Spiritual Gifts: Cautious Openness

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For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. 1 Cor 13:12

Where the Cessationist takes the view that certain of the spiritual gifts-specifically those of a miraculous nature-have ceased to be given to modern believers, a mediating position grants that they may be seen again. This position is often labeled open but cautious, indicating a recognition of God’s sovereign ability to once again visit believers with spiritual gifts of a miraculous nature. If He were to do so however, their receipt and use would align with the experiences recorded in Scripture in both purpose and practice.

Arriving at this theological position follows many of the threads that establish the cessationist position. Though the Holy Spirit distributes gifts to believers as He sees fit to edify and build the church of Christ, certain of the gifts —tongues, prophesy and healing-– were given for an earlier time in church history. Their purpose was to establish the authenticity of the Apostles and to aid in establishing the Church in the world. In the broader scope of all Scripture, the bible records miraculous events and happenings being clustered around three eras in history: Moses-Exodus, Elija-Elisha and the Christ-Apostolic era. (This does not diminish or dismiss other singular manifestations; it simply recognizes a concentration of activity around these points in history.) This review also establishes that nowhere does scripture indicate that the miraculous gifts are to be considered a normal condition of the Church era experience.

Complicating all theological discussion of the spiritual gifts is the lack of any explicit biblical statement with regard to the cessation of specific gifts. The cessationist position hinges upon the statement made in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 as evidence for the discontinuation of the miraculous gifts. Contained within this pericope is the reference to that time “when completeness (cf: perfection) comes (1 Cor 13:10)” which is read as pointing to the time of the Lord’s return. This schedule thus leaves open the possibility of continuation for these gifts.

Limited openness to the continuation of the miraculous is encouraged by further examination of the New Testament record. First, the silence of the scriptures on the matter of cessation must cause us to expand the scope of our consideration. Second, the scriptures do not testify to the state of the Church in a post-Apostolic era. For this reason, we must rely upon recorded history since that century in evaluating what is to be normative, and this history includes limited manifestations of the miraculous. Finally, as God elected to utilize the signs of the miraculous for specific purposes in His unfolding of history, we must always be cognizant of His sovereign ability to do so again.

Though an openness is encouraged in this theological position, it is intertwined with the belief that nowhere does scripture support  the apprehension of the miraculous gifts as a normal part of the Christian’s experience. Since every manifestation in the scriptures is given by God for a ‘sign’ purpose or an exercise of His grace, this precludes the use of these gifts as a test of salvation. Nor does scripture support the giving of the spiritual gifts at the request of an individual for their personal use.

Any purported manifestations of the miraculous gifts must be joined with the Apostle’s exhortation to “test everything” (1 Thes 5:21). Any instance of these gifts should align with the historical purposes of their past application (purpose, use, etc.) and their manifestation in the Bible. Prophecy will be for the edification of the church, rather than individuals. The expression of tongues will be languages which express thought, not gibberish that cannot be interpreted by others present. Healings that are a part of a campaign are foreign to the scriptures and will likely remain so. In all things God is sovereign but He is also a God of order and verification.

Marana Tha …

image mustafa khayat

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