The Sign Gifts Today, Part 1 (1 Corinthians Sermon 42)
December 08, 2019 | Andrew Davis
The History of the Charismatic Movement
Well, the night that Jesus was born, there was an angelic messenger to the shepherds, and they came, the heavens were opened and they saw a heavenly host, and they celebrated peace on earth, good will to men. And now as we look in our current age, we look in our generation, we know this has not come true yet, but we believe that when Christ is done with his redeeming work, we will be in a new heaven and a new earth. And we will be with brothers and sisters that have been redeemed from every tribe, language, people, and nation, very different backgrounds, different socio-economic backgrounds, different ethnic backgrounds, different linguistic backgrounds. But we are going to be in heaven perfectly one as the Father and Son are one. Isn't that incredible? What that means is we're not going to disagree about any theological topic. Not one.
Now, some of you may be wondering why I'm introducing the sermon today, and others, you know exactly why I'm saying these words. That time has not come yet. We're not there yet. But we should yearn for it. We should yearn to totally agree with one another, and be as one with one another as the Father and the Son are one. That should be a goal that we have, that we would be brought, as the scripture says, to perfect unity. And the only way I know that that could ever happen is by the ministry of the Word and by the power of the Spirit.
So this morning, we're going to begin to look at the issue of sign gifts, the charismatic issue, Pentecostal issue. We're going to try as best we can to understand these issues biblically. I guarantee that when I get done, you'll still have questions. I still have questions, but I think the best thing we can do as we make our way through 1 Corinthians is to address this head-on and try to understand it. And for, me this morning, it begins with a history lesson. In 1900, a woman named Agnes Ozman enrolled in a newly-established Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, the Bethel Bible college, and during that fall, the instructor, a Bible... A Methodist holiness pastor named Charles Fox Parham directed the students to catalog from the Book of Acts every mention of the Holy Spirit and his activities. And as they did this cataloguing, consensus emerged on two points. Outward manifestations always accompany the Spirit's activity, first.
Secondly, speaking in tongues is the outward sign, the proof, of what they call the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Well, Professor Param then announced a watch night service for the transition from 1900-1901, and on January 1st, the early hours of January 1st, Param placed his hands at Agnes Ozman at her request, praying that she would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Witnesses then reported that for the next three days, Agnes spoke and wrote only in Chinese, just as in Acts 2, at the feast of Pentecost, the miraculous tongue reported in Topeka was a known existing human language, foreign to the speaker.
Now, I told Daphne about this this morning, we're driving in, she said, "How do we know that she spoke Chinese? Were there any real Chinese speakers there?" I know that that kind of thing could never happen here in our church if it weren't true. We would immediately have some native speakers of Chinese that could find out if it's true, but I just don't know. I wasn't there. And you see, what this charismatic issue brings you into is start to question reports you hear from the field. This is intrinsic to the investigation. But at any rate, that's the testimony, and she never spoke Chinese again after those three days.
A second pivotal event in this whole history occurred when African-American holiness turned Pentecostal, Pastor William J. Seymour established his ministry at Azusa Street in Los Angeles to preach. Seymour witnessed the outbreak of a revival on April 9th, 1906 that not cease for three years. And this included miraculous gifts that just erupted, especially speaking in tongues, and it began pumping out Pentecostal Evangelist missionaries and ministers, not just in the United States, but worldwide. So the defining theological distinctive of Pentecostalism was distilled at Topeka in 1900, the baptism of the Spirit manifested by speaking in tongues, and then the launching pad of what would become a worldwide movement, Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement, happened from Azusa Street.
Now, the spread of Pentecostal Christians and charismatic Christians worldwide has been staggering, and in the 20th century, it's coming three waves on into the 21st century. First wave there at Azusa Street, second phase in the '60s and '70s, a charismatic renewal then, and the third wave in the mid-'80s, continuing through to today. Now, in 1985, Fuller Seminary Professor C. Peter Wagner, who is a church growth expert, showed that Pentecostal and charismatic churches up to that point, 1985, were experiencing a growth that had been unprecedented in the history of the church. This is what Wagner wrote: "While back in 1945, Pentecostals and charismatics who count only 16 million members worldwide, by 1975, they had grown to 96 million, and only 10 years later, 1985, they numbered an astounding 247 million worldwide." Wagner says, "I'm not aware of any non-political, non-militaristic, voluntary association which has grown at that rate in all of human history."
