How Do I Know the Miraculous Gifts Aren’t for Today?
Are the miraculous spiritual gifts still active in the church? We must ask this question because of the increasing profession of the miraculous gifts among Christians today. How should we test this claim? Frederick Bruner once said, “The test of anything calling itself Christian is not the significance of its success or its power, though these make the test more imperative. The test is
truth.” I could tell you about my power of flight until I’m blue in the face, but the test is the truth. If I am accelerating toward water from a bridge above, talk is cheap. Truth is the test.
Do these gifts still exist? I don’t believe they do. How do I know this? The shortest answer is that God revealed it to me! God told me so in His Word. Except for a brief historical survey of the miraculous gifts, all the answers to this question come from the Word of God. However, there are numerous ways this question has been answered. In fact, a recent work attempted to answer this question, and boiled the positions down to four.1 I am going to boil it down to two: “Yes,” and “No.”
Many would quarrel with this and say that there is a third answer. This answer is called ‘Open but Cautious.’ However, this position is entirely unhelpful. Quick—name one other issue pertaining to the Bible and the church where this is an accepted position. Does God get the sole credit for salvation? Are we sanctified by the means of faith? It is almost amusing to imagine the ‘Open but Cautious’ answer in these discussions. “I’m open to walking by faith, but I’m cautious…” Ironically, this position is quite popular today. I believe there are two main reasons why people are in this camp. First, some in this camp stand on the fact that they haven’t yet come to a conclusion. That is fine— there is a formative stage of thinking for every theological and practical question. If anyone among us can’t honestly answer a question, then declaring that we don’t have an answer is honorable. But please don’t write about a non-answer as though it were a legitimate position.
Second, some who are ‘Open but Cautious’ actually believe that the gifts exist, but they claim that we should use caution and perhaps avoid the use of these gifts in the corporate worship service.
Third, others who are ‘Open but Cautious’ simply want to keep the door open for the possibility that in some remote area, an unknown miracle worker actually has the power of an apostle. I must
admit that I’m not concerned about this possibility. The Scriptures clearly teach that miraculous gifts are given “for the common good” of all believers (1 Cor. 12:7), and that all gifts must be done for the edification of the church (1 Cor. 14:26). If someone speaks in tongues and no one hears it, is it the gift of speaking in tongues?
For those who answer the question with “Yes” or “No,” I will use the terms ‘cessationism’ and ‘continuationism’ throughout the paper. The theological labels ‘cessationism’ and ‘continuationism’ come from convictions about the presence or absence of the gifts today. Cessationism is the conviction that the miraculous sign gifts ceased in the first generation of the church; continuationism is the conviction that the miraculous spiritual gifts (i.e., tongues, prophecy, healing, words of knowledge) continue through the church age until the return of Christ.
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