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Understanding Spiritual Gifts Today
Are The Gifts Active And Available Or Have They Ceased?
What is your belief relative to spiritual gifts? Do you believe all the spiritual gifts remain available today or do you believe that some gifts ceased with the apostolic era?
The issue of whether or not all the spiritual gifts are available today has caused much debate and division in the body of Christ. Extreme views exist among various Christian camps. There are groups that promote the gift of tongues as a sign of salvation while others condemn it as a work of the devil. What’s more, each group validates their position using scriptural support. Sadly, these extremist movements within the body of Christ fail to exercise grace in regard to these questionable gifts and end up throwing out the baby with the bath water so to speak. Paul exhorts every member, “Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds” (Rom 14:5). In reality, there will be gray or dimly lit areas of biblical understanding among believers (1 Cor 13:12). The differences of opinion should leave us enough room for constructive discernment and discussion on minor doctrinal issues regarding the spiritual gifts. Therefore charity, not chastisement, needs to be exercised on both sides of the theological fence. My position in the matter is that I believe all the spiritual gifts remain active and available today within the body of Christ and did not cease with the apostolic era. We will examine the three primary arguments put forward regarding spiritual gifts: (1) the exception of gifts; (2) the elevation of gifts; and (3) the exploitation of gifts.
The Exception Of Gifts
Since we have the bible we do not need the spiritual gifts that have ceased with the apostolic era. This argument centers around 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. Those who stand convicted that the bible has come to completion believe that the spiritual gifts are no longer needed. Yet the passage they cite fails to support their position. Verse 12 says, “…but then we will see face to face.” The word “then” refers back to the previous phrase in verse 10, “…but when the complete comes.” Focusing on the term “face to face” should bring clarity in helping us understand this passage. The phrase is used throughout scripture and always means an encounter with a person. When used in the OT it refers to a visual and personal encounter with God (Gen 32:30; Ex 33:11; Num 12:8; Dt 5:4; and Jer 32:4). Likewise in the NT, it is also used in speaking of a personal encounter (2 Cor 10:1; 2 Jn 12; 3 Jn 14). If the position is taken that the “complete comes” in the form of the bible, how on earth do we personally encounter an actual person, namely God, in the manner “face to face” presents? Seeing Christ visibly, face to face, comes to pass when he returns. In the context of the passage in question, it seems to imply that all the gifts shall cease at Jesus’ return. It also says, “…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7). The word “reveal” in the Greek is apokalupsis “in the eschatological sense of the parousia or the return of Christ in the last days.”[i] Based on these verses, the gifts are connected to Christ’s return in the future, not the completion of the bible today.
The Elevation Of Gifts
Present day tongues are further God-given revelation for believers and therefore equal with scripture. But since there exists a warning against adding to the word of God (Rev 22:18), the gift of tongues, along with the rest of the spiritual gifts have ceased. This argument is in error because the bible recognizes the inspired revelation exercised within the context of the church among its members: “What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for the building up” (1 Cor 14:26). It is evident in the life of the Corinthian church that the spiritual gifts were in operation for the “building up” of the body of Christ. However, these revelations uttered in the realm and power of the Spirit, were not recorded in the bible. Therefore, the recorded words from the prophets and the apostles were meant for general canonization (the official sanctioning of the word of God by religious authorities), while the revealed words from the context of the church were meant for specific edification (the local instruction or revelation for moral and or spiritual uplifting).
The Exploitation Of Gifts
Since there is so much rampant division and misuse of the spiritual gifts, they should not exist today. This argument arises from the blatant abuse of spiritual gifts that has hurt the body of Christ causing much divisiveness and damage.[ii] Yet the misuse of these gifts does give solid evidence that they were very much in operation among the early church members. In reaction to the chaos that certain ‘showy gifts’ bring, i.e., faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, various kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues (1 Cor 12:9-10), there are those in the body of Christ who would rather ‘pick and choose’ the gifts that don’t cause a commotion and discard the gifts that can throw a wrench into their control-oriented and comfortable church settings. In doing so, they render an injustice to the church by grieving or quenching the Spirit who desires to work and lead them (Eph 4:30). Paul cautioned the church with an anatomical analogy illustrating how the integral members of the body sever each other as each one sees one another as detrimental to its health (1 Cor 12:14-26). Likewise, the churches today literally “shoot themselves in the foot” by preventing or severing these necessary gifts that promote a sound mind and body. Paul encouraged the church to strive for the major gifts that benefit the entire body rather than the minor gifts that edify the few (1 Cor 14:1-5) and may even throw outsiders or unbelievers into confusion (1 Cor 14:11-12, 22-25). The goal being that unbelievers come away blessed with a worshipful experience declaring, “God is really among you” (1 Cor 14:25).
Therefore, we need to recognize that every God-given spiritual gift has its legitimate place within the life of the church. Yet we bear in mind that the ‘Giver of the gifts’ we serve is not a God of disorder but of peace (1 Cor 14:32). Humility should cause us to be gracious about the gifts and our sinful limitations until Christ comes, “Now I know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:12-13).
[i] William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1958), 92.
[ii] Most of the discussion centers on the continuation or non-continuation of the gifts. Continuationists insist that the so-called "charismatic gifts" continue throughout this age until the return of Jesus and that there is no biblical warrant for saying they have ceased. Non-continuationists or cessationists believe they had a particular function in the first century that doesn't apply today. Cessationists generally believe that these gifts were for the purpose of "attestation," they attested to the fact that Jesus was who he said he was, and they attested to the apostle’s authority as bearers of divine revelation.
© 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.
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