In 1985, 247 million represented 5% of the world's population. By 2011, the Pew forum did a research on the Pentecostal and charismatic movement worldwide, they estimated that there were at that point, 2011, 279 million Pentecostal Christians and 305 million charismatic Christians in the world, a total of almost 600 million people. That represents 8% of the world population in 2011, and 27% of all those that self-designate as Christian. This is a very significant movement worldwide. However, the explosive spread of Pentecostals and charismatics has not been without controversy or opposition and serious questions within the Christian world. Many have spoken strongly against this movement as deficient theologically or practically. In 2007, for example, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention ruled that anyone who prayed in a private prayer language could not be appointed as a missionary of the SBC. That was extremely controversial, and that policy was removed in 2015, but it shows how divisive the charismatic issue has been.
Now, let me say just because a movement is massive and numeric worldwide doesn't make it right. Honestly, a number of the churches, many of the churches and the Christians that are charismatic in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, are also infected with the prosperity gospel which is a false teaching. And that's spreading, it seems, almost as fast in some of those regions. So, we still have to evaluate it. Just because there's massive numbers doesn't make it right. But it's still something we need to address.
So, as we walk through our study in 1 Corinthians 12, and we look at the topic of spiritual gifts, we come to very turbulent waters. But we must sail straight ahead, because you would notice if I skipped it, I'm sure. And so we're going to forge ahead and hope that the boat doesn't capsize, I trust that it won't, but we need to move ahead and do the best that we can to understand the scriptures as they're written, and our current context.
And 1 Corinthians has already brought us through many controversial issues. The divisiveness within the Corinthian church, we see that today, there's still division in the church, it's sad. It will not happen in heaven, but it's still there today, and so this relates to even the things I've been talking about today. But we also have discussed the carnal Christian doctrine, we've talked about church discipline, sexual immorality, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, meat sacrifice to idols, controversies concerning women, the role of women, gender, head coverings, the Lord's supper, and now we come to charismatic gifts. And so, for me, it seems wise for any young pastor to wait on preaching expository sermons to 1 Corinthians until he's been at his church for a while. Just some advice to any of you that are listening by way of podcast or radio. It's good to be at a church for 20-plus years and for the church to be as wonderful as you folks are to be able to sail through turbulent waters.
Have Some of the Gifts Ceased? Charismatics, Cessationists, and Others
So we need to look at this. And so, the question that's in front of us simply is, Have some of the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 ceased, or are they all still operating today? That's the simple question that's in front of us. So, Wayne Grudem puts it that way: "Are all the gifts mentioned in the New Testament valid for use in the church today?" So look again at 1 Corinthians 12: 8-10. It says, "To one, there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom; to another, the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit; to another, faith, by the same Spirit; to another, gifts of healing, by that one Spirit; to another, miraculous powers; to another, prophecy; to another, distinguishing between spirits; to another, speaking in different kinds of tongues; and to still another, the interpretation of tongues." So that's just right there in the text, as you read it.
And then if you go to the end of the chapter, verse 28, it says, "And in the church, God has appointed, first of all, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then workers of miracles also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gift of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues." So any careful reader of that who's in probably a normal evangelical church would be led to ask this question: Are all these skill is still operating today? To many Christians, it seems that some of these gifts have ceased, specifically miracles, the gift of miracles, not miracles themselves, but the spiritual gift of working miracles; the spiritual gift of healing, not miraculous healings per se, but individuals that are able to heal people; speaking in tongues, that is foreign languages; the interpretation of tongues, being able to listen and to speak and translate that tongue, never having studied, each side of that equation, never having studied the language; and then prophecy. These are what are sometimes called the miraculous gifts or sign gifts, and they are a source of a great deal of controversy in the Christian world.
Now, most Christians numerically, just simply, most Christians, have never experienced these sign gifts. They have gone through their whole Christian lives, they never experienced them, and that's actually true, for the most part, in Western church history as far as we know. It's not unheard of, and charismatic scholars are able to circle and find some moments along in the history. But for the most part, most Christians make it through their lives not experiencing these sign gifts. And so Evangelicals who read the Bible end up being divided. Inerrantists who believe all scriptures' God-breathed and want to deal properly with every scripture, they end up divided on this.
