Monday, October 28, 2013

Does it "limit God" to say the miracle gifts have ceased?

This blog post is an answer regarding a common objection continuationists make, and that is, to say that the Spirit is no longer distributing miracle sign gifts (tongues, miracles and prophecy) that this 'puts a limit on God.'

Pentecost, Giotto, 1310
This is a very important topic. 1 Corinthians 12:10 speaks of four (temporary) signed gifts; miracles, prophecies, languages, and the interpretation of languages. A continuationist is a person who believes these miracle sign gifts have always continued since Pentecost. A cessationist (like me) says they ceased before the New Testament was even finished being written, that they were never meant to be permanent.

Formerly, this 'continuing-or-ceased' issue was seen as a secondary issue, or a non-essential to the faith. It was one of those 'let's agree to disagree' things, and everyone went on their way. However, the fastest growing faith sector in the world is Holiness/Pentecostal/Charismatic believers who hold to the notion that men still perform miracles, speak in babbling tongues, and can receive prophecy directly from God which is separate revelatory knowledge distinct from the bible.

The Strange Fire conference showed me two startling things: that the fastest growing religion is not Islam, it is charismania. There are a billion people in the world who believe, in effect, the bible is not the final word of God. This has diluted the word of God and the works of God  -as He has revealed them- from something final, absolute, and with integrity, to something that is secondary to the latest word one has received this day. This has opened the door to everything from merely wayward thinking, to people making a shipwreck of the faith, to the purely demonic. Therefore with this many people at risk, it is no longer a secondary issue.

Every cessationist, like me, and every continuationist knows, that God is infinitely powerful, and can do anything. He has no limit, at anytime. However, there are two things to consider here. First, God does not intervene in a visible, global, or dramatic supernatural way very often. Even in the bible days, seas parting, fire coming down, and resurrections etc. were not common. 

Secondly, God already limits Himself TO US in at least one important way: His revelation of Himself . 1 Corinthians 13:12 says that we know in part now but later we will fully know. He has chosen to limit His infinite revelation to us for now, through creation (Romans 1:19-20) and the bible (Revelation 22:18-19; Hebrews 1:1). It is not germane to any discussion to allow the talk of  "that puts a limit on God" to become part of the discussion. We are talking the miracle Spiritual gifts here, and those gifts were given to humans to employ. THAT is what we are talking about. Humans working the gifts, not God working supernaturally.
Lazarus, come forth, Salvador Dali, 1964


So the Word is where we look for a basis for any discussion about whether miracle gifts continue, or not.

And what the bible says, is that the sign gifts (tongues, miracles and prophecies) were given to men by the Spirit to authenticate Jesus's message. (2 Corinthians 12:12, Hebrews 2:3). The bible even shows that tongues were not meant for the church, but for those who didn't believe, a fulfillment of an OT prophecy. (1 Corinthians 14:22; Isaiah 28:11-12.) Now that the message is complete, the Spirit is no longer giving those particular sign gifts to men. Though we all agree God could perform them if He wants, and Revelation is full of examples of how He will do exactly that, in the Tribulation.


The difference is, the Spirit does not give miracle working ability to men like He did before the canon was complete. Today, there are no apostles bringing His message, it's all of us bringing it (Mark 16:15) and we can authenticate the message through His word, (Acts 17:11) with the Spirit's help. That is why the miracle sign gifts faded away even as the NT was being written. 

As far as God moving in supernatural ways, no, God has never stopped. That is what providence is. (Romans 8:28). It's what justification is. (Romans 4:25). It's what regeneration is. (Titus 3:5). It's what sanctification is. (1 Thessalonians 4:3). But He did stop giving men the gift of miracles, tongues, and prophecy.

Miracle of the Loaves & Fishes, James Tissot, 1896

12 comments:

  1. great clear and concise article. Thanks for writing this, it will be a great resource 2 point people to for clarification.
    jennifer

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    1. thanks! Please do! It's what I am using it for myself. It is a slightly expanded version of a response I gave someone who insists the miracle gifts continue. I figured I'd post it, in addition to give it to her.

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    2. This whole thing has me simply confused. I won't lie...I never knew there were 2 camps called cessationism and continuationism. My ignorance I suppose. I only know I love Jesus. I have been saved through grace. Something I certainly don't deserve. I am trying to wrap my little mind around this whole thing. So, you believe in miracles which result from prayer and supernatural healing but not miracles which man has supposedly performed?

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    3. Right. You got it perfectly. And, I believe this because it is what the bible teaches. See above. :)

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  2. Okay, I'm seeing things more clearly. Do you think the person you are "debating" the topic with understands that?

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    Replies
    1. why did you put "debating" in scare quotes, may I ask?

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  3. Scare quotes? I don't understand. I'm the same anonymous from above. Truly trying to understand this whole thing.

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    1. You don't have to worry about the person I'm discussing this with, since it is not your discussion. As for understanding this whole thing, I used many verses above, you should look them up in context. That's a great start.

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  4. I really thought a more simple explanation might help you make your point. I really meant nothing by putting debate in quotes. Just sometimes simpler is better.

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    Replies
    1. Enjoy looking up the verses, re-reading the piece above, and praying, All that can help you come to the understanding you seek. Have a great night :)

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  5. I'm so grateful that John MacArthur has brought this issue into the light and called out the false doctrines and teachers. I spent my teens and 20's in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches and was a false convert. I never heard the Gospel (sin, God's wrath, repentance, faith in Christ, etc.). I am so grateful that God led me to people like John MacArthur, Todd Friel, David Platt and Paul Washer so I could hear the Gospel and believe.

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  6. Perverting the gospel & sneaking in doctrines of devils...

    Adding doubt and cofusion to God's Holy Word with worldly wisdom... Just like the serpent put doubt of God's Word in Eve's mind, false teachers are doing the same today. The Holy Spirit confuses no one.

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