SPIRITUAL GIFTS: Are They With Us Today? (1)

Dusty Owens

here are two major thoughts concerning the giving of spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit to disciples of Christ. One opinion is that gifts of this nature have always been granted to God's people and the procedure will continue until the end of time, signaled by the second coming of Jesus Christ. These people are often referred to as "Charismatics," from the Greek word meaning "gift." The second opinion is that spiritual gifts were peculiar to the age of miracles, the time of the first advent of our Lord and subsequent apostolic period. This view states that spiritual gifts ceased when the revelation of God's redemptive message for sinful man was finally completed.

While both schools of thought admit that God evidently worked in miraculous ways through human agencies in "Old Testament" (O.T.) times, the focus of attention is on "New Testament" (N.T.) scripture and the "gifts" given to Christians.

Several years ago, I came to the conclusion that the second opinion is the correct one. I have reconsidered the subject many times, carefully studying all possibilities but always reaching the same conclusion. The age of miracles associated with spiritual gifts is over. This does not say that God is not interested nor intervening in the affairs of men. I believe He does. I am saying that it is impossible to know with surety if and when He does. In the first century the people involved knew precisely when God worked a miracle.

CLAIM OFTHE CATHOLIC CHURCH

The idea that the Holy Spirit still works through people enabling them to perform miracles as in N .T. times, is not new. It has been with us for centuries, although the prominent religious writers of the second, third, and fourth centuries seem to indicate that miracles were not being performed in their day. In centuries following, as the institutional ecclesia evolved into Catholicism, "miraculous events" multiplied and were given special recognition. Catholic authorities made the same arguments for miracles that we hear people making today.

...the Catholic Church ... by her constant practice in the canonization of saints, and through the teaching of her theologians, declares that the gift of miracles is an abiding one, manifested from time to time in her midst. This belief is logical and consistent. Miracles are as possible now as they were eighteen centuries ago.., we have no right to dictate to the All-wise, and maintain that they have ceased to be required at all. Heathen nations have still to be converted. Great saints are raised up in different ages to renew the fervor of Christians and turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just (A Catholic Dictionary, 1884, p. 583).

Today, some Catholics claim that God speaks to them directly and has given them spiritual powers (gifts), enabling them to "speak in tongues," "heal the sick," "perform all manner of miracles," and even in some cases, "raise the dead." Most of these people believe the claims that Jesus, Mary, or some apostles have appeared and/or have spoken to a certain privileged few, that statues of Mary have bled literal blood, and that the face of Jesus imprinted a cloth used in His burial which is now in the possession of the Catholic Church. For many years I have wondered why God would give all this special power to people who are so far removed doctrinally with what is revealed in the N.T. The concept of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ and his claim to infallibility , the organization including Cardinals, Bishops and Priests, and all the ramifications of Mass, i.e. turning the bread and wine into the literal body and blood of Jesus (Transubstantiation), the Clergy, priestly robes, candles, incense, the rosary, etc., immediately come to mind. I think that anyone entertaining the idea that God is granting spiritual gifts today as He did in the first century, has to deal with this question: Why would God give these gifts to people who believe and practice such things?

CLAIM OF SOME PROTESTANTS

It should be noted that this controversy over whether the Holy Spirit enables people to perform miracles or not, has raged throughout the Reformation period. Eventually, Pentecostalism emerged, which is a term applied to a large number of revivalistic American sects, assemblies, and churches, many of which came out of either Methodist or Baptist backgrounds. They are primarily concerned with perfection and holiness, but a tremendous emphasis is placed upon the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" and the working of miracles, i.e. speaking in tongues, healing, etc. With the development of this doctrine, came the practice of excessive emotionalism shouting, trances, jerking, hand clapping and "talking in tongues." There was always the claim that those close to God could "hear His voice and receive specific, often personal instructions" involving decision making for everyday living. In the course of time, many divisions occurred, but Spirit baptism, attested by the claim to speak in other tongues, remained a dominant tenet of faith and practice.