Some evangelicals believe that all of the gifts listed here are still operating today, and they would be called charismatics or perhaps continuationists. We have to handle multi-syllable words today, okay? So continuationists are those that believe that gifts continue like they did back in those days in the 1st century. So maybe continuationists could be a subset of charismatics, or it may be the same, depends how you look at it.
Some evangelicals would say, "Absolutely not. The gift have ceased," and so they're called cessationists. They believe that these sign gifts were only for the apostolic era, and they have absolutely ceased. Then there is a bunch of middle people, which probably includes a lot of you who, are in the middle and have never really studied this very much. You're aware of it, you've been a Christian long enough, you're aware of charismatic Christians, maybe even been to some of those churches or had some of those experiences. You would not consider yourself either one, and within that large kind of middle group of Evangelicals, you would have people that would characterize themselves, if they think about it, as open but cautious. So you're not ready to shut the whole thing down, but there are so many excesses, you don't necessarily want to just get swept along. Open but cautious. Then there would be in that middle group, others that would call themselves open but skeptical. So, there's your whole spectrum, dear friends: From charismatics/continuationists through open but cautious people, through open but skeptical people, all the way to cessationists.
Now, let me just say, by way of my own personal journey and where I've been on this topic, two of my greatest, most impactful mentors in ministry disagree on this issue. What do you do then? Alright? John McArthur has been in the pulpit for 50 years. I learned sequential exposition, which is my basic pulpit strategy, from him. I think it's remarkable that anyone could be doing what he's done from the pulpit as long as he's done it, for 50 years. He is an ardent cessationist. As a matter of fact, in 2013, he wrote a book, and there was a conference connected with it, called Strange Fire, in which he likens the charismatic worship and charismatic gifts to the alien fire, the strange fire, offered by Nadab and Abihu. He focuses overwhelmingly on excesses and bizarre aspects of the charismatic movement and shows how harmful they are. In his book, Strange Fire, he does have, Chapter 12, a letter to continuationist friends that he has, who he respects their theology, but he tries to show that charismatic, it's hard to dabble in it, that the excesses are intrinsic to the movement. So that's an ardent, strong cessationist position.
On the other side of the equation in terms of my mentors is John Piper, who wrote a book called Desiring God and who... I think it's the single most influential book in my life in terms of Christian motivation: Why it is we do what we do. And he is a tremendous Bible teacher. And let me just pause and say, if you know anything about John McArthur and John Piper, any issue on which they disagree, you're in trouble. That's hard. And so, you're a... What's a pastor like me to do? But John Piper believes... He's a continuationist and believes all the gifts are still operating, and along with him are many other names that are involved in Gospel Coalition and all that, whose views on scripture I respect, like Don Carson, D. A. Carson, and Wayne Grudem. So, there it is. So you're saying, "What are you, pastor?" Well, listen to the sermon, and then you'll know more of the level of confusion that I have on this topic.
So, someone once said, "A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew," so, this is like a fog machine today. I don't know. I'm not trying for that. I would like a stronger, more clear word, but I'm going to do my best. I'll say that fundamentally, though, this is always my procedure. Romans 4:3. Romans 4:3. What does the scripture say? We have to start there. And here, I'm going to say it very plainly: I do not find cessationism in the scripture. If I'm going to find it, I have to find it other places. In other words, I'm not convinced by John McCarthy's arguments. But that doesn't make me a continuationist or a charismatic. It just means you have to do better than that, for me, biblically. And I'll show you why.
Does Scripture Tell Us When the Miraculous Gifts Cease?
The central text that cessationists point to is 1 Corinthians 13. So turn there, if you would, it's probably in the same page or further down, or maybe you have to turn one page, but not two, don't turn two pages. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. "Love never fails, but where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now, we see but a poor reflection, as in a mirror, then we shall see face-to-face. Now, I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. Now, these three remain: Faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."
Well, cessationists point to this passage as proof that the sign gifts cease. They say, "When the perfect comes, the imperfect passes away," and that refers to the New Testament canon. Now, this is a very strong and important issue for us. We have to be solid on this biblically and doctrinally. Tim Challies, who was writing about this, he said, "Here's the trouble: If the continuationists are right, then cessationists are calling good evil, and saying what God is doing is from Satan. And on the other hand, if the cessationists are right, then the continuists are calling evil good, and saying what is from Satan is from God." Well, those are extreme ways of looking at it, therefore, we have to be certain that we have scripture under our feet.
