The issue of the whether or not the charismatic spiritual gifts are for today has caused much debate and division in the body of Christ. The extremes are amazing. There are groups that say that if you do speak in tongues, then you are under demonic control and are not saved. On the other hand, some say that if you do not speak in tongues then you are not saved. What’s more, both extremes use scripture to support their positions.
Fortunately for the Christian church, whether or not the spiritual gifts are for today is not a salvation issue. Therefore, we need to be gracious. Romans 14:5 says, “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind” (All Bible quotes are from the NASB). As you can see, the Bible leaves room for debate and differences of opinion on non-essential doctrines. The issue of whether or not the charismatic gifts are still around is a debatable issue and charity needs to be granted from both sides of the argument. This is not an issue to divide over as many, unfortunately, have chosen to do.1
It is my opinion that the charismatic spiritual gifts are still in effect. I do not believe they ceased with the apostles or with the completion of the Bible. If you disagree, that is fine. But let me give you my reasons here.
For simplicity’s sake, I will state a standard objection to the continuance of the spiritual gifts and then I will give what I believe is a basic but sufficient refutation for that argument. All the verses quoted are listed in full at the end of this paper.
Argument 1: Since we have the Bible we do not need spiritual gifts. 1 Cor. 13:8-13 is usually quoted as scriptural support for the position:
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Some vigorously maintain that the “perfect” is the completed Bible and, therefore, the extraordinary gifts are no longer needed. But I do not think these verses can be used to support cessationism. This is why.
Verse 12 says, “…then we shall see face to face.” The word “then” refers back to the phrase “when the perfect comes.” Since the only infallible interpreter of Scripture is Scripture, a quick examination of the way God uses the term “face to face” should help us understand this passage better.
The phrase is used throughout the Bible and always means an encounter with a person. When God uses it in reference to Himself, it means a visual, personal encounter with Him (Gen. 32:30; Ex. 33:11; Num. 12:8; Deut. 5:4; and Jer. 32:4). Likewise in the New Testament it is also used in speaking of personal encounter (2 Cor. 10:1; 2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:14, etc.). “When the perfect comes… then we shall see face to face” seems, most logically, to refer a personal encounter; at least, that seems to be how God uses the phrase.
If the position is taken that the “perfect” is the completed Bible, how then do we encounter God in the manner as the phrase suggests: an encounter with a person? Seeing Christ face to face occurs when He returns.
Another “then” is mentioned in verse 12: “then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” The word “then” again refers back to the phrase “when the perfect comes.” Again, we need to look at how the Bible uses words. This time we’ll look at the word “know.” Scripture says that eternal life is to know God (John 17:3). Only the believer is known by Jesus (John 10:27; Gal. 4:8-9; Rom. 8:29). The unbeliever is not known by Jesus (Matt. 7:21-23). In every verse except for one, God says He only knows believers.2 This is a salvific knowing; that is, it is a kind of knowing that God does of the Christians. He knows them and they are saved. The unbelievers are not known and are, therefore, not saved.3
It would seem most consistent with scripture to say that “…as I am fully known” would refer to a salvation relationship between Jesus and the Christian. At the return of Christ we (the ones known) shall know fully; we shall see face to face the One who is our Savior.
Also, we don’t “know” Jesus through the Scripture; we know about Him from the Scripture (John 5:39). Instead, we know Him by personal encounter (John 1:12; 1 Cor. 1:9) through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. We don’t know in a full sense right now, even though we have the Bible, because we are still corrupted by our sin nature. In our fallen state we can only see Christ through sin-clouded eyes. We see a reflection of Christ in the Word. When Jesus returns the reflection of the truth will pass to clear understanding (the way childish thoughts give way to mature ones) when we receive our resurrected bodies, no longer have to battle sinful flesh, and can see Him face to face because “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2) and then, “…we shall know fully.” The context of 1 Cor. 13:8-13 seems, in my opinion, to show that the spiritual gifts will cease when Jesus returns.
Interestingly, 1 Cor. 1:7 may be consulted here as well. It says, “so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our lord Jesus Christ.” The Greek word here for “revealed” is apokalupsis. It means the apocalypse, the return of Jesus. In both this verse and 1 Cor. 13:8-13 the gifts, which aren’t differentiated as to kind, are connected to the return of Christ, not the completion of the Bible. One more thing, the word gift in the Greek is charisma. This is where we get the word ‘charismatic.’
Argument 2: Present day tongues are further revelation and must then be equal to Scripture and should be included in the Bible. But since the Bible is not to have anything added to it, the gift of tongues (and therefore, the rest of the spiritual gifts) must no longer be valid.
This is a faulty argument because the Scripture itself recognizes inspired revelation that is not to be added to the Bible: “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (1 Cor. 14:26). Here, in the Corinthian church, revelations were given that were not made part of the Bible. This shows that there were, for a lack of a better word, “different” kinds of revelation: one from the prophets and apostles meant for canonization and another through the Spirit to be used in the church for edification — not canonization. So, in my opinion, for someone to maintain that revelation today is a threat to the Canon does not consider 1 Cor. 14:26, and is not applying scripture properly.
Argument 3: There is such misuse of the gifts that they couldn’t possibly be real.
First of all, misuse of the gifts implies their existence. They couldn’t be misused if they did not exist. The only real position to be taken here would be that the use of the gifts really is no use, but is only fakery and self-deception.
I do not deny that the gifts are misused. I have heard manifestations of tongues, interpretations of tongues, and prophecy that, in my opinion, were not genuine. But I do not discredit the gifts based upon those experiences anymore than I would say that the gift of preaching is gone because I have seen it misused. Experience does not make doctrine, the Bible does.
Second, it is not a sick child that needs discipline and correction, it is the active, energetic, exploring child that needs to be guided. This was so with the Corinthian church. They were using the gifts greatly but improperly and needed to be corrected on their proper use.
1 Cor. 13 is the main place where the cessationists (those who believe the gifts have ceased) go for their position. However, upon looking at the context, I believe 1 Cor. 13 teaches that the gifts will cease when Jesus returns.
- 1. In fact, the truth that we have these differences of opinion should unite us instead of divide us. The reason is simple. When we see that we have differences of opinion, it should humble us because it should bring to light the reality of our sinfulness and limited nature as Christians to fully understand God’s word. Instead of maintaining an attitude of pride where one side condemns the other, we should be more gracious. We should acknowledge the possibility of the other side being right, even though we don’t think so. We need to admit that our sinfulness is the problem, and not the other’s lack of judgment.
- 2. There is a single verse where Jesus says to the Jews, “I know you that you do not have the love of God in yourselves” (John 5:42). But it is referring to knowing them as being evil.
- 3. However, this is not to say that God is not all knowing. It means that God uses the words “I know you”, “I know them”, etc. as a description of people being in a salvation relationship with God.