into one focus, thereby affirming…that charismata served the upbuilding of the whole body. Emphasis of various details at the expense of a holistic approach unnecessarily fragments the Pauline concept of charismata” (Schatzmann 80).
Paul loved the spiritual gifts; that is made obvious throughout his letter to the Corinthian Church, particularly in chapter 14. But order was and is necessary, lest the human nature experience a magical, self-created aura of sorts that is beyond submission to the Holy Spirit’s empowering work. Guidelines are useful, but they are not designed to crush the spiritual gifts all in all. Donald Gee, in his work Concerning Spiritual Gifts, emphasizes Paul’s heart on this issue: “After laying down these rules, however, he emphatically stated that speaking with tongues is not to be forbidden, lest his precepts should be misunderstood as an intention to quench this manifestation of the Spirit altogether. All he pleaded for was balance. It is a pity that some Christian leaders today do not approach this gift in the same spirit” (Gee 77). If these gifts are beloved by the Apostle Paul in the church and given guidelines in preparation for man’s tendency to pervert the work of the Spirit, it is only fair to say that these gifts are accessible and edifying to the Church today; the same Spirit, the same gifts, the same guidelines.
Charismatic Spiritual Gifts are Present for the Unity of the Body
Paul makes it crystal clear in every letter in which he addresses the spiritual gifts that these gifts are valid only if being used to build up the unity of the Church. After listing the spiritual gifts at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul exhorts the church by saying in verses 27-28: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues” (ESV). The meaning of tongues in Scripture is debatable, but the main purpose is to feed edification to the Church. Michael Horton in his systematic theology book, The Christian Faith, states that, “We should therefore understand tongues as synonymous with natural languages, which some were miraculously gifted to speak and others to interpret…None of these gifts was given for the personal edification of believers alone, but for the spread of the gospel and the maturity of the saints in that Word” (Horton 884).
The different parts of the church are to work together as one. Paul brings the picture of unity together in the classic metaphor of the Church being a body in Romans 12:4-6: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to your faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching…” (ESV). As stated in the last section, the spiritual gifts, including the supernatural gifts, are to be viewed as a holistic operation that assists in the unity of the body of Christ. To be sure, all prophecies, messages spoken through interpreted tongues, and circumstances of healing should align properly with scripture. Dr. Wayne Grudem, in an interview with Tim Challies, speaks on The Westminster Confession of Faith (TWC). He says that all revelations of the Spirit stated in TWC , whether private/personal revelations of the Spirit or “…decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers and the doctrine of men” are to all be put in the same category: “These are all to be examined and attested by Scripture” (Grudem). And certainly these revelations are not held to the same level of authority as the Holy Scripture, by any means, but to be valid at all, they must align with the Word. Benefit to the body of Christ is one of the prime ways that revelation through the Spirit can be tested. Again, the gifts were not created for an individualistic society. The church is a communal organization. “The intent of individual giftedness for service, therefore, cannot lie in individual giftedness for service, therefore, cannot lie in individualism but always points to the higher goal of the corporate body in togetherness” (Schatzmann 68).
All Spiritual Gifts will only be fulfilled when Jesus Returns
Finally, we recognize that all spiritual gifts will eventually pass away, but not until the second coming of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of His Kingdom on this earth. Prophecies from Joel 2:28-29 have been fulfilled by now: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” (ESV). These spiritual gifts promised are present even now. The charismatic gifts were a sign that Christ’s kingdom had arrived and their ceasing will be a sign that His Kingdom has been fulfilled. 1 Corinthians 13:8b-10 says, “But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears” (ESV). The perfection that Paul speaks of is Jesus Christ Himself. We have yet to experience perfection in this day and age, and thus the spiritual gifts are still a gift that the Lord bestows upon His church to increase His Kingdom and bring unity. Horton addresses the gift of healing as a harkening of the kingdom: “Similarly, the gift of healing was a sign that Christ’s kingdom had arrived, bringing a preview of the consummation in all of its fullness at the end of the age” (Horton 884). We may be approaching the end of the age, but we have yet to arrive.
Though the supernatural gifts are not as evident (in some cultures) in this day and age as they were in the first century church, there is somewhat of a call to return to the less cultured, faith-filled state of the early church. Gee says we should cast our eyes toward such: “Nothing is of more vital importance concerning the reestablishing of New Testament Christianity than the full return of every one of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Ghost. Their partial, instead of complete, restoration is a constant source of weakness….No theoretical or doctrinal belief without active operation will suffice here. We must have the gifts” (Gee 102-103). Mark Driscoll, a significant head of the Reformed Church asked and answered: “So, when do these gifts cease? When? When Jesus comes back, when we see him face to face. So the Cessationists are right: certain gifts will come to an end. But the Cessationsists are wrong: the end has not yet come. And the Continuationists are right: all the gifts continue until we see him face to face, until Jesus comes again” (Menzie- Driscoll quoted).
Cultural Context- the two extremes at war becoming the reputation of the Church
Certainly the elements of Christian witness are vital to how the Church is individually viewed within each cultural context. When one is looking upon an institution from afar, is there anything more vulgar to be seen than battle within that particular group of people? If the Church is truly designed to be one, not many denominations and church buildings, but rather the holistic Body of Christ, then dividing issues, such as charismata, must be a huge blow to the institution of Christ’s Church in the eyes of unbelievers all around. In regards to the case of a Continuationist Theology versus Cessationist Theology, the battle in America is still going on, but the war is very much perceived to be over in other parts of the world. Dr. Grudem speaks of England in particular: “Another widely-respected British Evangelical leader fifteen years ago said to me that the battle between cessationists and non-cessationists in England is over. And that’s the case, I think, in almost the entire world outside the United States” (Grudem).