And as I look at 1 Corinthians 13, I think it actually goes the other way from the cessationist position. I'll try to show you why. The cessationists are saying that the gifts ceased when the New Testament was completed, and that's what Paul means by "when the perfect comes." And so the Word of God is perfect, it's an inerrant, perfect record of prophecy, of apostolic ministry, and so that's the perfect, and when that comes, then the gifts cease. Tom Schreiner says, "This is the only, even close to clear, cessationist passage in the New Testament." So this is it. All the rest of this cessationist arguments are made more thematically, looking at when miracles come or what prophecy is, those kinds of themes. And parenthetically, I'm going to address prophecy next week. There's just too much work to do in one sermon, so, I'm just going to defer prophecy as a topic to next week. Please hear me clearly. I didn't say I'm prophesying next week; I said I'm going to address the topic of prophesying next week.
Alright, so let's approach 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 properly. What is the context? What is the point of the passage? Well, it's set right in the middle of three chapters on spiritual gifts, so it's part of the spiritual gift topic. Just like meat sacrifice to idols, Paul doesn't hurry through it; he takes his time and gives three chapters on each. And so, as he unfolds the way spiritual gifts function in the body, 1 Corinthians 12, and then in chapter 14, he continues the spiritual gifts on special problems connected with tongues and prophecy, in the middle, we've got the love chapter. And I know that we hear it so often at weddings and all that, but it really is a very strong statement on the function of love in the body of Christ. But it's nestled in the language of spiritual gift. "If I speak with the tongues of men and of idols, but I have not love... If I have to give of prophecy, and if I can fathom all mysteries, and if I have a faith that can move mountains," those are all spiritual gifts. And so, 1 Corinthians 13 in this home setting is talking about spiritual gifts. And what's the point?
What Is the Point of 1 Corinthians 13?
Well, he's trying to adjust what's defective in the Corinthians' attitude and demeanor and approach as they use their spiritual gifts. What he's saying is love is much more important than the spiritual gifts, and turned it around, the spiritual gifts serve love, they're here to work love in the body of Christ, and they're here to work unity and the building up of the body of Christ to full maturity. And so if there's no love, then the gifts have no purpose, they're actually damaging the work. That's what he's saying. And one of the clinching arguments that he makes is that the gifts are temporary, but love is eternal. The gifts are temporary, but love is eternal. So it clearly says that the spiritual gifts will cease. The question is when.
So, look at verses 8 through 10, "where there are prophecies, they will cease," couldn't be clearer. That's a cessationist statement. "Where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial," is a better translation, not imperfect but the partial, that which is of the part, "disappears," or passes away. So the spiritual gifts are for building up the body. Now, there's two different kind of images of the church of Christ, one of them is architectural, and the other is biological. A building, a body, both of them are helpful images. In Ephesians 2, we have the image of the structure, the architecture of the church rising. So, keep that more architectural image in your mind. So imagine a mansion being built out in that kind of a remote location. I picture it out in Wyoming, overlooking the Grand Teton. So fix that in your mind. And a river going through it, and the mountains snow-capped in the distance, and there it is. What a beautiful sight. But it's somewhat off the grid, or it's a little bit far from the grid, and so, in order for the workers to work there, they have to have gas-powered generators to run their power tools and their pneumatic devices, and to have lights in darker places in the building as it rises. And they need Porta-Potties. You know why, I don't need to say any more, alright? They might... The construction crew might need a food truck to come by. You see all these at construction sites. Look, the gas-powered generators and the Porta-Potties and the food trucks at construction sites are all temporary. You could add scaffolding, but I like the gas-powered generator as a picture of spiritual gifts. So they're temporary necessities, God uses them to build the body, but at some point, they are going to be done. They're going to finish. Paul, especially as he makes the argument that the gifts will cease, zeros in a knowledge, talks about knowing, knowing in part. Why does he do this? Well, it has to do with the essential aspect of salvation, being knowing God.