Again, I ask the question. Why would God grant Spirit power to people so diverse in their beliefs and practices? Especially, being so different from Catholics who make the same claims for possessing gifts.

CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT AMONG US

As far as I know, every major denomination has been affected by the charismatic movement, including the Church of Christ and the Christian Church. In fact, in Tampa where I live, a group with Church of Christ background, many of them former/present students of Florida College, have come under the conviction that "they hear the voice" "sometimes it is God the Father, and sometimes it is Jesus Christ" (although they have confessed to hearing a "lying spirit" on occasion).

The voice supposedly gives personal instructions to some, such as where to park the car, what to eat, what movie to attend, what numbers to pick in the state lottery, and even what pitch to swing at when playing a softball game. If it were not such a serious matter, it would be rather amusing.

Some have made major claims that eventually proved to be false. One of my friends went out on the limb to say that God told him to quit his job (he is a family man) and go into a multi-level business called "Fund America." He invested a few thousand dollars into the scheme. I advised him not to do it because it looked like a scam to me, but he listened to "the voice" instead. A short time later, it was declared to be illegal by the Florida State Attorney and the whole operation was shut down. My friend lost all his money. States attorney of Minnesota and Texas followed Florida's lead and the California based corporation filed for bankruptcy. My friend said that God told him "to keep the faith because the business is coming back." As of this date, it has not! Why didn't God know it was going to be judged a fraud? Why did God "tell" my friend that he should quit his job when he really needed it, and go headlong into a business that was fated to be "out of business" in three weeks?

In addition to this, why did God tell my friend that his last child was going to be a son, when in fact it was destined to be a girl? They were so certain that God had verified the baby was to be a boy that only a boy's name was selected for the occasion. They were stunned when the doctor announced that the birthing produced a girl. This is what happens when people get carried away with the thought that God is still speaking directly to some of His people and giving them the same spiritual gifts today that He gave to Christians of the first century.

There have been other incidences claiming that God gave direct information which proved to be false, but I will not list them here. I am reminded that Moses said,

But the prophet, that shall speak a word presumptuously in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if thou say in thy heart, How shall we know the word which Jehovah hath not spoken? when a prophet speaketh in the name of Jehovah, IF THE THING FOLLOW NOT, NOR COME TO PASS, THAT IS THE THING WHICH JEHOVAH HATH NOT SPOKEN: the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously, thou shalt not be afraid of him (Deut. 18:20-22).

A prophet by definition means literally, "mouth piece" or "spokesman." A person claiming to hear the voice of God and relating this to others in the form of instruction, information, or prediction, is presuming to speak for God. He may deny being called a prophet, but in reality he is one by definition. Now, if the information purported to be from God is false, and time will tell Moses said, then the prophet is speaking presumptuously and he is not of God. He is a false prophet. In my opinion, it is a serious matter to speak presumptuously for God, the offense being worthy of death, "... that same prophet shall die" (v. 20). I appeal to those who claim that God is instructing them directly in some kind of "voice," to think of the seriousness of the matter and to repent of such sins.

PURPOSE OF THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS

Those who maintain that God talks to them directly, believe that this is just one manifestation of God to His people. These Charismatics also believe that God works through His believers by granting them the power of the Holy Spirit in the form of spiritual gifts, like those given to Christians of the first century. In believing and attempting to practice such, they ignore the biblically stated purpose for which these gifts were given the CONFIRMATION OF THE WORD OF GOD (see arguments below). Instead, Charismatics place a tremendous emphasis on utilizing spiritual gifts for alleviating the suffering of the sick and for personal use. Even Jesus did not work miracles for these reasons during his ministry in Canaan. Yes, he was compassionate toward those who were disease afflicted, but he worked miracles to convince the masses that he was who he claimed to be: Deity, the Son of God, the Messiah sent by God to do His bidding. "The deeds prove that the Father sent me!" (John 5:36 SEB). The entire Gospel of John was written to this end. "Jesus showed many more proofs from God in front of his followers, but these are not written in this book. These proofs have been written, so that you, the reader, might believe this: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. If you believe this, you will have eternal life by his name" (John 20:30-31).

