Spiritual Gifts… A divisive issue in the church for the last, well, long time. I’m not planning on bringing anything new to the dialogue ill leave that to the big brains. I just want to reflect a bit about where I am at; perhaps work out for myself where I actually stand on things.
For the last 5 or so years I have been wrestling with myself about where I stand on spiritual gifts.
I know for sure that I am certainly not a cessationist. As much as I love and respect many great bible teachers who hold to the cessationist view I am convinced that the plain reading of scripture does not indicate that any of the gifts have ceased. One of the common arguments is that these gifts were Apostolic gifts. John Piper clears this argument up:
- Jesus sent out the seventy, not just the twelve apostles, “to heal the sick” (Luke 10:9). And when they returned, they said that the demons were subject to them in Jesus’ name (Luke 10:17). These miracles in Jesus’ name show that apostolic signs and wonders are not unique to the apostles.
- In the book of Acts, Stephen “did great signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 6:8), even though he was in the “deacon” category not the apostle category (Acts 6:5). Similarly it says that “the multitudes gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did” (Acts 8:6). Philip was not an apostle, but performed miraculous signs.
- Paul writes to all the churches of Galatia and says, “Does he who is supplying the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:5). The point is that God is now supplying his Spirit to the Galatians and working miracles among them when he is not there. Hans Dieter Betz notes that “the [present] participle ‘supplying’ (epichoregon) suggests a continuous supply rather than an initial and momentary ‘outpouring'” (Hermenia, Galatians, p. 135). And Ernest Burton says, “In view of the dative ‘to you’ after ‘supplies,’ the ‘miracles’ must be supposed to have been wrought not principally by Paul but by the Galatians themselves, as 1 Corinthians 12:10,28,29 imply was the case among the Corinthians” (I.C.C., Galatians, p. 152).
Peter Masters does not adequately deal with this grammatical fact when he says that these miracles refer to Paul’s own miracles which he had worked among the Galatians when he was recently among them (The Healing Epidemic, p. 134). Burton also wrestles with our very question concerning “the signs of the apostle” and astutely observes, “2 Corinthians 12:12 indeed suggests that such things were signs of the apostle, yet probably not in the sense that he only wrought them but that the dunameis of the apostle were in some way more notable, or that they constituted a part of the evidence of his apostleship” (Galatians, p. 152)
- Finally, 1 Corinthians 12:9-10 says that among the spiritual gifts given to the members of the church at Corinth were “gifts of healings” and “workings of miracles.” Thus (as Burton suggested) such “signs and wonders” were not the “sign of the apostle” in the sense that only apostles could do them. Various gifted members of the church were also empowered in these ways as well. This is confirmed in verses 27-29, where these gifts are distinguished from the gift of apostleship.
There is many other arguments as well but I feel that to get to that view on the spiritual gifts you really have to do some extreme exegetical gymnastics! Although I’v been going to the gym and shedding the lbs I still cant do the splits; and I couldn’t in good conscience do the exegetical splits to get me to this position. Therefore, if signs and wonders were not limited in function to validating the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, but rather had a role in the edifying and evangelistic work of the church in general, then there is good reason to trust God for their proper use today.
So I most certainly fall into the continuationist category of some kind but where?
It’s also fair to say that I am not a ‘charismatic,’ in terms of the current use of the word. In my, all be it, limited experience of the charismatic church it seems to me that quite often the gifts at times can be elevated above the Giver of the gifts. Also to me it seems that often the works of the Spirit today can be elevated above the word of God, of course no one would admit that; but that is the impression I have got in the dozen or so Charismatic/Pentecostal churches that I have attended. It is vital that we trust in the sufficiency, supremacy and inerrancy of the book the Spirit inspired!
However on the other hand I appreciate the ‘we can do this (in the power of the Spirit)’ attitude that many of our charismatic and pentecostal brothers and sisters have. Often in reformed circles we can have committee after committee, meeting after meeting and years can pass before things have begun. But in my limited experience, I have found that our Charismatic brothers just go out there and get it done, and for that they win my deep respect.