Jesus said in John 17:3: "Now, this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou was sent." And so the idea here is that salvation at its core is a deep, rich, full, complete knowledge of God. And so that's why I think Paul zeros in on knowledge, in verse 9 and 10, "We know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, then the partial disappears." So, what he says, then, is our knowledge of God and of Christ is only partial and incomplete here in this life. That's what he's saying. Much is missing, but there will come a day that we will know God fully as He has known us fully and richly and completely. That's what he's saying. And so therefore, he actually makes an incredible statement here, if I could push the language a little bit. He says all of these gifts are like baby talk compared to how we're going to be talking in heaven. It's like baby talk.
What do I mean by that? Look at verse 11. "When I was a child, I talk like a child, thought like a child, reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish things behind me." That's an interesting analogy. "Paul, what are you talking about?" He's saying, "What I'm saying is your knowledge of God is like that right now." It's really amazing, when you think about it. It's not disparaging the ministry of the Word, not at all, but this is what we have. This is what we've got now. You got exegesis and preaching and teaching and nouns and verbs and syntax and theology and all that. Someday, your knowledge of God is going to be infinitely greater than that, immeasurably greater than that. So this baby talk includes all of the gifts, but I think especially the word-based gifts, like I just said, speaking in tongues, prophesying. That's the only two he mentions here at the end of 1 Corinthians 13, but also, I would say teaching, preaching, all of those aspects, all of that contribute to our in-part knowledge. But then when the perfect comes, the imperfect goes away.
Now, what is this perfect knowledge? What are we talking about? Verse 12: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face-to-face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." So, until the perfect comes, we need the gifts. Well, what is that perfect that's coming? Well, hear are your two options on today's topic: It's when the New Testament comes, or when Jesus comes. Those are basically your two options. When the New Testament's completed, then the imperfect knowledge passes away, and then we will be perfect in knowledge. Or when Jesus comes, then the imperfect passes away, and then we will be perfect in knowledge. Those are the two options.
And it's clear that Paul links the passing away of the gift, it's not an option, they actually will pass away. And not just will they pass away, that's when they will pass away. You see, it ends up a double-edged sword. We'll talk about this, but this is not a cessationist passage for me; it's saying they will continue until this moment happens. When the perfect comes, then the partial disappears. That's when it passes away. So, Paul is, I think it should be clear to you, talking about the second coming of Christ, and not the completion of the New Testament. Why is that? Because of this face-to-face language. Remember how Moses wanted to see God face-to-face? And God on the mountain told him, "No man can see me and live." Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God." We can't handle that face-to-face, full revelation of the glory of God. No one John has ever seen God at any time.
But we're told in 1 John 3 that when he returns, when he comes, we will become like him, we will be made like him for we shall see him as he is. This is what's known as the beatific vision, actually seeing God face-to-face. And at that moment, we will know him as he has known us. Now, don't misunderstand that. We will never know God completely and perfectly. Everything we know about God in heaven will be true and accurate, but there's always going to be more to learn. That's the book I'm writing on heaven, that's what I'm saying. You will be forever learning God. And that's pretty exciting, isn't it? I mean, just think about that, just think about what you're in store for forever. God is going to be pouring his glory unto you. And you'd be like, "God, do you have any more to show?" "I have infinitely more to show you."
But what he is saying is that our knowledge of him will take a quantum leap when we see Him face-to-face. And that's at the second coming of Christ. An earlier verse, I think, confirms that this is what Paul is thinking. Don't turn there, but just listen. 1 Corinthians 1:7 says, "Therefore, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly await for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed." Well, no one wonders what that's talking about; that's the second coming of Christ. In other words, you have the spiritual gifts until then.
The Cessationists’ Use of this to Prove Cessationism Fails
Therefore, I believe the cessationists used 1 Corinthians 13 to prove that the sign gifts have ended with the completion of the New Testament canon fails. They say that the perfect is the completement of the New Testament canon. I don't deny that the New Testament canon is a perfect revelation of the Word of God. I don't deny that. That's not the point. The point is is that the perfect or the complete knowledge of God that 1 Corinthians 13 is talking about, that's the issue. And I say it's not. The infinite upgrade that we Christians are going to get at the Second Coming when we see face-to-face, that's what Paul is talking about. And you won't need baby talk then. You won't need sermons. I'll be retired, long retired by then. And you won't need me, because like the Scripture says, We will all be taught by God. We will all be taught directly by God. Now, that's exciting, isn't it? In the meantime, we get spiritual gifts.