When Jesus sent out his apostles to preach the gospel to the whole creation, he armed them with the Holy Spirit who would "guide them into all truth" giving them power to perform all manner of signs and wonders. The purpose was to signify to the audience that God had sent them. When they healed the sick, or even raised the dead, it was not primarily for the personal benefit of the recipient. It was to confirm that the speaker and the message were straight from God and needed their attention. The Hebrew writer indicates this in the first few verses of chapter two:

This is why we must really pay attention to the things we have heard. If we don't we might drift away. The message that God spoke through angels was firm ... In the beginning, the Lord Jesus told about this salvation. Later, the people who heard him showed us that it was true. Also, GOD PROVED THAT IT WAS TRUE WITH MIRACLES, AMAZING THINGS, AND DIFFERENT KINDS OF POWERS AND SPIRITUAL GIFTS FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT which were distributed the way God wanted (vv. 1-4).

The power to work miracles was for the purpose of confirming the word of God. The purpose of those claiming such power today is on helping the sick to recover. Many times they do recover, but sometimes they die! and it is shrugged off as "God"s Will." I guarantee you that in the first century when a true teacher from God proclaimed His message of salvation and healings took place to confirm that teaching, there were no failures. How could a failure at healing or performing any miracles confirm the word? It could not. It would not. Therefore, when used, the miracle always worked, and it worked in order that the audience could be confident that the speaker was a spokesman of God.

Spiritual gifts were never given by the Holy Spirit for the personal use and benefit of the one possessing it. Nowhere can we read that the Holy Spirit ever gave a gift to help one decide such mundane things as what he should eat, where he should work, how he could win at the games, etc. It is incredible that people would advocate such today. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians, who had some misunderstandings about spiritual gifts, why the Holy Spirit distributed them. He said, "Brothers, I want you to know the truth about spiritual gifts" (1 Cor. 12:1). He told them that there were "many different spiritual gifts, but it is the same Spirit who gives them." Now notice, verse 7, "The showing of the Spirit is given to each one FOR THE GOOD OF EVERYONE." The gifts were distributed for the spiritual benefit of everyone, not for the selfish reasons of personal use.

Now, to drive the point home, Paul used the example of the human body. The body works as one, but it is made up of many parts. Evidently, the Corinthians felt that some gifts were more important than others. Some may have become puffed up with arrogance, feeling that their gift was the most important. Others may have felt slighted in not having a gift. In any case, Paul taught them that each part was important to the whole. This principle becomes very significant to the understanding of the next chapter. Also, it stresses the point I am making that each gift was for the whole group and not for personal use and benefit.

After impressing upon them the correct attitude they should have toward one another relative to the use of their gifts, Paul encourages them to "eagerly desire the more important spiritual gifts" (v. 31 ). Paul knew that the gifts they wanted were temporary in nature. These gifts had a purpose: to bring into being (reveal), with confirmation, the complete will of God concerning their salvation in Christ Jesus. A time was coming when this information would be written down and made available to everyone. At that time, the gifts would no longer be needed. Notice how the apostle made this point to the Corinthians.

"THE PERFECT"

Paul taught them that the pursuance of love is much more important than the spiritual gifts they were squabbling over. After listing several attributes of love he said,

Love lasts forever. There are such things as prophecies, but they will disappear. There are such things as inspired languages, but they will stop. There is such a thing as knowledge from God, but it will disappear. We only know portions of things from God. We prophesy in PART, but when that which is COMPLETE comes, the PARTS will disappear (13:8-10).

Some translations render the Greek word, teleion, as "perfect." This is unfortunate because it has led some to think Paul meant "sinless" or "flawless," instead of "being complete" or "matured," which is the actual meaning of the word.

