For all of my Christian life—which is, by God’s unwavering grace, a little more than five years—I have been a continuationist. That is, I have believed that the miraculous spiritual gifts—tongues, prophecy, etc.—have continued and are for today.
But in the past couple of months, I struggled with that position. I had always understood (for the most part) both sides of the argument and always sided with continuationists.
As of a couple days ago, I side with them no longer.
I kept having the nagging itch to re-read an article I had read before. This was Tom Schreiner’s article over at The Gospel Coalition entitled “Why I’m a Cessationist.” And, just to give both sides, it is the companion article to Sam Storm’s article, “Why I’m a Continuationist.” (And yes–I’ve read Storm’s article and considered his arguments and disagree.)
As I started reading it, his arguments became more convincing. He made a compelling case that the miraculous spiritual gifts are not for the church today. And I believe him. (Of course, his article wasn’t all of what convinced me; Scripture, more than all, convinced me.)
What I want to do is explain my thoughts by interacting with Schreiner’s article. And my thoughts will surely not be brief, so prepare for a rather-lengthy blog.
Let’s start off with apostleship.
Are There Apostles Today?
It’s normative that even most continuationists don’t believe the gift of apostleship is for today. Sure, there are extremists that do believe apostles still exist. However, the criteria for being an apostle was you have to physically see the resurrected Christ. Do people see Jesus physically today? That is a rhetorical question. And, of course, Paul specifically said he was the last apostle (1 Cor. 15:8).
I will leave this topic at this since the gift of apostleship is not widely debated. Beware of people who claim to be apostles.
The Gift of Prophecy
In Schreiner’s article, he makes the case that, since the gift of apostleship has ceased, then it stands to reason that the other miraculous gifts may have ceased as well.
If the gift of apostleship has ended, then other gifts may have ceased as well, since the foundation has been laid by the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20).
I concur. To be quite honest, I’ve always felt a glaring inconsistency in my reasoning for the spiritual gifts because I believed some were for today and some—like apostles and healing—clearly were not.
Concerning the gift of prophecy, I’ve always believed that the New Testament (hereafter NT) prophecy was diffferent than Old Testament (hereafter OT) prophecy. Of course, OT prophecy was infallible and “flawless” as Schreiner says, whereas NT prophecy was mixed with error, as continuationists say.
But I’ve come to the conclusion that NT prophecy is not different than OT. The prophecies recorded in the NT were also without error. Moreover, we don’t have an example where a NT prophecy is mixed with error, as some believe Agabus did concerning Paul.
Allow me to let Schreiner chime in on this issue:
We have no example of a NT prophet who erred. Agabus didn’t make a mistake in prophesying that Paul would be bound by the Jews and handed over to the Romans (Acts 21:10-11). To say he erred demands more precision than prophecies warrant. Furthermore, after Paul was arrested he appealed to the words of Agabus, saying he was handed over to the Romans by the Jews (Acts 28:17), so it’s clear he didn’t think Agabus made a mistake. Agabus spoke the words of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:28; 21:11), so we have no example in the NT of prophets whose prophecies were mixed with error.
Again, I concur. However, it’s important to clear up any confusion. Many Christians, when speaking about prophecy, are really talking about “impressions.” Impressions are not prophecies. Impressions can “guide and lead us,” as Schreiner says, but they are certainly not infallible. And again: they’re not prophecies.
I love my charismatic brothers and sisters, but what they call “prophecy” today isn’t actually the biblical gift of prophecy. God-given impressions aren’t the same thing as prophecies.
Yes and amen.
The Gift of Tongues
Prophecy and tongues are related, as 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 suggests. It stands to reason, then, that if prophecy has ceased, tongues have as well. Tongues are not some ecstatic utterance that we see in charismatic circles. Each time the word tongues (glossa) is used, it is referring to a linguistic, structured language or code.
And in 1 Corinthians 14:2, Paul says that “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” This isn’t referring the ecstatic utterances or a private prayer language; no, this simply means that if you pray in a tongue that nobody knows, then it’s a mystery. Nobody will understand you if nobody knows the language.
Those hearing the tongues in Acts understood what was being said because they knew the languages the apostles were speaking. If no one knows the language, then the tongue speaker utters mysteries.
There are other objections to the view of tongues ceasing. If you want more answers, read his article. For the sake of not losing people with a very lengthy blog, I will simply direct you there!
The Gift of Healing
Can God heal? Yes. Does God use specific people to perform acts of healing? I am thoroughly convinced the answer is “No.”
This doesn’t mean that we believe God doesn’t heal people. He absolutely does–He just doesn’t do it through one person. We are saying that God doesn’t give the gift of healing to a person anymore.
And I say “No” for this simple reason: healings in the NT were extravagant and immediate. People were instantly healed of leprosy; the blind saw; the dead heard.
This doesn’t happen today. If a healing happens today, it’s neither immediate nor extravagant.
It’s not the same as the NT gift of healing.
Answering 1 Corinthians 13:8-12
This text certainly conveys the idea that the gifts could last until Jesus returns. (Jesus’s second coming is what the “perfect” refers to.) It surely gives the impression–pun intended–that the gifts could last until His Second Coming.
However, since it seems as though the gifts were a foundation role in the life of the early church (Eph. 2:20), they most likely have ceased. I think we see that further expounded in passages like Hebrews 1:1 and the fact that the spiritual gifts are not talked about much again in later NT books.
With that being said, I will let Schreiner say what my exact thought is:
I conclude, then, that 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 permits but doesn’t require the gifts to continue until the second coming. And the gifts as they are practiced today don’t fit with the biblical description of these gifts.
Are they permitted to occur? Sure. Are they required? No. I look at it this way: do we believe God speaks audibly today? Surely not. Can He today? Yes. But we believe He doesn’t because, as Hebrews 1:1 says, He speaks to us through His Son (through Scripture).
In the same way, can God use the miraculous spiritual gifts today? Sure. Does He? I don’t believe so. He uses Scripture to guide us and it is sufficient for life and godliness.
This wasn’t—and still isn’t—easy for me, as I had always believed the opposite for the most part. But now, I am convinced of the cessationist position. I don’t have all the answers, but I have enough.
Soli Deo Gloria