Now, Martyn Lloyd Jones says this about that interpretation, cessationist interpretation: "What this means, then, is that you and I, who have the scriptures open to us, know much more than the Apostle Paul did of God's truth. It means that we are altogether superior even to the apostles themselves, including the Apostle Paul. It means that we are now in a position in which we know fully even as we are known fully by God. Indeed, there is only one word to describe such a view, and it is 'nonsense.'" Well, that's Lloyd Jones, he's just being strong, like he does. But I think that is just not... Let's put it more gently. It's not healthy exegesis on this passage. This is talking about the second coming of Christ, not about the ending of spiritual gifts.
So, what this means, then, if you work it through logically, we have to look at the now-then language. Now-then. There's a strong now-then, now-then, now-then. So what that means is now, we have this; then, it ends, and we have that. And so it's actually pretty clear in the text. Now, we have the spiritual gifts; then, when Christ returns, they will cease. And so the logic would be, "And not until then." And not until then. So, it even culminates with that. It's remarkable, the wonderful, good things we have now, but then, everything becomes much better. Now, we have faith, hope, and love. But of those three, only one of them will go through into eternity. Faith, you don't need anymore when you see him with your own eyes. It will be done. Your faith will become sight. And you don't need to hope anymore, as Paul says in Romans 8, "Who hopes for what already has?" And when we have what he comes to give us, we won't need hope anymore. You'll be there. But you'll still have love forever in heaven.
So that clinches Paul's arguments that the gifts are temporary, but then, the second coming to Christ, when faith and hope are fulfilled and Christ comes, you'll still have love. So make sure whatever you do with your spiritual gifts, do it in love. Does that make sense? So that's how I think 1 Corinthians 13 should be understood.
Now, there are other cessationist arguments, thematic arguments. For example, one argument is that the temporary sign gifts, miracles, healings, tongues, interpretation in tongues, had the unique purpose of identifying the apostles in their apostolic authority so that the surrounding people would know, New Testament, they would know who the apostles were and that they should listen to them. There's little doubt that that is true, that that happened, that the miracles vindicated the authority of the speaker. It's clear to prove that in the Book of Acts. But is that the only reason for these miracles? I would say not. I would say some... Let's just keep it simple. Sometimes a miracle just gave a display of God's compassion and mercy and tender love. Jesus frequently did that when, just out of compassion, he would heal someone. He moved with compassion. He said, "I'm willing, be healed." So we can't say that's the only reason for the gifts.
Furthermore, and this is a key issue between cessationists and continuationists, is the cessationists tend to make everything all the same kind of thing, like Old Testament prophecy is exactly the same as New Testament, the New Testament gift of prophecy in the churches. Exactly the same, such that in the Old Testament days, if someone is proved to be a false prophet, they must be stoned to death. Conversely, though, if they're a true prophet, you must follow them, as though you're following the actual Word of God. Whereas continuationists say, "Yeah, but there seems to be a lower operating on the gift of prophecy in which prophets are evaluating each other, and if you don't make the evaluation, it doesn't make you a false prophet; it just means that particular utterance was not an excellent utterance," or something like that. So that's how the continuationists argue, we'll talk more about prophecy next week. Prophecy is a very difficult topic.
But to say they're all the same, the same thing with the gift of healing, which is plural, gifts of healings, double plural. It's really interesting, we'll talk about that next week too. But to say that it's all at the Jesus level or the apostolic level, I don't know, necessarily always, what the Holy Spirit calls a gift of healing. I believe that miracles happened probably every day in answer to prayer. We've had numbers of people who have had very bad diagnoses from very reputable hospitals, who the people of God gathered and prayed, and within a short amount of time, much to the amazement of their doctors, the people are healed of that malady. It's happened multiple times. And I think it happens a lot. Would I call that a miracle? I would. But does that make it a gift of healing? I wouldn't say so. It seems like that traveled from place to place with the person. However, why couldn't it be that there would be a certain lower level of the gift of healing in which people just pray continually for sick people, and they've seen remarkable healings again and again? Who am I to say that's not the gift of healing intended in 1 Corinthians 12? What I'm saying is we lack knowledge to flatten everything out and say it's all the same. But again, that's another cessationist argument.