Those who advocate that God is still handing out the same kind of spiritual gifts today that they had when this was written try to make the "complete" of verse 10 something that will happen at the second coming of Christ. One group of Charismatics says that it is Christ himself who is the Perfect (Complete), personified. Another group thinks it refers to perfect (complete) knowledge and understanding of all things that we cannot obtain until Jesus comes again. "At that time, Jesus will reveal all things and we will know and understand as he does," as it has been stated. In my opinion, neither of these conclusions are warranted.

The meaning of teleios, "complete" must be understood by the context. It is apparent that "complete" is in contrast to merous, which is rendered, "part." Paul said, "We know in part, we prophesy in part ; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away" (v. 9-ASV). Whatever was the purpose of things done in "part" (revelation), will be the purpose of "that which is perfect" (revelation). Spiritual gifts were temporary, leading to the time when they would have "the perfect." Since the spiritual gifts, done in part, were for "the good of everyone" in the group. I conclude that the perfect, in due time, would also be for "the good of everyone" in the group. Now get it: Since spiritual gifts were given to enable people to know and understand a part of the whole will of God concerning the salvation which is through Jesus Christ, the perfect would enable people to know and understand COMPLETELY the whole will of God concerning the salvation which is through Jesus Christ.

Paul wanted them to strive for Love. Why? Because he knew that spiritual gifts had a limited time usage: they were to "stop," "cease," "disappear," "be done away," etc. (vv. 8:10). Nothing could be plainer. Paul's statement to the Corinthians makes no sense if spiritual gifts were to persist until the end of time. Paul's words were relevant to those Christians. He wanted them to pursue Love, not gifts that would eventually be taken from them during their lifetime!

Paul used two illustrations to get them to understand what he was talking about: one, a child growing, maturing into adulthood; and second, seeing dimly an image of one's face in a mirror as opposed to looking directly upon another's face (vv. 11-12). Both illustrate that the time for them was approaching when they would understand more perfectly the excellent gifts of faith, hope and love, and that these would represent true spiritual MATURITY.

Some have asked, "You say Paul knew fully when he wrote these words to the Corinthians? Why then, did he say, "I know things only partially, but THEN I will know everything completely, just as God knows me." The argument suggests that Paul only knew partially, like the Corinthians, but would come to a perfect knowledge and understanding at the end of time, when Jesus returns. No, Paul, understood the will of God AT THE TIME OF THIS WRITING, as did the rest of the apostles who were given the Holy Spirit to guide them into "ALL THE TRUTH" (John 16:13). When he said, "I know things only partially...", he was putting himself in their "shoes," describing to them their own condition in a tactful manner. We often do the same. In speaking of America, we might say, "We have become a wicked and adulterous nation." I am sure we don't mean to include ourselves in that statement. That is what Paul did here.

It is unreasonable to assume that Paul did not understand fully all matters pertaining to salvation through Jesus Christ, when he wrote so much about it, to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, Thessalonians, and possibly to the Hebrews. He also wrote two letters to Timothy, and one each to Titus and Philemon. I remind you that the Holy Spirit was sent to the apostles to "guide them into ALL the truth," and to "reveal ALL things to come," and to "bring to their remembrance ALL that Jesus taught them." Either the Holy Spirit did His work, or He did not. Those who claim Paul's knowledge of spiritual matters was partial must also admit that the Holy Spirit failed to do the work assigned to Him by Jesus. I believe that the Spirit accomplished His assignment and that He revealed all things to Paul and other apostles. They were in the position to be "perfect/complete" in their knowledge and understanding. It is preposterous to think that they were only PARTIALLY equipped to know and understand what God revealed through the Spirit and had to wait until the end of time to FULLY comprehend that which they preached and taught concerning the great free gift of eternal life.