Daniel Migliore, in his systematic theology book Faith Seeking Understanding, states it simply: “All theology is contextual…historical and cultural context is a factor in all Christian life, witness, and theology” (Migliore 197). Culturally and contextually, the American Christian Church is still fighting this battle. “Different strokes for different folks” may be the peaceable way of looking at the division in the Church over doctrine. That may be alright, except for the fact that different folks are imposing their strokes of ultimatum upon each other. Leaders within the Church are declaring each other heretics and by all means, media captures it, enlarges the issue and advertises the negative aspects to American culture like there is no tomorrow. For example, Dr. Grudem points out a form of accusation: “Now cessationists come along and say, ‘Sorry God doesn’t do that today. He did that throughout the whole history of the Bible but He doesn’t do that today’” (Grudem). Naturally, the Continuationists declare Cessationists either utterly confused or heretics in the same manner. It is a battle that results in disunity and a terrible reputation for the Church in society.
Wallace Henley, one who may be seen as a more neutral party in this theological battle, addresses John MacArthur’s views on ridding of bridges between Cessationists, Continuationists, Traditionalists and Charismatics. Henley says that MacArthur’s view is “…based largely, apparently, on the extremes of the charismatic movement” (Henley). Henley brings his thoughts down to the recognized view that there appears to be one extreme or the other, also known as Form (the extreme Cessationists) versus Frenzy (the extreme Charismatics). Form theology, in summary, pictures God as “so far beyond us that He fades from view and engagement” (Henley), whereas Frenzy theology reaches the other extreme and can dangerously verge on seeing God as, “our valet, fetching us healing on demand…” (Henley). At the end of the day, Henley would like Christians to consider where this has placed them culturally: “Maybe we can’t all go out to the center of what’s left of the bridge, hug and sing Kum Ba Yah. But perhaps we can see that the state of our culture provides unprecedented opportunity for the contemporary church-and maybe all ought to run out to Jesus before we blow this strategic historic moment” (Henley). We, the Church, are in the midst of a prime time to unite and adhere to the physical, mental, emotional, but most of all spiritual needs of the world. How will we do that while being divided instead of united?
Church Application- Two Extremes Causing Disunity in the Church
This grand issue comes down to the Church’s belief in the work of the Holy Spirit. As Migliore states, “Routine neglect and suspicion of the work of the Holy Spirit has damaging effects on both Christian life and Christian theology. It can lead to distortions in the understanding of God, the doctrine of Scripture, the significance of the natural order, the value of human culture, the interpretation of Christ and his work, the nature of the church, the freedom of the Christian and the hope for the final fulfillment of life” (Migliore 224). The Cessationists are accused of stemming from the attitude of Pharisees and Sadducees lacking in faith, while the Charismatics are accused of being wild and crazy, giving more authority to spiritual revelation spoken through prophecy or tongues than to the Holy Word of God. The Cessationists are experiencing too much limitation in God’s power and Charismatics taking advantage of liberty in the power of God. Who is right and who is wrong? The Power of the Holy Spirit, in its true and perfect form, not stemming from pharisaic doctrine nor from ignorance of Scripture’s authority, is “a liberating rather than a coercive power” (Migliore 224-225). It is liberating.
The issue within the church aligns perfectly with the issue that this poses in American culture. How is the Church uniting as it has been called? How should the Church address these disagreements? Dr. Grudem says, “Doctrinal disputes should be settled by appeal to Scripture. Experience is not our final authority- Scripture is” (Grudem). Perhaps if the leaders in the Church today, especially from the “Form and Frenzy” extremes, were to bypass their own experiences and humbly come together over Scripture in discussion, then a corporate attitude, originally intended for the Church, would begin to take place—bridges would be rebuilt. Thomas A. Smail once said, “The gifts of the Spirit are less individual endowments, far less spiritual status symbols, than ways in which we work together within the body of Christ” (Schatzmann quoting Smail). Not only the extremist leaders humble themselves and inherit a desire for community with those whose doctrine may vary from their own, but all who have a faith in Christ Jesus, an inheritance in the Kingdom, and a love for Scripture should be willing to not only merge with their own kind, but acknowledge the Body of Christ as the more important entity above their own doctrinal community. Humility of such a type would feed into following the example of unconditional love that Christ set for us. Christ’s love, shown for each other, within the Church, will never pass away. As 1 Corinthians 13:1 says, all spiritual gifts will eventually be unnecessary after Christ’s return, but “Love never ends” (NIV).
Gee, Donald. Concerning Spiritual Gifts. Springfield, MO: Gospel Pub. House, 1980. Print.
Grudem, Dr. Wayne. “Continuationism and Cessationism: An Interview with Dr. Wayne Grudem.” Interview by Tim Challies. Challies. Challies, 13 Dec. 2005. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.
Henley, Wallace. “John MacArthur Burning the Bridges Between Cessationists, Continuationists and Traditionalists and Charismatics (Pt. 2).” Christian Post (2013): n. pag. Christian Post. 24 Oct. 2013. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.
Horton, Michael Scott. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
Menzie, Nicola. “‘Cessationists Are Wrong’ About Speaking in Tongues, Says Pastor Mark Driscoll.” Christian Post (2013): n. pag. Christian Post. 14 June 2013. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.
Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2004. Print.
Poythress, Vern S. “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology.” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (1996): 71-101.Frame & Poythress. Frame & Poythress. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.
Schatzmann, Siegfried S. A Pauline Theology of Charismata. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987. Print.