Another is on fakes. Come on, let's be honest. We've heard of fakes. Ever heard of Benny Hinn? Alright, it's been proven that it's a scam. He actually puts armed guards around his stage, not to protect him from whackos that want to kill him, but to protect him from genuinely sick people who want to be healed. And he's not the only fraudulent worker of these kinds of things. The movement is rife with these kinds of things, like Kenneth Copeland and others. Worldwide; it's not just in the US. However, there is a logical problem with that as well. I think we need to be aware of these excesses and see how it works and think about it, et cetera, but it'd be like saying because there's false teaching, we should throw out the gift of teaching. It's maybe the quintessential example of throwing out a baby with the bath water. Just because there are excesses and bizarre things doesn't mean that the whole thing is not valid. You can't argue on that sense. What you have to do is separate the one from the other.
Just an aside, theologically, a lot of those that are ardently against, that are cessationists, ardently against, are dispensational in their theology, and almost all of them believe in the ministry of the two witnesses. And the two witnesses, they all believe, and I do, too, that they will come during the rain of the anti-Christ at the end of the world. It's clearly stated in Revelation 11:3 that they prophesy and do miracles. But they would say they're a special case.
If the Gifts Still Continue, Why Don’t We See Them Here?
Alright, so, "What are you, pastor?" I'm almost to the end of my sermon, that's what I am. What I am is I don't believe that the cessationists' use of 1 Corinthians 13 is the best interpretation of that passage. Therefore, I believe they don't have scripture under their feet, and they have to make more anecdotal and historical arguments rather than biblical arguments. It doesn't mean they're wrong, because as in the head-covering passage, I think it's right to look at what happens in all the other churches. And so the fact that the overwhelming majority of us have never experienced these gifts, I think, is noteworthy. So we still have a lot of work in front of us. So, the question that maybe in your mind is, "Well, if the gifts do continue, why don't we see them here?" It depends what you mean by "here." If you mean like here at First Baptist Durham, that's one thing. I think in general, it just depends where you are. If you're in certain places, you have seen them. You may not even have participated in them, but you have seen them.
I remember my Gordon-Conwell Church History professor, a godly man named William Nigel Kerr, I love that man, he's gone on to be with the Lord, he said, "You know, I actually do believe that these things happen, but I always seem to be in the other room when they occur."
That's a gentle way to put it. So, two possible reasons, and I think we need to upload both of them. First is the spirit is sovereign and does whatever he wants with the spiritual gifts. So you could be a continuationist and still think that for his own reasons, the Spirit chooses to shut certain ministries down in certain areas for his own purposes and uses them in other places. Who are we to say he can't do that? So if you're an ardent cessationist, you will say, "I do not believe that anyone can legitimately speak a language that they haven't learned yet," that just goes so far beyond scripture. If you don't have a scripture under your feet to make that assertion, it's better to not make it. And then to say, "I know for a fact that can't happen." Well, why doesn't it happen? It may be that the Spirit is not choosing to do that kind of work in that geographic locality in that stretch of church history.
Look at verse 11, it says, 1 Corinthians 12:11... Back in 1 Corinthians 12, sorry, verse 11. It says, "All of these," these spiritual gifts, "are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one as he determines." So who are we to say, even if you are a charismatic or a continuationist, that the spirit must do X, Y, and Z in every location? That's some of the problem with Pentecostal theology, where they say that when you receive the baptism in the Spirit, you will inevitably speak in tongues, which is not biblical, either. John 3:8, Jesus said, "The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you can't tell where it comes from or where it goes." So it is with everyone born in the Spirit, and so it is, I think, worldwide what about the Spirit chooses to do in different places. That's one of the two explanations of why we don't see these kinds of gifts here, wherever here is for you.
The second is it's possible that we are quenching the Spirit, that through sinful unbelief, some things that the Spirit would work in our midst, he is not working, because we don't think he can or will or should, and so we don't seek them and we don't pursue them in prayer. We are shut to them, and so therefore, we, in some sense, have quenched the Spirit. Where does that come from? 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 says, "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. But test everything, hold fast what is good and abstain from every form of evil." So that's where the "quenching the Spirit" concept comes from. So it's like dousing the Spirit's fire. So we, in the affluent and educated in scientific West, tend to be pretty closed to spiritual explanations for things. We tend to almost despise them with what's called the God of the gaps theory. Things we can't explain by science, we bring God in for that. But it's amazing how less and less can we not explain by science. We can explain pretty much everything. We probably might even get to the point of explaining why the wind blows where it wishes. And so there are no mysteries left: Science can explain everything.
