This Seek the Gifts serious is all about the gifts of the Spirit. I am answering popular questions, and some people have asked me. We began this series by answering the question, “What are the gifts of the Spirit?”
Next we must ask if the gifts of the Spirit are for today. Some say, “Yes” and others say, “No.” Let me dive deeper into this question and explain two of the most polarized answers.
A Range of Beliefs
Although we will look at the most opposing stances to the gifts, there are beliefs in between. Some believe some gifts are for today while other gifts are not.
There are so many denominations and different points of view on minor doctrines. Some people, like the Pentecostals and Charismatics, consider this more of a major teaching than a minor one.
Some denominations either don’t believe in the gifts, or describe them very differently from how I will throughout this series. I consider the gifts a subset of teaching on the Holy Spirit.
But they are not something I would fight with another Christian about. The gifts are precious to me personally, but I don’t make them a “Hill to die on.” If another Christian doesn’t believe the gifts are useful or practice them, that’s up to them.
In this series I will make a case for the gifts, for their usefulness in the Church, and where the Bible talks about them. I will do deeper teaching on each of the gifts and describe them thoroughly. And I will tell you how to receive the gifts of the Spirit and follow His leading.
The Cessationist Argument
let’s begin with those opposed to using the gifts in the Church today. This group is called Cessationist because they believe the gifts have ceased.
The most common position is that the gifts ceased when the apostles completed writing the Bible. They theorize the gifts were necessary for the church in the absence of the apostles in each church. Since there was no regular apostolic guidance for every church, the gifts gave that guidance by the Spirit’s leading.
When the apostles completed and distributed the New Testament among the churches, their was no need for the guidance of the gifts anymore. Christians could look to the Scriptures instead of seeking the Spirit through the gifts.
Believing the gifts ceased after the completion of the New Testament comes from part of Paul’s teaching on the endurance of love (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). The context of 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of unconditional love as the foundation for operating in the gifts of the Spirit.
Paul couches the Love Chapter between his teaching on the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and his clarifications on the importance of prophecy and how to operate in the gifts.
The verses in question, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, say, “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8–10, ESV)
Paul places enduring love above the gifts. Then he mentions prophecy, speaking in tongues, and words of knowledge as examples of the gifts that will cease. It sounds like an open and shut case.
Understanding Paul’s teaching in these verses hinges on the definition of “the perfect.” These gifts will cease when the perfect comes. Cessationists define “the perfect” as the Word of God. Therefore, their argument is that when the apostles finished the Bible the gifts ceased.
Problems with Cessationism
No one’s entire interpretation of Scripture is perfectly correct. We all make mistakes. We are all blinded in some way by our theology. I don’t always have the most accurate interpretation of Scripture. The moment we stop looking for the best way we can understand Scripture, we stop seeking the Spirit for God’s message for us.
The major problem with interpreting “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 as God’s Word discounts looking to the Spirit for leadership. We no longer need to listen to the Spirit if all we have to do is look in the Bible for all our answers.
We no longer communicate with the Holy Spirit. We suspect God has spoken on every matter, even guidance for our personal lives. What if we trust in our man-made theology instead of the correct interpretation of the Bible?
Another problem with interpreting “the perfect” as the completion of Scripture falls into believing the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak to us today. God spoke to people throughout the Bible. There is no indication He has stopped communicating with believers and His Church today.
Finally, interpreting “the perfect” as completing the Bible discounts all the gifts all the apostles describe in their teaching. When you look at all the gifts of the Spirit throughout the New Testament, many of the gifts, like hospitality and service, are still in operation in the Church.
For those who don’t believe believers use any of the gifts today, they must say that every gift found in the Bible is no longer in use. This discounts some of the basic ministries of the Spirit through believers today.
Problems with the Pentecostals/Charismatic Argument
On the other hand, Pentecostals and Charismatics believe in and practice the full use of the gifts of the Spirit today. When they read 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 they interpret “the perfect” as the second coming of Jesus in the rapture. After Jesus returns the gifts will be unnecessary.
But even after Jesus returns and takes His Church out of the world to be with Him forever, love will still exist. Love endures forever but we don’t need the gifts when we are physically in God’s presence.
All the gifts are still in use today because Jesus has not yet returned. We still hear from the Spirit through God’s Word and as He guides us through His gifts.
Problems with the Pentecostals/Charismatic Argument
This argument is not perfect either. “The perfect” could refer to the completion of Scripture rather than Jesus’ return. In that case, Pentecostals and Charismatics are practicing operation of the gifts when it has ceased.
Another issue with the Pentecostal/Charismatic interpretation of “the perfect” is abuse of the gifts in practice.. They tend to believe in the gifts without question. For example, if a person with a prophetic gift stands and says, “Thus says the Lord,” the prophecy may not be challenged.
I will speak of abuses and misuses of the gifts in a later post. Practicing the gifts of the Spirit can become messy and mottled. If the interpretation of “the perfect” is correct, practicing the gifts must have further teaching and understanding.
Paul clarifies and lays principles for practicing the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14. And I will make my case as we continue through the teaching of the gifts of the Spirit. We must not “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
If the Holy Spirit speaks through God’s Word and the gifts, and we cease from practicing them because it gets messy, we block one way the Spirit moves among us because we are not willing to deal with the messiness of the gifts.
The Authority of Scripture
Gifts appear in the completed Word of God. Some things in Scripture are there as a matter of history or fact. Other things are a matter of record, but not in use today.
For example, God’s dealings with the Israelites in the old covenant has been superseded by the new covenant and the way He Interacts with us as believers today. We do not need to offer animal sacrifices for our sins today. Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice covers our sins.
Especially the New Testament teaching contained in Scripture is applicable for today. We cannot pick and choose what we think has ceased or is a matter of history. We must carefully and rightfully interpret God’s Word.
So as we consider the gifts of the Spirit we must remember the authority of Scripture for our lives today. I make the case throughout this serious that the Holy Spirit is very much involved in the gifts, guiding us in His ways.
Whether you are on the cessationist or lean more toward the Pentecostal/Charismatic side, I believe the gifts are for today. God included the gifts in Scripture for us to use them today.
The Spirit speaks through Scripture and the gifts. I have found that not only the Bible teaches the gifts but my experience confirms the Spirit guides and speaks through them today.
Notice I put Scripture before my experience. Other Christians often accuse Pentecostals of putting experience before doctrine and Scripture. But I first look to Scripture and Doctrine, and then see the confirmation when I practice my beliefs.
I hope you enjoy studying the gifts of the Spirit with me. Where do you stand on the spectrum of interpreting “the perfect”?
Now that we have answered whether the gifts are for today or not we consider what different denominations believe and teach about the gifts of the Spirit.