I originally wrote this note in response to a question I received from someone in our church.
This is an emotional issue; many churches, friendships, and families have been split over this discussion, hence, I approach it carefully (I hope) and sensitively (again, that is my hope). The truth of the matter is that, like other areas such as eschatology, there is no ONE passage or collection of passages in the Bible that provide for a definitive “HERE IT IS” type of response. Some think that they have found those definitive passages, but alas, the truth is that there are passages which provide ammunition for both sides of the debate.
Let me be clear, I think there are many wonderful people on both sides of this discussion, but the loudest, most divisive and polemic tend to be the least well-read and the most subjective in their argumentation. The folks who have given this serious (and balanced) thought tend to be more scholarly, and hence, less ‘interesting’ to those seeking nothing more than sensationalism.
Also, let me state, up front, that I am no scholar, nor would I consider myself an expert in this area, but after careful study, discussion and observation over the years, I feel that there are some areas which I feel I can speak to.
The most fundamental issue that I have seen is that both extremes; that of the rafter-swinging, looking for a thrill charismatic, and the vocal, obnoxious, fundamentalist cessationist is that they both have skewed the work of the Holy Spirit. And both extremes tend to have some very questionable roots from which they have grown.
Please understand, anytime you place something into the public domain, you will have those who will deny being part of the group, or will state that you have over-simplified the characterizations. But for the sake of this brief post, some generalization is necessary.
First – much of the charismatic movement (especially the extreme cases), come from the E.W. Kenyon line of thought. Kenyon and his disciple, Kenneth Hagin are considered the fathers, or founders of much of the modern Word-Faith movement, which is the antecedent for the aberrations that are so often cited. Both of these men had heretical teachings. Now, I know that some who may read this cannot believe I said that, but please go read their corpus of their works before jumping up and down. These men ascribed to the Holy Spirit work that simply cannot be found within the pages of Holy Writ. They denigrated the other persons of the Trinity while putting the Holy Spirit into a position that is not Biblical. The children of this heretical movement are often found within the “TBN Cartel” as I will call them. For years, the ‘godfather’ of the cartel was Benny Hinn, with his mouthpiece being the Crouch family.
Now, lest the cessationist believe that all is well on their side, many of them come from the C.G. Finney school of thought. Finney, another man that I consider to be, at best fringe, at worst, a heretic, took the work of the Holy Spirit in the exact opposite direction — basically denying the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s heart for conversion. Finney believed that out of our own will and by means of mental assent, we could come to a saving faith (and what he meant by that is a mess), without the need of the work of God. BTW, for all of Finney’s fans, please read his systematic theology – he denied the necessity of the atoning work of Christ, and had many other unorthodox positions. So, some in the cessation camp have denied that the Holy Spirit does ANYTHING of merit outside of a few items regarded as housekeeping.
BOTH sides have stressed ‘feelings’ (subjectivity) above Biblical truth. Therefore, both sides have missed the boat when it comes to their understanding of the work of the Triune God in salvation, and subsequent sanctification.
When subjectivity becomes the standard, then charlatans and manipulators can move in and work the emotions of ill-informed, desperate people. This is what you see often times in the mass hysteria that accompanies the so-called healing/miracle events of the televangelist community. There is nothing in most of these events that even looks like Biblical Christianity. The same is true of the cessationist extremists; they will engage in what I will label, the politics of hate, in which they demonize any aspect of the gifts. Both groups use emotion and feelings to drive their constituents (for that is what they are).
The truth of the matter is much more complex. Rather than building a strawman out of one side or the other (i.e. not EVERY Chartismatic is involved in the aberrant behavior that is so often publicized, nor is EVERY cessationist spiritually dead), we need to come to an understanding that the answer is not straight-forward.
God has used, and I believe he still DOES use the gifts in a very limited and specific way; that is, in a way that increases the effective spread of the gospel where it has not been heard before, and in a way that GLORIFIESGod. Sadly, most of what goes on in many of the charismatic circles is a glorifying of the man or woman who stands on the stage.
When you look at the Bible, what you find is that the gifts were exercised primarily during specific periods — (This includes miraculous events).
1. The calling and formation of Israel – the works done through Moses.
2. The instantiation of the office of prophet – primarily through the works of Elijah and Elisha.
3. The Incarnation of the Messiah – The works of Jesus and the Disciples.
4. The validation of the gospel message – The works of the Apostles.
Each of these had a specific purpose in God’s plan — if we were honest, we would find a dearth of ‘miracles’ or ‘gifts’ in the other prophets, and even in the latter portion of the Apostolic ministries. These times of miraculous ‘in-breaking’ of God were for His glorification and the advancement of His Kingdom. Laughing like a fool, barking like a dog, running about as if on fire — not found in the Bible. The most common occurrance of these types of behavior are in pagan cultic rituals.
However, has God ever moved in the life of the church since the days of the apostles? Well, yes, we find it in true revivals (I do not count many so-called revivals as valid), we find it in specific events within the life of the church where the Kingdom was significantly advanced (i.e. the Reformation); but these are few, and spontaneous, movements not manipulated stage shows.
So, it would seem that the gifts at some level are in function today — however, and this is a huge caveat: almostALL of what takes place within the realm of the well-known ‘televangelist’ sphere is NOT driven by God. How do we know? Well, if we examine the teaching of many of these so-called preachers, we find unbiblical teaching, anti-biblical teaching, and plain old manipulation. Also, we have empirical evidence of many of these people misleading, mismanaging and abusing the funds, emotions and lives of desperate and poor unsuspecting people.
We see these folks spoken of in 1st Timothy 3:1 – 5 — But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (emphasis mine).
The next time you are watching one of these spectacles on TV, ask yourself — does this event look like what Paul spoke of in 1st Timothy?
Bottom line: I believe that neither side has an air-tight case; I believe that the Biblical position is that God does, at times, work through gifts in ways that will build up His church, bring Him glory, and advance the Gospel. Many of my dearest friends are charistmatic, and, like me, shun these ‘demonic’ extremes, and many of my friends are cessationist, but compassionate and willing to admit that God still does move, albeit in rare cases. Let us not be like ravenous roaring lions, devcouring one another, but rather let us honestly and openly look to the Scriptures and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I know that there are many, even amongst my friends who disagree with me, and I am not here to start an internecine war. I am simply providing what I believe to be the truth regarding the gifts. This is a poor forum to seriously and significantly engage in long-term discussions.
However, I would recommend a few books for the study of this subject.
1. Miraculous Healing– Henry Frost. – Written in 1931, this is an interesting book discussing why God heals some and not others.
2. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? – This provides four views on the gifts; the contributors: Robert Saucy, Richard Gaffin, Stanley Gundry, and Doug Oss.