But often in Charismatic churches I can feel quite uncomfortable, particularly when we sing 7 words 11 times and it results in ‘tongues-a-palosa’ (everyone singing in ‘tongues’). In situations like that there is 2 choices, stand awkwardly or sing ‘yaba-daba-do-la-la-la,’ take your pick, I usually opt for the first option.
So where does that leave me?
I appreciate guys like Driscoll, Mahaney and Virgo who label themselves as ‘reformed charismatics’ each of these men have blessed and encouraged me in my ministry countless times’ and I have learned alot from their sermon’s, lectures and books. The charismatic element of each of their churches/networks looks very different.
It seems that Driscoll’s church would not be deemed ‘charismatic’ by most in a regular church gathering, however there would be charismatic elements in small group gatherings. But on the other hand NewFrontiers/Virgo and Sovereign Grace/ Mahaney’s churches would be actively charismatic in corporate worship.
As much as I agree with these guys (mostly) theologically (excluding the re-definition of apostle) my experience and practice does not necessarily match what I believe. I pray and ask God regularly for many of these ‘supernatural’ gifts, especially prophecy (as we are encouraged). I have at times sensed I need to speak to people, and share particular portions of God’s Word with them or share some words of encouragement, usually nothing spectacular. Don’t get me wrong, on a handful of occasions I have seen God work in mind-blowingly miraculous ways. One of the most notable occasions was while I was in Chicago studying at Moody Bible Institute (a predominately cessationist collage I might add). Me and my friend Dave felt strongly that we should go out witnessing in the streets, it was a great season in my life where we saw many souls converted. One night stands out in particular, we came across a man in the street who was very hostile to the message that we were sharing, one of the lads who was out witnessing with noticed the guy had a plaster cast on his arm. Some how the guys felt that I should lay hands on the guy and pray for him; I was sort of pushed towards the guy and with out much thought I was laying hands on him and praying a silly prayer that went something like this: ‘eh…God…can you like, eh… heal this guys arm…amen.’ Something amazing happened. I felt something happen in his arm, and before I knew it the guy was ripping off his cast and shouting ‘oh my God.’ His hand was completely fine. At this point quite a crowed had gathered and the rest of the crowed were witnessing to them, before we knew it the man who had just been healed was gone. It was very bizzare. But that night about half a dozen people were converted. Since then i have prayed for dozens of people who have had varying degrees of sickness. Most were not healed, a couple were, but nothing as spectacular as that freezing cold night on the streets of Chicago.
That experience is very much a stand alone experience for me, I have never seen anything like it again in my ministry. But it was that night that started off the journey in exploring where I stand when it comes to spiritual gifts and trying to get a grasp of the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Am I any clearer? -Well, not really.
Where do I stand? To be honest I’m not really sure. I quite like how Mark Driscoll calls himself a ‘Charismatic with a seatbelt,’ perhaps that’s what I am. But i find myself coming back to the teaching of John Piper, who feels like an old friend.
He summarises his views in a few short videos in a QnA form to promote the up and coming pastors conference (on a side note- if anyone wants to fly me out there I’d be more than willing to go ;p) In many ways I find myself siding with Piper, i love how he handles such delicate issues with love and respect.
What Is the Gift of Healing? from Desiring God on Vimeo.
What Is Speaking in Tongues? from Desiring God on Vimeo.
What Is Prophecy in the New Covenant? from Desiring God on Vimeo.
So where am I at? I’m not really sure. I just paddling along in this great ocean of grace and find myself currently in no-man’s land.
Anyone else find themselves in no-man’s land?
“Signs and wonders are not the saving word of grace; they are God’s secondary testimony to the word of his grace. Signs and wonders do not save. They are not the power of God unto salvation. They do not transform the heart–any more than music or art or drama which accompany the gospel.” John Piper