Well, we can see how unbelieving such an attitude would be. We don't want to come to it that way, telling God what he can and can't do, and so, we don't want to quench the Spirit. We tend to be too skeptical of the supernatural. And that especially comes when we hear stories from the mission field and we tend to doubt brothers and sisters, look them in the eye, and effectively say, "What you're telling me happened didn't happen." That's an awkward moment in the body of Christ. So that becomes difficult and challenging.
Are There Dangers?
So are there dangers to studying this? Well, I hope not. But anyway, I think there are. All I could do is continue going on in 1 Corinthians. But yes, there are dangers, there are dangers on each side. We should not imagine that the cessationists have no dangers or the continuationists have no dangers. Like Tim Challies said, the cessationists are saying, could be saying, that something that is actually from God is from the devil, and that would be wrong, to miss out on a blessing. The flip side is if we're not discerning, if we're not testing the spirits, we could be doing the exact opposite, saying that some things from the Lord... Something from Satan is actually from the Lord. So there are dangers no matter what. But we just have to be faithful to the scripture, to study, to ask God to lead us into all truth.
Tim Challies said this: "Continuationists do not believe in a dead Bible. And cessationists do not believe in a dead spirit." So let's not lob grenades at each other. They're actually... You could be a cessationist and have an ardent doctrine and experience with the Holy Spirit, in the more what we call more normal ways, the normal ministries of the Spirit. And you pray in the Spirit, and you witness in the Spirit, you preach in the Spirit, and you do marriage in the Spirit. And I'm going to talk about that, God willing, in a couple of weeks, on the difference between the baptism of the Spirit and the filling with the Spirit. And so you can have a beautiful, Spirit-filled life, and be a cessationist.
Conversely, just because you're a continuationist or charismatic doesn't mean that you have a defective view of scripture. So we have to be careful. Wayne Grudem says this in his theology: "It can be argued that those in the charismatic and Pentecostal camps and those in the cessationists camp, which is primarily reformed dispensational Christians, really need each other." Reformed and dispensational Christians, we need each other. "They would do well to appreciate each other more. The Pentecostals and charismatics tend to have more practical experience in the use of spiritual gifts and in the vitality of worship that cessationists could benefit from, if they're willing to learn and to listen. On the other hand, reformed and dispensational groups have traditionally been very strong in understanding Christian doctrine, and in deep accurate understanding of the teaching of scripture, charismatic and Pentecostal groups could learn much from them, if they're willing to listen and to learn. But it certainly is not helpful to the church as a whole for both sides to think they can learn nothing from the other and that they can gain no benefit from fellowship with each other."
Alright, so as I finish this sermon, for me, I just want to step back and do an application that has to with a bigger issue than just this. First and foremost, if you're a non-Christian and you're here today hearing this, this might be probably confusing to you, you might wonder, "What in the world is this even talking about?", or you might know exactly, but still the Lord brought you here for a different purpose. And the different purposes that you would hear that God sent his Son into the world, which we celebrate at Christmastime, he sent his Son into the world, God in the flesh, to live a sinless life and to die on the cross for your sins. And you may have come in here today wrestling with sin, maybe even feeling enslaved to sin, burning to be free, but don't know how to be set free from sin and guilt. Maybe you're afraid to die, afraid of judgment. Maybe you're not. But you know you're outside Christ. Well, I would say that you didn't come here to hear about charismatic gifts; you came here to hear the gospel, and this is it. Christ died for sinners, and he was raised from the dead on the third day. And all you need to do is believe in him, and you can walk out of here a free man or woman, a free boy or girl.
Secondly, for you who are Christians and are here in this overall sermon series, this is an important detail, it's something we need to work through, but larger, the question is, Are you using your spiritual gifts that you do know you have? And if you don't know that you have spiritual gifts, then I would urge you to discover what they are. Get busy in practical ministries. Discover your gifts, and develop them, and then deploy them for the Glory of God. Close with me in prayer.