One of the most divisive theological issues in the church today is the question about spiritual gifts. In this two-part study, we will search the Scriptures to shed clarifying light on this question that confuses and divides so many believers. First, we’ll identify the main three groups into which churches have divided regarding the gift of miracles, tongues, and prophecy.
- What do Continuationists believe? They believe that people with miraculous and revelatory gifts still exist in the church today. They believe that the church has recaptured the power of Pentecost, and that the miraculous manifestation of the power of the Spirit is essential for the sanctification of believers. They typically believe that these gifts stopped only because of sin dominated the church during the dark ages. Miracles and prophetic gifts and namely tongues play central roles in these ministries.
- What do Cautious Continuationists believe? This group is often called Open But Cautious. They believe that the tongues and prophetic gifts are for the church today and yet recognize many abuses of false expressions of these gifts. Also they generally do not play a central role in their ministries.
- What do Cessationists believe? They believe that the miraculous and revelatory gifts ceased after the Apostolic era. All evangelical, for that matter Anglican and Catholic churches before 1960, believed this. They believe today’s so-called revelation, tongues, and miracle workers in the church are at best illegitimate and at worst demonically inspired.
Can you name churches, schools, and prominent leaders from each group?
- Continuationists: Church of God in Christ, Holiness Churches, Assemblies of God, King’s College, Fuller Seminary, Jack Hayford.
- Cautious Continuationists: Calvary Chapels, Sovereign Grace Churches, Biola, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, C.J. Mahaney.
- Cessationists: John MacArthur, The Masters Seminary and Colleges and most Baptist Presbyterian Church.
THE FATHER OF PENTECOSTALISM
After being invited to preach at a small Nazarene Church in Los Angeles, William J. Seymour, the Father of Pentecostalism, was kicked out after he preached from Acts 2 that tongues were the evidence of the Holy Spirit. Soon after, he moved to the Azusa Street Mission of LA. He held a revival attended by both blacks and whites, and it took off. People claimed to have visions, prophecies, and spoke in tongues/babel. It had bazaar extremes. People fell into trances, spiritists and mediums also attended. Many of the leading pastors and theologians of the day condemned this new movement (see B.B. Warfield in his book Counterfeit Miracles). Even Charles Parham, Seymour’s spiritual father, split with him over the extremes of what Seymour alleged to be the work of the Spirit. Nevertheless, a new powerful movement was born. It continued to gain numbers rapidly, and gave birth to all modern day Pentecostals and Charismatics.
BIBLICAL BASIS: The Truth about Tongues
- What is and is not biblical tongues? It is the gift of speaking in an unlearned real foreign language (Acts 2:5-11). It is not indiscernible babble (1 Cor 14:7-10).
- Who had this gift? It was never the case that all believers could speak in tongues (1 Cor 12:30).
- Did Paul speak with the tongues of angels? Paul’s appeal to “speaking in an angelic language” is not a practice he claimed that he performed. He makes this hypothetical reference purely for the sake of argument to show how much more important love is than the gifts (1 Cor 13:1). Just as he did not have “all knowledge” or “give away everything he owned” neither did he “speak with the tongues of angels” (13:2-3).
- What was and was not the purpose of tongues? No gift including tongues was for personal edification (1 Cor 12:7; 13:5; 14:5b, 12). Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for selfishly trying to use the gift of tongues for themselves (14:4, also cf. 14:17). He is not commending this practice. God gave the gift of tongues to the early church to rebuke unbelieving Jews (1 Cor 14:20-22).
- Does the NT indicate that the gift of tongues would cease? The Greek text in 1 Cor 13:8 strongly suggests that tongues in and of itself would one day simply cease. Church history confirms that this gift of speaking in unlearned languages did in fact disappear and has never returned after the first century. Nothing claiming to be tongues today remotely resembles what happened on the day of Pentecost.
APPLICATION: WHY IS THIS SIGNIFICANT?
Some P/Cs create a two-tier breech within Christianity—the haves and the have-nots. They believe those who speak in tongues have the Spirit while those who don’t speak in tongues don’t have the Spirit. Some take that line of thinking to the extreme of believing non-tongue speakers are not saved.
P/Cs can become so enamored with the so-called ecstatic experience of tongues that they put more stock in their experience than in the Word of God (1 Cor 12:1-3). This error often leads to a serious case of spiritual AIDS leaving the church inept in its fight against dangerous heresies. Also some P/C churches lose sight of true spirituality—a Holy Spirit empowered holy life and accept in its place their ecstatic experiences, which are more pagan-like than like Pentecost.
So what do we do? (1) We believe tongues did cease (1 Cor 13:8) at the close of the apostolic age. Yet we fellowship with P/C believers who hold to the essentials of the faith. (2) We have limited fellowship with P/Cs who resist important doctrines such as the security of the believer, and all believers are filled with the Spirit. (3) We reject fellowshipping with those who reject the essentials of our faith like the trinity, and believe errors like the prosperity gospel and tongues are evidence of salvation, etc.
Good comments on the charismatic issues, Bobby. I am in a dissertation process and doing it on cessationism. There is a tremendous amount of confusion out there and the widespread influence of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity has made the theological waters very muddy. God gave certain gifts for specific purposes and a specific time period, then those certain gifts stopped. Today: No more apostles, no more direct revelation gifts, etc. The Bible really does teach this, and history has confirmed this theological truth. Keep up the good work!
Bobby, the comments on tongues were by me, Tim Dane.
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