All these important matters Paul calls "God's wisdom," as opposed to "man's wisdom" in 1 Cor. 2:1-13. Paul said that these things were revealed to us through the Spirit of God "that WE MIGHT KNOW THE THINGS that were freely given to us of God" (v. 12). It should be clear to any thinking person that God not only intended the apostles to know and understand His will on ALL important matters of salvation, but that through the Holy Spirit they could communicate these things to spiritually minded people. Paul said, "when you read this you can come to my understanding of the mysteries of Christ" (Eph. 3:3-5).

Further, those who advocate that Paul only knew and understood partially, must logically conclude that Paul must have been given only one gift of the Spirit that permitted him to know "in part." After all, they say, Paul was like the Corinthians. Each had a gift that could only contribute "a part." What "part" did Paul have? Was he only able to heal, or was it just the gift of prophesying? Maybe it was the gift of speaking in another language. Which one was it? I believe that Paul was given the Holy Spirit that enabled him to perform all miracles (for the stated purpose of spiritual gifts, see above), even raising the dead as Peter had done. If this is true, The Holy Spirit guided Paul to know and understand fully the will of God on all matters that God intended to reveal. Again I say, Paul only placed himself in the "shoes" of the Corinthians in order to make the point that they could only contribute PARTIALLY to the whole with their spiritual gift, but there would come a time when the COMPLETE will of God pertaining to salvation would be written down for all to ponder, know, and understand.

REVELATION OF GOD'S WILL WAS COMPLETED

When I say that God's will concerning salvation was fully revealed or completed, I am not referring to the 27 books of the N.T. I realize that some of the books we have today as part of our Bible were not accepted by all Christians until the third or fourth Century. What I am saying is that early on, at least by the time of the death of Peter and Paul (mid-century), the message of salvation was not only preached "to every person under heaven" (Col. 1:23), but was written to many individuals and groups in the known world. The "perfect" had come! It was time to: phase out the use of spiritual gifts.

There are many statements that lead us to the conclusion that the revelation of God's will was completed during the lifetime of the apostles and other inspired writers of the scriptures. Peter declared, "God's divine power has given us EVERYTHING we need for living a godly life ... Through these things God wants us to share in His divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:3-4). He revealed EVERYTHING that God wanted His people to know about godliness and righteousness, first orally, and then by written word. Today, we have in the Bible EVERYTHING we need for understanding salvation and for living a godly life.

Notice what Jude wrote about salvation: "l am begging you to fight for the faith which God passed onto the holy people ONCE FOR ALL TIME" (v. 3). This suggests two important facts. One, if the word of God which produces faith in the hearts of men and women unto salvation was delivered "once for all time," IT IS PERFECT COMPLETE! There is no further revelation. Therefore, there is no need of spiritual gifts, which the writer of Hebrews said was needed in his day "to confirm the word." Second, "once for all time" suggests that "the faith" which was delivered is capable of accomplishing everything that God intended, to wit, the salvation of our souls! It was good enough in the first century, it is good enough today.

Remember, John said he wrote about Jesus and his deeds "that you might believe, and believing might have eternal life." Paul wrote a letter to the Ephesians saying,

"As you read this, you will be able to grasp my understanding of the secret of Christ. People of other generations were not told this, but now it has been revealed to God's holy apostles and prophets by His Spirit" (Eph. 3:2-6).

Paul understood the gospel plan of salvation and how one might be righteous and godly in the sight of God. When he explained this to others in his writings, with the help of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2), they, like Paul, could come to a perfect/complete understanding. In time, they too, like Paul, could "put away their childish things" (13:11 ) and concentrate on developing faith, hope and love in their lives.

The spiritual gifts that we read about in the N.T. belong to that age. They served a purpose. But, that age is over, and we are left with the product of the Holy Spirit, the complete revelation of His will, written to help us "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." It makes no more sense to try to imitate the use of these gifts today, than it is to feel responsible to build an ark or to construct a tabernacle. These things, like the gifts, belong to an age when God used them for a specific purpose. Once the purpose was fulfilled, and having no more use for them, He set them aside. We would do well to study and come to understand all about them, but to leave them where they belong - to a previous age.