When I started learning about the systematic process of defending the Christian faith, I was surprised to learn that the majority of apologists spend their time defending tenets of Christianity against other Christians! One would assume that apologetics would be practiced with the heart of educating non-Christians about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
One of the apologetic issues to elevate discussions and sometimes incite strong differences amongst Christians is spiritual gifts. Why is it when someone mentions the words charismatic or anything to do with the exercising of God-given gifts some Christians react so strongly? There are many followers of Christ who are wiser and frankly smarter than me who are full cessationists. The same is true of non-cessationists. But, I’m getting ahead of myself let’s break down a few terms and clarify their definitions used in this blog. You may have heard different definitions and that’s ok; for the ease of reading and understanding I’m going to offer my definitions.
First up is a word that I used above that some of you may not be familiar with: apologetics. Apologetics is defined in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church as “[t]he defense of Christian belief and of the Christian way against alternatives and against criticism.” The usual verse cited in defense of the practice of apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15 and while this is a great and highly applicable verse, there is another that seems to support the idea of arguments surrounding apologetics: Acts 17:17. Another term that I’m going to expand on is cessation. Broadly defined, the cessation of something is to stop doing an action or thing such as smoking. There are many smoking cessation programs and medications which can be used to help individuals stop smoking. But in the umbrella of theology and apologetics, cessation typically refers to the cessation of spiritual gifts.
I’m going to spend the majority of this blog providing an apologetic for the existence of some spiritual gifts to this very day. I’m going to practice apologetics with other Christians for the building up of His church and his people. Let’s dig in:
There are four main New Testament passages which delineate specific gifts given to God’s people via the Holy Spirit: Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4:7-13; 1 Peter 4:10-11.¹ There are different kinds of gifts given to different people at different times for different reasons. Scripture clearly indicates that the gifts are given for the development of the church and for the edification of God’s people. What I find absolutely hilarious is that there is little to no discussion around the gifts/roles of evangelist, shepherd, and teacher are never debated. These roles, listed right along with prophet and apostle, are not even the slightest controversial. So, let’s start with the least controversial gifts of teaching, evangelism, and shepherding.
If God sees fit to give someone the gift of teaching, it implies that there are students. It also seems to imply that there will be some people in the Body of Christ who have a greater knowledge and wisdom than others and these gifts don’t necessarily come with age, they come with maturity and by the grace of God. I have often said that the non-denominational church movement has a significant flaw in that many members of non-denominational churches seem to think that no one can have a better understanding of scripture than another. But, this cannot be the case because if it were, why would the Holy Spirit give knowledge and wisdom? Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is clear that the Holy Spirit can and will give special knowledge and wisdom to believers: “To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 13:8 NIV). This, for me, does not necessarily indicate supernatural knowledge and wisdom. The intellect imparted by the Spirit can be for supernatural things but in many cases it is simply a greater understanding of the things of God in order to help grow His church. Knowledge, speaking in tongues, and prophecy will pass away according to Paul.
Shepherd and evangelist are self-explanatory. God needs men and women to lead his church and share the Gospel with passion and zeal. Even though every believer needs to share the Gospel there are some who are equipped in a unique and special way by the Spirit. Beyond the edification and growth of his church there is no reason for the equipping.
This brings us to the controversial gifts: speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing. The greatest discussion and debate is around the question: does the Holy Spirit still give these gifts today? When we look at these gifts by themselves this question can create a bit of debate but let’s look at them alongside the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and teaching. For the cessationist, the position is that the spiritual gifts were given in the beginning of Christ’s church and only for the creation of the church. Once the church had been established, the gifts were no longer needed and they passed away. My issue with this is if prophecy and tongues passed away did knowledge and intellect also pass away? That seems highly unlikely given the great number of Christian scholars including the Early Church Fathers. It seems highly likely that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased to be given.
So let’s briefly break the more controversial ones down!
It is my belief that the gift of tongues is simply a Spirit given ability to speak and understand the languages of the world. At the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) God confused the language of the world because of their hubris. Later, the Spirit gave the gift of speaking different languages that were not native to the speaker at Pentecost in order to edify the people of God and expand His church. It seems quite logical that this gift is still given today. This is different than an individual’s prayer language or their individual gift of being able to pray in tongues.
The gift of healing is absolutely alive and well Christ’s church but the problem arises when some leaders imply (or flat out say) that God wants to heal everyone or that there is no place for suffering and sickness in God’s church. This is ludicrous. The process of sanctification (becoming holy; being prepared for holiness) in this world involves suffering and sometimes sickness. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 NIV) Can God give the ability to heal to His children? OF COURSE and he does!
So what about prophecy? Does prophecy still exist? Do prophets and apostles still exist? This is a bit more complicated but only a bit. The short answer is yes, prophecy does still exist. But, we must be careful to understand that prophecy and a prophetic gift does not mean that the Spirit will impart new revelation to his people. God’s revelation, Scripture, is complete and does not need addition or revision. In fact, Paul specifically tells the Galatians that if anyone (including Paul) comes along and preaches a different Gospel let them be cursed. Prophecy is not merely a word of encouragement from one believer to another. But it can be confirmation for a believer regarding something already revealed to that believer. Someone can be praying for direction on something and God will use another believer to confirm the first believer’s decisions. This is one way God is sovereign in our lives but still allows for our free will, but that’s a different blog post. Prophecy should never be forced, coerced, or faked that is dishonest and something from God would never be dishonest.
Finally, what about apostles and prophets specifically? The short answer is no, there are no more prophets or apostles. “The apostle’s qualification was first and foremost to have seen (Ac 1:22, 1 Co 9:1, 2) the risen Lord, and to have been sent out by Him; secondly, to have wrought (2 Co 12:12) ‘the apostle’s signs.’ His work was to bear witness of the things he had seen and heard (e.g. Ac 1:8)—in short, to preach; and this implied the founding and general care of Churches, though not their ordinary administration.”² Given that the chief qualification for one to be an apostle is that they have seen the risen Lord and have been sent out by him. The apostolic gift still exists in that those in close relationship can be called by our Lord into the ministry of preaching His Gospel, but that doesn’t make one an Apostle. One with the apostolic gifting has a higher ability to receive a God-given vision, cast that vision, and lead others in that vision. This gift can also involve the insatiable desire to grow Christ’s church through church planting and reaching into areas otherwise unreached. The apostolic gift is also seen in the pastors to pastors; those pastor’s who’s calling is to lead and develop other pastors.
As for prophets, our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the office of prophet once and for all. As stated above the gift of prophecy can still be given today but it is foolhardy for one to call themselves a Prophet. But, in the biblical (mainly OT) understanding of the office of Prophet, Jesus fulfilled and closed that office forever.
These are highly complicated subjects that require a great deal of understanding. We must be on guard against false teachings and teachers. God has given each believer the gift of discernment and we must exercise discernment with prayer and fasting. I pray this article has edified you and that it lights a spark within you to dig deeper into God’s Word and all things theological. God Bless you!
Pastor Chad Roche, MA, MBA
Guest Discerning Dad
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1- Craig L. Blomberg, “Holy Spirit, Gifts Of,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed., Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 348.
2- Henry Melvill Gwatkin, “CHURCH GOVERNMENT IN THE APOSTOLIC AGE,” ed. James Hastings et al., A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology (New York; Edinburgh: Charles Scribner’s Sons; T. & T. Clark, 1911–1912), 440.